Your RV electrical system powers your camping. The source may be 110-volt AC or 12-volt DC. What if you want to have both, changing 110V to 12V or 12V to 110V?
Then you need an electrical RV converter or inverter. Here are the basics of how converters and inverters help you enjoy the outdoors with the comforts of home.
Many RVs operate lighting, water pump, some appliances, and even a TV or computer using a 12-volt direct current supplied by your “house” (living area) battery.
How can you operate these conveniences if you’re plugged into a household (110-volt AC) electrical system and don’t want to run down your house battery?
You use a converter, built-in to many RVs or available separately. A converter diverts some of the incoming 110V power, changes it into 12V power, and sends it to 12V outlets in the RV.
When plugged in, the converter also charges the house 12V battery as needed.
RV converters are as simple or as complex as required for the job. Smaller RVs have a basic converter installed somewhere under a bed, dinette, or cabinet and wired into your camping rig.
Converters reduce the electrical voltage from 110 to 12 using an internal resistor which develops heat. Better converters include a built-in fan to cool the resistor and converter.
The converter also changes alternating current into direct current using electronics. If buying a new or replacement converter for your RV, expect to pay between $100 and $300 for popular models.
For many RVs, the primary power is a 110-volt alternating current source plugged into the trailer, motorhome, or other camping units.
The RV then distributes the power to electrical outlets throughout the rig. You simply plug in a two- or three-prong household appliance into the unit and you’re ready to make coffee, run a computer or television, or other convenience.
What if you want to use these gadgets, but you’re not plugged into a 110V source? An RV inverter changes 12V into 110V power.
Simultaneously, an inverter changes direct current into alternating current, a little more difficult trick. This is where quality improves — and prices can go up.
If running expensive computers or other electronics, the better choice (at a higher price) is a pure sine wave inverter. If only running basic 110V appliances, a modified sine wave inverter (at a lower price) will work.
If buying a new or replacement inverter for your RV, expect to pay about $100 to $300 for a modified sine wave model and double that for a pure sine wave version. Of course, these are loose guidelines and much depends on what you need and how you will use it.
AC and DC Difference
So why is some electricity delivered as alternating current and other sources are direct current? Distance! The further that electricity has to travel in a wire from source to destination, the greater the power loss.
If your household electricity (110V) was direct current, it would be virtually powerless when it arrived from a power plant hundreds of miles away.
DC doesn’t travel well for very far. That’s why power companies trick the electricity by alternating it between positive and negative polarity or direction.
It comes out of the power plant in many kilowatts (kW) and is stepped down for customers along the way until it gets to you. 12V electricity in a storage battery only needs to travel a few feet to RV lighting and appliances so line loss isn’t much of an issue.
The system is simpler with direct current (DC). That means some appliances are designed to use AC and others DC. Using the appropriate converter or inverter can help you power your camping.
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Knowing the Difference Between Your RV Inverter and Converter (Video)
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