I know dry camping is all about getting detached from civilization and getting more up close with nature.
But the experience can still be homely, especially if you’ve a power inverter in your camper.
Installing a power inverter in a camper is a simple DIY, but you shouldn’t take anything involving electricity lightly.
There’re a couple of ways to install a power inverter in a camper trailer, but the four common techniques are:
1) Connecting RV to AC power box
2) Using an extension cable
3) Connecting to dedicated outlets
4) Using a 30-amp receptacle
Personally, I consider an RV inverter crucial equipment, especially when I want power for my TV, coffee machine, or VCR and don’t want to crank my generator.
Installing a new RV inverter is also handy if you love traveling with the luxuries of your homes while running off your battery bank or solar panels.
Now, if you’re planning to install an RV inverter in your rig, this guide is for you.
Here, I’ll share the details and the exact step-by-step guide I use to install a power inverter in my camper.
Before starting on the RV inverter installation, there’re a couple of things you need to take care of.
Remember, you’re dealing with electricity, so keeping everything in order is necessary.
Ensure you’ve a Compatible Inverter
The first step is ensuring you’ve a compatible RV inverter. It should accommodate every need of your RV electrical configuration.
Some of the details you should account for in your RV inverter include:
- Correct voltage (input & output)
- Good efficiency rating
- Pure sine, if you’ve sensitive equipment
Understand your RV’s Power Requirements
Next, you need to know the number and type of appliances you need to power.
Your total RV wattage requirements determine the size and rating of your RV inverter, which will, in turn, determine the configuration you’ll use to install your camper inverter.
Determining the position to install your RV inverter might seem like an easy one, but it’s far from that.
Remember, an inverter is an electric gadget, so you should never place it in a wet location or anywhere near a flammable object.
But more importantly, try to position the inverter close to the RV batteries to minimize cable voltage losses.
Grounding the Inverter
Grounding is critical to protect you and other occupants from the risk of high voltage. It’s critical for your safety and eliminates the possibility of an electrical shock.
Typical grounding on an inverter consists of a dedicated ground wire.
Read the Inverter Manual
While this might seem like an obvious thing to do, most RVers tend to ignore the need for one.
But the truth is whatever is in the inverter manual trumps anything on this guide.
Remember, this is just but a general guide of installing a power inverter in a camper. If you need the exact installation details of a specific RV inverter model, be sure to check with the user manual.
The manufacturer’s manual has the specific details and information on safely and effectively use the inverter. This will include the correct fuse size and wire size to use.
Importance of Wire Size: How Long Wires Drop Inverter’s Power Output
The small inverters, which have a typical wattage rating of 75W, are quite easy to use and are usually plugged directly into a cigarette lighter outlet.
But for the bigger and more powerful inverters, you need to wire them directly to your batteries.
And this is where the issue of voltage loss/low voltage comes to play.
A couple of elements determine the voltage loss, but most of it is credited to the wire length.
The length of the wire transmitting the RV inverter power will determine the actual voltage that arrives at your appliance.
In most cases, the manufacturer’s manual will suggest the ideal wire size and over what distance. But if it doesn’t, aim for the largest wire. A bigger wire has a smaller gauge number and will minimize the inverter’s voltage loss.
But more importantly, try to position the inverter as close to the batteries as possible.
To understand the importance of the correct sizing, remember the wrong wire may result in a voltage drop, making it hard to power your appliances.
Also, too much strain on the inverter may cause heat, which may result in fire.
So, whatever you do, always try to minimize the voltage loss, and ideally, I’d recommend keeping the loss below 0.075V.
Jumper cables and a longer cable (automotive) can be a great starting point if you’re struggling to find a suitable wire.
I prefer welding cables because they also come in a larger size but tend to be a bit expensive.
Hooking an Inverter to an RV’s Electrical System
Wiring a power inverter to your RV simulates the RV shore power or external power source.
But it can also be complicated and sometimes outright dangerous, especially if you’ve an onboard battery charger.
There’re a couple of ways to integrate your inverter into the RV. But in any case, ensure you don’t have either the generator power connected or shore power connected to your inverter’s output.
Simply put, don’t have both the inverter and converter turned on simultaneously.
The problem of having both the converter and inverter on is the inverter draws power from the battery bank and at the same time pushes it inside with the converter.
And because neither of the electrical gadgets is 100% energy efficient, the looping cycle will ultimately result in power voltage loss.
It drains your batteries until the inverter shuts off. S
Understand that power looping and energy wastage may happen even when there’s no load connected to your RV inverter.
The good news is there’re a couple of techniques to stop this from happening.
- Using a dedicated AC circuit for your inverter wiring
- Configuring battery to use shore power only and not convertor power
- Disconnecting battery charger using a relay
Whatever method you choose to plug your inverter into your RV electrical system, I’d recommend using the standard 14 AWG cable.
4 Different RV Configuration Methods
There’re generally four methods to configure your inverter to your RV electric system.
The choice of RV inverter install depends on various factors, including the inverter model, ease of use, and how you plan to use the AC power.
Here’re the four inverter installation methods.
Method 1: Connecting your RV inverter directly to the AC Power Box
Connecting an RV to an AC box is a practical but sophisticated and expensive solution.
You’ll need a transfer switch to plug the inverter directly into the RV AC box.
But you need to remember that the type and design of the transfer switch depend on the output power.
The good thing is a transfer switch can automatically prioritize shore power or RV inverter power.
Here’s a step-by-step guide that I follow when integrating my inverter panel to my RV’s breaker box.
- I start by turning off power on both my inverter and AC circuit breaker
- Next, I open the breaker panel and hook my inverter. Meanwhile, I also pay attention to the size of the wire.
- Testing for voltage using the bus bar. I always ensure there’s zero reading or no voltage.
- I then connect the cables on my inverter to the ground bar (white) and circuit breaker (black/red)
- Screw the panel and test
If you choose the RV AC box RV inverter install method, you should be cautious not to power your convertor. Otherwise, you’ll drain the batteries.
To avoid powering your convertor, consider a split distribution panel.
Overall, this installation process is practical but sophisticated and limited to several outlets.
Method 2: Using an Extension Cord
If attaching your inverter to an RV AC distribution box seems quite a hassle, consider using an extension cable. It’s a much more straightforward RV inverter installation method.
It’s simply attaching your extension cable to the inverter then running it to the RV appliances.
Extension cord RV inverter install involves running an extension cable to whatever appliance you want to plug from the RV inverter.
But due to the nature of the connection, the extension cord installation process can only accommodate one or two appliances at a time.
Plus, you’ll have to deal with running cables on your RV when the extension cable RV inverter install completed.
It’s still an easy and practical solution, especially for beginners.
Method 3: Connecting to Dedicated Outlets
This RV inverter installation method connects inverter output to one or multiple dedicated RV receptacles. Install a new outlet or reconfigure the existing one.
The only complication with this method is determined by where the existing RV outlets are positioned from the inverter and the difficulty of inverter wiring them.
But the biggest complication, at least in my opinion, is some of your outlets won’t be available for shore power.
Method 4: Using a 30-amp wall point
Final RV inverter install is simply using a 30-AMP electric outlet plugged into your RV’s shore power output.
To switch to an inverter, you simply need to disconnect the shore power and attach your inverter.
About a Remote Switch
An inverter remote switch is a handy way of controlling your inverter remotely. It allows you to switch on or off the inverter without physically being present.
Generally, the switch can control the inverter from distances of 30 meters.
The inverter remote switches come in different designs and configurations and can be wired or wireless.
Here’s how to connect a remote switch to an inverter:
- Shut down your inverter
- Connect one end of the remote switch cable to the switch cable on your inverter’s terminals
- Connect the other end of the remote switch cable to the remote switch receiver
*With the connection established, a simple press on/off should start and stop your inverter.
Choosing the Right Inverter
While knowing how to install a power inverter in a camper is a great skill to have, knowing how to choose the right inverter for your camper is even more valuable.
See, inverters come in different forms and can’t accommodate all the needs of campers. You need to choose an option to accommodate all your camper trailer needs.
Here are the factors to consider in your next inverter trailer selection.
Type of Inverter
The two common types of inverters are:
1) Integrated module
2) Standalone unit
The integrated module has the convertor charger and inverter in a single unit. It’s a great design, especially for the campers with old converter models.
On the other hand, a standalone inverter is simply an inverter on its own.
RV inverters have different power ratings, and the ideal option should meet your appliance’s electrical needs.
Generally, most inverters have their wattage rating labeled on the device or the manual.
To determine the amount of wattage you need for your inverter, add all the wattage ratings of your appliances.
The ideal inverter should have a slightly higher rating than the total wattage ratings of your appliances.
Type of Power Output
RV inverters generate different types of power outputs, which makes them ideal for one appliance over the other.
Some of the common outputs are:
- Square wave
- Modified sine
- Pure sine wave
Square Wave Inverter
They’re at the lower end of the spectrum and will work with mechanical appliances such as lights and fans.
Modified Sine Wave Inverters
A modified sine wave is a step up from the square sine wave inverter and is compatible with plenty of the standard equipment.
However, it’s still not ideal for delicate equipment.
Pure Sine Wave Inverter
It’s probably the most versatile and high-end inverter.
The pure sine inverter has a power output close to the mains power supply, so a great option for ultra-sensitive applications.
Safety Tips of RV Inverter Applications
Here’re some of the tips to follow when installing an inverter in your RV;
1) Ensure the convertor and inverter never operate simultaneously. It ultimately results in voltage drop and shut down of your inverter.
2) Never link shore power or generator power to your inverter’s power output before installing the RV power inverter.
3) Always use a relay as a go-between the battery charger and inverter
4) Never connect the inverter charger and shore power to the RV existing outlets simultaneously. It could hurt your appliances or even shock you. An automatic transfer switch should help prioritize one power option over the other.
There’re several alternatives to RV inverters, but in my opinion, inverters offer a convenient way to stay off-grid while allowing you to enjoy the luxuries and convenience of your home.
It may take some time to find the right inverter caper for your trailer van and install it in your camper, but it’s worth the effort.