What Size Generator for 50 AMP RV

If you find yourself looking for a quality RV generator, there are a few things to consider to help with your search. So, what size generator for 50 amp RV?

Well it all depends on your power needs and what you plan on using regularly. The more devices and appliances you plan on using, the more power you will need. Simple as that!

In addition, the more power you use – generators will get larger, louder, and more expensive. As with much else, in the RV world there are tradeoffs.

I would typically advise a generator between 4000 to 8000 watts for most RVs (assuming 1 large AC unit). Check out the details below to figure out what works best for you.

What Size Generator Do I Need for My RV?

A 50 amp service and provide up to 12000 watts (see calculations below). Does that mean you should buy a 12000 watt generator?

Well, you could certainly do that and be fully stocked on power, however given the realities of RV living, its overkill.

For the quick answer – if you have a 50 amp service and plan on using many appliances at once, I would advise around 7000 to 8000 watts to have ample service and never think about your power usage (assuming 1 large AC unit). 

You could probably get by with 4000 to 6000 watts depending on your AC needs and cooking habits.

See my calculations below and please look at your own situation so you don’t over buy on a generator – they cost a lot and weigh a ton as well!

How to Estimate Your Generator Size for your RV

To best estimate your RV power needs, let’s first run through starting watts and running watts. When a large appliance first turns on (think AC or refrigerator), there is an initial kick to get everything going – often referred to as starting watts. After the unit has started and its running at steady state, the power needs can be considerably less. Honda has a great Power Usage Guide – or checkout a quick version below.

When you are sizing up your generator needs for your RV, its important to consider both starting watts and running watts of the appliances you plan on using.

Major Power Users in Your RV

For your RV, the largest users of power include the following:

  • RV air conditioner [up to 3300 watts starting, 2000 watts running]
  • Microwave [up to 1500 watts starting, 1500 watts running]
  • Electric grill [up to 1650 watts starting, 1650 watts running]

When you are estimating your power needs, consider if you have these appliances, and plan on them running at the same time [6450 watts starting, 5150 watts running]. Of course, check your specific appliances to see if these numbers align to your situation.

It’s easy to envision a situation where you have some friends over on a hot summer evening and you are cooking dinner for everyone.

Other Power Users in Your RV

After estimating the major users, consider these other common users of power:

  • RV refrigerator [up to 600 watts starting, 180 watts running]
  • TV [up to 190 watts starting, 190 watts running]
  • Satellite receiver [250 watts starting, 250 watts running]
  • Computer [200 watts starting, 200 watts running]
  • Coffee maker [600 watts starting, 600 watts running]
  • Blender [850 watts starting, 400 watts running]
  • Hair blow dryer [1900 watts starting, 1800 watts running]

As you can see, beyond the major RV appliances, the power needs for this group is much smaller (except the hair dryer of course).

I would advise adding around 1000 watts in addition to your main appliance needs to estimate what size generator you should buy.

No need to accommodate all the minor users of power at once. Its hard to imagine a situation where you are blow drying your hair and using a blender at the same time!

With these appliances, just make note of your power demands while you are using them and unplug a few things before you use your blow dryer!

What is a 50 Amp Service?

50 amp service generally comes with 4 wires – two 120 volt hot wires, a neutral wire, and a ground wire (see below).

In some areas you can connect your 50 amp service up to an outlet (sometimes its an extra charge).

With a 50 amp service, you have the ability to pull a lot of power (up to 12000 watts)!

What is the Difference Between 30 Amp Service and 50 Amp Service?

A 30 amp service vs a 50 amp service – the difference is really big!

Many smaller RVs or motorhomes have smaller electrical requirements and come standard with a 30 amp service. This service is enough to cover a small AC unit, smaller refrigerator, microwave, TV, coffee maker, and a few others. 

In order to understand a 30 amp service in terms of wattage, we must go back to high school physics. 

Watts = Amp x Volt

So, in this instance, a 30 amp service using 120 volts equals 3600 watts.

In the RV world, a 50 am service is much more powerful.  Not only is 50 greater than 30, but most 50 amp services come with TWO 120 volt hit wires.

So, 50 amp times 120 volts times TWO equals 12000 watts!

When a generator can produce either 120 volts or 240 volts, it can produce double the capacity. This is referred to as the 120/240 split service since it has two hot 120 volt wires.

50 AMP vs 30 AMP Service

Can I Plug My 50 Amp RV Into a 30 Amp?

Campgrounds often come equipped with power sources for RVs, however most are rated at 30 amps. If you have a 50 amp RV, what are your options?

Well, if you are in a real pinch, you could use a dogbone electrical adapter. But this is really not a good choice since your 50 amp RV will be trying to pull a higher load than the 30 amp source is able to provide.

The wattage of the 30 amp service is 3600. Compare this to a fully loaded 50 amp RV that may have total peak wattage of 12000 for all appliances. Can you see where this is going?

Most circuit breakers on the 30 amp service work with a tolerance of around 20%. This means that if you start to pull anything over 4320 watts (3600 x 120%) you will trip the breaker. Plus there may be others connected to the same service, so in reality you have less than 4320 watts to work with.

Of course, if you find yourself using a dogbone adapter, you could always be very careful what appliances you run at the same time, but I would only consider that as a last resort option.

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