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The success of enjoying a cup of hot coffee, charging your cellphone, and listening/watching your favorite shows is determined by the success of inverting DC current into AC. However, most RVs only come with converters already installed. What this means is that you will need an external source of power such as shore power or a generator to power your RV’s 120V power outlets. Without these two power sources, your RV’s outlets will not operate causing you inconveniences in situations where AC power is needed. So, to avoid these inconveniences, especially in a camping scenario, an RV inverter installation will definitely be an inevitable upgrade.
Although most modern RVs come with factory-installed inverters, there’s always a trade-off here between quality and price. The good news, however, is that there’s a way of utilizing the mechanical energy stored in your RV’s batteries to power your home supplies via the outlets. In this guide, we will discuss exactly how you can successfully install an RV inverter to take advantage of your RV’s battery power.
RV Inverter Installation Guide
But, before you can turn this idea into a reality, you need to understand what an RV inverter really is, how it works, and how to pick the right flavor that will work in your specific RV depending on the appliances available.
So, What’s an RV Inverter and How Does it Work?
Just as we mentioned earlier, your battery’s 12V DC is only designed to power your RV’s low voltage components but not your home appliances. So, to convert this power into AC, you generally need a shore power or a generator. Now, since these two will require you to be close to hookups such as Walmart parking lots, you will need to add an RV inverter into the equation if you’re truly looking to enjoy an excellent time off the grid.
Therefore, an inverter is an excellent option that will help you power your AC outlets for you to use some of your home’s 120V appliances without the need for a generator.
How Do You Pick the Right RV Inverter?
Just like shopping for other pieces of equipment, your RV’s inverter will need to be examined carefully to ensure that what you buy is efficient enough to meet your needs. Now, some of the factors you’ll need to keep in mind here are;
- Input and Output Voltage: The first requirement you’ll need to think of is the input and the output voltage. In terms of the input voltage, the type of inverter you choose should match with your RV’s battery power bank. Since batteries offer 12V powering, your RV’s inverter should have the same 12V DC rating. About the output voltage, the inverter you choose should deliver 120V to power most of your appliances.
- Energy Efficiency: Although you should look for an inverter that’s powerful enough to supply ample power to run your appliances, you shouldn’t neglect its efficiency. Therefore, you should shop for an inverter that doesn’t put significant strain on your RV’s battery. Remember, you still need some juice on your battery to power the engine when it’s time to roll.
- Type of Inverter: Now, depending on your requirements, inverters come in three main types that are the sine wave, the modified sine wave, and the square wave. Since these three types of inverters differ greatly, you should always think of the cost, efficiency, and types of appliances you’re powering before you make your move.
- The Size: Other than the efficiency, type, and power input/output, the size of your inverter is something else you can’t afford to neglect. During our RV inverter installation process, the size of the inverter will play a huge role as it will determine where exactly you’re going to mount it. In most cases, a small yet powerful inverter is the best option, as it doesn’t take much space.
So, How Do You Install an RV Inverter?
Now that we’ve cleared the air for you, this section will now focus on how to install an RV inverter. In our discussion, we will be installing a 2000 watts inverter and a power meter. In cases where the inverter will need to connect to the existing load center (where you connect your generator or shore power), an auto transfer switch will be necessary.
Step One: Gather Your Supplies
In this instructable, you will need:
- A 2000 watts RV inverter
- Four heavy-gauge electrical cables (at least #4 AWG). The cables should be one red and three black.
- A pair of wire cutters/strippers
- Zip ties
- Electrical tape
- A toolbox with all your hand tools (screwdrivers, utility knife, sockets, screws, tester,etc)
- A power meter and a remote switch
Step Two: Clear Some Space
Once everything is in order, you’ll need to clear up some space where the installation will take place. The area you choose should be close to the battery and away from fluids and flammable objects. It should also have enough airflow to keep your inverter cool at all times.
Step Three: Installing the Shunt
So, our first step in the installation procedure will be to install the shunt. The reason why you’ll need to do this first is that you’ll have to install the power meter to see the in-depth power usage of your inverter.
To do this, you’ll first disconnect your negative cable that goes from the battery to the frame ground (the earth wire). Once disconnected, this negative wire will instead go to our working area to connect one side of the shunt. Pick another negative cable, connect it to the other side of the shunt, and back to the frame ground.
Step Four: Installing the Power Meter
The good thing about the power meter is that it comes with a detailed instruction manual that you can refer to during installation. Since the power meter is a low voltage component, using telephone cables will be the best option here. Using a pair of wire strippers, strip the ends of the telephone wires and connect them to the power meter as per the manual.
In most cases, the power meter will require four wires. The first step is to connect all the wires to the power meter as per the instruction manual. The second step is to connect the other ends of two of these wires to the shunt.
From there, connect the other end of the third wire to the negative cable on the shunt then leave the other end of the positive (red) wire. This one will run separately to the cut-off switch wiring where it will connect to the positive terminal. Once you’re done with the wiring, mount the power meter securely on the RV’s frame.
Step Five: Add One More Negative Cable
Now that the power meter is mounted, you’ll need to add one more negative cable to go straight to the inverter. So, the shunt will act as a convergence point for all the negative cables. Here, you’ll have the main negative terminal from the battery, the negative cable to the frame ground, skinny cables that connect to the power meter, and the final negative cable that goes to the inverter.
Step Six: Modify the Cut-Off Switch
Now, the cut-off switch has two original wires—the positive and negative wires from the RV’s battery. So, to modify this, we’ll add a new red cable on the positive side of the cut-off switch to merge with the positive cable coming from the battery. This new positive cable will go straight to the positive terminal of the inverter. Here, you’ll also connect the positive thin cable we left out earlier that goes to the positive terminal of the power meter.
Step Seven: Wire the Inverter and Hook it Up
At this point, you should have the negative (black) cable from the shunt and the positive (red) cable from the cut-off switch next to the inverter. Before you connect the wires to the inverter, you need to mount it first using the available screws and a screwdriver. Once you’re done, connect the wires and everything is all set.
Step Eight: Testing the Meter and the Inverter
Once the installation is complete, the next step is to test whether everything is in perfect order. Here, you’ll need to turn off the shore power to ensure the inverter is the one in charge. You can pick an appliance, let’s say a fan system, and connect it to the inverter. With the power on, the fan should operate while the meter shows the readings of how much power your CPAP and fan system are drawing.
At this point, you’re now free to connect an extension cord (with a plug) from the inverter to various compartments in the RV where power is needed to run your appliances.
Finally, in case you’ll need to switch between the inverter and shore power, a remote or auto-transfer switch will be required. This switch will help to toggle from one power source to another (i.e. from your inverter to external shore power and vice versa) without having to do it manually. Just like the power meter, the auto transfer switch is wired using thin telephone cables, as it’s also a low voltage component.
If you’ve read our guide up to this point, then you’re good to go. As you can see, an RV inverter is an essential component that guarantees you a steady flow of AC current to power your appliances when you’re off the grid while camping. Although it will take a bit of research beforehand, finding the right inverter that will work for you is an absolute must if you’re looking for a flavor that will provide enough current without draining your RV’s battery.