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How to Run 12v and 240v in Caravan

Jul 3

Running 240V appliances from a motorhome, caravan, RV, or camping trailer is a common issue. Unless you're at a campsite with access to electricity, you'll need an alternative solution. There are several choices if you camp out of your car, caravan, RV, or camper trailer.

The first alternative is to use a 12-240V inverter. This isn't new technology, and it involves the use of an inverter that converts 12V DC power from your vehicles battery (or caravan/camper trailer/RV, boat) into 240V AC, comparable to what you'd find in your house. See our list of 12v Accessories for your Caravan.

If you are just looking for something to keep your home cool, one of the best ways to go is with a portable air conditioner. However, there are some severe restrictions depending on what type of setup you have, so don't expect to bring your fan heater or a portable air conditioner without significant equipment (and, of course, cost!).

The alternative to this is to use a Caravan Generator, which many people still utilize but is becoming less popular.

12V to 240V inverters

Inverters range in price from about $80 for small ones to hundreds of dollars for larger, more powerful models.

The typical inverter has a capacity of around 100 watts and may work up to about 6000 watts. However, just because you have a bigger inverter doesn't imply you can run appliances that consume a lot of electricity; there's a lot more to it than that.

Pure sine wave inverters

The cheaper inverters on the market provide power that is not as clean a waveform, and it eventually falls below acceptable standards. This is sufficient for battery charger or operating lights and other equipment that you aren't too concerned about. However, when you plug sensitive devices such as computers or expensive gear into a power strip, you could cause significant damage. This includes laptops and other pricey equipment.

If you want to use quality, sensitive equipment on an inverter, be sure it's a pure sine wave. You'll pay a little extra, but you'll save a lot of money in the long run since your nice electronics won't get damaged.

How does an inverter work?

Inverters turn the caravan electrics stored in your battery into 240V. Smaller inverters take power directly from a cigarette lighter or alligator clips on the battery, while larger ones require an AC input. The connection method for inverters varies depending on the size of the inverter. Larger inverters typically utilize Anderson jacks, and if they draw more than 50 amps, they are permanently linked to a battery using lugs.

Power loss in the conversion from DC to AC is usual, about 10% - 20%. This means that if power use is a concern (which it usually is when camping), you may sometimes be better off purchasing a 12V product.

Inverter or 12V chargers

I utilized a cheap 150W inverter to charge the basic things such as an old laptop, camera batteries, and occasionally other random stuff. The inverter didn't fail, and it never caused any problems. I was confident that the laptop's inverter would not be damaged by a lack of pure sine wave, and it never was. To save time and effort, I got a number of 12V chargers for the other equipment.

However, I just bought a fantastic laptop to use while traveling, and I looked at the price of a 12V charger, which was about $50.

I'll be able to run it off this inverter (I'll never go over 350W in the first place) without having to buy 12V chargers no matter what I buy in the future. However, most appliances come with 12V chargers that may be used with an Anderson or a cigarette lighter plug and these can be a decent alternative if you don't want to deal with an inverter.

What appliances can you run from an inverter?

Checking the maximum capacity of your inverters and the maximum current draw of the appliance you wish to operate are both simple. On start-up, a 900W grinder might require up to 1400 - 1500 watts, so keep that in mind.

If you're under the rating, your inverter will power the device. However, if you overwork them, they are more likely to shatter (pushing an inverter to its limits or beyond will reduce its longevity). It's also important to note that your inverter may or may not be able to power it; this depends on the type of battery system you have.

What size inverter should you fit?

The larger the inverter, the more expensive it is. Of course, you can purchase low-cost 2500W inverters; however, they won't be pure sine wave and will most likely cause problems when using a conventional battery system.

Even with all of this, the typical battery is only good for about 100 cycles. This number varies based on how you drive and what kind of vehicle you have, but it is safe to say that most vehicles can go a maximum of 500 miles before their battery will no longer be capable of charging at anything above 200 amps during daily driving conditions. It's on the lower end of the range for most cars, but let's say it's 100 amps per hour.

The output of a 10-year old vehicle with 100 amps per hour is between 1200 and 1400 watts on a 12V system. If you run more than that, your alternator will not be able to keep up, and if you want to do it using solar panels, you'll need a large battery system as well as a solar array.

It is not particularly kind for a battery to be drawing a significant quantity of power for an extended amount of time, unless it has the proper discharge rates (which you should be able to discover in the battery documentation).

With more solar, lithium batteries, and big inverters, today's caravan battery systems are quite amazing. For a long time, they'll run large inverters comfortably with huge quantities of solar, lithium batteries, and powerful inverters. To install such a system, though, you're looking at a significant investment of around $3–$20 thousand. See our range of Battery Boxes

Inverters are great when used sensibly

Inverters are fantastic when utilized in a sensible way. The output is 240V, and if you use it incorrectly, you may be killed. If you're connecting them to power sockets, you'll need the appropriate RCDs, as well as a signed off by a qualified electrician during installation.

You may get by without an inverter if you don't have anything that needs to operate at a higher voltage, but it's better to use one. If you push something too far, it will have its life shortened. For us, I can't see the point of running anything over 350W, so a little inverter is sufficient.

How much power is actually used?

I get a lot of comments from people who have a 12V system and wish to use high-energy usage appliances. It is possible, but you must first know how much power is being consumed, since doing it on a deep cycle battery system differs significantly from flicking the switch on at home when connected to mains.

It's also important to remember that while you're looking at how much power a coffee maker takes, you should think about how long you'll be using it. A coffee machine may consume a lot of caravan electrics for only a few minutes, yet the overall use might not be too significant.

However, a single 100 amp hour battery will certainly be flattened in approximately one day if you have a system with the stated amount of power. In comparison, let's assume you have 50 batteries (each 300 amps hours) and that they are all connected together in series.

Caravan TV’s

A 100aH battery would take 33 hours to flatten a caravan TV or screen, which uses around 3aH.

Toasters

Toasters (not the 4-slice variety) consume approximately 850W, therefore one will take around 75aH to run. In an hour and 20 minutes, you'd flatten a 100aH battery.

Kettles

A water pump heater draws around 1500W, which is about 130 AH. In 45 minutes, a 100 amp hour battery would be flattened.

Air Conditioners

Caravans have a maximum load capacity of 1,500 kg (3,300 lbs). The most common type of caravan aircon uses around 2,000 – 3,000 watts (160 – 240 amperes). In 25 - 40 minutes, you'd flatten a 100-amp-hour battery.

Air Fryers, Induction Cook Tops and Microwaves

All three of these items consume between 800 and 2200W, and they can reduce a 100aH battery by 34 to 94 minutes.

Washing machines

Caravan washing machines are not only energy-efficient, but they also consume relatively little electricity. In terms of wattage, they typically draw under 300W (unless you use the heating elements). You'd get about 4 hours out of a 100ah battery.

Coffee pod machines

The average vehicle battery has around 100 to 150 amps capacity because it is designed to provide power for an array of appliances. However, a single Coffee Pod Machine can pull up to 90 amps and flatten your battery in less than an hour (but you won't be using it for that long!)

Your system needs to be able to recharge itself

If you consume 100 amp hours in a day, you'll need to be able to store that. A 100W solar panel will produce about 30 – 35 amp hours each day, so if you want to use big appliances off the grid, a huge solar array is required.

With the way technology has advanced, generators are no longer looked at with as much disdain as they once were. You may get a few annoyed looks if you operate one in the presence of a group of people in anything but a generator-specific location.

Essentially, you may build a van battery and solar system that rivals a generator in terms of power production and is free to operate, produces no noise or odour, and requires no gasoline. Generators do have their uses, however, they are not the only way to produce electricity. They'll be able to operate bigger appliances more easily than with a battery system, such as air conditioners, microwaves, air fryers, and so on.

Finally, if you live in an area that receives a lot of rain or where the sun doesn't shine for several days at once, they're one of the greatest methods to go. If you don't have a generator in this situation, all you can do is drive your car, which is considerably less efficient.