Do RVs Need to Be Plugged In? Helpful Tips (For Beginners)

While it would seem that RVs never need to be plugged in, campgrounds and state parks seem to tell a different story.  When driving by an RV park, you’ll notice that all of the RVs are plugged in.

Do RVs need to be plugged in?

RVs do not need to be plugged in but they can be.  In fact, an RV can be plugged into many different sources and a plugged-in RV offers a lot of additional functionality. So most RVers prefer to be plugged into the electrical grid and a water hose when possible.

What Gets Plugged Into An RV?

Camper Batteries Check

There are a few items that can get plugged into an RV:

  • The Power Cord
  • A Water Hose
  • A Sewer Hose
  • Cable Wires

You might want to read this article as well about how Inverters and Converters work.

The one most people think of first is the power cord.  An RV can plug into the electrical grid by using the electric meter at their campsite.

A water hose and sewer hose can also be plugged into an RV.  This provides the RV with an unlimited supply of freshwater and allows them to get rid of wastewater without ever having to visit a dump station.

Additionally, some campsites have cable hookups and you can actually plug a cable wire directly into your RV.

While this might seem silly to some campers, it is great for rainy vacation days and for full-timers who don’t necessarily want to spend all of their time outdoors.

How Does An RV Plug Into The Electrical Grid?

An RV will either have a 30 amp electrical system or a 50 amp electrical system.

A 30 amp system will provide up to 3,600 watts of power and a 50 amp system will provide up to 12,000 watts of power.  You can read more about this in our article about How Much Electricity RVs Use.

Ideally, you’ll plug a 30 amp electrical system into a 30 amp electric meter using a 30 amp plug. 

The same rule applies to a 50 amp electrical system as well.

Be Prepared For More Or Fewer Amps

This being said, you may find that your campsite isn’t set up the same as your RV.  For example, you may have a 30 amp RV electrical system and be parked at a 50 amp meter and vice versa.

When this happens, you’ll need a power cord adapter that allows you to run the opposing system.  Just keep in mind that the adapter will not increase the wattage of your system.

This means that plugging your 30 amp system into a 50 amp electric meter will not provide you with any more than 3,600 watts. 

Also 30 amp electric meter cannot provide a 50 amp electrical system with more than 3,600 watts.

Keep in mind that you’ll have to bring your own power cord adapter with you.  These cords only cost between $10 – $50 so it’s worth buying one even if you’re not sure if you’ll ever need it.

If you aren’t plugged into an electrical grid, you can still receive power from your batteries.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to plug in to charge your batteries.  Solar panels, generators, and even wind turbines could be used to charge your RV batteries.

If you’re at a campsite that has electric but you can’t plug your RV in for some reason, check to see if there is a standard outlet built into the meter.  Sometimes you can plug an extension cord into the meter and get power this way.  A typical extension cord or any other cord you’d plug into your home’s outlets will be 15 or 20 amps.

Always keep an extension cord and a power strip handy and you’ll be able to use the electricity to charge your phones and laptops without plugging in your RV.

This is even true for tent campers renting an electric site at a campground.

Plugging in At Home

If you’re at your house or someone else’s house, you’ll need another adapter to plug into their 15 or 20 amp outlet.

30 amp systems can be adapted directly to 15 amps but 50 amp systems must be adapted to 30 and then to 15.  What I mean by this is that you’ll need to plug the 50 amp plug from your RV into a 30 amp adapter and then you’ll need to plug the 30 amp adapter into the 15 amp adapter.

You’ll also end up limiting your power even further.  Your 30 and 50 amp systems will now only run a maximum of 15 or 20 amps.  This is fine if you’re only staying a night or even a week and have access to the house.  However, if you plan on plugging into a person’s home long-term, you may want to contact an electrician to ask him or her to install a 30 amp outlet for you.

You can determine whether or not an outlet is 15 or 20 amps by going to the person’s breaker panel and checking to see how it is marked.  This is probably obvious but if it’s labeled 15 it is a 15 amp outlet and if it’s labeled 20 then it is a 20 amp outlet.

You’ll Have Limited Power

One thought to keep in mind is that just because you’re plugged into the grid doesn’t mean you have unlimited power.

It also doesn’t mean that you can run any appliance you like.  For instance, the power you receive from a campground is 110 volts.

Washing machines and dryers are usually operated on 220 volts.  Plugging in at a campground will not allow you to put just any laundry appliance in your RV.

Another limiting factor is the amps on in your system as well as the watts.  Remember, even when you’re plugged in, your 30 amp system can only handle 3,600 watts of power throughout the entire RV.  Run an electric heater, a microwave, and a few other items and you can easily go well over 3,600 watts.

Also, each circuit will only handle a certain amount of amps.  If you have too many appliances running on the same circuit, you can still trip a breaker while tied to the grid.

When using high powered appliances like blow dryers, microwaves, and toasters, make sure you’re running them on different circuits.

You can check to see which outlets are on which circuits by taking a look at your circuit breaker panel.  If the panel isn’t mapped out, you can see which outlets are on each circuit by turning all but one breaker on and seeing which outlets work.  Just continue this process of elimination until you’ve identified the breaker source for each outlet.

How Does An RV Plug Into Sewer and Water Systems?

Most RVs will have freshwater tanks, black water tanks, and gray water tanks to provide the RVer with fresh water and a place to store their waste water.  However, these systems are inconvenient because they limit the amount of water you can use and force you to go to dump stations to get rid of your wastewater.

Because of this, many RV parks, campgrounds, and even state and national parks have hookups for city water as well as sewer connections.  Some parks will have water only campsites but never waste only campsites.

In order to hook up to these sites, the RV owner will need a sewer hose and a fresh water hose.  They should also have a water pressure regulator to attach between their fresh water hose and the water outlet.

You can read more about water tanks and water hookups on our page titled “Do RV’s Have Water Tanks & Water Heaters“.

How Do RV’s Plug Into Cable?

Plugging into the cable at a campground is actually quite simple.  Your RV will have a cable jack located on the outside of it.  A cable wire can be run from this cable jack to the cable jack the campground has provided for you.  This is typically located in the same place as the electric meter.

In some instances, campgrounds will also provide wired internet.  If both the campground as well as your RV are equipped for this, you’ll find an ethernet jack next to the cable jack.

If you want to use your television and receive internet without plugging in, you can go with an antenna and a wireless router.  There are many devices that can extend the range of wireless internet, cellular internet, and satellite television.

Related Questions

Can you run RV AC on Battery?

Technically you could run an RV’s AC system on your batteries but it isn’t recommended.  An AC unit draws a lot of power and it will quickly deplete even a large battery bank.  Most RVs only come with one or two 100 amp batteries so you wouldn’t be able to safely run your AC off of battery power long enough to cool down your RV.

Is it Bad to Leave Your RV Plugged in All The Time?

No, it is not bad to leave your RV plugged in all the time.  In fact, it might actually be a good idea to leave your RV plugged in all the time.  When an RV is plugged in, it is charging your battery.  As long as your converter is working to stop the battery from overcharging, leaving the RV plugged in will prolong the life of your battery.

Additionally, an RV that is plugged in all of the time can run its heating and air conditioning system whenever the need arises.  This can help cut down moisture and can also help keep pipes from freezing.  This being said, even a heated RV runs the risk of frozen pipes in cold weather.

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