I’ve lived in houses and apartments most of my life and I’ve always had a general idea of how much electricity I used. When I started to think about moving into an RV, I figured I’d use less electricity, but how much less? Would the cost savings be significant? Would I actually end up using more electricity?
Let’s find out!
How much electricity does an RV use? Average use for a typical RVer is around 20 kWh a day. This comes out to about 608 kWh a month or 7,300 kWh a year. Usage will be lower during fair weather and higher during heating and cooling seasons.
This being said, 20 kWh is just the average and your usage will vary based off of many different factors. For example, an RV running off of electric heat will use more electricity than an RV running off of propane.
RVers parked in areas where they do not need air conditioning will use much less electricity than RVers who do need it. In fact, the average amount of electricity used by people who are not running air conditioning is about 10 kWh a day.
Another factor is insulation. A heavily insulated RV will use less electricity than an RV with minimal insulation.
How Much Does Electricity Cost
Nationally, the average cost of electricity in the United States is 10.54 cents per kWh. This means that at an average use of 608 kWh per month, you can expect to pay about $64.00 a month.
Here is the cost of electricity cost broken down by state according to the state of Nebraska’s energy department.
|38||District of Columbia||11.81|
Be Aware Of Voltage Fluctuations!
It is important to note that campgrounds often have voltage fluctuations, power surges, and incorrectly wired electricity.
This will often cause problems for RVs. The systems can get severely damaged and it can be an expensive affair.
That’s why we need to insert a surge protector between your power cables and the power source at the campground.
How Does Electricity Work In An RV
RVs can be run from both DC power as well as AC power. DC stands for direct current and AC stands for alternating current. The grid runs off of AC power and vehicles run off of DC power.
DC power is 12 volt. An RV usually has a 12-volt battery, but it can also use two 6 volt batteries. 6-volt batteries are lighter and easier to handle, but they usually cost a little more. Also, you’ll have to hook your 6-volt batteries up to each other correctly in order for them to work.
A 12-volt battery can be charged from the alternator of a vehicle, a solar battery system, or through the electrical grid. Generators can also be used, but you’ll trade your electricity costs for fuel costs.
RVs usually have 120 volt systems hooked up to them as well. They will run off of a 30 amp power cord or a 50 amp power cord. 50 amp setups allow you to draw up to 12,000 watts while 30 amp setups allow you to draw up to 3,600 watts.
Larger RVs with more than one air conditioning unit will need the additional power of a 50 amp setup.
Here is where we got these numbers:
30 amp setup – 120 volts x 30 amps = 3,600 watts
50 amp setup – 120 volts x 100 amps = 12,000
Where did the 100 amps come from? The reason the 50 amp setup actually provides 100 amps is that the plug actually has two 50 amp hot wires built into it whereas the 30 amp plug only has one 30 amp hot wire.
Some campsites will provide an outlet for both 30 and 50 amp cords while others will only provide one. Luckily, you can always use an adapter to adapt your system to hook up to either one.
Do Campgrounds Charge for Electricity
The answer to this question is both yes and no. Long-term spots will be metered and campers will be charged for the amount of electricity they use.
Overnight spots, however, are usually not metered.
This means that if you stay overnight at a campground or in a state park, you won’t directly pay for electricity. If you’ve been dying to turn on your air conditioner or wanting to charge a few extra devices, this is the place to do it.
Is It Cheaper To Use Solar Power For My RV?
While solar power has dramatically come down in price, batteries are still catching up. A decent battery may cost you $200.00 and 100 watts of solar panels will cost you $100.00. You’d need a multitude of batteries and solar panels to run a typical RV.
Even with a large setup, you probably still wouldn’t be able to run an air conditioner or an electric heater on a regular basis.
You’d also need a sine wave converter to convert the 12-volt power to 120 volts so that you could run your AC appliances.
But won’t this all pay for itself one day? Unfortunately, batteries do not last forever. A standard 12-volt battery won’t last more than five years and then you’ll have to replace it.
There are some newer lithium batteries that last much longer, but these cost well over $1,000.00 right now. In the future, these batteries will most likely come down in price and solar power will become much more affordable. Until this time, however, your best bet for saving money on electricity is to simply use less of it.
How To Reduce Electricity Usage
There are many easy steps you can take to reduce your electricity usage. Here are a few for you to consider.
- Use propane.
- Use LED bulbs.
- Use energy efficient appliances.
- Park in the shade.
- Park in the sun.
- Dress appropriately.
- Add insulation.
- Travel with the weather.
One way to reduce electricity usage is to switch over to propane. You can run your heating system, your hot water heater, and even your refrigerator off of propane.
The obvious drawback to this strategy is that you’ll end up trading your electricity costs for propane. Depending on your location, you may find that propane costs you more than electricity does.
Another option is to use low wattage LED bulbs and energy efficient appliances. LED televisions and tablets use up much less energy than giant plasma televisions and old desktop computers.
Parking in the shade in the summer and the sun in the winter will drastically reduce your need to draw on your HVAC systems. This will help save on air conditioning and electric heating.
You can also add insulation to your RV as well as to your body.
Dress warmer in the winter and you won’t run your electric heater as much. Wear less in the summer and you’ll run your air conditioner less.
The best way to save on electricity may be to travel with the weather. You can park in cooler climates in the summer and warmer climates in the winter. This could potentially eliminate your use of heating and air conditioning. Not only this, but you’ll get to see more of the world too.
Types of RV Insulation
RV insulation comes in many forms. You can use foam, fiberglass, and even denim. In fact, some people will even put insulating curtains up throughout their RV. This gets rid of the need to open up the walls of the RV.
Foam Insulation – This insulation can come in panels or in a spray version that hardens after it is sprayed in. The spray foam is more efficient, but it is harder to apply and more costly as well.
Fiberglass Insulation – Fiberglass insulation is inexpensive, but it is not ideal for the high-moisture conditions of an RV.
Denim Insulation – Denim is a natural fiber that does well in changing environments. The drawbacks to this type of insulation are that its insulating properties are not as high and it is heavy. Added weight reduces gas mileage and increases fuel costs.
Insulating Curtains – Insulating curtains are best used over windows and vents that cannot otherwise be insulated. In the winter, they trap air between the cold surface of the window and the camper. In the summer, these curtains reflect light away from the camper and reduce the sun’s effect on the camper.
How to Save Money On Electricity Without Reducing Usage?
Reducing energy usage is probably the best way to lower your electricity costs, but here are a few steps you could take to reduce your bill without reducing your usage.
- Work at the campground.
- Do short-term stays.
- Go to a state where electricity costs are lower.
Working at a campground has many perks. One of them is often a free place to park and free electricity. Get a job at a campground and you could save big.
As we said earlier, overnight campers are typically not metered for electricity. Stick to short-term stays and you’ll never have to pay an electric bill.
Another option would be to move to a state with a lower kWh cost. Moving from Alaska to Louisiana could reduce your RV’s electricity bill by 60% each month.
When learning about anything, the averages are a great place to start.
However, as with anything, your mileage will vary. The amount of electricity you use each month will differ depending on your particular lifestyle.
Christopher Schopf is an avid camper, hiker, and an advocate for a better environment. He likes to write about alternative lifestyles and small spaces.