Inverter Chargers are a must-have RV accessory if you do a lot of boondocking. Not only does it convert DC power to AC power, but it can also charge your battery bank. This is a popular upgrade many motorhome owners make to replace the current converter.
There are two main things to look for when deciding which inverter/charger to get: size and type. In this article, we’ll discuss the features of inverter/chargers and explain how to find the best one for your RV.
- Confused about power? Learn the differences between Converters, Inverters, and Inverter/Chargers
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What Is An Inverter/Charger?
Inverters combined with smart converters are called inverter chargers. They can charge your battery bank with city power and also provide power to run household electronics from your RV battery bank.
Inverter Chargers are particularly useful if you do a lot of boondocking or off-grid camping. Without an inverter/charger you cannot power 120V electronics like coffee pots, laptops, hairdryers or microwaves.
What Can You Do With An Inverter/Charger?
- Convert DC power to AC power
- Charge your battery bank
- Power 12 volt DC electronics
- Power AC household electronics
Upgrading Your Converter
Most RV motorhomes come with a converter pre-installed. They are normally located underneath the AC breaker panel.
Converters are simple, single-stage systems that convert 120v AC power to 12v DC power and slowly charge up your battery bank while simultaneously powering your RV. This works well when you’re plugged into city power, but it’s of little help when you’re camping off-grid.
Luckily, upgrading your converter is a relatively simple process that comes with many benefits. Here are a few reasons you would want to upgrade to an inverter/charger.
- They can charge your battery bank.
- They have all of the benefits of a smart converter.
- You can use all of your electronics off-grid.
- One unit does the job of two devices.
- Most come with an automatic transfer switch so you don’t have to manually turn them on and off like a standard inverter.
- Many inverter chargers have an automatic generator start feature. If the batteries drop too low, the inverter will send a signal to the generator to turn on and run until they are topped off again. This will keep the battery bank full and the electricity flowing without a touch.
- They are compatible with all battery types.
What Type Of Inverter To Get
Household power travels in waves that alternate from positive to negative. This is different than how 12 volt DC power travels through circuits.
As power is inverted from DC to AC it can be done in two ways: with a modified sine wave (MSW), or a pure sine wave (PSW).
Square wave is another type of power inverter, but they are an older design and have largely been replaced by MSW and PSW inverters today.
Modified Sine Wave (MSW)
Modified sine wave inverters are more accurately called multi-step wave inverters. They are a simple design that creates a “choppy” approximation of a sine wave.
For many electronics like light bulbs or power tools, it makes little difference in how the wave looks. But for advanced devices that have microprocessors like laptops and induction burners, a clean wave is required to regulate temperature properly and extend their lifespan.
- MSW inverters are cheaper than PSW and create a “buzzing” noise when operating those devices; they are less efficient.
Pure Sine Wave (PSW)
Pure sine wave inverters are more complex and have a higher up-front cost. They are more efficient and have no limitations as to what AC devices you can plug into them. We recommend this option if you have the means.
- Pure Sine Wave inverters are the best type for an RV
What Size To Get
Inverters are sized by how many watts they can output. Most are listed in continuous watts and peak (or surge) watts.
Continuous Watts refers to the number of watts the inverter can output in normal use. This is the listed inverter size, and the size you base your measurements on.
Peak (or surge) Watts is the maximum output that the inverter can handle for a short period of time. The purpose is that many devices have a “start” load that is significantly higher than their running load.
For example, a refrigerator compressor may draw 100W when it kicks on, but settle down to a steady 50W after a couple of seconds.
Determine the max number of Watts per use
To size your inverter, you’ll want to figure out the maximum number of watts that you’ll be using at one time. To do this, you want to add up all the electronic devices that will be plugged in at once. Sometimes you will have devices that won’t ever be used together (AC and electric blanket) so pick the larger of the two.
Then pick an inverter that is rated at a comfortable size above that load (120% or so). We’ve built a solar calculator to help you do this.
In an RV, the most common inverter sizes purchased are 2000W and 3000W. But you also want to make sure your battery bank is capable of powering your inverter/charger. We talk about this more in the charging section of our battery article.
Be aware that an RV with 30A shore power is limited to 3600 watts. An RV with 50A shore power is limited to 12,000 watts.
Sizing an inverter can very specific so we recommend you do some further reading if you’re new to RV electricity. However, if you’re just looking for a general rule of thumb, here are our recommendations:
- <2000W inverter chargers work well for weekend warriors and RV campers who use one household appliance at a time.
- 3000W inverter chargers are large enough for most full-time RV campers. These are big enough to allow you to use multiple AC powered devices at the same time such as a microwave and a hairdryer.
- >3000W inverter chargers are for power-hungry full-timers. These are the campers driving large class A motorhomes, powering multiple large electronics at once, and using electricity as you would in a house.
Protections And Features To Look For
The best inverter brands will have a number of protections built in place. These protections will safeguard your electronics, the RV electrical system, and the inverter itself. Listed below are some of the common protections to look out for.
- High voltage
- Low voltage
- Short circuit
- Internally fused
- Low and high voltage alarm
- Cooling fan
- Isolated ground neutrals
Auto Transfer Switches
The best inverter chargers will have an auto transfer switch included. These automatically sense generator power and prevent two power sources from entering the AC Distribution Panel at the same time.
Additionally, if the batteries drop too low, the inverter will send a signal to the generator to turn on and run until they are topped off again. This will keep the battery bank full and the electricity flowing without a touch.
Best Inverter Charger Brands
There are many brands out there that manufacture inverter/chargers for RV campers. This includes a number of Chinese knock-off products which can be found significantly cheaper than some of the more well-known brands.
We highly recommend purchasing from a reputable company because you will get better customer service and a warranty which can be invaluable on your road trip.
- Some of the most well-known and popular RV inverter/charger brands are AIMS Power, Go Power!, Xantrex, Samlex, Victron, and Magnasine
How To Replace A Converter Charger With An Inverter Charger
Converters can be directly replaced with 3-stage converter or an inverter charger. This video by Go Power! demonstrates how to replace your current converter with an inverter/charger.
Inverter/Chargers are a big upgrade from converters. If you do a lot of boondocking or camping off-grid, this is a must-have accessory. We recommend sizing your inverter and purchasing from a reputable RV brand that will give you an energy-efficient product with a solid warranty.
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