Whether you’re stopping for the night at a Wal-Mart or dry camping for a week in the outback, you will at some time need to rely on your RV’s 12-volt batteries for lights and some electrical needs. Even if you have a generator, it’s just not practical to run it all of the time you are camping.
Our purpose in this article is to suggest some ways to help you get the most out of your batteries. Deep cycle batteries used in RVs are designed to cycle hundreds of times, but their lifetime will be considerably shortened if they are allowed to discharge much beyond half of their rated capacity. So it pays to conserve.
Rule number one: avoid using your battery power to produce heat, whether that heat is for hot water, coffee or other 12-volt appliances. It takes a lot of watts to make a little heat. So make sure that you use the LP switch for your water heater; turn off the electrical switch if you have one. And while your furnace uses propane for heat, its blower draws a substantial amount of current.
So if you’re going to need heat, consider a catalytic heater instead. These units burn propane very efficiently and use no power at all. You will need to crack a window though, to provide some fresh air. And never use your oven or stove top for the purpose of heating your RV. Finally, don’t forget to set your refrigerator to run on LP.
Set refrigerator to run on gas
Your 12-volt lighting doesn’t draw a lot of power, but it makes sense to turn on only the lights you will need. For reading it might be better to use a small portable reading lamp.
If your RV is equipped with an inverter for producing 120 volt AC from battery power, here are a few more pointers. Inverters are only about 80% efficient, so try to minimize your use of AC and turn off the inverter when you are not using any AC appliances. The first rule still applies, so instead of using a regular coffee maker, use a tea kettle on the stove to heat water for coffee or tea. A French press makes great coffee or just use a cone filter. Although convenient, microwave ovens need quite a bit of current, so use very sparingly. Hair dryers are another heat producing appliance whose use should be minimized.
Don’t even think about running your air conditioner on inverted power. It will drain a large bank of batteries in a very short time. A generator is the only option if you need air conditioning.