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How Big of a Generator is Needed to Run an RV AC?

Updated on April 16, 2023



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Your A/C is probably one of the RV’s most essential electrical components. Most RVs include multiple electric components, including an AC inside them. 

Before you set out camping with your RV, it is time you start looking for a generator to meet the electrical needs of your RV. And, when you are at it, you should also consider the correct size generator required for running your RV’s AC. 

how big of a generator is needed to run an rv ac

The portable generator you get should provide enough watts to meet the starting load of your RV. With an AC inside the RV, your portable should be able to generate a minimum of 4,000 watts to start the AC and 1,500 watts to keep running it constantly. 

In this article, we look at how big of a generator is needed by RV travelers to power up the AC inside their RV. Stay with us for more. 

Why Do You Need a Generator for Your RV? 

When you step out for dry camping or boondocking on your RV, you must have the electrical components connected to a generator. Without a generator, you run the risk of drying out your battery or keeping your RV’s engine on, even when you are dry camping. A portable RV generator is necessary to power up your AC and make sure that all components are up and running. 

Now, selecting an RV generator is critical and plays an integral role in keeping your AC and other electrical components running. You should make sure that the generator you install inside your RV can bear the load of the AC and exceeds the power required for other components. 

When you have your AC turned on, you would also possibly be cooking or watching TV together. The RV life requires multiple electrical components to be operated together, which is why it is essential that your RV’s generator can handle the load. 

Assuming the Size of Your Generator

To start with, you require a power unit that can manage the starting load of your air conditioner, along with some of the other appliances that you run together with it. For instance, the air conditioner within your RV will require a starting running load of 2,000 watts. However, you will also want to run your microwave at 800 watts and refrigerator at 1600 watts when your AC is running. The ratings will mean that the generator should be able to handle running loads of over 4,400 watts at least. 

But, before you get a ballpark figure for the right generator, you need to find out the electrical rating for your AC and how much power it consumes. This information is presented in the form of BTUs. 

BTUs, or British Thermal Units, are a measurement tool meant to find out the energy used to increase liquids’ temperature by 1 degree Fahrenheit. When we look at ac units and RV furnaces, BTUs can mean the cooling or heating power of the required machine. You can expect better cooling power from an AC with a higher BTU as the norm. 

Now, why is the understanding of BTUs essential for you? 

Well, the wattage of your AC is directly related to the BTU. An AC with a higher BTU rating will need more additional than an AC with a lower BTU rating. Also, when you calculate your requirements, it is always necessary to use the figure for starting wattage. Starting wattage is considered higher than operational wattage and should be kept in perspective to understand the threshold of what your generator should provide. 

You can find the starting and running wattage instructions for different air conditioners on the back of their manufacturer label or in the owner’s manual. However, the wattage conversion for different ratings is listed to give you a brief idea. 

An AC with a BTU rating of 10,000 will need a starting wattage of at least 1,800 and running wattage of 1,200. The BTU rating for an AC of 13,500 will require a starting watt of 3,800 and a running wattage of 1,300. These requirements vary with size. 

The measures above are standard for different units. We still recommend you check your owner manual. You will need to add multiple counts if you want multiple air conditioning units within your RV. 

How Much Power is Required? 

Besides the power rating of your AC, you will also have to check up on the power rating of the other large appliances on your AC. The check will include all other electrical components like your TV, fans, refrigerator, and microwave. As we have mentioned above, you will be using multiple appliances at one single time. 

Also, you will find it ineffective to turn off your AC again and again whenever you need to operate another appliance or electrical component. The right size portable AC will ensure that this isn’t an issue. 

Each RV owner will have different configurations in mind, but the example below gives you an idea of the total wattage. The starting watt for AC will be 5,100 watts, and the running wattage will be 1,600 watts. Additionally, your refrigerator will need 800 watts to start and 1,600 watts to run. Your microwave will need 625 watts to start and 800 watts to run. Finally, an LCD will need 150 watts to start and 0 watts to run. 

If you run all of these appliances at one time, your generator should be able to handle 4,000 running watts at one time. However, you might start these appliances at once, so you need to calculate the higher starting unit threshold. You will need approximately 6,675 watts to start these devices together at one time. 

However, since the situation above is a bit unlikely, you can calculate the threshold for what it takes to start the AC together with other devices. You will need to run a few scenarios in mind to calculate the most significant load your RV generator will have to manage for seamless operations. 

Once you can calculate the most significant load, you can work out the required size for your portable RV generator. Our assumptions and calculations above require you to purchase a generator that can at least manage 7,000 watts at one time. 

Benefits and Reasons for Having a Portable Generator

With the rising importance of electricity, we must have access to portable power. Portable power or a portable generator is beneficial to have during an emergency and can also benefit the user in the case of a blackout. A few of the reasons and benefits of having access to portable power are:  

Everyday Use

Besides being extremely useful in emergencies, portable generators are nothing less than a blessing when your RV runs out of power in the middle of nowhere. The generators can help provide the much-needed power to your trailer, in this hour of need. 

While traveling along rough terrain in your hybrid RV, all may look and sound good until your electric battery runs out of power. Have you ever encountered such a situation? If you haven’t yet been left stranded due to power running out of the battery yet, you should still take measures to avoid the ordeal. 

Like the scenario mentioned above, portable generators can come in handy during numerous everyday situations. A few other everyday uses of portable generators are: 

  1. For Camping: Such is the passion of people fond of camping and hiking that they are out on excursions multiple times a year. To be as comprehensively prepared as possible, campers have added portable generators to the things they carry with them to the camp. These portable generators provide power, which can add to the experience of any camper. You can enjoy the innate beauty of a natural environment without compromising your safety from the electricity through a generator. 
  2. Small Outdoor Events: Besides using a portable generator for a significant camping trip or other excursions, you can always benefit from their presence during a minor outdoor event in the backyard. From a family BBQ to a small birthday party, you can decorate the backyard with efficient use of power through a portable generator. The portable generator will make lighting the event more accessible and ensure that there are no last-minute hassles. 
  3. To Manage Shutdowns: Shutdowns or Blackouts can occur because of numerous reasons. Regardless of the reason behind the blackout, a portable generator ensures that the flow of electricity does not stop. Blackouts tend to make your food in the refrigerator go wrong and pose a severe threat of injury if there are children or seniors in the house. Due to the sudden darkness, they can trip through staircases or other hindrances. You can get a generator at any time to prevent any of these incidents from happening.

Highly Mobile

As the name suggests itself, portable generators are highly mobile and portable. They come in various sizes, which are easy to carry around in the back of even a hatchback car. Moreover, the standard portable generators available in the market usually come with a handle on top and four wheels at the bottom. 

The handle and the wheels enhance the mobility of the generators and make moving them simple for all. The wheels under a portable generator are mostly pneumatic, which rids you from the threat of flat tires. The pneumatic wheels also provide enhanced feasibility when the generator is transported down rough terrain. 

The generators are at times so short and mobile that they can be carried in your own hands or a bag. These features suggest that portable generators promise enhanced feasibility without forcing you to step out of your comfort zone. Portable power is a growing concept, and with the presence of such brilliant features, it will soon be a part of every outdoor excursion. 

Prove Useful in Emergencies

When was the last time you faced a significant emergency that could improve through a portable generator? Emergencies come without warning, which is why you must take precautionary measures, in hindsight, to safeguard your safety. A portable generator is a perfect solution to all discrepancies, from natural disasters to sudden blackouts. 

With portable generators, you can carry power with you wherever you go. Major emergencies call for drastic measures, and families are often told to relocate. With the assistance of a portable generator, you can effectively manage the relocation in a better way. 

With a portable generator on your hands, you can charge your phones to stay in touch with all rescue or emergency services and simultaneously keep your lighting going throughout the ordeal. Portable generators can play the role of a lifesaver during such desperate situations.

Easy to Use

One of the primary reasons people shy away from generators is that they consider them very complex and challenging to operate/manage. Managing or starting a portable generator is very simple and does not require you to master technical skills. All you need to do is follow a few basic instructions regarding turning the device on, adding fuel, and connecting the power. Once you are apt at following all these instructions, you can operate the generator effortlessly. 

To start the generator, you will have to pull a coil or, in some modern versions, have to push a button. Maintaining the generator is also a manageable task, which will not pose many difficulties for you. Handling and maintaining portable generators is extremely simple, making them the perfect companion for both emergencies and outdoor excursions. 


Devices that produce or use electricity should always be handled with care and precision. You should know just how much power you will need to run your RV’s AC to remain on the right side of things. 

Without the right portable generator for your RV, you will be unable to spark up the cooling or heating mechanism in the manner that you want. Our assumptions and calculations above require you to purchase a generator that can at least manage 7,000 watts at one time. 

Your estimated usage can vary based on your plans for the RV and how many units you want inside the unit. 

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<span style="color: #01343d">About</span> Editorial Staff

About Editorial Staff

We’re passionate about all things RV and camper, and love sharing tips, “how-to”, and reviewing the latest products to help make your camping experience a success!

<span style="color: #01343d">About</span> Editorial Staff

About Editorial Staff

We’re passionate about all things RV and camper, and love sharing tips, “how-to”, and reviewing the latest products to help make your camping experience a success!

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