Hot days and cold nights, whether to experience the great outdoors and become “one” with nature or merely take the RV out on the open road for fun or as part of a lifestyle, most campers want to maximize their energy use. This makes the trip more enjoyable and environmentally and economically responsible.
Discovering that you have run out of fuel while using your generator overnight can range from inconvenient to devastating. Plugging in one more appliance can cause a breaker switch to trip, prompting a search that may last hours if you don’t know what you’re looking for. These are just a couple of reasons why it’s important to know how much of a load your motorhome can handle and how much you typically use; then you can look for methods for using less that you can live with, such as:
1. Plan and Monitor Your Energy Use
In order to use less energy, it is helpful to know how much power each element in your RV takes. It’s fairly apparent that the amount an appliance uses varies depending on its size and complexity. Also, when you’re using 30 or 50-amp power, the appliances’ energy usage quickly consumes it.
Plan for Efficiency
There are several things that can be done to use your appliances more efficiently. By having an on/off switch installed for your inverter, you can better control when it is drawing energy. Otherwise, the inverter uses as much as 2-amps per hour whether any appliances are on or not. This can quickly add up without any benefit.
To avoid tripping breakers or taxing your generator, stage your energy use. For example, turn off any fans, space heaters, or air conditioners when you are using the microwave or coffee maker. Try not to use any other appliances or outlets when you are doing laundry, or better yet, use the laundry facility of the campground or a nearby town. By knowing how much each of your appliances and utilities use, you can choose the best places to make comfortable, but significant adjustments.
2. Replace Inefficient Energy Suckers
Technological advances have made many elements that may have come standard in older motorhomes obsolete. At the very least — unless you bought a new RV or travel trailer off of the showroom floor within the last two years — there are likely some of the following upgrades that can be made to vastly improve your home’s efficiency.
LED Lights and Light Alternatives
Traditional, incandescent and florescent light bulbs use quite a bit of energy. LEDs, however typically cost more. Although replacing the interior lights of your motorhome with LED is a bit of an investment, it really pays off over time. First, LEDs are much cooler than their counterparts. This means you would spend less energy (money) cooling your home. Second, they use between 1/3 and 1/30th the amount of energy of the other bulbs. Third, they last tens times longer or more than florescent and incandescent sources. One option is to replace bulbs with LED lights as the originals burn out to soften and spread out the expense.
Consider turning the lights off. Use natural sunlight throughout the day and light candles or lanterns in the evening. This reduces how often you need to turn on the generator and avoids running down your batteries. Without artificial light, you are more likely to go to bed earlier, as your circadian rhythms aren’t disrupted, further conserving your energy use.
Many RVs have a television that may or may not have been “cutting edge” at the time it was installed. Early RV TVs were likely the old, inefficient cathode ray tube (CRT) television. These were not only clunky and inconvenient, but also terribly inefficient in their energy use.
More recent coaches, such as our 2007 Tourmaster, came equipped with LCD flat screen televisions. One of the first projects we took on was replacing the LCD in the bedroom with an updated, more energy efficient LED set. Our 32-inch flat screen uses 50-percent less than a CRT TV of the same size and 25-percent less than the LCD television that it came with. The picture is much better, as well.
Battery Operated Appliances
To reduce the amount of power being used from your generator or battery bank, switch to portable appliances with rechargeable batteries. Nearly any electrical item in your rig has a battery-operated alternative. In the kitchen, use battery-operated coffee makers, and crockpots. In the bathroom, consider battery-operated hair-dryers and razors. For that matter, consider using non-electric alternatives, as well.
3. Use Less Energy Heating and Cooling
Controlling the temperature of the interior of an RV or trailer uses more power than nearly anything else. Even if you have a propane furnace, the blower is still powered by electricity. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce the amount of energy you need to use to heat or cool your home.
Improve the Insulation Although it takes a bit of time, effort, and money, adding insulation to the interior of a motorhome makes a big difference. Choose a form like pink board or Styrofoam to install along the back wall of your cabinets. Use a spray foam in cracks and crevices within your underneath storage areas. This tightens up your space and limits outside temperatures seeping within requiring you to use your RV’s energy to make it more comfortable.
Park Optimally Use the light and warmth of the sun to your advantage by parking advantageously. To warm the interior, park in the open with your largest windows facing south or west. To cool it, park in the shade and face your windows north or east. These small changes can adjust the temperature by 10-degrees one way or the other without turning on—or up—your air conditioner or heater.
Consider the Windows Additionally, your windows can help the situation or hurt it. To avoid using your air conditioner, open the Windows when it’s temperate outside to let the cooler air in. To reduce how much you need to run your furnace, however, consider installing insulating shades and curtains. These help keep the warm air in and the cold air out.
Use Appropriate Bedding Although this may seem elementary, many people adjust the room temperature when they’re sleeping rather than making sure they are using the right bedding for the season or climate. When it’s cold, add more blankets — preferably several of different thicknesses so you can use what you need at any time throughout the night. When it’s hot, replace the heavy comforter that many RV’s come equipped with. Perhaps a light quilt would make a better summertime option.
Similar to using the right bedding for the season, you should dress for the temperature to avoid using your air conditioner or furnace to maintain your comfort.
When it’s cool out, wear a sweater and warm socks in the coach. When it’s cool, you can wear lighter clothing. Wearing shorts and cranking the heater up to 85-degrees may feel good, but it is extremely inefficient, and perhaps a little environmentally irresponsible.
4. Cook More Efficiently
For most, preparing at least one — and as many as three — meals a day in the motorhome is a given. As you can see from the chart above, how you cook makes a big difference in the amount of energy consumed. Rather than microwaving or using an electric skillet, consider these options.
Plan Ahead Before you leave your full-time home or — if you’re a full-time RVer — before you leave a campground to head down the road, plan the meals you will be having on the way. Prepare as many as possible ahead of time so you only need to reheat them while you’re camping or boondocking. Dishes like chili and stew often taste better a day or two after they have been cooked anyway, as the various flavors mix more thoroughly over time.
Another option is to plan meals that use the same ingredients. This limits the number of elements that you will have to pack and store and also saves time cooking and cleaning. For example, if you bring chili, have a second meal of chilidogs. If you make bacon and eggs for breakfast, cook an extra package of bacon to make sandwiches with later.
Not only does planning ahead reduce the amount of cooking that you have to do on the road — thereby reducing the amount of energy used to do it, but it also reduces clean up time and energy and makes sure that there aren’t any “leftovers.” This frees up refrigerator space and reduces the amount of ice you need for refrigeration if you’re using coolers instead.
Grill Outdoor grilling minimizes the amount of energy you use cooking in two ways. First, if you are grilling, you aren’t using the electricity required to use the stove, and electric fryer, microwave, or crockpot. Second, when you cook outside, you avoid heating up the kitchen, so you don’t need to run the air conditioner or any fans. Fortunately, there are so many different foods that can be cooked over fire, that you can prepare your entire meal outside and still enjoy a variety.
Crockpot When it comes to indoor cooking, there isn’t a method that uses less energy than the crockpot. Slow cookers are great for use in an RV for several reasons. They allow you to prepare the dish in the morning, when it’s cooler, and then forget about it for the rest of the day. Plus, they provide the means to cook hundreds of “one-pot” meals for ultimate variety.
Using a crockpot not only uses energy economically, but also time and effort. Additionally, since cooking consists of one unit, clean up is easy requiring very little hot water. This means the water heater and water pump aren’t used as much as they would be for more elaborately prepared meals, as well.
Salads or Cold Meals Eating on the road doesn’t require that campers cook. There are plenty of cold meal options that take no more energy than the refrigerator or coolers to keep the ingredients cold. Salads, cold cut trays for sandwiches, tuna or chicken salad sandwiches, fruit cups, and even cold packed chicken are great choices, but the options are limited only by your imagination.
5. Use Propane
Some appliances, such as the water heater and furnace, function on either electricity or propane. When that is the case, propane is the better choice. Not only does it typically heat faster than electricity does, it’ll allow you to remain comfortable for for a longer period of time without running down your batteries or requiring you to run your generator.
6. Time Showers
Running the water pump and the water heater (unless you have a propane heater) uses your RV’s limited electricity. To use as little energy as possible, time your showers to require the least amount of heated water and the least amount of time heating it up.
This can be done in a few different ways.
First, you can take showers at night when the water in the tank and lines has been heated all day by the sun. Also, when you shower at night, especially in summer or after a hot day, you are less likely to crave a shower that is very warm, so you use less energy.
Second, you can time showers to be taken “back to back.” In other words, one person takes a shower and the other person takes one immediately following. This allows the second person to take a shower after the water has already been “warmed up,” using roughly half the energy of taking one at a different time.
Third, minimize showers. Use the same principles you would to conserve water in general. Take short, less frequent showers, turning off the water while sudsing. Honestly, there are many ways to reduce the energy used for showers, such as just taking cold ones — which has the added benefit of ensuring they are short, as well as energy efficient.
7. Plan to Recharge
Unless you are planning a truly unplugged camping trip, you’re still going to want to charge your laptop and smartphone. Even an unplugged trip may require a flashlight and a ham radio with rechargeable batteries. To power these basic necessities with the least amount of energy consumption, consider charging them while you travel. Just purchase a small inverter and plug it into the 12v accessory outlet in your RV or tow/chase vehicle. This allows the computer or appliance to be charged by the power of the engine rather you’re your RV batteries.
Another option is to plan “recharge sessions” periodically throughout your trip. For example, many food chains like Starbucks and Panera Bread Co. have great Wi-Fi and ample outlets for customers to use. Take a long lunch and charge your electronics, as you check your email or browse Facebook.
Lastly, plug into shore power periodically and charge all of your electronics, appliances, and rechargeable batteries. When we’re boondocking, we usually spend one night a week at an RV park filling our freshwater tank, emptying our other tanks, and charging our electronic devices.
8. Use Solar Appliances
Visit any camping supply or RV supply store, such as Camping World and RV World. It is like Christmas for anyone interested in camping gadgets and organizational equipment. Some of the most innovative are the solar appliances.
With everything from collapsible, solar lanterns, solar powered coffee makers, solar powered stoves, and solar powered electronic chargers, there is something for nearly everyone. Some are much more effective than others and can charge even with indirect light, making them useful even on cloudy days. When it comes to conserving energy, every little bit helps.
9. Consider Solar
Solar power is great, but it’s an expensive investment. Most RV systems consist of batteries, a charge controller, an inverter (which some motorhomes already have), and the solar panels. The sun’s energy produces a direct current (DC) that is captured by the RV’s batteries. The charge controller makes sure that the batteries charge, but don't become overcharged. The inverter then converts the DC power from the batteries into alternating current (AC), which is what all of your appliances use.
Some panels have to be pointed directly at the sun and, therefore, produce the most at noon. This means that they also produce less during the winter, cloudy days, and in northern areas. With so many options—plus the size of the initial investment—it is necessary to do plenty of research to ensure you get a set up that meets your needs without exceeding them. Many campers find that starting with a small set up and adding to it is the only way they can incorporate solar into their power supply source.
10. Spend Time Outside
This may seem obvious, but the more time you spend outside, the less energy from your RV you are spending. Nearly anything you can do inside your motorhome with the assistance of electricity, you can do outdoors without it.
Prepare your food outside and cook it over a fire. Let nature and your neighbors be your form of entertainment. Use the solar power of outside illumination as your reading light source during the day. There are even outdoor, gravity powered collapsible showers that you can use — in discreet locations — if you really want to be conservative.
Generator surges, drained batteries, tripped breakers, and unexpectedly low fuel levels can all be avoided with some knowledge of an RV’s energy use and a bit of planning. Consider solar powered appliances and be creative about how and when you charge your electronic devices. Use other methods to keep yourself comfortable within the motorhome, such as dressing appropriately and varying the bedding, rather than adjusting the thermostat. Spend more time outside and plan your meals to use as little power as possible. Don’t consider this as a liability or punishment, but as another aspect of your adventure and share on a social media site like Facebook to make the camping world just a little “greener.”