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One of the biggest perks of an RV is being able to use the same amenities you'd have at home, such as a microwave and a refrigerator. If any of your RV appliances operate on AC power at 110 volts or higher, they need to be powered by a generator – so if your RV didn't come with a generator built in, it might be a good idea to install one.
Installing a portable generator will require a decent investment of time and energy, but with a couple days of work, you'll have your RV's power source up and running. Here's how to do it.
Choose Where to Mount the Generator
Inspect your RV to determine where would be the best place for your generator. If you're using a travel trailer, you might want to put it on the A-frame at the front of the trailer, behind the propane tanks and near the hitch.
Your RV's rear bumper is another option, if it can support the generator's weight. There's argument over whether this option is safe, as the generator could technically fly off, but if you take all the necessary precautions to make sure your bumper can support a generator, it should be fine. If you see that the bumper is welded or bolted to the frame using a 12-inch or longer section of metal, it's probably able to support a generator. Otherwise, you'd need to install a support structure.
Install Support for the Generator
If you do have to fabricate a support structure for your RV's bumper to handle a generator's weight, that adds an extra step to the installation process. Attach a metal channel to the bumper, setting it perpendicular to the bumper, by drilling or bolting it to the bumper and using U-bolts to support it.
Mount the Generator
First, you'll have to attach the generator platform to your RV. If you're mounting the platform to the A-frame, do so by placing U-bolts through the mesh and over the frame. If it's on the rear bumper, put the U-bolts through the mesh in the bottom of the platform, and secure them around the metal channel support structure.
Next, place the generator on the platform. Try to keep its weight near the platform's center, and secure the generator to the platform. If the generator has holes in its base, place bolts through them to secure it. If there aren't bolt openings, you can secure it with ratchet straps by hooking each end of the strap to the platform's mesh bottom, running them over the top of the generator and tightening them.
Wire the Generator
You have a couple of options for wiring your generator, and they vary depending on how automated you want the system to be. The simplest method is just to plug the shore power cord into the RV's generator receptacle. This will simultaneously supply your RV with shore and generator power, but it can limit you to only running the generator while the RV isn't moving. (Otherwise, the shore power cord might dangle in the wind while plugged into the generator.)
Your other wiring option is a transfer switch, which allows you to connect two sources of AC power. To do this, wire the generator's AC output to one side of the transfer switch, and wire the shore power to the other side. You can then switch between the two power sources as appropriate.
- An RV-class generator works best because it has much greater horsepower than others and its RPM level is easier to muffle.
Brenna Swanston is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. She covers topics including environment, agriculture and travel. She previously reported for the Sun newspaper in Santa Maria, Calif., and holds a bachelor's in journalism from California Polytechnic State University. Swanston is an avid traveler and loves jazz, yoga and craft beer.