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Portable Generators for use with Motorhomes, Travel Trailers & Fifth Wheel RVs

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Portable Generator Question:

We just bought a new fifth wheel. I'm researching the different alternatives for a 4kw generator. My question is, are portable generators such as those available at Home Depot, adequate for occasional (non-campground) use?

I'm thinking of just throwing it in the bed of the truck to use when the A/C is needed for sleeping or we want to run the microwave on a boondocking trip. I can't really afford a good RV class generator right now.


Most experienced 'campers' have gone through this dilemma and many of us have learned the hard way (is there any other way?) that the RV class generator is the only way to go. The basic reasons are that RV generators have about three times the horse power and run at around 1800 rpm., which is much easier to muffle. They also have electric start and are built for many hours of continuous use.

But if a portable is the only thing you can afford then here's few thoughts compiled from a discussion on an online discussion group mailing list.

Portable or "contractor-grade" generators typically have cruder engines which are noisier of themselves, and run twice as fast as RV-type generators creating more noise. Compare the noise ratings. To make a fair comparison, make sure that the rating is given at the same distance e.g., "55db at 20 feet".

These days portable or contractor grade generators have gotten quieter so if you can hear one run you may be satisfied with the noise level. Still it's not likely to be as quite as an RV generator.

Check the height of the generator to make sure it doesn't stick up past the bed rails of your truck and *rob* your clearance between your fifth wheel and the truck.

Running a generator in the truck bed often amplifies the sound. If you plan to leave it in the truck while it's in operation, you can (1) mount the generator on sound-absorbing feet or thick rubber pad, and (2) supplement the stock muffler with an automobile or other large muffler. This will not reduce the mechanical noise made by the motor though.

Boondocking in the desert at Quartzsite we saw many RVers with portable generators set down in a wash (below grade) away from the camp site. This significantly reduced the noise level. The drawbacks are having to unload the generator and locate it in the wash and the need for a heavy gauge extension cord long enough to reach the RV. Also consider the walk out to start and stop the generator when you want to run it. There is a possibility of theft. And of course what's quiet for you may be noisy for your neighbors.

"Throwing" a 150-lb generator into and out of the truck bed can really get old.

The exhaust system may not be an approved spark arrestor type, as required in many camping areas... although it's sometimes an option.

An RV air conditioner is a large load for all but the biggest portable generators. Consider if you will be using the A/C, and therefore the generator, for several hours at a time. Make sure the generator is rated for continuous use.

The above also applies to a travel trailer assuming it's pulled by a truck but motor home owners will have the added problem of storage. If you have space in your motor home to store a generator you should really consider installing an RV generator.

There are many RVers who are using the very small and quiet portable generators from Honda, Yamaha and other manufacturers to provide minimal power for TV's, computer systems and Microwaves. While most are not powerful enough to run an RV air conditioner or a number of lesser appliances at the same time the RVers who use them are satisfied with them for what they can do. Also, these small generators are used more casually for short time use.

You may also want to read: Most Frequently Asked Questions about RV Generators and RV Electrical System Basics

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