There have been many articles written about how to extend RV battery life while dry camping. Many of these involve the addition of batteries and solar panels. While these articles are great for do-it-yourselfers who have the time and money, for many of us this is either not desirable or not an option, given space, time, ability, or cost limitations. In this column I will provide alternative tips that are inexpensive and simple and don’t require modifications to your RV.
First, I will discuss the batteries themselves. Although some recreational vehicles have space for four or more batteries, many, such as vans and small trailers, can only accommodate two, at least without significant modification. It is sometimes possible to add additional batteries, but it will normally be at the cost of storage or other ancillary space. Therefore, many RV owners are limited in the number of batteries they have on board. The best advice I can offer in this case is to use 6V batteries instead of 12V. 6V batteries have a higher and better current capacity than 12V due to the larger plates, which results in a slower discharge rate.
In terms of the battery loads, the primary ones are the furnace, lights, LP detector, fridge and water heater control boards, vent fans, other 12V appliances, and inverter loads. With the exception of large inverter loads, the heaviest battery draw is generally the furnace blower. If you are camping in colder weather, you can minimize furnace use by turning down the thermostat, dressing warmer during the day, and using a heavier comforter or sleeping bag at night. The furnace tends to be a strain on the coach batteries, so this energy saving tip goes a long way.
One load that usually can’t be avoided is the interior lighting. I replaced all my interior bulbs with LED versions. I have five “standard” incandescent ceiling fixtures in my coach, each with two bulbs. Therefore, I replaced ten incandescent bulbs with LED equivalents. Doing so saves a significant amount of power, considering these bulbs consume a fraction of the current as incandescent bulbs. A word of advice though, don’t buy LED bulbs from a retail outlet or RV parts store. I purchased mine online and paid almost the same for ten as I would have for a single one at a retail store.
12V appliances such as televisions and DVD/Blu-ray players don’t draw much power, nor do the 120V versions of these when run through a small inverter (around 200W). I highly recommend carrying at least one of these inverters in your RV, as they are also good for powering other appliances such as laptops (although you would want a true sine wave version for sensitive electronics). This is not large enough to power a coffee maker or toaster, but will work for most other things.
Of course, you may choose to incorporate additional and more expensive systems, such as solar panels, which will further increase your off-grid time, but following these simple tips will allow you to significantly increase the battery life of your coach without major modifications or cost.
About the Author:
Steve Froese, an avid RV owner, traveler, and Coach-Net member since 2013, is the principal of “A Word to the Wise Technical Communications”, a published RV author, certified RV technician, and licensed Professional Engineer. He frequently collaborates with the “RV Doctor”, Gary Bunzer, and has worked with the RVIA/RVDA as a technical and training writer and consultant. Professionally, he works as a quality engineer and musician. Watch for more of Steve’s work in upcoming Coach-Net publications.