Owning an RV comes with a lot of questions. Many campgrounds have full hookups. But if not, or you find yourself spending the night in a parking lot, can you run an RV generator all night?
I tried it in a Walmart parking lot and found that:
A built-in RV generator in a motorhome can be run all night to power everything in the RV. Just keep the windows closed to prevent any fumes or carbon monoxide from seeping into the interior. A portable generator for a trailer or 5th wheel can run approximately 6 hours before running out of gas.
But that’s not all there is to know about running your RV generator at night.
After all, there are follow-up questions like how much gas will that use, is diesel better than regular, and how do stand-alone generators differ from built-in ones. And should you get a carbon monoxide detector just in case?
Just keep reading to learn more!
Is it safe to sleep with a generator running in my RV?
With all windows and doors closed, it is perfectly safe to sleep in an RV while a generator located outside the RV is running to provide power for the RV.
Typically, generators can run from 8-10 hours on 1-2 gallons of fuel. This is plenty long enough to keep you warm and toasty overnight.
That said, there are a few things you need to be mindful of if you are going to run your generator overnight. Carbon monoxide is the most obvious and concerning.
Carbon monoxide is poisonous, colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It in itself has no detectable odor. But it is often mixed with other gasses that do have an odor. If you can smell the gas, then you are also inhaling carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly.
So you don’t want to mess around with it. But there are some easy ways to prevent carbon monoxide from seeping into your camper.
Carbon monoxide detectors are the easiest way to detect carbon monoxide.
Even if you can’t smell the leak, the carbon monoxide detector will alert you if there is a leak. Many generators come with a built-in sensor to shut off if the carbon monoxide levels get too high.
Leaving your windows closed will also prevent any fumes or carbon monoxide from leaking into your camper too.
CLICK HERE to check out my favorite carbon monoxide detector for RVs on Amazon. It detects both smoke and carbon monoxide. You can mount it in a set location, but you could also leave it free to move about inside the RV.
Battery-powered, and over 16,000 near-perfect reviews, plus it’s an Amazon’s Choice product.
STOLEN from ASOL Building Sunday night KCPD did NOTHING DuroStar 4400 Watt Quiet Portable Electric Start RV Gas Power Generator DS4400E pic.twitter.com/yrD5H9051j
— Jerry Crowell (@JerryCrowell8) April 23, 2020
How long can you run a generator in an RV?
A built-in generator in a motorhome can operate as long as there is gas in the tank, using approximately 1 gallon of gas every 3 hours. With gas tanks averaging 60-100 gallons, that has a run time of 7.5 days to 12.5 days. In a trailer or 5th wheel using a portable generator, the typical run time is up to 6 hours.
So since motorhome generator usage is pretty much a non-issue, I’ll focus on generators that are not built-in.
A WEN 2,000-watt gas-powered inverter generator can run for 6 hours at half load. That doesn’t sound like much, but it only holds a gallon of gas. Inverter generators are great for sensitive electronics like laptops and other small electronic devices.
The larger 3,300-watt DuroStar gas generator holds 4 gallons of gas and runs for more than 8 hours. The heftier 5,000-watt Generac is a diesel-powered generator. It holds 12 gallons of fuel and runs for 32.4 hours!
You can even get a dual fuel generator. Dual fuel generators run on a combination of fuels. This one from Amazon runs on either propane or gas. It can run for 14 hours on 5 gallons of fuel.
Encountering electrical issues while you’re camping can be frustrating.
Unfortunately, RV electrical systems can be confusing since outlets can get power from shore power, a generator, or even an inverter.
The most common cause of RV outlets not working is a tripped GFCI outlet or the power inverter being off when not connected to shore or generator power.
To read more about why your RV outlets may not be working, just read this recent article. After all, RV electrical systems are complicated. Shore power, chassis batteries, inverters, converters, etc. There are a million ways an outlet might not work.
Just click the link to read it on my site and see the solutions.
We have a Kohler 16.5kw natural gas emergency back up generator at our home in Texas and our RV that we spend winters in Florida in has a Onan 12.5 Diesel generator (our RV has a 150 gal tank) so were covered. pic.twitter.com/9YX96TiGA9
— Musings of a nobody (@JustaCi54400863) January 14, 2021
Do campgrounds allow RV generators at night?
Most campgrounds that also allow tent camping don’t allow RV generators to run during quiet hours, which are often 10 pm to 6 am. RV parks that are for RVs only typically do not have an issue with generators although they also likely provide hookups.
Check the rules at your campground to be sure.
People go camping so they can get away from the noise of the city. Nothing says “Welcome to the country” like a running generator. Right?
Some campgrounds don’t allow generators at all because they can be so loud. Others will have specific rules when it comes to running your generator.
Typically, they don’t want you running them during quiet hours. As you can imagine, nighttime and quiet hours coincide. They may even have a decibel limit. Not just at quiet times, but at all times.
Campgrounds may have specific times or even specific campsites where you can run your generator, too.
These rules will vary from campground to campground, so be sure to check the rules before you arrive at your destination.
When traveling in the wintertime, it’s especially important to have a working heater.
Unfortunately, it often seems that the furnace stops working at the most inopportune time. RV furnaces usually stop working because of insufficient battery voltage or dirty air filters.
To learn more about why RV furnaces stop working, read this recent article. It’s best to put a few of these preventative measures in place before you find yourself freezing and Googling for the solution.
Just click the link to read it on my site.
DuroMax XP4850EH Hybrid Portable Dual Fuel Propane / Gas Camping RV Generator
— Omar Hamad (@omarehamad7) June 14, 2020
How much gas does an RV generator use?
Built-in motorhome generators will use approximately 1 gallon of gas every 3 hours if the air conditioning or heating system is being used. Stand-alone generators for trailers or 5th wheels often hold between 1-8 gallons of gas using approximately 1 gallon every 1.5 hours.
Just like with how long your generator can run, the amount of fuel it burns will vary widely, too.
Gas-powered generators will hold between 1 to 10 gallons of fuel and will run at full strength for an hour on half a gallon of gas.
They are generally less efficient than diesel but are very convenient for gas-powered motorhomes. If you have a gas generator and a gas motorhome, you don’t have to make extra stops to purchase diesel fuel.
If you are running your air conditioner off your generator, you’ll need about a 4,000-watt generator.
A 4,000-watt diesel generator will run at half power for 3 hours on a gallon of fuel. It will run for about an hour on a gallon of fuel at full power.
Propane generators are the least efficient and probably the most expensive to fill. But they are the quietest of the bunch.
You can also get a dual fuel generator.
Dual fuel generators can run off of both propane and gasoline. This is nice because you can pick your fuel to match your circumstances. For example, you may pick quieter propane if you are in a crowded campground.
Or you may pick the more efficient gas if you are in a more secluded area.
How loud is an RV generator inside the RV?
Inside an RV, the noise from a generator outside the RV would create approximately 25 decibels of noise. Average generators put out about 80 decibels standing next to the generator.
We ran our generator our 1st-night camping in a Walmart parking lot.
I could hear it inside the RV for sure. And as you should always do, all our windows and doors were fully closed. But it wasn’t loud. In fact, watching TV before we went to sleep, while I could feel the vibration from our built-in Onan generator, I couldn’t actually hear it over the TV volume.
But generators can be pretty noisy inside the RV, especially if you are surrounded by RVers with other noisy generators.
You can reduce the inside noise by placing a non-built-in generator on a soft surface, like an anti-vibration mat. Placing it on the grass or the dirt can help dampen the sound, too. Whatever you do, do not place it directly on concrete.
The kind of generator you get will make a difference, too.
Inverter generators are built with a lot of sound-dampening material around them. And well-designed mufflers dampen the exhaust sound. These are ideal for campground settings because they run around the 50-decibel mark.
Contractor-type generators with the cage around them can get well over 60-decibels.
Instead of being contained and insulated against sound like inverter generators, contractor-type generators have the engine out in the open.
The mufflers make a lot of exhaust noise, and it always has to run at full speed, even when you only need a few watts.
Did I answer everything you wanted to know about whether you can run your RV generator all night?
There are MANY options out there for generators.
Diesel machines are sturdier and can typically run longer. But propane generators are quieter.
Inverter generators are the quietest of them all.
All generators are loud, though—even the “quiet” ones. So, if you’re going to run your generator at night, be sure to check the campground rules first.
No matter what kind of fuel your generator burns, it can run for a pretty long time.
Of course, I have to say that I am not recommending you operate your generator outside of what your product manual and/or your RV manufacturer dictate. I am also not privy to the condition of your generator or your RV, or how well your doors and windows are sealed. Always use caution when operating a gas-powered device and use a carbon monoxide detector insider your RV for extra safety. My article should not be construed as mechanical or medical or professional advice and if you need mechanical advice you should contact your RV dealer or other qualified professional.