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Old 07-12-2012, 09:03 AM   #1
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Generator Usage

We've had our 16' Bambi for about 6 yrs now and enjoy taking it to campgrounds with no hook-ups. We're FINALLY getting around to purchasing a generator but not sure what wattage we'll need and the proper way to use it.
We rarely, but occasionally, run the a/c...and for the most part just need to keep the battery charged to power the fridge, water pump, radio and lights.
I've never used a generator before. How often do I need to run it to keep the power up and not have to worry about my fridge not cooling and my lights getting dim? We've had too many long weekends cut short due to lack of electricity.
Also, I assume the generator needs to be running any time that I'm plugging something in such as a coffee maker, microwave, etc...?
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Old 07-12-2012, 09:44 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Chad J View Post
We've had our 16' Bambi for about 6 yrs now and enjoy taking it to campgrounds with no hook-ups. We're FINALLY getting around to purchasing a generator but not sure what wattage we'll need and the proper way to use it.
We rarely, but occasionally, run the a/c...and for the most part just need to keep the battery charged to power the fridge, water pump, radio and lights.
I've never used a generator before. How often do I need to run it to keep the power up and not have to worry about my fridge not cooling and my lights getting dim? We've had too many long weekends cut short due to lack of electricity.
Also, I assume the generator needs to be running any time that I'm plugging something in such as a coffee maker, microwave, etc...?
Everybody's different when it comes to electrical usage. So, some one-size-fits-all guaidance:
1 - Don't let your house batteries drain below a 50% charge (~12.2 volts), even for AGM batteries. Draining them farther reduces battery life and you'll be replacing them more often. A 50% charge means that you've used 50% of the rated amp-hours. By monitoring your battery's state of charge, you'll know how often to recharge.
2 - When you're running your generator and it's plugged into your shore power socket, you're not using the inverter; all of the 120vAC appliances are running directly off the generator. Normal guidance for generator sizing is to add up the total watts used by all of your appliances as if you had them all running at once (don't forgret to include the battery charger), then take 70% of that figure since you won't actually be running them all at once.
3 - Select a generator that produces at least 70% of your total 120vAC load, but less than your 100% 120vAC load. For a trailer the size of yours, that's probably somewhere in the 2.5kW range, but don't take my word for it; run the numbers yourself.
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Old 07-12-2012, 02:36 PM   #3
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If you're running the AC off the generator, you need a fairly large one. Some have had success with the 2400 watt generators, but most people will have ~3000 watts or more (many of us have two 2000 Hondas or Yamahas that can be linked to make one bigger generator).

If you can get by without AC or the microwave, you can get a much smaller generator. A 1000 or 2000 is good for recharging your batteries.
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Old 07-12-2012, 02:55 PM   #4
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The Honda 2000 is fairly easy to handle and will provide what you need, but not everything at once, A/C, microwave, coffee maker for example. But then neither will your Airstream electrical system. A larger generator will if you plug some things into it outside the electrical system, but they are heavy beasts, and never really needed.

Honda makes a 1000 watt model but too small for A/C plus basic trailer needs. Without A/C and micro it would do fine. Easy to handle, transport.

Watch out for cheap brands, the noise level is unbelievable. You and your neighbors will hate it. Stick with Honda or Yamaha.

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Old 07-12-2012, 03:03 PM   #5
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Dometic 3000

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chad J View Post
We've had our 16' Bambi for about 6 yrs now and enjoy taking it to campgrounds with no hook-ups. We're FINALLY getting around to purchasing a generator but not sure what wattage we'll need and the proper way to use it.
We rarely, but occasionally, run the a/c...and for the most part just need to keep the battery charged to power the fridge, water pump, radio and lights.
I've never used a generator before. How often do I need to run it to keep the power up and not have to worry about my fridge not cooling and my lights getting dim? We've had too many long weekends cut short due to lack of electricity.
Also, I assume the generator needs to be running any time that I'm plugging something in such as a coffee maker, microwave, etc...?
I recommend the Dometic 3000. It will run the AC/HP and all other stuff at the same time if you need but probably not charge your battery too. Better to have the capability while boondocking than get a 2000W and be out there wanting. Also, the AC is big power hog when you need it.
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Old 07-12-2012, 03:58 PM   #6
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You have to decide whether you want a generator big enough to run the AC. I assume that since you are pulling a 16 you might also be using a tow less than a 3/4 ton? We bought a Honda 2000 because we do drive a 3/4 ton and because I was hedging my bets as to whether I wanted to add another and run the AC. Okay for us. But if you are not going to run the AC, and do not drive a pickup, then I would look hard at one of the 1000 gens, the Yamaha or the Honda, to keep the batteries up. Those 1000 gens are lighter and smaller to stow. Probably need to run it 1 or 2 hours per day if you have a 1 battery trailer. We run it every 2 days when we boondock, more to be sure we do not draw down too far. When it is cold and we run the furnace, then everyday for a while. 2 batteries. And we do some 110 things when it is running. I have left campsites to look for one with shade and power when it is really hot. Not my idea of fun with or without the AC out in the sun.
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Old 07-12-2012, 07:44 PM   #7
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I appreciate the replies. I know how most feel about Harbor Freight but will their 800/900watt gen be enough to charge the battery if ran a couple hrs a day?
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Old 07-12-2012, 09:17 PM   #8
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I appreciate the replies. I know how most feel about Harbor Freight but will their 800/900watt gen be enough to charge the battery if ran a couple hrs a day?
That generator is very attractively priced, though some have said it's a bit loud for close-quarter camping. I can't speak to the noise, but it will recharge your battery, especially if you top it off every day. If it doesn't, due to inefficiencies in the trailer's converter, pull the battery out, hook it up to a battery charger, and plug the battery charger into the generator. I know that from my personal experience with a well-known, similar-sized generator, but not a HF product.

Incidentally, I couldn't tell from your initial post whether or not you actually wanted AC capability or not. If so, AC will absolutely drive your generator requirements. If you want/need the AC, then for the most part you will need a 3000w generator. If not, then the next significant driver would be appliances such as electric hair dryers in the area of 1500w. If that's not important to you, then the next major appliance would be the microwave, probably in the area of 1000w, plus a little extra at startup. If you want/need the microwave or the hair dryer, then you need a 2000w generator. If the microwave is not important, you can easily get by with a 1000w generator, or less.

I know some others will disagree, but personally, based on my experience, I'm not a fan of generators less than 2000w because the price is often unattractive relative to a 2000w generator, and the severe limitations on future use. What if you decide you want the hair dryer or microwave?

The HF option is enticing though, and from my perspective I wouldn't hesitate to spend the $100 and give it a try...see how loud it is, see if it meets your needs. It is a 2-cycle, so you will have to mix the gas & oil.

The other thing you didn't mention related to how you dry camp, how long your battery lasted , and how many more days you wished you could have stayed, had the battery held out. I really don't dry camp anymore, but back in my dry camping days, I often went with two batteries, i.e., a spare. Since all we were using were the lights and water pump, it was only on extended stays where we needed the second battery. Acceptable wet cell lead acid RV batteries are cheap, lighter than small generators, no bothering with gasoline in your TV. No need to buy the high priced batteries, Costco, Wal-Mart, Pep Boys, etc. should be just fine, unless you're a serious user, and need more extended stays. Cold weather camping is another thing though, as running the furnace fan will impact the battery in a hurry. I learned that the hard way camping near you in the San Gabriels, over 8,000 feet, some 40 years ago.

In any event, even with shore power, you can't run all the big user items at once.

All in all, these are highly individualized preferences, depending on how you enjoy using your Airstream. If you're uncertain, spending $100 on a cheap generator, or $70 or so on a backup deep cycle battery may be more attractive than spending $1,000 or more on one of the well-known generators.

Incidentally, during our dry camping days, and many years after we acquired our Airstream, we used the fully-manual Mellita cone filters and associated funnel, and heated the water with the gas stove. Now I'm lazy, and use a little coffee maker, but we still carry the funnel and the pot around, just in case.
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Old 07-12-2012, 10:22 PM   #9
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I appreciate the replies. I know how most feel about Harbor Freight but will their 800/900watt gen be enough to charge the battery if ran a couple hrs a day?
I've seen one of those in a campground, THEY ARE LOUD. It's a 2-stroke so you have to mix fuel with 2-stroke oil like a chainsaw.

Chicago Electric 800 Watt 2 Stroke Generator - YouTube
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Old 07-12-2012, 10:38 PM   #10
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I bought my 100w Honda genny over 10 years ago to top off the batteries. It won't run a normal hair dryer, any microwave or a coffee maker. I have learned to camp without the microwave or coffee maker and have found a hair dryer that will operate at a reduced heat output.

I replaced my 12v battery with 2 6v golf cart batteries and replaced my interior lights with LED bulbs. I can now go 4 days easily when boondocking. I have carried my 1k genny but have not had to use it at all since changing to 6v and LED's. Now the heat is here. When I boondock now, I will use the 1k genny to operate the 5k AC unit that I carry in the closet and install in the window when I set up camp. This is detailed in a thread I started on 5/16/12.

If I did not have a genny at all I would recommend this: First, buy an extra battery to change out just in case you need it- $70. If this is not enough, buy a honda or yamaha 2k genny for less than $1,000. It will run everything except your AC and it might run that if you have a high efficiency model (probably not factory original).

Dan
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Old 07-13-2012, 12:19 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Chad J View Post
I appreciate the replies. I know how most feel about Harbor Freight but will their 800/900watt gen be enough to charge the battery if ran a couple hrs a day?
For the sake of everyone's sanity and your own, please don't buy this God-awful noisemaker. Get the little Honda 1000w, the difference is heaven and hell.

doug k
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Old 07-13-2012, 02:30 AM   #12
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I've seen one of those in a campground, THEY ARE LOUD. It's a 2-stroke so you have to mix fuel with 2-stroke oil like a chainsaw.

Chicago Electric 800 Watt 2 Stroke Generator - YouTube
Hi, WOW; I never heard one of those run before. As the guy walks away from the camera, you [I] could barely hear him talking; And as soon as he fired up that tiny generator, my ears got blasted.

Not just because I own one, but the Yamaha 2400 is the smallest, lightest, single generator that will run an RV air conditioner. [my opinion] And two Honda 2000's are the most popular set-up.

And the noisy generators will make you the most unpopular person in the camp ground.
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Old 07-13-2012, 08:50 AM   #13
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All good advice, thanks.
We can usually go about 4 days on just battery power but thats w/o use of the fridge or a/c. I'd like to get at least 7 days w/fridge.
Does the fridge have a big draw on energy?
I'm thinking maybe just buying a 2nd battery is the way to go.
Is it as easy as just connecting 2 batteries together? Will I have charging issues?
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Old 07-13-2012, 09:04 AM   #14
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I bought the Coleman 1800 watt ( I think it was 1800) generator from Home Depot. The box showed it sitting by a stream right next to a tent. Nice ,soft, pastorial scene. And it was inexpensive..$400.00. I used it 2 nights & took it back, unbielvably loud. You could have murdered 10 cats with an icepick & not heard them screech! I now have the Honda 2K & am happy I spent the money. Plus when the power goes out @ home I can still watch T.V.
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