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This page I wrote for my old rv website RVforSaleGuide.com before discovering the Vanabode as the best travel vehicle for long term fun. People still like big rv's despite the much greater cost and trouble to operate, so here's what I know about them.
The Inverter information here is accurate but older than what appears in the Vanabode book, where I do a much deeper and more detailed explanation of this important piece of road trip equipment, and how to chose a good one for Vanabode's or motorhomes. An inverter is the single most important part of living forever on $20 a day without the complicated and expensive solar systems espoused by vandwellers. Inverter's are found in almost all RVs. An inverter is capable of taking the lower voltage power source (i.e., batteries) and changing it so items that require a standard 120 volt energy stream can run, (as opposed to a converter which decreases the voltage of a generator or a commercial power source to make it suitable for your needs.)
People who own inverters report that it contributes to their increased quality of life style. Some common uses of inverters include generating power for a breathing machine, computers, microwave ovens, TV sets, and other so commonly used pieces of equipment. An inverter can be used to modify the energy source to suite any of the above mentioned usages.
Shopping for inverters? As always, the more money you invest into a piece of equipment the more reliable it will most likely be. The cost of inverters starts at $45 and go up as the energy generating capacity increases. Energy efficiency factor is another thing to consider when buying this piece of equipment. The up front investment into a more expensive piece of equipment will ultimately save you money on operating costs.
Other factors to consider while shopping for an inverter include its output power. You will need to know how long you want the device to be operating for. Watch for the information on packaging. The inverter with the capacity of 1500 Watts will most likely last for a quarter of an hour.
Idle current is another important consideration while choosing an inverter. You may want to minimize on your inverter idling and using up your battery. The higher the quality of an inverter the less energy it drains to remain idle.
And last but not least, efficiency of the device is important in how it runs and in how long it lasts. Inverters that indicate that they are capable of 90+% overall efficiency should be avoided as they could go as much down as 50 percent depending on the overall electricity consumption of your house/RV. Always go for the devices with a 100 percent capability.
You decide whether your preference is cost, reliability, or efficiency. Make sure you investigate what your options are and get the device that is most up to your expectations. Increase the quality of your adventure with a suitable inverter.
Installing an Inverter
Installing an inverter may vary depending on the type of the device. A good quality inverter will have installation instructions for your convenience. Often a dealer would add their own instructions to assist you even further. The dealer's instructions are usually based on customer comments and are very user friendly. The first logical suggestion is to read a user manual. It is important to plan your installation and allow sufficient amounts of time. It will be of benefit for you once you are ready to install. The good rule of a thumb is to place inverters right next to the batteries, however make sure you use separate compartments. If you don't, there is a danger of the inverter spark to ignite the gas emitted by the battery.
Make sure you place your inverter as close to the battery as possible. This will facilitate the voltage drop from battery into the converter of your choice, and it is vital that it occurs to reach your goal. It is advised to use the size of the cable as it is recommended in the instructional booklet. It is okay to increase the cable size and length, but never decrease it. It is also essential to keep the same cable size to ensure battery to battery connection. Silicone dielectric grease is one of the best means for battery maintenance. Apply it on terminals and electrical connection to ensure the operation and to increase the life span of the battery. Another important thing is to ensure that the cable terminals are securely attached. It is not a good idea in this case to save some money on a cheaper cable. Invest in good cable with welding terminals.
Some of the things to watch out for while installing an inverter are radio frequency interference and grounding. You can eliminate most of the frequency interference by either moving an inverter away from you radio or by twisting the bigger size cables away from the battery source. Another thing you can do is to cover your cables with the sheath made of stainless steel. Of course, it is always an option to use an audio or a visual cables that are better isolated from the start.
There are various ways you can use grounding, depending on an inverter and a manufacturer. The options include case ground or a separate ground involving a connector. It is important to remember that these types of installations would be different for RVs and for regular homes. Make sure that you keep the neutral wire's terminal strip isolated from other wires while installing an inverter.
Inverter and Sensitive Equipment
Make sure your Inverter and your sensitive equipment are compatible with each other. Sometimes the same inverter feeds several devices or circuits. You need to be careful with computers. If you are using inverter for a good size computer, try not to add other devices requiring considerable electricity supply while the computer is in operation. A lot of computers can run well on so called quasi-sine wave that is produced by the inverters. Other inverters can offer complicated circuits that have extra protective capabilities. Such circuits are capable of detecting even insignificant irregularities in electricity supply and warn you of the potential trouble.
It is important to remember that most of the laser printers require sine wave to ensure operation. Therefore, before you go into an expense to obtain a true sine wave inverter, make sure that this kind of printer is really what you want or need. Ink jet printers provide a great alternative to laser printers and are a lot cheaper to purchase and maintain. Jet printers are also a lot more energy friendly and will save you plenty on your energy bill.
Other devices known to be very picky with the inverter power are complicated stereos and TV-sets. They don't deal very well with the inverter interference. You have to pay the price to ensure the quality of sound and projection. In this case, quality implies extreme sensitivity. Cheap ones will register very slight inconsistencies in energy supply. To make sure you are aware of whether you have such devices, it is a good idea to consult an experienced inverter dealer who can give you plenty of tips for that.
Other issues worthy of consideration are the use of inverters with medical equipment and power generators. Inverters can handle both, provided you know how to approach this issue. Benefit from educating your self on how to use an inverter for running sensitive electronics.