In this second post, I would LIKE to talk about some basic electrical terms, inverters, converters, RV Batteries and their types, surge protectors, campground power supplies, and other power sources.
Who would have thought there could be so much to write about in this part of the RV experience and know-how? I sure didn’t until I started doing some research. I had some electrical leftovers from Highschool but, that was a long time ago.
Anyway, let’s talk about the difference between car/truck batteries and RV house/deep-cycle batteries. Just about anyone who drives a car or truck, will or has at some time in their lives, had to deal with a dead battery or two.
Choosing the right replacement for your vehicle is relatively easy. But, when it comes to choosing a battery for our RVs, are they the same or are they different?
As we discussed in part 1 RV 12-volt batteries, (also called “House” or “Deep Cycle”), are used to power the lights, awning, water pump and other things that require a 12-volt battery source. So, what’s the difference between these batteries and the ones used to start cars and trucks?
The difference is that auto/truck/motorhome starter batteries are designed to provide a burst of power strong enough to turn over and fire up an engine. These batteries supply a lot of amps in a couple of seconds and tend to last only a season or two in RV applications. Marine batteries are about the same in life expectancy.
RV Deep Cycle batteries, however, are designed to last longer, perform better, and release their energy at a slower rate. If these batteries are looked after properly, can last up to 4X longer than the others, (up to 10 years) and even though they are more expensive, the cost is actually cheaper in the long run because you don’t have to replace them every 2+ years.
NOTE: With respect to the different types of “Deep Cycle” Batteries, flooded cell deep cycle batteries give you very good performance and long life, however, they do require some maintenance from time to time. Aside from the extra cost of AGM or Gel deep cycle batteries, they are pretty much zero maintenance.
Flooded cell golf cart deep cycle batteries are probably the best combination of price and performance considering that their price is relatively low and they can last 6-7 years.
The term “Deep Cycle” means that the charge in this battery can be almost depleted before it needs to be recharged. The amperage stays pretty constant over that period. However, it is recommended that recharging should start to happen when the battery gets below 50%. In a recent article from Trailer Live in which they polled their readers for their “Field – Tested Favorites, When it came to RV Batteries they chose Interstate as their “Gold” medal winner and Trojan was their second choice followed by Optima
In a recent article from Trailer Live in which they polled their readers for their “Field – Tested Favorites, When it came to RV Batteries they chose Interstate as their “Gold” medal winner and Trojan was their second choice followed by Optima. These are three really good batteries and I think any one of them would do the job.
Storage capacity is measured in AMP-HOURS (AH) which is the total amount of amps it can deliver in a 20 hour period.
Wait, my ears are ringing. I think I just heard a bunch of people saying, “Why only 20 hours?” Whether it’s 20 Hrs or 36 Hrs is not what’s important. What it really comes down to is how many continuous hours a battery can supply power in a day, from full charge to empty. This is totally dependant on how many appliances/electrical devices you are using at any given time.
Here is an example. let’s say that you want to run your Microwave (16-Amps), AC (15=Amps), as well as your water heater (10=Amps), and the fridge (4-Amps), all at the same time and you’re not hooked up to “City” power. The truth is, you won’t be able to run them very long at all.
In order to do that, you’re going to need about 35-40-amps to run them. Now, your RV has an inverter (we’ll talk about them later) capable of turning your battery power into 120-volt power.
Now, let’s say that you have a battery bank of two hooked up in parallel. If they are 35 AH batteries, there will be enough power to run them all continuously for about 1hr and 15 min. Some batteries have much more in the way of AH which would allow you to run these items longer without recharging.
But there is a downside to just using battery power to run your stuff. If you allow your batteries to run too low you also run the risk of damaging and eventually, (sooner rather than later), they will die before their time and the cost of replacing two of these 6 – 10-year batteries, which could save you hundreds because of their long life, could end up costing…..well you get the idea.
Of course, we aren’t going to be doing that so you would get a little more time. My point here is that you’re going to need a 50-amp power source, (commonly seen on 5th-wheels and motorhomes as well as larger travel trailers), in order to run all these things and keep your batteries powered up as well. On a 30-Amp service, you will be even more limited although I haven’t found that to be an issue when my wife and I are out in our trailer and that’s because we are always hooked up to city power when we are camping.
I think you’re getting the idea and that is: Battery power is limited if you don’t have a power supply to recharge them.
Types of Batteries
I’ve already looked, a little, at some types of batteries, ie. Starting and Deep Cycle batteries, (two types along with three sub categories) so, I feel that I need to take a somewhat deeper look into this, not just for you but for me as well, for better understanding, as there are some significant differences amongst some of the batteries used in the RV genre. So here goes….
As I explained above, the difference between “Starter” and “Deep Cycle” batteries is the way they supply power. Starter batteries supply a lot of power quickly, to turn over engines. Deep Cycle Batteries supply power at a slower rate and are best suited for Marine/golf cart/RV applications. For the purpose of this post, I will be talking about the types of Deep Cycle Batteries.
I apologize if it sounds like I’m repeating myself from time to time but, I am convinced that we really need to remember these differences in these batteries. We don’t want “Starter” batteries to be our “House” batteries. “Starters are cheaper but, in the long run, it’s just not the best way to go.
DEEP CYCLE – There are 3 types of Deep Cycle Batteries. They are “Gel Cell”, “Wet Cell”, and the other is called “Absorbed Glass Mat” or AGM. They are all lead acid batteries. Wet Cell batteries and AGM batteries, while being basically the same, are different in that the AGM batteries (which can be double the cost), have a much longer lifespan, 4X, than even Premium Wet Cells that last, on average, about two years. I’d say that’s pretty good bang for your buck/dollar.
Some of the other pros are:
1. They store well.
2. They don’t easily degrade.
3. There is little or no chance of a Hydrogen gas explosion, making them much safer.
4. When it comes to versatility these batteries should be considered when being used in Solar, Marine, and RV applications.
Cons? Some of these kinds of batteries may require a special charging unit.
If you want more information about types of batteries, check out Batterystuff.com and look for “Battery Basics: A Layman’s Guide To Batteries.
Gel Batteries – These batteries are similar to AGM batteries in that the electrolyte is also suspended. They have an additive called SILICA that causes the electrolyte to thicken or stiffen. These batteries tend to be more sensitive in terms of adverse reactions due to over-voltage charging so, if you use the incorrect charger on these batteries their performance won’t be as good and failure will be certain. Based on this information, I wouldn’t personally recommend these for RV use. The cost is also about the same as an AGM.
Battery Maintenance Tips
Performing basic maintenance on your batteries is very important. Here are some tips:
1. Periodically clean your battery/s with a solution of 2-3 parts baking soda mixed in a pint of Water. I think the baking soda neutralizes any acidic residue that may accumulate on or around the posts and cables.
2. After you have cleaned your batteries, make sure to clean and tighten battery and cable connections to prevent any issues caused by dirt or loose connections.
3. If your battery is of the serviceable variety, check the fluid levels in all the cells and top up if necessary. Make sure that the water used for topping up is mineral free. It is suggested that distilled water is best because all the impurities that could cause damage or contaminate your cells have been removed during the distilling process.
4. Be careful not to overfill the cells, Warm weather can cause the fluids to expand and leak out and this could cause corrosion on metal surfaces and add unexpected expenses for more than just your battery.
5. This probably should have been in the #2 position. Prevent corrosion of cables, on battery posts, by using a small bead of silicone sealer around the base of the post and then place what’s called a battery washer (made of felt), on top of the silicone at the base of the post. Now coat the felt with a high-temperature grease. Petroleum jelly will work just a well. Now, you can put the cable end onto the post and tighten it until there is no movement. Follow this with more grease or jelly to cover the end of the cable. The purpose for doing this is to keep air and moisture away thus, avoiding corrosion.
(NOTE) – I didn’t know this and, apparently, a lot of other people don’t either but, apparently, the battery gives off gasses that can condense on metal parts and cause corrosion. Knowing this, I will be even more diligent at making sure these last few steps are repeated from time to time.
I know I said that I wanted to talk about several different components in this post but, little did I know just how much information there was concerning this subject. And, I have only scratched the surface. However, I think there is enough here about batteries to give you a basic understanding. I hope to cover the rest in a later post.
If you want to learn more about this particular subject you can visit www.batterystuff.com/kb/articles/battery-articles/battery-basics. There is a bunch more information on this subject if you are interested.
As always I would covet your comments and stories about your experiences and questions about anything that is on your mind. If you have any ideas about something you would like me to write about, send that my way as well. I’m always looking for topics to write about.
Until then I hope you have a safe camping experience and always drive safe. Thanks for reading,