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How to Manage Your RV's Power Load at a 30-Amp Campsite—Even With Kids

Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life. He shares his experiences along with valuable tips for RV owners.

Camping in the shade can make a big difference to your electrical load.

Camping in the shade can make a big difference to your electrical load.

A Couple Can Camp Comfortably in the Heat

Normally, my wife and I spend a lot of time in our RV, usually just the two of us, and we have developed our own routines, including how and when we do certain things in our RV.

When we stay at an older campground that has not upgraded to 50-amp service, we have to do some serious rationing of power. But we make do.

Especially when it's just the two of us.

On this trip we are speaking of, we were staying in a 30-amp campground we had used before, in the spring, summer, and fall, and where we had never had any problems with our RV or its appliances, AC, heat, or fridge.

We were connected to the site's utilities, including AC power, water supply, and a sewer hookup. It was the middle of a hot summer, with daily temperatures in the upper 90s and a heat index of 105°F.

But we were comfortable in our RV with the air conditioner just humming along, and we'd been judicious with our power usage. We thought to ourselves, "Camping life is great."

Visiting Grandchildren Are Power Hogs

But on this day we did one, simple, unknowing thing that changed everything for us.

We invited our teenage grandson, who lived a few miles from the campground, and a friend of his to stay with us in our RV for a few days.

Of course, my daughter jumped at the opportunity (probably just to get some peace and quiet) and we picked up the boys the next morning.

As we drove through the campground to our site, the boys started with the "Wows." You know:

  • Wow, look at that pool!
  • Wow, look at that lake!
  • Wow, look, miniature golf!
  • Wow, Wow, Wow!

We pulled into our campsite and they quickly disappeared on their bikes for a couple of hours, just checking out the campground, they said.

My wife and I settled back, in our lounge chairs, enjoying the shade at our campsite, commenting on how well this was going to work out.

But those were the last quiet and uncomplicated hours we had for the next several days.

Learning Curve With Teenagers

The boys eventually returned and immediately ran inside the RV, starving for some kind of snack.

Well, the first thing they did was to march in, open the fridge door and just stare.

After five minutes of conversation over what to drink, they selected a couple of soft drinks and walked over to the dinette, kicked off their dirty shoes, and sat back sucking down those drinks.

I looked over and the RV door was still partially open. And since the fridge door doesn't close itself, it was also open.

I closed them both and turned . . . and they were standing in front of the fridge again, with the door open, staring at its contents like a pair of starving wolves looking at young sheep, deciding what to attack first.

I realized that they needed a little camper training, so I asked them to shut the fridge door and sit down for a minute. They looked at me and then back at the food in the fridge, not really wanting to move until they were fed, but as my wife stepped in at this point and offered to fix them some lunch, they reluctantly sat down at the table with me.

I went through a quick explanation of:

  • how our camper's power supply was limited,
  • how much current each of the appliances and the AC consumed,
  • the importance of keeping the RV door closed, and
  • the importance of always keeping the fridge door closed.

Their young heads bobbed up and down, as they ate their grandma's sandwiches and chips, and they promised to follow my directions.

I walked away, foolishly confident that all was going to be OK, but time had dulled our memories of just how unfocused, disorganized, messy, and self-centered 13-year-olds can be.

Then the Real Games Began!

After we fed them, they went into action going in and out of the camper. They seemed to be human tornadoes of useless motion and activity.

It became obvious that our role was to close doors, serve food, pick up clothes, clean up their mess, and generally just be their dullard servants.

I tried! Honestly, I did.

I repeatedly explained how much we needed them to follow our directions, as the RV got hotter, the food in the fridge got hotter, and the main RV circuit breaker started kicking out.

It was all to no avail.

They were like those bobblehead dolls, they kept nodding affirmatively that they understood and would do better while continuing to "forget" by the minute.

To survive this new set of circumstances, the wife and I started a new plan of power management to at least keep that darned circuit breaker from kicking OFF.

We changed our camping routine to level out our power usage during the peak usage parts of the day.

This new routine would allow the major appliances to continue to operate efficiently for us throughout the worst parts of the day.

Here are some of the power conservation methods we came up with.

Power-Saving Tips for RV Campers

These power-saving tips can really help you reduce power consumption in your RV.

Pick the Right Campsite

This can really make a big difference in energy consumption. In the winter, pick a site where you are protected from the blowing wind, and stay away from open fields and high elevations where there is nothing to block the wind.

In the summer, look for a site with shade, to reduce exposure to the direct heat of the sun, and look for a site with a breeze, to break up the stagnant hot air that will build up around an RV.

Avoid Peak-Time Usage

Peak power usage times in an RV are at mealtime, and during the heat of the day in the summer.

Get your family and guests into habits that don't involve going in and out of the RV and fridge, running the hot water, and indoor cooking during peak times.

  • Turn off any unused accessories and appliances during daylight hours.
  • Turn off your hot water heater during the day.
  • Wash dishes only once a day, usually late at night.
  • Use cheap paper plates and washable reusable plastic utensils for eating your meals outside, while camping.
  • Precook parts of your meals during the cool of the morning, for eating later in the day.
  • Cook extra, when you do cook and use what you cook for more than one meal. Breakfast bacon, sausage, and franks are good examples.
  • Plan your meals so that you get everything that you will need from the fridge at one time, rather than have the fridge running all of the time from constantly opening doors.
  • Keep the RV doors closed. When you open an RV door, that nice cool air rushes out and hot air rushes in. And the AC unit must run much more often.
  • When the kids are outside, tell them that they must knock and ask permission to enter the RV. When they knock, ask them what they want. Half the time it is just a silly question that you can answer through the door without opening it.

Even More Power-Saving Tips

Stagger Your RV Power Cycles

Set your RV AC unit to a temperature only 3-4 degrees below the actual inside temperature. If it is 88 degrees outside, set the thermostat to 85 degrees. If it works well at that temperature, cycling on and off, drop the control another three to four degrees.

The reason for turning the thermostat down in steps like this is that if you don't—if you set it, for example, at 70 degrees when it is 88 degrees outside—the AC compressor will never cycle off; the AC will run with the compressor on all of the time, drawing a large share of your power.

If you are able to run two AC units, set them for temperatures that differ by at least one degree. At all costs, try to avoid having both units run and their compressors cycle at the same time.

Remember that each unit can draw 15 to 18 amps during the peak current draw of each cycling compressor. If both units do this at once you could end up with a breaker thrown at your campsite.

Schedule Outside Time

Do your shopping, sightseeing, book reading, visits to the pool and the campground activity center, and other outside activities during the heat of the day to get out of the RV and reduce the AC load.

Outside TV

We have found that an outside TV entertains kids when they get bored in the afternoon.

If you don't have a built-in outside TV for your RV, and you have kids, pick up a small portable TV and set it up outside the RV to entertain the kids. This will help keep them outside more often.

True, an outside TV uses current, but it uses a lot less than a constantly cycling AC unit, trust me.

Outside Cooler

As always in an RV, storage space is always at a premium, so many campers don't bring coolers.

But I recommend that you keep one, even if only a small one, outside, filled with ice, a water jug, sodas, and beer.

This will cut down on the trips inside when people get thirsty.

Insulated Cups, Mugs, and Cozies

OK, this is common sense, but do not use those thin glasses and plastic cups when camping in hot weather. Get a nice assortment of can cozies, insulated glasses, cups, and mugs.

They will keep your beverages cool longer, and cut down on your ice purchases.

And, for you wine drinkers, when you are camping, pour your wine into a nice insulated mug. It will keep cool longer and taste better, and you will refill it less often.

Bathe Smart

Bathe at the campground bathhouse, when possible. When you have to bathe in the RV, do it at night and before bed, and use a minimal amount of hot water.

Use the Campground Laundromat

Even if your RV has a washer/dryer, you should use the campground laundromat to do your laundry. That washer/dryer in your RV draws a lot of current when it is in use, and it also generates a lot of heat in your camper.

Use Your Grill

Whenever possible, prepare dinner outside and cook on your grill. It's cooler, and it's a great chance for social interaction with family and friends.

Get everyone involved when cooking on your grill. Plan well, take everything you need outside at one time and recruit others to help with things like setting the table, slicing vegetables, keeping flies away, and bagging trash.

Simple Math Can Save the Day

It is a simple mathematical problem.

If your site has a 30-amp breaker, trust me, it will kick when the load gets to 30 amps. So you cannot use more than this level of current at any one time with your RV.

Complaining to the campground about your breaker kicking out will not produce any more power; they will just tell you to turn something off, dummy!

Now if you turn on a typical RV AC, it will draw four to seven amps at first, when running without the compressor. When the compressor turns on, the current draw will surge to as much as 13-16 amps momentarily, before it levels out again at about four to seven amps while it is doing its cooling work.

So, at a 30-amp site, the AC will leave you between 12 and 24 amps for other appliances and accessories to utilize. So it is up to you to manage your usage of current, to avoid an overload condition during peak periods of the day.

Hopefully, some of these tips will help get you there, in the heat, and have a more enjoyable camping experience.

Good Luck!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: What can I run besides an ac, fridge and water heater? This is our first experience with a 30 amp service.

Answer: You can set your AC to a temperature where it cycles rather than at a low temperature that it cannot reach in extremely HOT weather. When your AC is cycling it is running as efficiently as it can and when set lower, it will not operate as efficiently.

With your Hot Water Heater, only run it on electric when it is needed and run it on Propane then you are at peak periods.

Eat Cold meals at lunchtime or cook your main dishes early in the morning and just warm them for the meal. Avoid using the Convection function of your Microwave during peak periods.

Do not use Hairdryers, Clothes Irons, Coffee Pots and such high current appliances during peak periods. Or at least do not use them at the same time.

Question: Might consider adding a Progressive Industries surge protector with remote display. They not only will protect your RV from expensive electrical repairs but both the display on the surge protector and the remote will help you with knowing your total current usage so you can manage your power? That's what I use.

Answer: I have not personally used the specific model of Surge Protector you mention, but if it meets your needs then that's great.

The number one concern to me is the speed that it reacts to a surge or major change in the voltage levels. Typically, the faster they react the more they cost.

On the other hand, I do like the idea of the notification via a remote inside your RV when something does happen.