Skip to main content

In Praise of Generators

There are purists who aspire to going to heaven and sitting upon the right hand side of Thoreau and Gandhi; usually they proudly eschew generators on board their rigs. I think this is a mistake; more on that in a second.

Generators would have a much better public image if small, quiet units were paired with the right chargers and batteries, and only used to power appliances that make sense.

But first let's take a second to praise my old late 1990s Yamaha 1000 Watt generator. I couldn't get it started after mothballing it for almost three years so I took it to one of those famous "small engine repair" places that dot the rural landscape. What a sub-culture! The idea of keeping all those riding movers, weed whackers, bush hogs, roto-tillers, chain saws, snow blowers, hedge trimmers, snowmobiles and ATVs, air compressors, and leaf blowers in working order is the very thing that would keep me from fluttering my eyelashes while perusing some glossy magazine like Sunset or Country Home.

But it was the first dollar I ever spent on maintaining my Yamaha generator. (Alas, a year after I bought mine, Honda moved the whole industry over to the alternator/inverter designs. Too late for me.)

Does anyone know if the RV industry still uses converter/chargers that try to charge the RV battery at 13.6 volts DC, instead of the 14.3 that you need? It used to be true that much of the excessive generator usage was based on this. Meanwhile, the customers could have gone to Walmart (or Don Rowe online) and bought a smart charger that puts out 14.3 volts DC for $50-150. My OEM converter/charger burned up in three years, so I replaced it with a real three-stage charger. They used to be expensive, but no longer. My current model is a 40 Amp DC model by Xantrex; it's more than adequate for charging four 6 Volt DC "golf cart" batteries. It also lets you select 20 Amps or 2 Amps, and with the latter, the fan won't come on.

The other thing that gives generators a bad image is that they are too big. The camper thinks he is supposed to use the generator in almost a direct mode to power microwave ovens, air conditioners, big screen television, and the Mr. Coffee machine, and all at the same time. (Generators like those are for people who camp on the NASCAR infield on a steamy day in Talladega; I don't think anyone will be bothered by the generator noise there.) For pity's sake, if you need an air conditioner, do yourself a favor and go to an RV park.

But the real reason for not trying to be RV generator-free is that the sun doesn't shine 365 days per year, even in the Southwest and especially during the monsoon season, or when you are hiding under a pine tree to stay cool. But the generator could work every day of the year if you need it. Common sense arguments like this have no effect on purists who are driven by enthusiasm and ideology.

Perhaps I need to mention that I also have a 280 Watt solar system and four 6-volt "golf cart" batteries on board.


Do you also run an inverter? If so some details please. I am considering a larger inverter (1000 watt)to use while boondocking. Convincing myself I would use the power over my 400 watt cheapy model has not come easy.
Inverters are strange. I've had good luck with cheapo (modified sine wave) inverters, and when it finally konked out I went to Walmart and bought an equivalent one. Then my laptop computer immediately died. I blame the new cheapo inverter.

So I went with a 300 Watt pure sine wave inverter, Samlex brand, from Don Rowe dotcom. The small ones aren't as expensive as they used to be. It is powerful enough to run a saber saw, electric drill, and Dremel tool.

Virtually the first thing I discarded in my trailer was the microwave, since big inverters were expensive in those days, and microwaves encourage you to buy expensive, snacky, convenience food.
Ted said…
My $25 Cobra modified sine wave 400W inverter is still going strong, charging and running everything from a 17" MacBook Pro to an iPad to a 30" 2560x2400 resolution monitor. But just the same, I went and got one of those 300W pure sine wave Samlex inverters as backup and -- most importantly -- because it's nearly silent even with the fan going, unlike the rather noisy Cobra.

As for the anti-generator purists, I wish for more of them. They make nice, quiet neighbors. Just so long as they don't get too preachy in trying to convert me, or too angry at me when I feel the need or desire to fire up MY generator. Which I rarely do, having 340 watts of solar panel and modest power needs. But I choose to keep my options open.
Ted, "But I choose to keep my options open." That's exactly the point about generators. They are universally useful. It's too bad they aren't used more intelligently.