If you’re a vanlifer, you know how important it is to have reliable access to power while on the road. Whether you need to charge your phone, run a laptop, or power small appliances, a campervan inverter is an essential component of your electrical system.
But what exactly is an inverter, and why is it so important?
Simply put, an inverter is a device that converts direct current (DC) power from your vehicle’s battery into alternating current (AC) power, which is the type of power used by most household appliances and electronics. Without an inverter, you would not be able to use or charge your devices while driving. In addition to charging your devices, an inverter can also be used to power small appliances such as a microwave, coffee maker, or mini fridge. This can be especially useful if you’re staying in a remote location with no access to electricity.
Types of Inverters
There are two main types of inverters: modified sine wave inverters and pure sine wave inverters.
- Modified sine wave inverters are the more basic and inexpensive option, and they work well for most basic, non-sensitive devices such as chargers and tools. However, they may not be suitable for more sensitive electronics, as the power output is not as clean as with a pure sine wave inverter.
- Pure sine wave inverters, on the other hand, provide a more accurate representation of AC power and are suitable for use with sensitive electronics such as TVs and audio equipment. They are generally more expensive than modified sine wave inverters, but they offer better performance and compatibility with a wider range of devices.
Sizing an Inverter
When choosing an inverter for your campervan, it’s important to consider the total cumulative wattages of your appliances and electronics. You’ll need to select an inverter that can handle the combined wattage of all the devices you plan to use. For example, if you have a laptop that requires 60 Watts and a phone charger that requires 10 Watts, you’ll need an inverter with a minimum deliverable power rating of 70 watts. This is why you also need to consider inverter efficiency, (most entry level inverters start at around 85% efficiency, with higher quality models reaching 93-94% efficiency). Other considerations include the size and weight of the unit, as well as any additional features such as remote control.
Installing an Inverter
Installing an inverter in your campervan is a relatively straightforward process, but should be approached with due diligence.
First, you’ll need to choose an appropriate location for the inverter. It should be easy to access, in a well-ventilated area to prevent overheating, and should ideally also be mounted on a non-combustible surface. Under no circumstances should an inverter be installed directly above Lead-Acid batteries. Under significant load, or when approaching sulfation, Lead-Acid batteries can off-gas, meaning gas is released from the battery. This gas could be drawn through the fans of the inverter and result in fire! So, once an appropriate location has been confirmed, next you’ll need to connect the inverter to your auxiliary battery using the correctly sized cables, paired with an correctly sized overcurrent protective device.
Lastly, your local regulations may require a true neutral. In some cases, where the inverter is not fitted with a Neutral to Earth Bond, one of the AC output wires must be connected to the chassis, and the chassis must be connected to a reliable ground. Reason being that a true neutral is needed to ensure correct operation of an earth leakage circuit breaker (RCCB / RCD / GFCI)
Maintaining an Inverter
Once your inverter is installed, it’s important to maintain it to ensure it stays in good working order.
- This includes cleaning the terminals and checking the battery connection regularly. By taking good care of your inverter, you can ensure that you have reliable access to power while on the road.
- It’s important to manage your power usage carefully. This includes turning off appliances when they’re not in use, unplugging chargers when they’re fully charged, and avoiding using high-wattage appliances at the same time.
- It’s also important to properly maintain your auxiliary battery to ensure that you have a reliable power source for your inverter. This includes keeping the battery charged, cleaning the terminals, and in the case of VRLA batteries, checking fluid levels.
Here are some potential pros of using an inverter in your campervan:
- Convenience: An inverter allows you to use and charge your electronic devices while on the road, providing a convenient source of power.
- Compatibility: Inverters are compatible with most household appliances and electronics, so you can use them to power a wide range of devices.
- Safety: A quality inverter will have built-in safety features such as short circuit protection and thermal shutdown to help prevent accidents or damage to your tiny home.
- Versatility: In addition to charging your devices, an inverter can also be used to power small appliances such as a microwave or coffee maker, making it a versatile power source.
- Durability: With proper care and maintenance, an inverter can last for many years, making it a reliable and long-lasting power solution.
In conclusion, a campervan inverter is an essential component of any vanlifer’s electrical system. Whether you’re using it to charge your devices or power small appliances, an inverter will allow you to enjoy all the comforts of home while on the road.
So if you’re building or upgrading your campervan electrical system, be sure to include an inverter in your plans.