Using and Understanding Your Motorhome Electrics

Motorhomes have enjoyed a major resurgence in popularity recently, as sales of campervans and motorhomes have increased rapidly since the coronavirus pandemic. Initially, the growth was a result of limited international travel opportunities, but lately, more and more households have cottoned on to the low expense and high reward of domestic campervan holidays.

Guide to Motorhome Electrics

But running a motorhome can be a complex endeavour – especially when it comes to the provision and maintenance of electricity supply. Whether you are buying a motorhome or building one through a van conversion, you will need to reckon with electricity solutions. But what are the key considerations, and what kinds of electrical generation might you encounter?

motorhome electrics
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Leisure Batteries

The more popular majority of uses you will have for electricity in your campervan relate to the charging and power of relatively low-demand devices, from phones and speakers to lighting. These are typically powered by a ‘leisure battery’, which provides electricity at 12 volts.

Higher-voltage items and appliances cannot be safely powered from leisure batteries without draining them quickly. Kettles, fridges, ovens and other high-demand appliances are better served by the mains grid; as such, the ability to connect to external power grids is essential. But how are your leisure batteries charged?

Generating Electricity – Split Charge System

One of the most common forms of electricity generation and supply is the ‘split charge’ system, which simultaneously charges your leisure batteries and the starter battery in your van or motorhome’s engine. Conventionally, a split charging system enables your engine’s alternator to charge your leisure batteries in the same way it supplies charge to your starter battery.

Generating Electricity – Solar Power

However, reliance on your camper’s alternator can be troublesome, from a number of standpoints. For one, running out of petrol on the road presents more difficulties than simply being unable to move. Alternators can also only charge batteries to a certain level, and will never fill them completely. There are also key ecological concerns, especially if you are running your engine simply to charge your leisure battery.

This is where solar power comes in. Solar panels can be easily installed on the roof, or carried along with you and broken out when at rest. These panels enable you to live completely off-grid, and passively charge your leisure batteries.

Cooking With Electricity

As mentioned earlier, higher-demand electric appliances are better run from mains electricity than using your leisure battery. Gas cooking is possible, but introduces significant risk; electric hobs are generally safer, though there are still present risks to consider.

Before installing your cooking equipment, check what your motorhome insurance covers, and be sure to take careful steps to mitigate risk. One such way may be to replace surfaces with fire-retardant materials or to insulate cables to protect from surging. For complete off-grid cooking, a camping stove may be the best bet.

Jasper has been an enthusiast of the automotive and IT industries since the age of 16. He independently writes on the auto industry's recent happenings.