Tips for Living Off the Grid in an RV

Have you decided to forego some of the comforts of city living and chosen to live off the grid in an RV? Well, then, you should be physically, financially, emotionally, and mentally ready to face some of the challenges that go along with off-the-grid living in a mobile home.

These challenges will be offset with a lot of advantages, not to mention that the idea of experiencing everyday adventures in the backwoods excites you. There comes a time when you have grown weary of all the commercialism, the endless rat race, and the burdens of urban life – high utility bills and sewer bills, plus exasperating traffic. You want to walk away from it all and decide to settle in a more peaceful life in the boondocks. However, expect a lot of sacrifices that you have to make once you have reached such a decision.

Living in an RV sounds like a dream, right?

Living off-the-grid sounds like an ideal way of everyday living. You wake up, look through your RV window, and a picturesque scene of the mountains and lakes bathed in the glow of the sunrise greets you. Roasting marshmallows by the lake with your loved one, under the glow of the pale moonlight, sounds like a romantic idea.

However, such a way of living is no bed of roses. Let’s be realistic here – at first, you will miss the comforts that come from conventional home living. You will definitely struggle without the amenities that you used to enjoy when you were still living in your house or apartment. No clean water, no electricity, no clean beds, no reliable air conditioning or central heating, and no quick laundry services to be had. You will also miss your own bedroom space, and now you have to share one RV space with your family members.

The changes in your lifestyle will be quite dramatic, to say the least. But with creativity and resourcefulness, you will be able to adjust to off-the-grid living in the RV pretty well.

The pros and cons of living off the grid

Pros:

  • It teaches you independence.
  • It teaches you creativity and resourcefulness.
  • It frees you from the exorbitant utility billing costs.
  • You are not subject to the price and policy changes of water and electricity companies.
  • It frees you from paying land.
  • It promotes energy efficiency. You use only the energy that you generate.
  • It is environmentally friendly.
  • You get closer to nature.
  • Travel! You get to see so many places.
  • You experience significant personal growth.
  • You meet different folks along the way.

Cons:

  • You are far away from the nearest services such as stores, clinics, and hospitals.
  • You do not have access to regular conveniences such as air conditioning, central heating, electric hot water, etc.
  • Sometimes, you experience loneliness and solitude that go with living away from the so-called “civilization” (unless you are not a social person).
  • Driving a big RV can be stressful. The bigger the RV, the harder you navigate through one-way roads and make turns on sharp curves
  • You have little privacy in an RV home.

Tips:

If you plan to go on an RV boondocking, here are the tips to help you survive and live as comfortably as possible.

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
OutBack Power FM60-150VDC FLEXMax 60 Charge Controller
Schneider Electric Conext MPPT 60 PV Solar Charge Controller
Yamaha EF2400iSHC, 2000 Running Watts/2400 Starting Watts, Gas Powered Portable Inverter
Generator Portable Power Station,NusGear 155Wh 42000mAh Camping Solar Generators Lithium Power Supply with 110V AC Outlet, 2 DC Ports, USB QC3.0, LED Flashlights for CPAP Home Camping Emergency Backup
Lumitronics RV Double 12V LED Dome Light with 3-Way Switch and Removable Lenses
Arcon 13813 30W 12V Fluorescent Light
Melitta Pour Over Coffee Cone Brewer & #2 Filter Natural Brown Combo Set, Black

 

1) Pick an ideal location for your RV

Choose a quiet spot where there’s not a lot of people going up and down at night. It’s not wise to park outside business establishments that have 24-hour security, or where people tell you off to move out when you’re doing something inappropriate.

2) Don’t forget the wheel clamp

Put the wheel clamp on your tire, even if you’re inside the van. After all, why would you chill out in a clamped van?

3) Equip your rig with solar panels

If you plan to for off-the-grid living permanently or for extended periods, you need to supply your RV’s electrical power by installing solar panels. You can go by with a generator if you plan to go outdoors for only a number of days. But generators require fuel to operate. They are also noisy, high-maintenance, and not to mention costly. A solar power system does not create any noise, doesn’t need fuel, is cost-effective, does not need much maintenance, and works all day long, even if you’re out sight-seeing or fishing at a nearby stream. The upfront costs may be high, but if you think about the paybacks that that solar power system provides, it is more affordable than running a generator.

4) Conserve your electricity

If you have a large enough battery bank or solar power system, there’s no need for you to cut down your energy consumption. However, there are times when you have to conserve a bit if you do not have a generator or anything else as a backup. When there’s a big storm hitting the area and blocking out the sun, or when the days are short, and the sun goes low in certain seasons, you may have to conserve some energy.

Check your batteries – There are a lot of ways to get battery sources, in many forms and different price tags

For the cheapest possible battery source, you can get a simple car battery volt meter, which you can plug into your RV’s cigarette lighter. Another method is to check at the battery voltage as seen from your solar charge controller, if the display screen shows it.

You can consider a couple of good charge controller options:

Outback Power FM60-150VDC FlexMax 60 Charge Controller

It is one of the latest innovations in Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) charge controllers from OutBack Power. It features a four-line LCD display which shows you the battery voltage and the current state of your batteries from the solar panels. Its improved cooling features now enable this charge controller to operate at its full 60 amp maximum current rating in surrounding temperatures, which are even as high as 40 degrees Celsius.

Xantrex XW-MPPT60-150 Charge Controller

Unlike the Outback Power one, this product from Xantrex has a one-line LCD screen which you can scroll through. But just like the other charge controllers, it keeps track of the electrical maximum power point of a photovoltaic (PV) array to bring the maximum possible available current for charging batteries. It is well suited to operate even in hot climates.

5) Consider a generator boost for your solar panels

When you are living off-the-grid, you should expect that the sources of energy may not be working at all times as they should. For emergencies like this, you should always be prepared and well-equipped.

In case the solar panels aren’t able to keep up with their job of charging the batteries, you may have to use a generator to get the batteries back into their fully-charged condition. You can also go to an RV park where there are electrical outlets available, so that you can plug in.

A generator can produce the highest possible current flow to the batteries once it’s plugged in. It’s best to use this generator early in the morning when the sun has yet to rise from the horizon, which can greatly limit the solar panels’ ability to produce power at this point. As the sun goes higher in the sky, though, the solar panels will take over and put the batteries back into their fully-charged state.

We recommend the following generators:

Yamaha 2400i Generator

The Yamaha 2400i Generator is a very powerful, durable, reliable and portable generator. It is a gas-powered (not oil-powered) generator. But despite that fact, it otherwise provides “clean” power. It has a specific design to increase your motor starting capability and to improve air condition starting. It can start high efficiency at 13,500 BTU even in extremely hot weather conditions.

NusGear 42000 mAh Camping Solar Generator

The NusGear 42000mAh Camping Solar Generator provides lithium power supply using 110V AC outlet, two DC ports, a QC3.0 USB, powerful LED flashlights for use in emergencies. It is a very versatile generator as it can charge devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets, as well as mini-fans and lights. As for its basic function, it can charge solar panels by using the AC adapter, cigarette light holder, or another solar panel.

6) Replace incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent lights or LED lights

If your RV is a recent model, it is most likely to accommodate LED lighting. But if your RV is an older type, you can swap frequently used lights for modern and energy-efficient variants. LED lights save a lot of energy, and so do fluorescent lights.

The most recommended options:

Lumitronics 12V LED Dome Light

This durable product includes, among other features, a three-way switch. It emits light that is bright enough to illuminate the entire interiors of your RV. These energy-efficient and CSA-approved LED lights have a 70,000-hour life expectancy for a more extended use.

Arcon 13813 30W 12V Fluorescent Light

This fluorescent light from Arcon features a surface mount for easy installation and also comes with  a built-in on/off switch. It has a practical but sleek design which can add some style to your RV interiors.

7) Brew coffee manually

We know that a lot of you won’t have your day complete without a cup of coffee. But making coffee with an electric coffee maker may eat up a lot of power from your somewhat limited energy source. There are other ways to brew your cup of joe without relying on electricity.

Melitta Pour-Over Coffee Cone Brewer and #2 Natural Brown Combo Set

With this product, it is like you’re making drip coffee, but sans the electric coffee maker. Instead, you pour near-boiling water over freshly ground coffee to make the coffee drip straight into your mug. This set saves you money because it also comes with a coffee filter, which you use to drip coffee.

8) Be mindful about water use

You can conserve water or waste it, depending on when you are going to do a water dump and refill. For instance, if you plan to do a dump/refill tomorrow, this is a great time to take a long shower. Depending on how much you water need to use and how ofren you use it, you may dump/refill once every 7 to 10 days, but it can be as short as 2 to 3 days, too.

9) Cook fresh meals and make meal plans

It should be a no-brainer, considering you’re living off the grid. But once you spot a steak joint along the highway as you drive along, it may be too tempting for you to pass.

You know that you are saving a lot of things when living off the grid, and obviously, money is one of them. Instead of visiting a roadside diner, you’d rather visit markets which offer the freshest produce. Making meal plans allows you to buy everything you need in a week so that you can avoid food waste.

10) Get a reliable heat source

For the most reliable way to generate heat, it is best to install a simple wood burner or a wood stove inside your van. Not only it can heat your water and cook your food, but it can also function as a central heating when outdoor temperatures drop. Compared to using propane-powered or electric stoves, using a wood burner is cost-efficient as coal and wood are pretty inexpensive to come by. However, make sure that your RV has enough space to accommodate the wood burner.