What Does An Inverter Do?
An inverter converts 12 volt DC power from your batteries to 120 volt AC power (like you would get from your household power outlet). An inverter is needed to power your AC appliances and fixtures while not connected to shore power or running a generator. Your microwave, TV, and wall outlets all run on AC power. Other equipment in your RV such as lights, fans, slide out motors, and water pump use DC battery power and do not require an inverter to run.
RV power inverters are typically larger industrial sized units that produce from 1000 watts to 4000 watts of power. These larger units are typically "hard wired" to your battery bank with thick gauge wire. Smaller portable inverters (100 - 500 watts) don't generate as much current and can often be plugged directly into a standard 12 volt DC power receptacle.
|Here is a great video overview of RV inverters from Jason and Nikki Wynn (from GoneWithTheWynns.com) explaining why you might want an inverter for your RV.|
Now let us discuss the two types of inverters: Pure Sine and Modified Sine
Pure Sine Inverters
These inverters provide the cleanest power (a pure sine wave) similar to the power you get in your home. They are generally considered to be better for your electronics and are the most efficient. Pure sine is prefered but are generally priced 2 to 3 times higher than modified sine wave inverters.
Modified Sine Inverters
As the name suggests, modified sine inverters do not produce a pure sine wave. Most electrical equipment will work fine with this type of inverter but there are drawbacks. Modified sine inverters are less efficient and may cause electronics to use roughly 20% more power. The modified sine wave is noiser than pure sine which can cause problems with some sensitive electronics, clocks, and variable speed equipment. Modified sine wave inverters are more affordable.
Both types of inverters need a little power to operate and will draw a couple of amps with even with no load. This should be considered when operating an inverter. If not being used, it's recommended that you turn it off to prevent unnecessary draw on your battery bank.
Inverters also offer many technical features that are too technical to discuss here. I recommend you research each model of inverter you are considering before you buy. Also understand that an inverter installation may require additional wiring and electrical components (e.g. transfer switch) to operate properly. I recommend you consult a professional electrician for advice if necessary before wiring it up in your RV. An improper install could cause serious damage to your RV's electrical system and to you.