That’s right, an RV is your ultimate mobile power station. If you don’t own one, you should. It can sustain you in a grid down situation and it can be moved to any location. This is our 3rd RV and we’ve been full-timing since 2012 in our 2008 40′ Itasca Horizon.
First off there are many types of RVs that would not be beneficial to you in a survival situation. You must have a checklist when shopping for one. Here’s what you want to look for.
Make sure it has a basement that can be heated so your tanks and pipes don’t freeze. You can purchase add on items to try to wrap around the tanks and pipes, but why bother when four-season units are already designed to handle the cold.
Tanks size is important and they come in all sizes when it comes to RVs. We have four tanks in ours – a 100 gallon fresh water tank, two 50 gallon grey water tanks, and a 50 gallon black water tank. It’s also important to know where water goes and into what tank. We couldn’t figure out why our black water tank was filling up so fast until we figured out the bathroom sink was going into the black water tank not the grey water tank. It’s best to get the biggest tanks you can on the RV you choose. This will allow you the longest time to live off-grid in your unit without having to empty the tanks.
Check to make sure it has an on board generator. This will be your backup for all things electric in your unit. It’s also nice if it has an auto-start feature when power goes out. You could purchase a separate generator but then you have to have a place to put it. Unless you have a big truck pulling a 5th wheel you’ll have to outfit the RV to carry it. Also if your unit doesn’t have a way to hook up the generator to the power system you’ll only be able to run a power cord which isn’t going to be adequate long term. Space is very limit in most RVs so this is a must to think about.
Most RVs have a trickle charge solar panel that is attached to the battery bank through a charge controller. This keeps your batteries charged during the day and will keep your lights on at night if you lose power. It will also run any 12V item you put in the 12V plug and your water pump. Since the solar panel will not charge your batteries at night without the sun it is best to conserve the batteries as much as possible. Add this to your list of must haves.
There a three possible ways to recharge your battery bank, depending on the type of RV you have: through the trickle charge solar panel, running the generator, and driving. When you are driving, the engine will charge the batteries through the alternator. If you add additional solar panels you can charge the batteries much faster than the trickle charger.
Most RVs use either 30 amp and 50 amp service. We upgraded from 30 to 50 amp and it was well worth it. Trust me you can’t run everything at once in a 30 amp. You will be switching from one appliance to another or resetting the breaker box. The 30 amp unit we had had a switch you had to turn off and on, so I had to decide if I wanted to use the washer or run the microwave. If you can afford it, the 50 amp is the way to go.
Other must haves would be storage space. Preppers need lots of places to put things. When you start looking at units this kind of gets pushed to the side but you will regret it later when you have to abandon items.
If you want some nice extras you could get a dishwasher, ceiling fans, fireplace or heatpump. I think a washer is a must but I see people going to the laundry all the time. We added the RV Comfort Systems CheapHeat system to our furnace. This is an add-on to install directly to the furnace you have. It allows the furnace to run on electric or propane. This has saved us a lot of money. We no longer have to haul the propane tanks to get filled all winter long. One of the best buys we’ve made for the RV. Add any must haves to your list.
If possible get one without carpet. OMG. This is a whole other post but in short – not sure why this is so hard for the manufacturers to figure out. We don’t want carpet! For those that can’t live without it, put a throw rug down. Much easier to get rid of and replace when it wears out.
We pulled all the carpet out and laid vinyl flooring. Easy right? Those that know are laughing about now. Well this unit had carpet under the refrigerator, the bolted down bed, and all the built-in cabinets. So imagine for a second – the unit was four years old when we bought it and the carpet under the bed had never been vacuumed. All the air traveled through the whole RV and under the bed to the heat pump. The previous owners had at least one cat and a dog. It’s just easier not to have to worry where the carpet is hiding. This was the hardest thing we’ve had to deal with in this RV.
- Heated Basement
- Large Tanks (Fresh, Grey, Black)
- Trickle Charge Solar Panel
- 50 amp service
- Lots of Storage Space
- Largest Power Inverter you can afford, 3000 W or more
- Additional Solar Panels
Now, to make this the ultimate mobile power station you want to have the biggest power inverter you can find. Ours is currently 2500 W. The more Watts the more you can run when not plugged into the grid. We plan on upgrading our system with a 4000 W inverter, adding solar panels and adding more batteries to the battery bank.
Here is why we want a bigger inverter. We unplugged from the grid and found out that the system wouldn’t even allow us to use some of the appliances because they pulled too much power – the system just shut down. We thought it would allow them to run, assuming it would just draw down the batteries faster. That was not the case. The refrigerator did run but ran the batteries down very quickly – not a viable option. The washer wouldn’t even turn on. I was hoping for the washer at least – I knew the dryer would be out. Now, we could have run the refrigerator on propane and the control panel on electric but that was not what we were testing for.
I guess you could say I’m spoiled, but hey, why not? There is no reason why all these things can not run in a grid down situation indefinitely. We want the ultimate power machine that is completely self-sufficient without relying on propane to run things. Stay tuned as we embark on this task.