“Are generators okay to use when camping?”. The short answer is YES, provided that the campsite explicitly allows it and that you use your generator in accordance with the campsite’s terms and conditions. There’s a lot more to this such as exceptions, legal rules, etiquette, and others. So stay tuned!
In Australia, the rules or standards that apply to generators differ depending on the type of generator. First, we have a camping generator that is permanently fixed to the RV. This is typical only to motored RVs because generators require fuel.
Second, are portable generators. Needless to say, these are ideal for RVs that aren’t equipped with fixed generators. I will discuss more about these generator types later on. But for now, let us focus on the generator rules.
In the case of permanently fixed generators, the general standards for design and installation are:
- AS/NZS 3000 Electrical installations (known as the Australian/New Zealand Wiring Rules)
- AS/NZS 3010:2017 Electrical installations – Generating sets
Portable generators had a separate standard before known as the AS 2790:1989 Electricity generating sets – Transportable (up to 25kW). However, this was superseded by AS/NZS 3010:2017.
I won’t bother you too much on the detailed contents of the above standards because typically those are for the adherence of manufacturers, consultants and qualified installers. Instead, you (as a consumer) should check if your generator is marked as compliant with those standards. But in case you’re curious, here are the general topics laid out in those documents:
- How should the generator be wired
- Required specifications for the power connection (i.e. voltage, frequency, phase)
- The information that must be found in the generator label or manual
- What accessories must comprise the generator
- What types of fuel are allowed
- Many others
As for the rules on when, where and how to use camping generators – it is the local state or the specific campsite which defines these rules. Nonetheless, I will be sharing below common state or campsite rules.
On the matter of legally and safely using camping generators, follow two main things – the campsite’s rules and the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Generators are helpful but can be annoying and/or dangerous too. Hence, it is a must to pick a suitable time when to run your generator. In addition to (but notwithstanding) the campsite’s guidelines, follow these common etiquette practices:
- Definitely choose to operate in broad daylight when everyone’s awake.
- If you’re expecting to need a great amount of power in the night time (i.e. via the use of an air conditioner), then charge your RV batteries just before night time.
- In case it’s inevitable for you to run your genset at night on every trip, consider finding ways to reduce your generator’s noise, such as:
- Buy and a muffler silencer and fit it to your generator exhaust. It’s a big help.
- Get a mat whose material is able to dampen noise – rubber, for example.
- Cage your generator using a baffle box or a similarly designed enclosure.
- When nearby campers are notified. Just consider this as common etiquette. You might as well plan a schedule with them so you can operate your generators at the same time.
- When the surroundings permit so. Take good notice of your surroundings and consider if you might be disturbing not only fellow campers or their children but also wildlife.
Fortunately, each state governments have made available online resources of tourist spots within their Wildlife/Parks departments. Here you can search if such use is allowed or how to contact these tourist spots. Here are the reference links:
|Australian Capital Territory||New South Wales||Northern Territory||Queensland|
|South Australia||Tasmania||Victoria||Western Australia|
In case your intended destination is not included in the list, you may instead visit that campsite’s website to check for yourself. But if you’re thinking about roadside rest areas, I have a guide for you.
Now the typical guidelines on where to use your generator include the following:
1. Park far enough from your fellow campers.
In Western Australia at least 3 metres of clearance radius is recommended. Meanwhile, in Queensland, you must locate your generator such that it emits a sound level of less than 65dB (A) when measured 7 metres from the generator.
2. Set up your generator in a dry and open area.
Humidity or moisture impedes the amount of power output from your generator, and may even malfunction its motor – causing an electrical hazard. Even you as an operator must be on dry land while operating your generator.
Also, the combustion of your generator’s fuel may cause the production of carbon monoxide – a hazard lethal to humans especially that it’s colourless and odourless. That’s not a good means of passing out while on vacation. So it’s really important to choose an open or well-ventilated area.
3. Choose an area that is clear of fuels, dry grass or other combustibles.
When these are combined with the electricity produced by the generator, fire is more likely to be formed. Worse, a bushfire may result.
4. The area must be far from the campers’ resting zone and from open windows.
This should already be common etiquette for RVers.
5. Look for a currently noisy spot.
If you are to use your generator during the day, it might help to set it up in an already noisy spot in order to mask the equipment’s noise. Alternatively, choose a spot where your fellow campers are using their generator sets too.
6. Go to the designated spot reserved by the campsite for generator use.
Yes, a lot of campsites have a designated spot for those who want to run their generators.
I won’t be introducing different generator models here, but you can check the full range over at http://www.mygenerator.com.au/. Instead, I’ll give you some key factors to consider instead:
As safety is always of paramount importance, see to it that the generator is marked or certified to be compliant with all relevant Australian standards. It’s a trustworthy guarantee for you and for your family that the product is safe for use.
When it comes to efficiency, diesel is preferable as it combusts well (minus the smell though). But when it comes to longevity, propane comes in first. Meaning, for the same tank propane last longer than diesel. Petrol is the most common option but is more expensive to run.
Some generators are able to run on two fuel types, but of course, must not be simultaneously run on both. Such generators only give you an additional option in case you run out of fuel. So I’d say these are nice to have, but their necessity depends on your circumstances.
Having said all that, veteran RVers would most likely look into the fuel type that matches the RV’s fuel. Because in that way, they won’t have to buy and store different types of fuel and can be run off the vehicle’s tank if needed. And RV manufacturers do the same thing too!
Don’t underestimate your generator based on price. What’s the point of having a generator if it’s not capable of meeting your required needs. That is why you must do an estimate beforehand of the generator capacity you will need. However, overestimation your needs can increase the cost of purchase dramatically. A larger generator will take up more space and weight in your vehicle too. RVers know how important those considerations are.
In any case, I have below an example of how to compute for your power need.
Now here comes the annoying part of a generator. You can prevent this as early as during preparation for the purchase. How? Aside from evaluating thoroughly the generator’s specifications, you may have the equipment tested in the store.
As previously mentioned, Queensland requires only up to 65db (A) of noise output when measured 7 metres from the generator. That’s a good basis for evaluating a good generator. Remember, normal human speech intensity is at 60dB (A) and a vacuum cleaner is at 70 dB (A).
Needless to say, good technology heightens the generator’s performance in all other key criteria (including efficiency and less frequency of maintenance checks). So don’t shy away from techie stuff and be open to learning instead. Generators with inverters are now gaining popularity due to their quieter operating noise and Pure Sine way power output.
To learn more about Pure Sine way Inverter generators see the video at the end of this post.
What else is scarier than electric shock and bushfire? Well here’s a piece of not-so-good news:
Shocks, electrocution and fire comprise some of the hazards associated with generators.
Moreover, these two are so close to each other that if you fall into the trap of one, you will get caught in the other as well. Hence, it is extremely essential to know your do’s and don’ts. It will save your life, and other people’s lives too…
1. Be on alert for fire ban days.
Using your generator at such times is dangerous and against the law.
2. Never leave your generator unattended.
Yes, that includes leaving your generator on all night.
3. Use your generator only when necessary and for brief periods.
Prolonged use will cause your generator to overheat, thus damaging your equipment. You’ll be wasting precious fuel too.
4. Choose the right extension cord.
This must be of good quality and of the correct current rating that is able to handle the expected load. For instance, an ordinary extension cord used on a large appliance will cause the cord to overheat.
5. Lay your extension cord/s right.
Power cords can be trip hazards. They must neither lie along nor across areas that are intended for high traffic areas or where vehicles are being driven.
6. Don’t overload your extension cord.
This has been a common practice but is actually a no-no. Some usual ways of overloading an extension cord are:
- Using adaptors with multiple outlets
- Branching one extension cord to two or more extension cords
7. Turn off your appliances before plugging them.
8. Switch on your appliances one at a time, not simultaneously.
9. Never tamper with your generator’s wiring.
This includes DIY stuff. Again, generators are notorious for causing an electrical hazard. So limit yourself instead to what the manufacturer’s guidelines tell you. Let an expert handle the rest.
10. Use good fuel
Feeding bad quality fuel to a generator is akin to feeding a person spoiled food. Your equipment will be damaged due to prevailing inefficient combustion. Worse is that carbon monoxide will be produced – this gas can effortlessly poison you.
11. Do maintenance checks.
Inspect if any part of your generator seems damaged or not working well. Clean and lubricate your equipment regularly. All these in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines of course.
Safety tips specifically for portable generators
- Hire a licensed electrician to connect your portable generator to your RV’s power system. Don’t even think of doing it yourself. To give you an overview, they will install a changeover switch that will enable your RV’s appliances (as a whole) to draw from either your generator or your RV’s main supply. That way, the power supplied by the generator can’t go back to the RV’s main power supply which is a dangerous occurrence. In return, you can rest assured that all you have to do is to “plug and play” your appliances.
- Do not directly plug your generator into any power outlet of your RV. Similar to #1, the tendency is that you’ll be feeding power back to your RV’s main power supply.
- Use an extension cord that’s designed for outdoor use.
Well aside from the safety guidelines I shared earlier, this section now focuses on how to accurately estimate what appliances you can plug simultaneously so that your generator won’t overload. As you may already be aware, appliances have different power needs.
- To start with, take a look at the labels or manuals of your appliances. You will see there their power rating, usually in watts (W), kilowatts (kW), or kilovolt-amperes (kVA). More often than not, you will notice two values – the running power and the start-up power. As their names imply,
- The running power is the amount of electricity consumed by the appliance when operating in a steady state.
- The start-up power is the amount of electricity consumed by the appliance the moment you turn it on. Note that the start-up periods of appliances vary as well – from a few seconds to about a few minutes.
|Beware!||The start-up power requirement of an appliance may shoot up to a maximum of about 10 times its running power.|
- List down both the operating power and start-up power requirements of your appliances.
- Now do the same with your generator. Record its power capacity.
- The rest is easy. Just add up the power ratings of the appliances you want to use all together, and compare the result with your generator’s capacity. However, the sum must not exceed 80% of the generator capacity. Always leave room for allowance!
Skipping over the complications in converting different units of measurement, say you read your generator to have a capacity of 5,000W. Then having examined your appliances, you were able to produce the following record:
|APPLIANCE||WATTAGE||START-UP POWER REQUIREMENT|
|Air conditioner (inverter technology)||2,000W|
You wanted to know if you can use all of those appliances simultaneously.
- Know first your actual maximum limit:
80% x 5000 = 4,000W
- Get the sum of all your appliances’ wattages and evaluate.
Total running power = 700 + 400 + 50 + 800 + 2000 = 3,950W
- As per computation (3,950W < 4,000W), you may run all your appliances altogether. However, looking at the start-up power requirements of your appliances:
- Since no blender data was given, estimate this yourself (say, 1.5x the running power).
- As for the air conditioner, since it runs on inverter technology, the start-up power would almost be the same as the running power.
Total start-up power = 2800 + (1.5 x 400) + 0 + 1000 + 2000 = 6,400W
- Clearly, you may not switch on your appliances all at the same time. So what can you do then? Continue on to step 5.
- Inspect which appliance consumes the most power (i.e. freezer). Therefore, start with switching on your freezer. After it stabilises (meaning, its power requirement tones down now to 700W), turn on next the second most power-intensive appliance which is the air conditioner. And then so on and so forth until you reach your least power-intensive appliance.
|Tip:||Where there is no data on the appliance’s start-up power consumption, contact the supplier or research for the multiplying factor that is appropriate for your appliance’s model.|
Why not go full primitive and just not use electricity at all? Kidding aside, there are a number of ways for you to minimise or eliminate the use of your generator. These might help you get thinking as well if you really need to buy that big of a generator capacity.
- Use inverter technology appliances. Although generally more expensive, these consume less electricity both during start-up and normal operation. On top of that, they are easy to maintain. Therefore, you save money in the long run.
- Consider using solar panels. Solar panels do not use fossil fuels (e.g. LPG, diesel, etc.), thus are less prone to electric and fire hazards.
- Bring only your necessary gadgets to reduce the temptation of indulging in them when you’re supposed to connect more with mother nature.
- Store just enough food in your refrigerator or freezer. Overloading such appliance with food will shoot up your power consumption. Further, it will require you to run your fridge for longer periods. This factor becomes even more critical during the summer.
- Although this may already be sort of common sense, let me reiterate it for you still. Lessen the use of your air conditioner. You may set it such that it operates only for a short time, and then make do with the retained cool air after. Also, you can install screens in your RV to maximise natural ventilation without being bugged with insects.
- When preparing meals, maximise the use of your gas stove, barbecue grills or campfire instead of using a coffee maker, an oven and a toaster altogether.
- Use the park’s facilities.
In some limited cases, you can be exempted from a campsite’s rule on generator use. These cases include:
Medical reasons – In such a case, the concerned person shall secure a written permit. Getting this from your local state is preferable to the campsite management because you may show a common permit to different campsites.
Emergencies – this is rare, but can nevertheless happen.
There are a lot of do’s and don’ts in operating generators. But going back to our aim of answering the question, “Are generators ok to use when camping?” – our answer remains to be YES, so long as:
- The campsite explicitly states that it’s allowed – be it through a signboard, its website, a confirmation message, or other means
- You adhere to the campsite’s rules and regulations, coupled with due consideration of your fellow campers.
- You have a special written permit from the proper authority, stating that you are exceptionally allowed to run your generator set. Typically, this permit includes special terms and conditions as well.
And never forget courtesy. It always pays you back.