One of the best things about Recreational Vehicles (RVs) is that they are designed to be used with or without power, water, and sewer hookups. This is mostly possible because of RV ‘house’ batteries that power interior lights, water pumps, and vent fans. RV Batteries can also power 110V/120V electronics like your TV if your RV has a power inverter.

Unfortunately even the best batteries don’t last forever and most RV manufacturers do not install the best batteries. Add to this that many RV manufacturers use cheap single-stage Battery Converter Chargers that damage batteries over time, and most RV owners find their first set of batteries dead (or close to it) after their first year of RV ownership.

In this article I’ll explain in layman’s terms how to get the most power for the least cost from your RV house batteries, what types of batteries are available, and how RV batteries work. I’ll also show you our battery setup and explain why I chose Trojan T-105 6V Golf Cart Batteries charged by an IOTA-DLS45 4-Stage Smart Converter.

I’ll cover the basics, which is still quite a lot of information, and hopefully this article helps you find the right battery and converter setup for your RV.

If you’d like a deeper understanding of batteries, check out Battery University.  This free site is dedicated to teaching people everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) there is to know about batteries. I link to their info throughout below, but only for those who want to know more (like me). For everyone else who just needs an overview – read on →


RV Battery Single Stage Converter Charger – The cause of short RV House Battery life and other problems.

Our Old Single Stage Converter
Our Old Single Stage Converter – Only Good for Killing Batteries and making a lot of fan noise!

Most RVs include a converter / charger – a device that turns 120-volt A/C power into 12-volt DC power while also charging the RV house batteries. The converter powers your 12-volt appliances such as lights, vent fans, your TV antenna, water pump, electric awnings, etc.. when your RV is plugged in to shore power or running off your generator. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, I thought my batteries did all of that?” But in fact, when you’re plugged into shore power, you can literally remove your RV house batteries and everything will still work just fine.

The converter also sends some of that 12-volt power to the batteries to charge them – which is why Converters are also called Battery Chargers – or Converter/Chargers.

The problem is that most factory-installed converters use just one consistent voltage – usually 13.6V to 13.8V to charge and maintain RV house batteries. This is why they’re called ‘single stage’ converter/chargers. This is a problem because batteries charge faster, last longer, and function better when charged by a 4 stage ‘smart charger’. The four stages – which I’ll cover below – are bulk (14.4V – 14.8V), absorption (13.8V – 14.2V), float (13.2), and then periodic equalization charge (15.5V) to ensure no battery sulfation  (a poor or reduced battery charge)  takes place.

When you maintain batteries at 13.7V they take forever to charge on the front end if they fully charge at all, and then they get cooked once the battery is charged. And when I say cooked, I’m not kidding. the charger literally boils some water out of the batteries, which speeds up the sulfation process and the batteries require more frequent maintenance – or they die much faster than they otherwise would.

By starting with a heavy bulk charge, and then switching to an absorption charge when the battery is ~80% full and a float/trickle charge at 95% full, your house batteries will reach 100% capacity without risk of sulfation or outgassing. They’ll also charge much faster – especially the first 80% – and last much longer.

Finally, keeping the batteries at a 13.2V float charge keeps them cooler and they require less maintenance (water & terminal cleaning) as a result. This also prevents excessive sulfation, which is the death of any lead acid battery.


Power Converters & RV Generators

Single-stage converters also make charging RV house batteries with your generator expensive and mostly pointless. Charging the batteries from 50% discharge at 13.7 Volts takes forever without the higher voltage bulk (14.4V – 14.8V) and absorption (13.8V – 14.2V) stages that a smart converter provides.

If you plan to boondock and charge your batteries by generator, upgrading to a smart converter charger is a must.


The Solution: The 4-Stage Battery Charger / Converter

IOTA-DLS45 Smart Converter

Right after upgrading our batteries I replaced our single stage converter with an IOTA-DLS45 4-Stage Smart Converter/Charger.

As newby RVers we were told we’d need to buy a new set of house batteries every year on average. I’ve also read on forums that house batteries only last 1 – 2 years, and that’s ‘just the way it is.’

The reality is, this problem is due to the low-quality battery charger/converters that are installed in most RVs – and poor quality batteries installed in some.

With a proper 4-stage smart converter/battery charger, batteries like our Trojan T105s can last 7 – 10 years – or even longer depending on use, care, and number of cycles.

That’s a potential savings of hundreds of dollars every year or two, plus your batteries will actually work for a change! Imagine using lights and watching a movie before going to bed without worrying if the propane heater blower will have enough juice to run all night, or if the toilet will flush all night (since the water pump runs on batteries).

This situation is standard for us now that I installed our Iota Smart Converter and Trojan T-105 Batteries. Meanwhile, I read about people struggling with undercharged or half-dead batteries every day.

If your batteries have been chronically undercharged or abused by a single-stage converter, they may need to be replaced. That said, I recommend upgrading the converter first, and then replace the batteries if they aren’t holding a charge from your new smart converter/charger.

Both Iota and Progressive Dynamics make excellent smart battery chargers. I’ve linked to a few of the more popular models below.


IOTA-DLS45 4-Stage Smart Converter/Charger on Amazon.com →

IOTA-DLS 55 amp 4-Stage Smart Converter Charger on Amazon.com →

Progressive Dynamics 45 amp Inteli-Power 9200 Series Converter/Charger →


Battery Amp Hours explained

Before I get into battery types, I think it’s helpful to cover battery amp hours. Amp Hours are the best and most common way to measure battery storage capacity, so think of Amp Hours (AH) like your battery gas tank.

Simply put, 1 amp hour (1AH) is the amount of power it takes to power a 1 amp draw for 1 hour. An LED light typically pulls .5 AH, so 6 lights = 3 AH. If you have 100AH of available charge, you could run those 6 lights for just over 33 hours. Make sense?

Amp Hours are usually measured using the ’20-hour rate.’ What that means is that if you used all the power that a battery can hold over a 20-hour period, then you would have used X amount of amp hours, with X being the Amp Hours at the 20 hour rate.

Why the 20-hour distinction? This is used because batteries supply more total Amp Hours when power is used very slowly, and they supply less Amp Hours when the power is used quickly (high draw). That ironically means that people who use the most power actually get the least amount of total power from their batteries.

The most important thing about the 20-hour rate is that it gives you good comparative data between batteries. Our Trojan T-105s have 225AH of capacity at 20 hours. I can compare that to other batteries and then know what to expect if I switch or upgrade.

If the battery I’m comparing it with has a wonky rating – like a 1-hour rate, then it’s next to impossible to compare the batteries. Be careful of any battery that doesn’t come with a 20-hour Amp Hour rating, as some cheap batteries will try to trick you with weird measurements.


The Most Common types of RV House Batteries

Once you have a decent smart converter/charger, either your current batteries will begin to hold a charge – or they won’t. If they don’t then no big surprise as you’re probably reading this article because your batteries died in the first place. It was still very much worth it to upgrade to a smart converter so that your next set of batteries won’t suffer the same fate as your last set.

I studied RV Batteries pretty extensively before buying our new set as I wanted to make sure I got the best batteries for the money and for our lifestyle. This is important, because if you spend 100% of your time plugged into shore power, batteries are a lot less important than if you boondock regularly (stay overnight with no hookups).


12-Volt RV/Marine Flooded Cell Lead Acid Batteries

12V RV/Marine Battery
12V RV/Marine Battery

These are the most common batteries installed in RVs. While these are called ‘deep cycle’ batteries, they’re really a hybrid starter/deep cycle.

The difference may sound like marketing, but in real world use a true ‘deep cycle’ battery can be more deeply discharged and bounce back than a hybrid starter/deep cycle battery. Deep cycle batteries also last longer, and usually hold more charge, too.

If you’re on full hookups most of the time, then an inexpensive set of 12-Volt RV/Marine batteries are a good choice. They usually cost less than $100 each and can be bought at Walmart and most auto-parts stores. These batteries will still benefit by the use of a 4-stage smart charger, as they’ll last significantly longer and provide more power.


6-Volt Deep Cycle Batteries aka Golf Cart Batteries

Trojan T105 Golf Cart Batteries

By definition, a deep cycle battery can be discharged 80% of it’s maximum charge, and then can still be fully recharged without damaging the battery. Don’t try that with RV/Marine hybrid batteries!

6-Volt Deep Cycle Batteries are designed for and used in golf carts. In other words, they’re workhorses that are designed for abuse and they last a long time.

If you full-time or most-time and spend a fair bit of your time traveling, boondocking, and off-hookups, then these are the batteries I recommend.

Our Trojan T105 Batteries are 6V Golf Cart batteries, which I bought, and then wired in series, essentially creating 1 big 12-volt battery. Note that to use 6V batteries you must have an even number of batteries. You can’t wire 3 or 5 of these together and get the necessary 12-Volts.


12-Volt or 6-Volt AGM Batteries

Lifeline AGM Batteries
Lifeline AGM Batteries are the industry standard

In regular lead-acid battery cells, the acid is in liquid form – which is why they’re called ‘flooded cell’ batteries. In VRLA (valve regulate lead acid) batteries such as AGM, the acid electrolyte solution is immobilized, either by soaking a fiberglass mat in it (hence: Absorbed Glass-Mat batteries), or by turning the liquid into a paste-like gel by the addition of silica and other gelling agents (hence: gel batteries).

The net result of this is part good and part bad.

The good is that AGM batteries hold a charge much better than traditional flooded cell batteries. If you store your RV for months at a time, then I recommend AGM batteries, since their rate of resting discharge is tiny compared to flooded cell batteries (either 12-V or 6-volt).

That means you can leave the batteries in your RV between trips without having to worry about keeping them charged. I’d still remove them and trickle charge them in the winter, but even there they’ll only need to be charged every few months – vs. every week or two for flooded lead acid.

The bad is that AGM batteries cost roughly double what traditional flooded cell batteries. A comparable AGM also weighs more than a flooded cell battery – in both cases assuming similar Amp-Hour capacity.

Lastly, it’s not possible to open, inspect, or fill AGM batteries. This means they won’t last as long as well-cared for flooded cell batteries – which is because AGM batteries still outgas. That’s why they’re called ‘Valve Regulated Lead Acid’ batteries. They have a valve that allows outgassing when pressure builds up in the battery due to overcharging or rapid discharge (electrolysis). The vapor that’s vented can’t be replaced since the batteries are sealed.


Lithium (LiFePO4) Batteries

We don’t have Lithium batteries so I can’t speak to their real world use. Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries offer many features that make them a good choice over lead acid batteries, such as faster charging, more capacity per size/weight, more consistent power discharge, deeper depth of discharge, and more recharge cycles (longevity).

Unfortunately Lithium batteries are also almost 10-times more expensive than comparable lead acid batteries – or 5-times more expensive than AGM batteries, so unless you boondock a lot and rely on Solar Power Lithium batteries, they are not a practical or affordable option for most RVers.

If you’d like to know more about lithium batteries for RVers, I recommend reading the Technomads Lithium Battery Page.


What Batteries are Right For Your RV?

AGM Batteries are the best option for most RVers. I say this largely because most RVers part time, and most people don’t need another maintenance item (gotta fill/charge the RV batteries) in their brain space.

For full-timers, boondockers, and those who like to keep an eye on and maintain things – and those who want the best bang for their buck – 6-Volt flooded cell (Golf Cart) batteries are the way to go.

If you never leave the RV park, stick with inexpensive 12V RV/Marine batteries. If you never leave the RV park, then you really only need one as a backup if the power goes out.


Our Battery Setup

I’d known that our batteries weren’t holding much charge for a while, but it took a storm in Blaine, WA that knocked down power lines for us to make a battery upgrade a priority. The first night after the storm while running on 100% battery power our lights were dim by 9pm and our vent fans were useless – not good!

We also had an RV trip to Mt Lassen Volcanic National Park planned, and knew we’d be off hookups for several days. New batteries were a must.

On the plus side, I’d been planning to upgrade our batteries for some time, as we’d made a goal to do more boondocking (camping outside of developed campgrounds, so no hookups). We’d also like to spend more time in State & National Parks and other off-grid camping.

Our RV came from the factory with two NAPA 12-Volt RV/Marine ‘Deep Cycle’ batteries. These are commonly installed in RVs as they’re relatively inexpensive and they’ll do the job – at least for a year or two. Unfortunately these are cheapy hybrid starter batteries that aren’t designed for deep cycling.

Our house batteries are installed under our entrance step in a ventilated compartment. There’s only room for two batteries, but considering the size of our RV and our power requirements, two batteries is plenty for us.

How to wire batteries in Series vs in Parallel

I measured the space, determined I could fit two Trojan T-105 Batteries, then I went to Battery Systems of Bend, OR, and picked up two fresh Trojans. A good battery shop is your best bet for new batteries, as in many cases they can’t be shipped, and shipping something as heavy as a battery is very expensive.

It’s important to wire 6V batteries correctly. I’ve included this diagram (that I made) to illustrated the right way to wire 6V batteries vs. 12V batteries.

To ensure that our new Trojan batteries will last, I ordered the DLS-45 IOTA Smart Charger and installed it in place or our single-stage converter charger. I didn’t document this unfortunately – although every setup is different, so not sure that would have helped much.


How Lead Acid Batteries Work

Lead Acid Batteries

The vast majority of RVs use some type of lead-acid battery. This includes both flooded cell (most common) and AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat – also common) batteries. Even your engine starter batteries are a type of sealed lead-acid battery.

In conventional lead-acid cells, the diluted acid is in liquid form, hence the term “flooded” or “wet” cells. AGM batteries have the same lead-acid chemistry, but the acid electrolyte solution is immobilized, either by soaking a fiberglass mat in it (hence: absorbed-glass-mat batteries), or by turning the liquid into a paste-like gel by the addition of silica and other gelling agents (gel-cell batteries).

Lead acid batteries contain 2 lead plates (electrodes) suspended in sulphuric acid (electrolyte). To be fully accurate the negative plate is lead and the positive plate is lead dioxide. When you pull power from the battery (discharge), the lead and acid in the battery undergo a chemical reaction that produces lead sulphate and water.

When the battery is recharged, or has current run through it, the lead sulphate and water are turned back into lead, lead dioxide, and acid. When the battery is back to 100% lead, lead dioxide, and sulfuric acid, then the battery is full charged.

For the full chemical reactions, read this wikipedia article


How to Damage or Ruin RV House Batteries:

RV House Batteries are designed to be discharged and recharged many hundreds of times, however there are 3 things you can do that will kill your batteries well before their time:

Fully Discharge The Battery – If batteries are fully discharged – even once – they will no longer hold a charge. Sometimes batteries are only mostly dead, and in those cases it may be possible to bring them back to life gradually with a trickle charger. In general if a lead acid battery reads 10.5-volts on a voltmeter, it’s permanently dead and you’ll need to replace it.

Not Charged Fully, or not Charged Often Enough – As batteries are discharged the lead and acid reaction forms sulphate. Sulphate starts as a sludge that is easily turned back into lead, lead dioxide, and acid when the battery is charged. If the battery stays in a discharged state for too long (a couple weeks+) the sulphate slowly hardens and crystalizes on the positive and negative plates. This reduces battery capacity in the short term and kills the batteries over time. This is the #1 cause of RV battery premature death, as most RVs have lousy battery charger converters or don’t maintain their batteries properly.

Letting Batteries Dry Out – The other easy way to kill a set of lead acid batteries is by not adding water. Lead Acid batteries have vents so that they won’t explode during outgassing (electrolysis). Outgassing can happen either due to excessive discharge (high-draw 12V battery usage) or overcharging with a bad converter/charger. Lead acid batteries have vents to release excess gases and water vapor from outgassing, but the lost water needs to be replaced. The lead plates must be submerged to function – exposing the plates to air will kill your batteries quickly.


How to Maintain RV Batteries:

Batteries are at their best when they have clean terminals, are fully charged, and full of acid. That means they should always be stored fully charged and full. That also means they should never be stored partially charged, or not full of water/acid.

That’s because the enemy of your battery life is sulfation. This is caused by lead sulfate – which is only present when your batteries aren’t full charged. Lead sulfate hardens on the battery plates and then doesn’t go back into solution, so it ruins your batteries two ways. Keep your batteries charged and this won’t be an issue.

If you have AGM batteries, then the only maintenance you’ll be doing is charging the batteries and keeping the terminals clean.

For flooded lead-acid batteries -including golf cart batteries – regular charging and occasional watering are necessary.

How To Clean Battery Terminals

Cleaning battery terminals is easy if you have the right tools. A terminal cleaning brush, a ratchet set, and some vaseline (optional) are all you need.

First – what is the stuff that forms on your battery terminals? The positive and negative terminals each tend to form their own powdery residue – but you’re more likely to see blue/green residue on the positive terminal and white on the negative.

The greenish blue stuff is copper sulfate that usually gets a little caked up as it’s exposed to moisture. Copper sulfate is made by a reaction between the copper terminal clamp and the lead in the battery, plus some outgassing from the sulfuric acid in the battery. Copper sulfate is not good at conducting electricity, so you need to periodically remove it. A thin layer of vaseline is a good way to prevent it from reforming.

A lot of people are scared to touch battery terminals – and rightly so. Getting an electrical shock is not fun. For best results always disconnect the negative battery terminal first. Make sure the terminal clamp is not touching the terminal. Then disconnect the positive battery terminal. Once disconnected, you can clean the battery terminals without worry – as long as you don’t touch both positive and negative at the same time and complete the circuit.

How to Add Water to RV House Batteries

Adding water to your RV’s house batteries is very easy. You’ll need distilled water and battery syringe filler and about 5 minutes. House batteries have either 3 (6V) or 6 (12V) cells to fill each. To fill battery cells simply unscrew the vent cap. This can be done either by hand or sometimes with a screwdriver.

Important – ONLY use distilled water when adding water to batteries. Distilled water has no electrolytes (salt), so nothing that can react with the acid and lead plates in the battery. Distilled water is sold in the water section at most stores.

Battery cells should typically be filled up to 1/8-inch below the lip. There’s no need to measure, just fill until it’s just below the visible lip. Then close that cell and move on to the next one. Make sure you fill every cell in every battery – and that’s it.

To ensure that you get the water into the battery, use a battery filler. It looks like a big turkey baster. Squeeze the bulb, stick the tube in your gallon of distilled water, fill the bulb, then transfer the water to a battery cell until it’s full.

Battery Filler Bulb on Amazon.com →


Wrapping Up

This is a relatively shallow dive into a large subject. I didn’t cover everything by a long shot, so if you have questions please leave them in the comments and I’ll answer or add to this article.

This page could also use a glossary, as there are many battery terms listed above that don’t include a definition or explanation. I’ll add this as necessary, so again – let me know if you have any questions.

Beyond that, I hope you find this article helpful the next time you think about shopping for RV house batteries!

Author

Hi, I'm Rich - Perpetual traveler, photographer, writer, and web designer. Thanks for reading, and happy trekking!

79 Comments

  1. Hi Rich,
    I’m thinking about putting 2 T105s in my Monarch but reading their charging requirements it says an Equalize Charge of 16.2 volts should be done monthly.
    I am using a Progressive Dynamics pd9280 which is a 4 stage charger that only goes to 14.4volts for bulk charge and does not have an option for a 16.2 volt to do an equalization charge.
    Do you do the equalization charge and if so, how often?
    How long have you had your T105s and are they still charging to the same level?
    What model of the T105s are you using?
    Thanks,
    Rob

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Rob – I’ve had our T-105s for 3 years now, and they still charge and work like new. Our Iota 45-amp Charger (https://amzn.to/2LiVcmb) is a smart charger and it hits the batteries with an equalization charge every 7 days that we’re continuously plugged in of around 15.5 volts. I’ve seen it as high as 15.7 – it varies a bit based on temperature. 16.2 volts strikes me as high. YMMV.

  2. I’ll be replacing my R.V. battery bank with 2 -6v Trojan AGM golf cart batteries plus 1- 12 v starter battery hooked up to a 360w solar grid. Please advise me of any do’s or don’ts regarding this set-up. Are the Trojans I intend to use designed for solar power? What type of starter battery would you recommend for this application?

    • Rich Reply

      Hi there – Trojans are ideal for Solar Power. They’re often used in off-grid applications and do well in large battery banks – and in RVs too. The starter battery isn’t that important as it doesn’t do much. I’m replacing ours now (at 6 years) and I’ll use a similar Ford Motorcraft Battery to the one I’m replacing. Good luck!

      • Hal Mandel Reply

        Trojan flooded cell batteries are worth their weight in gold.
        If you decide on a “string” of Trojans you are talking three or
        four figures, and need to take in to account the correct cabling
        (wire diameter and type), and the charging system.

        With Trojans, the battery owner needs to become familiar with
        using a digital voltmeter and a squeeze bulb-type hydrometer.

        By regularly watering and charging a Trojan string you can
        honestly expect twenty good years life from them.

        I found all this out from the ‘Phone Company (remember when
        there WAS a ‘phone company?) who are so cheap they can make
        nickels bleed and Lincoln scream.

        Keeping the terminals clean and greasy, and the battery cases
        clean as well is also a path towards longevity.

        • Hal what charging system do you recommend and “regularly watering” is how often? I would love my batteries to last 20 years.

  3. We have the Trojan T-105 batteries and a 2000 Watt pure sine wave inverter. We are “most timers” but seldom dry dock, usually just an overnight stay once and a while at Walmart while traveling.

    We are planning a long trip soon where we may be “WalMarting” more frequently. How can I tell if these 5 yr old batteries should be replaced before the trip or if they are still are fine?

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Jean – Use a battery load tester like this one → (on Amazon) to check the batteries. As long as you keep them watered and use a 4-stage battery converter/charger your Trojans should last another few years easy.

  4. Thanks for all the simple to understand info. We’ve purchased a Little Guy MAX trailer for delivery in April. I’m purchasing two T-105 flooded batteries, the trailer comes with a 3 stage converter/charger 1500 watt inverter, and we do some boondocking 3-5 days at a time. It will also have 100 watt rooftop solar and I will be supplementing it with a 120 watt solar suitcase. Does this system sound about right to you? We aren’t super heavy users of 110v items. Are there really no significant differences between Renogy and Go Power?
    Thanks,
    Dan

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Dan – it sounds a little short on rooftop solar. In optimal conditions – full Sun – you might be ok, but solar panel power generation drops dramatically every time a cloud covers the Sun – let alone on an overcast or stormy day. I’d recommend closer to 300 watt rooftop (3×100 or 2×150) + the suitcase and you’ll be much better off – especially during 5-day boondocking. Even if you don’t use a lot of 110v, you’ll find you use plenty of extra power with vent fans, water pump, and lights.

      I’m not a solar expert, and I haven’t studied the details of Renogy vs. GoPower extensively. That said, from what I’ve read/studied, Renogy panels are very solid for the money. There are lots of solar systems that cost significantly more but that don’t actually perform much differently. The two areas to pay the most attention to are use a good quality solar charge controller, and make sure you use big enough wires (and short runs) – both from the solar panels to the charge controller, and from the controller to the batteries for best results. Good luck!

      • Hey Rich Thank you for writing this wonderful guidance that we can certainly use. Can you please clarify the Trojan wiring? It looks like is neg to positive, positive to neg and neg to neg is that right?

        • Rich Reply

          Hi Luis – not quite. You should have the negative on one battery connected to the negative battery cable from the RV. The positive on the other battery connected to the positive connection from the RV. Then connect the remaining negative from one battery to the positive on the other – that way you’ve wired the batteries in series and you’ll get one large 12-Volt battery. Good luck!

    • Rich,
      Thanks for your reply. I really don’t want to add more rooftop as it is an LG MAX teardrop and they have to use flexible glued on panels and of course if they get hot, which they will, they won’t be as efficient. The panels also aren’t parallel to the ground because the panel follows the downward slope of the roof in the rear. So what I think I’ll do is go with one 100 watt flexible panel on the roof, and instead of the 120 portable, I’m going to get a 160 portable instead for a total of 260W. I guess it will have to do. Thanks again

      • Rich Reply

        Hi Dan – I completely missed the part where it’s a teardrop trailer. I think you’ll be fine with the 220W – although 260 is better. I get stuck thinking about larger vehicles – like ours – that have more parasitic loss, more lights, more 12V appliances, etc.. Good luck!

  5. Since our current converter charger is 60 amps, do I need the Lota 55 amp charger/converter?

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Frank – That should work just fine. Good luck!

  6. Hi Rich ,
    Thanks for the great article, we are new to the TT world and just purchased our first one . Which battery set up would you recommend for us? We do have a Generator and will go to some hook up sites but the majority will be no hook up. Thanks

    • Rich Reply

      Thanks, Heber – Congrats on your new TT! As most people will tell you, it depends. In general: If you plan to watch a fair amount of TV – or other regular energy use – while boondocking, then you’ll want a 4 battery setup, or a battery bank in the 450 amp hour range. With just our 2 Trojan T-105s (250 amp hours), we can run lights, water pump, run the heat fan or exhaust fan all night (10 amp hours) and even watch a movie (25 – 30 amp hours) and we wake up with enough power to use stuff in the morning – usually still a 12.2V charge depending on outside temp. This also depends on how much space you have for batteries. Some TT mount them up near the hitch, and usually 2 is the max – but that should be enough for most people. Good luck!

  7. Hi Rich, The best explanation in laymen terms I have seen. I was browsing this at work so I have not finished the article. So far I have not seen anything on solar. I have an old m416 trailer that I have converted with a rooftop tent and I am looking for battery power with a solar charger. Can you give me any info on this. Thanks in advance
    Kevin
    From Attack Trail.

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Kevin – thanks for that. You’re correct, I haven’t written the companion article on Solar yet. For now, a quick Google search will yield you better results than anything I can share in the comments.

  8. Thanks for the article. Well done. Is the converter/charger swap out with the Iota as simple as disconnecting the leads from the original conv/charger and then just connecting the Iota. I couldnt find in the article if you got flooded or AGM batteries. Which did you get and why?
    Thanks,
    Dan

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Dan – I wish it was the simple, but in our case it wasn’t. Our factory converter/charger was bolted/welded on to the back of the 12V circuit board, so I had to disconnect them before I could remove the old. Installing the IOTA was easy though – just connect the battery leads and ground and bolt the IOTA down so it can’t move around and you’re done.

      The Trojan T105 Batteries we use are flooded cell. I like to tinker/maintain stuff, and flooded batteries are half the cost and have slightly more power per weight than AGMs, so they work for me. As long as they’re well maintained, flooded will last just as long if not longer than AGM, so it really comes down to if you like to maintain stuff, or if you’re more a ‘set it and forget it’ type of person (and have the extra $$ for the AGMs). Either way, get batteries from a good brand (Trojan, Crown, Lifeline) and you’ll have good long-term results. Good luck!

  9. Hi Rich,

    This is a great article, thanks for posting it! We are doing a conversion of a GMC Savana, and just purchased 2 – T105 RE batteries. My question for you is about the IOTA DLS unit you are using. I’ve looked through their specs, and I can’t seem to find which voltages they use for charging. It lists them in the IQ4 specs as the maximum output of the charger. Will the DLS reach the 14.8V bulk charge that Trojan recommends? Also, it seems the float charge is 13.6V, but the recommended is 13.5V. How have you found the performance of this unit?

    Because we are building this ourselves, we really want to have the right gear in place from the start.

    Thanks!

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Darren – the IOTA works perfectly with our batteries. It runs a bulk charge at between 14.6 and 14.8. (I’ve ready 14.8 may be a bit high in reality). Absorption is between 13.9 and 14.2, and float is 13.1 – 13.2. It’s better to float at slightly lower voltage than 13.5 imo. 13.5 cooks more water out of the batteries and doesn’t appear to protect them vs. 13.2. Last – I wouldn’t worry too much about a .1V here or there. Batteries have some necessary built in flexibility due to (outside) temperature variations. You’ll also notice (if you buy the IOTA) that it charges the batteries at slightly different voltages depending on outside temperature – which is why I listed the ranges I’ve obvserved above. I hope that’s helpful – good luck!

  10. I am thinking I need a 400A battery bank for the solar system I want to purchase to stay off grid as much as I want. Once I hit Arizona with my family there, we will not be in the city atmosphere at all. Are you saying I need two Trojan 6 volt batteries to replace the one I have now or do I need that in addition to the one I have now? BTW I am brand new and don’t even have my travel trailer until this weekend when we do our walk-thru and take it home. LOL!

    I’m trying to understand all of this because the (expensive as hell) system I found for full solar to run most things and charge the batteries is the Go Power Solar Extreme Solar and Inverter System with 480 Watts of Solar.

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Richard – ok, some basic principles. All the batteries in your battery bank should be the same. The same type of battery and the same age (ideally). So if you want to run Trojan T105s, you’ll need 4 of them to have 450 Amp Hours. You can’t (shouldn’t try) to run them with a 12V battery. Mismatched batteries constantly drain/charge each other, and that ruins the batteries, hurts performance, etc.. So use all the same batteries.

      As far as solar goes, you don’t need to spend a fortune to add Solar to an RV. Go Power makes nice stuff, but they charge a lot for what they sell you. You can buy a complete 200 watt solar kit from Renogy for around $300 – http://amzn.to/2GdEL89 – so there are a lot of less expensive options. The main thing is get decent solar panels, make sure you install them well (space underneath them, etc..) run the shortest wires you can, etc..

      My recommendation would be as you’re heading to Arizona stop in Quartzite and get solar installed there. People in Quartzite know what you need (they’re all boondockers), and you’ll get a good price if you look, too. Good luck!

  11. I would to see what kind of life span 6 volt batteries have my last ones were Costco – interstate and I only get about 2 years
    Thanks for all the info

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Wayne – I’ve heard of people getting 10 years out of a set of Trojan 6V batteries. I think 6 – 8 years is pretty typical. They do need to be well maintained of course, and connected to a smart charger as opposed to a single stage converter/charge will kill any/all batteries pretty quickly.

  12. The information here is mostly good, but there are a couple of points that are incorrect.

    1. AGM batteries do not ‘off gas’. They have a catalyst inside the battery that recombines the oxygen and hydrogen back into water. http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/absorbent_glass_mat_agm Also, while AGM batteries do indeed cost roughly twice at a similarly sized flooded lead acid battery does, they often last twice as long in most applications.

    2. Completely draining a lead acid battery, while certainly harmful to its overall lifespan, does not permanently kill the battery. Starting batteries can only by cycled like this 8-12 times before they are effectively dead, whereas a true deep cycle battery can do this 150-200 times. http://pvcdrom.pveducation.org/BATTERY/charlead.htm

    • Rich Reply

      Hi William – 1. You’re right that AGM batteries shouldn’t ‘off gas’, but they all have pressure relief valves so they CAN off gas during rapid recharging. Read: http://batteriesbyfisher.com/agm-batteries – “VRLA (includes AGM) batteries have a pressure relief valve which will activate when the battery starts building pressure of hydrogen gas, generally a result of being recharged at excessive voltage, typically greater than 2.30 volts per cell. Valve activation allows some of the gas or electrolyte to escape, thus decreasing the overall capacity of the battery.”

      This slight loss of capacity leads to lower battery capacity over time as AGMs can’t be refilled. Even with a smart battery charger/converter you’re still liable to get some off-gassing on hot days as AGM batteries are more susceptible to heat.

      Also, while AGMs commonly last twice as long as flooded lead acid batteries, that’s usually due to lack of maintenance. As AGMs require less/no maintenance they’re easy to maintain, whereas flooded lead acid batteries require regular watering and more frequent charging (if in storage). That said, a well-maintained flooded battery can and will last as long as an AGM.

      2. Good info, and yes, I’ve brought batteries back from the dead before (2amp trickle charge works best) – but as you say, it’s harmful to the overall lifespan and not ideal. Thanks for your comments and info!

  13. Excellent article Rich, would you comment on how you charge the batteries while away from shore power.
    For example using a generator or solar panels, I’m looking into a similar setup.

    Cheers!

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Steve – thanks! For context: we rarely stay off grid for more than a week, so I don’t have to worry about getting the batteries fully charged while off grid. This is important, because it’s next to impossible to FULLY charge your batteries on your generator. As long as you have a good converter like the 4-stage IOTA I mention above you can charge your batteries to 85% or so with your generator in 1 – 2 hours. If you have a single stage converter, it will take many many hours just to get the batteries mostly charged.

      If you’re going to be off shore power regularly (frequent boondocking), then Solar is the only way to fully charge your batteries – (critically important for making your batteries last a long time.) In our case a 450W system (3x 150W panels) would do a good job of keeping our 2x Trojan T105’s charged (assuming we had periodic days of full Sun).

      We don’t have a full solar setup, although I do carry a 100W Renogy Solar Suitcase. When we boondock, I charge the batteries to 85% with the generator in the morning and then leave the suitcase out to top them off. But again – I don’t need to fully charge my batteries, as we always go back to shore power after a week or so.

      I hope that’s helpful – and good luck!

  14. Hi Rich, nice post! I like the “12-Volt RV/Marine Flooded Cell Lead Acid Batteries” and intent to buy one for my next trip 🙂

  15. Doug Britton Reply

    The most complete, easy to understand article on RV batteries and chargers I have read yet! A must read for new and seasoned RV’ers alike to understand proper battery selection, uses of each and maintenance.

    Thank you

  16. Rich excellent article! You did touch in a question I have. I’m familiar and expect the 20 hr rating on the a-hr of deep cycle batteries but was knocked for a loop when I saw a 101 A-HR deep cycle batt rated @ 1 hr in walmart! Never heard of this before. Can you elaborate on this rating and how would I compare to a 20 hr rated battery of same A-HR?
    Thanks!

    • Rich Reply

      Thanks James! The Walmart batteries you’re referring to (101 Amp Hour @ 1amp/hour ‘deep cycle’) are using deceptive advertising and will have lower capacity at a 20amp/hour discharge rate. The “1amp/hour” rating is used by no-one else, and is just a way for Walmart to advertise ‘101 Amp Hour’ capacity to people who don’t know better.

      Rate of discharge (and temperature) has a big impact on total battery capacity. If you measured Trojan T-105 batteries at a 1amp/hour rate, they’d theoretically give you somewhere between 50% – 100% more total output. In fact they’d probably discharge almost as fast naturally just sitting there as with a 1amp/hour draw (slight exaggeration, but you get the point) It would literally take weeks. Alternatively, if you put a 90amp draw on my Trojans, I’d only get about 120 amps of total capacity (vs 225), or half assuming the same temperature.

      From what I’ve read about the Walmart batteries, if you measured them at a 20-hour rate of full discharge (standard), they’d really have somewhere between 65 – 85 amp/hour capacity. When you consider you should only discharge batteries halfway to maximize their lifespan, that’s only ~ 30 to 40amps of useable power before you need to recharge, or double that if you have two batteries.

      If you don’t boondock or use your batteries often or ever, the Walmart batteries are fine. If you do boondock (camp off hookups), and you want batteries that will last through the night, definitely get something better. I hope this is helpful, and good luck!

    • Jason woodward Reply

      The 101 rating you Speke of is reserve battery capacity. Not same as amp hour rating but to convert to an amp hour rating you multiple by .4317. Basically 101 reserve minutes equates to a 45ah rating

      • Rich Reply

        Hi Jason – do you have a source for that info? I’d love to read it. Thanks!

  17. so I didn’t really get why you exactly you chose the 6V batteries you did over a deep cycle or AGM 12v. What’s the purported benefit there?

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Fred – I’ve been told and/or read a few reasons. #1 – there’s a power advantage to wiring 2 6V batteries in series vs. wiring 2 12V batteries in Parallel. This makes some sense as wiring in series requires one less battery cable, so less parasitic loss. #2 – 6V batteries make better deep cycle batteries than 12V because the cells are approximately twice the size, so the lead plates in each cell are much larger/more dense. This also makes some sense to me. 6V batteries have 3 cells each (2V per cell) vs 6 cells in 12V battery that’s approximately the same size. last – it’s faster/easier to add water to 6V batteries (6 total cells to fill vs. 12 total). This isn’t an issue with AGM – but AGMs also cost significantly more. I’ll do more research and add this info to the article.

      • Chris Vandette Reply

        Hello

        The Trojan t105 have about 230amp hours , a group 24 Rv deep cycle has about 75 amp hours , group 29/31 roughly 100 give or take depending on the manufacture

        So right off the bat , 2- group 24 batteries are about 150 amp hours , 2 Trojan t105 you get about 230 amp hours , that’s 80 more amp hours just by using the Trojan t105

        it takes almost over 3 group 24 batteries to equal (2) a set of t105’s ,

        There t125, t145 , that give you even more amp hours but a whole lot more weight

        That t105 is just about the same size as a group 24 Rv deep cycle battery

        I have read that you shouldn’t drop lead acid batteries below 50% charge state where as the new lith-ion they can be drained to 80% of there capacity , they use to give you a chart online for life cycles and % of charge state , and anything over 50% really shortened the life spans drastically

        Excellent article

        Chris

        • Rich Reply

          Hi Chris – that all sounds right to me. Thanks for your comment!

  18. Hi Rich. Thanks for a great article. So much I didn’t know about batteries. I saw that Amazon also sells lithium batteries. Have you ever used lithium batteries or is it not possible to get deep cycle with lithium?

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Mark – glad you found it helpful. I haven’t used Lithium in our RV – but as far as I understand, all Lithium Batteries work similarly (only better) than deep cycle batteries. They can be discharged 80% without damaging them, they have excellent rate of discharge, charge quickly, etc… Of course they also cost 5x – 10x as much as lead acid batteries, so let’s hope they work better!

      • J.T. Allen Reply

        Hey Rich. I am a first time camper owner and this was such a good read for me. I bought a used camper that had no batterues and was doing research on what is the best setup and ran across your article. I do plan on setting my camper up the same way. The question I have for you is how would I go about installing a solar system to this setup? Any information is greatly appreciated .

        • Rich Reply

          Hi J.T. – good question, but that’s an entire additional article. It’s on my list – but in the meantime there are many other good resources online that you should be able to find with a quick google search.

          • Hi Rich,
            Awesome article, thanks!
            I just bought a couple of T-105s for our Northern Lite camper we just bought.
            Question for you…my camper came with one 12 volt battery…do I need to upgrade the existing battery wiring in my camper now that I’m going with 2 6 volts hooked up in series?
            I can’t seem to find any info on this.
            Standing by,
            Reo

          • Rich

            Hi Reo – Thanks! – Regarding your camper wiring: You should be fine with the same wires. Your 2x 6V T-105s are essentially just a large-capacity deep-cycle 12-volt battery. The amount of power traveling through the wires at any given time is the same, it’s just that your T-105s will keep pumping power a lot longer than your old single 12-volt battery. Good luck!

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