Can an RV be Green or Eco Friendly?

When I mention the words eco-friendly, green and RV in the same sentence, nearly every time it’s met with a roll of the eyes and a scoff.  I can’t say I blame them, before being an RV’er I thought the same way.  “RV’s can’t be green…..right?!?”

green rv vesta

RV’s are eco-friendly!  Of course I don’t have any hard research over a 10 year period to back this up, but here is what I do know:

Our RV is around 200 square feet. That is way smaller than any house or apartment we have ever lived in.  So, we only heat, cool, clean and maintain around 200 sq ft.  Our water consumption has gone down by huge margins and we only log around 15,000 – 20,00 miles a year total between our smart car and our RV.  So, just by living in the RV, we cut our personal carbon foot print by more than half.

Now, that being said there are several, quick easy mods you can make to your RV to go even a little greener and live off the cord longer!  Below are some of the ways we’ve found to travel a little lighter on the environment and live a little greener while on the road full-time.

Tips for Green RV Travel

Living off the cord – National Forest Lands and Bureau of Land Management both offer lots of free (we all like free) dry camping. The primitive camp areas are typically surrounded by nature and some locations are right outside of the most popular state and national parks. There are no hookups, but the beautiful surroundings and free camping are totally worth it! (Don’t forget to check out the “off the cord” communities like Quartzite, Slab City and the amazing Burning Man). When you stay off the cord challenge yourself to live as long as possible without using the generator, or filling your tanks.

National Forest Lands near Grand Tetons

Water Filtration System – Invest in a good water filtration system. Not only will this save you money on bottled water but it will result in a lot less plastic waste. Remember when you leave your RV fill up a reusable water bottle to take along with you.
LED Lights – Switching out your traditional bulbs for LED’s will not only save electricity, but they use so little that you can dry camp for much longer without running down your house batteries! Our Vesta came with halogen bulbs which pulled 26 amps, when we replaced all the lights with LED’s we’re now pulling 3 amps! That is HUGE power difference, and the LED’s are much cooler to the touch keeping our coach cooler in the warmer months.
Low Flow Faucets – Change out your kitchen and bathroom aerators. Check your hardware stores for 1.2-1.5 (gallons per minute) aerators. Switch out your shower head for an eco option, look for anything under 2.5 gpm. This will conserve water, keep great water pressure and enable you to camp longer before needing to dump your grey water. Just because you’re connected to water at a campground challenge yourself by using as little water as you can. Every little bit saved truly helps the environment.
Solar Panels – A small portable panel will power most of your electronics or to stay off the cord even longer, go for an extreme Solar Set up like ours.  Having solar power also allows you to live “off the cord” much longer, this saves they environment and you money!

Camping at Zion National Park
It was dry camping all the way at Zion National Park but thanks to our solar panels we had hot meals, coffee, cool fans and didn’t turn on the generator once in 4 days.

Bio Diesel – Switching back and forth from diesel to bio-diesel blends like B-20 is no problem. So, when you come across a bio-blend supply, fill er’ up! (Consult your engine mfr. to make sure). If your engine is out of warranty you might even consider converting your engine to use 100% biodiesel. Many people power their cars, trucks, and RV’s with veggie oil.
Ditch Disposables – Many RV’ers use disposables because they make cleaning up easier, but it’s harder on the environment. We travel with reusable plastic cups and plates…and of course a couple fancy coffee and wine glasses (we’ve gotta have a little class right?).
Grey/Black Tank Cleaners – Chemical based cleaners and deodorizers contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde. These chemicals have been shown to cause different kinds of cancers as well as pollute the soil and water. Why risk it, buy the enzyme based tank cleaners instead. If you’re at a campground you can dump your tanks every 2 – 3 days save your tank cleaners, no reason to use them if you can dump at your leisure.  Or, skip the black tank all together and consider a composting toilet!
Recycle – Keep an extra trash can or box in a storage compartment to hold your recyclables. If your campground doesn’t offer recycling, check out apps like “irecycle”. Many grocery stores offer recycling, so when you go into town take them with you and do your part to keep trash out of the landfills.
Tow Car – Select a more eco-friendly tow car. Auto manufacturers have launched a host of new fuel efficient cars perfect for flat towing behind an RV. From 2-doors, to 4-doors, to convertibles, pretty much any style of new car can be found with great fuel economy and more earth friendly materials. We chose the Smart because of it’s 40 MPG, and the fact it’s 95% recyclable once it’s dead.
Camp Fires – This is a tricky one: everyone loves a campfire right? Remember these fires release toxins into the environment. If you can save campfires for necessities like keeping warm, or cooking, this will help keep the air a little cleaner. As always DO not throw trash in the fire, plastics, metals, or anything else as this releases unnecessary toxins into the air.
Buy Local – One of our favorite things about travel is sampling all of the local fare. Being green has never tasted sooo good; from farmers markets to local micro brews to local coffee roasters.  So much yummy local food and drink to explore across the USA!

Want to see if we’re staying true to our Eco Friendly claims? Well, call me crazy or genius, but either way I’ve painstakingly kept track of our energy usage and water consumption at several parks during 2012!

Energy and Water Consumption of our Vesta

It really erk’s me when people look at an RV and assume we must be the worst people in the world on the environment. Those who are self-proclaimed ‘Green’ can sometimes be the most judgmental. I don’t blame them; it’s just a lack of knowledge and understanding of the RV lifestyle.

This post is simply about the amount of Energy and Water we consume while staying at a campground. It’s a lot of numbers to look at, and a rather dry read, but if you’re interested in energy conservation this is right up your alley.

Our yearly electricity consumption in the RV is 57.3% less than the average U.S. household.
Our yearly water consumption in the RV is 92.8% less than the average U.S. household.

Our Estimated RV Electricity Use: 4,913 kwh
Our Estimated RV Water Use: 9,053 gallons
Average Household Electricity Use: 11,496 kwh
Average Per Person Water Use: 31,025 gallons
Average Household Water Use: 127,400 gallons
(**all numbers above based on Yearly consumption)

The Sum Up: As you can see from our estimated yearly consumption living in an RV is way more earth friendly than living in the average American home. If you step back and think about it, this all makes sense: RV’ers don’t have yards, they live in 200-400 square feet, they follow the good weather, and most don’t drive very far (and if they do a long drive they stick around to enjoy the destination). To further turn the screw on the “RV’s aren’t Green” comment, this doesn’t even take into consideration other major carbon offenders such as lawn tools, airplane travel, hotel stays, etc. No matter how you slice it, living in an RV can be a great opportunity to challenge yourself to live life a little greener.

Think this is awesome, or a load of crap? Tell me about it in the comments below. If you have any insight or personal experience let us know about it.

The Nitty-Gritty: Below are the continued updates throughout our travels where I document our energy consumption. I will continue to keep track of our usage every time we stay at a campground that has an electric meter attached to the shore power. I’ve also listed the sources where I found data to base these claims if you want to do a little research yourself.

Update 07/2012: In Bar Harbor Maine we connected to shore power with a meter. Our first few days were spent right on the water with beautiful views but the sun beat down on our windshield in the AM and on the driver’s side most of the day. So, of course, I see an opportunity to do a test. We’ll stay in this site for a few days then move to a shadier site and see what happens. FYI – Daylight hours are extra long during the summer in the north, and the temperature is 80-90 degrees during the day, and 50-60 degrees at night. So we ran the electric heater a few nights, and the A/C a few hours per day (more in the sunny spot of course).

Sunny Site: 80% Sun 20% Shade
Arrival Meter Read: 8427 kwh date: 06/27/2012 @ 8:00am
Departure Read: 8498 kwh date: 07/02/2012 @ 9:00am
Total Energy Consumed: 71 kwh over 121 hours (5 days & 5 nights)
Water Consumption: 75 gallons
Yearly Estimated Average: 5183 kwh

Shady Site: 30% Sun 70% Shade
Arrival Meter Read: 3056 kwh date: 07/02/2012 @ 9:45am
Departure Read: 3113 kwh date: 07/12/2012 @ 11:15am
Laundry: 3 loads 9 kwh (wash: 1kwh+20 gal; dry: 2kwh)
Total Energy Consumed: 66 kwh over 241.5 hours (10 days & 10 nights)
Water Consumption: 185 gallons
Yearly Estimated Average: 2409 kwh

How we lived: See below, we pretty much lived the same as the last update. Working on the computers, cooking in, running the A/C, etc.

Conclusion: Whoa these numbers are CRAZY! By staying in a shady site we used 50% less electricity. So if you want to live a little “greener” in your RV select a spot surrounded by woods instead of in the open (during the Summer). Looks like our numbers are way lower than the typical household average for water and electricity.


Update 05/2012: At Spring Gulch RV resort in Pennsylvania we found another meter atop our shore power so we’ve continued the RV energy consumption test.

Arrival Meter Read: 8303 kwh date: 05/22/2012 @ 10pm
Departure Read: 8323 kwh date: 05/25/2012 @ 10am
Laundry: 1 load 3 kwh (wash: 1kwh+20 gal; dry: 2kwh)
Water Heater 9 kwh
Total Energy Consumed: 32 kwh over 60 hours (2 days & 3 nights)
Water Consumption: 83 gallons

How we lived: During these few days we were working constantly, running laptops, charging batteries, cooking 3 times per day (mostly electric), basically in the RV most hours of the day. Our electric water heater is currently broken so we warmed the water with propane (I’m estimating 3 kwh per day saved). The a/c ran for approximately 6 hours of our stay and we ran the fans non-stop when the a/c wasn’t on. We used 1 load worth of laundry. Temperatures were warm and humid.
I only had to dump the grey water upon departure so a maximum of 50 gallons used for showers, dishes, washing hands, etc. Toilet likely used 8 gallons of water. Cooking/Drinking used 5 gallons.

Conclusion: Looks like our first test in Yellowstone NP was fairly accurate with the water consumption, but way off on the electricity. According to our new numbers our yearly water consumption is estimated 12,118 gallons and our yearly electricity consumption is estimated at 4,672 kwh. Of course in PA the temperatures have been mild compared to the highs and lows of our Yellowstone week. We’ll keep track next time we find a meter attached to our shore power, and update our averages.


Original Post 09/2011

In Yellowstone National Park we connected to shore power that had a meter attached to it. When I plugged my 50A cord into the box I thought to myself: How Much electricity does my “self proclaimed Green RV” consume? I marked my current meter reading at 22325, and decided to do a little test. Turn off the Propane, Go all electric in the RV and try not to be conservative to see how much energy we consume in our RV.

So here is the skinny on our electric consumption in the RV for 8 days and 7 nights:
Arrival Meter Read: 22325 kwh
Departure Meter Read: 22510 kwh
Total Energy Consumed: 185 kwh
Projected Yearly RV Energy Consumption based on test: 9,620 kwh
Average Yearly U.S. Household Energy Consumption: 11,496 kwh

We also consumed approximately 220 gallons of water during our stay.
Projected Yearly Consumption based on test: 11,440 gallons
Average Yearly U.S. Household Water Consumption (including outdoors): 127,400 gallons

How we lived: We made sure not to conserve while staying at Yellowstone, a little bit different than our normal routine. We spent approx. 7 hours per day in the park away from the RV, and 17 hours inside the RV working, cooking, hanging, and sleeping.
It’s the end of September and the weather is pretty average: upper 70’s as the high, and mid 30’s as the low. No rain, no snow, just partly cloudy days with 11 hours of daylight. We are parked in a campsite with trees nearby; our average sun exposure to the RV is on average 6 hours per day.

Here is a list of our average everyday electrical use during the stay:
Electric Griddle (2x per day)
Convection Oven (1 hour per day)
Water Heater (on all day – like a home)
Fridge (on all day)
Electric HVAC Heater (3 hours per day)
1500 watt Space Heater (10 hours per night)
200 watt Mini Space Heater in Bay (10 hours per night)
Mattress Heating Pad (8 hours per night)
Desktop Computer (4 hrs. per day)
Laptop Computers x2 (4 hrs. per day)
TV (1 hr. per day)
Home Theater System (2 hrs. per day)
5 Minute HOT Showers (2x per day)
Electric Kettle/Water Boiler (1x per day)
Espresso Machine (1x per day)
Interior Lights (6 hours per day)
Water Tank Heating Pads (10 hours per night)
Diesel Engine Core Heater (plugged in all day/night)
Misc. Chargers: cell phones (x2), Nook, Camera Batteries, AA rechargeable, vacuum, etc.


I’m not Perfect Disclaimer:
I am not a research scientist, and none of this is exact. I wanted to see a general idea of how much energy Nikki and I consume over the process of a year. This test is not perfect, nor scientific, and I’m sure it has several holes, but it works for us and it’s interesting nonetheless.

I came up with the average household energy consumption by polling several of my friends and family to see what their energy consumption is per month during the Fall and Spring (for average weather temperatures). I have also spent multiple hours searching the internet for more official information. Here are a few of the websites I used for reference on average energy and water consumption for US Homes:
(all links live and working as of 8/2012)

RV Energy and Water Consumption Updates 2013
If you want to know the details make sure you read the toggle above marked “Energy and Water Consumption of our Vesta”. These are basic notes for our records, and for any other sick minded person like myself (this is Jason by the way) who wants to challenge themselves to be more green, less wasteful, and live a little cleaner environmentally friendly lifestyle. This is not pretty, its just the numbers:**********************
For the Records:
40 Gallons: Black Tank Dump – dumped before 2/3 full and washed out with spray hose
50 Gallons: Grey Tank Dump – Dumped at full
20 Gallons + 3kwh: Laundry wash and dry
10 Gallons: Weekly Consumption – cooking, coffee, drinking
Unknown: I’m not factoring in what we use while eating out, or visiting others. Since the RV is our base camp for adventure, work, sleeping, eating, and so on, we spend 75% of our time in and around the RV so we’ll consider this X factor a wash if that’s ok with you.

***********************Mesa, AZ at Monte Vista RV Resort
4.2 days: 02/06/2013 1:00pm – 02/10/2013 4:30pm
Total Energy Consumed: 53 kwh
electric meter read mesa
This is the first resort we’ve noticed a water meter, so we hooked up the freshwater hose and the sewer hose and let it flow like a normal home (much easier than trying to fill up the grey tank and dump it every time to keep track of water usage.

Total Water Consumed: 30 Gallons ***I can’t believe this meter is correct. We took showers, cooked, etc. I would expect the number to be closer to 60 gallons or so. I’ll try again next resort that has a water meter.
water meter read Mesa
Living Notes: Mild climate for winter however the temps dropped down to nearly freezing most nights so we did run the space heater inside the RV. We spent most of our time here working so we were pretty much inside the RV 80% of the time and Nikki prepared most every meal inside the RV using electricity. No propane used during this trip, and we didn’t stay long enough to do laundry. Upon departure I did a thorough cleaning of the black tank so our numbers would have been even lower had I not done this.


Lake Havasu City, AZ at Campbell Cove RV Resort
61 days: 11/04/2012 – 01/04/2013
4.5 Black Tank Dumps (180 Gallons)
16.5 Grey Tank Dumps (825 Gallons)
1 Hot Water Tank Calcium Cleanout (20 Gallons)
18 Loads of Laundry (360 Gallons)
23524 Arrival Meter Read
24580 Departure Meter Read
Total Energy Consumed: 1056 kwh
4 – 2.5 Gallon Bottle Waters (typically we shy away from bottled water but sometimes the water was un-drinkable even when filtered).
Living Notes: Several cold nights near freezing so we ran the space heater often. Multiple days of heat warm enough we were forced to run the A/C (our windshield faced the Sun from morning till night, not a good spot during the summer months for sure). I ran the electric water heater in the AM and turned it off after our showers (most days). Very little propane use: I ran the furnace for less than 10 hours total and used propane water heater plus electric twice for instant hot water. All cooking done electrically with the induction plate, water boiler, and griddle. We are conservative by nature at this point, but not trying to be ultra conservative for this post.
Conclusion: Overall mild Temperatures, and the enhancements we’ve purchased for saving water and cooking with efficient tools we’re becoming even more green than previous years. Our current readings are a fraction of the typical household.

Did we miss anything?  Do you have any eco tips to share?  If so, post them in the comment box below we’d love to implement them on our RV so we can be even greener on the road!

Famous for my "how-not-to" videos, and typically the man behind the camera, sometimes I’m forced to be here in the “spotlight”. When you see my face you’re probably reading something more technical than adventurous, but either way I do my best to tell it like it is and infuse my opinions into the commentary…after all this is a blog and not MSN.

Comments (41)

  • Meghan

    Thank you so much for this post! We are moving from a 2,000 square foot, 2-story, 3 bedroom home into a 26′ 5th wheel here in a month or two. Trying to live as naturally as possible has posed a real challenge for me – one in which I am more than happy to participate! I’ll be comparing our numbers too, in order to see just how much less of an impact we’ll have in the RV. I’m starting my own blog to chronicle what can only be described as a comedy of errors. Not documenting this experience is simply not an option!

  • John

    I would challenge your average use for a household.
    We have solar panels so net zero for a twelve month period electricity.
    Family of four we use 62,832 gallons of water per year. We are in a drought.
    Our natural gas is average $500.00 per year.
    Living in southern California is a mild climate. So where are your average use statistic’s from?

  • Hey,
    I love your site and all your videos.
    We have been married 23 years, and 16 of them in an RV.
    I can say without a doubt that living the Fulltime RV lifestyle leaves a smaller carbon footprint than most other choices.
    My wife and I lived in a 5th wheel for 14 years and eventually moved back into an apartment and then a home. Both the apartment and especially the home were energy demons. All our utilities went up. Bigger spaces require more of everything; Heating, Cooling, Watering, Cleaning, and you tend to take longer showers just because you can.
    We had a tragedy couple of years ago when our home burned to the ground. We lost everything.
    So, once again we are now living in an RV. Same place, same property, but 1/2 the utility bills. It is amazing how easy it is to pause the shower to soap up when you know you could run out of hot water. It makes us all a little thrifty. Two years have passed and we are quite comfortable and really don’t miss all that extra space.
    We haven’t even traveled since the fire, but we live in paradise. We are up on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the Cascade Mountains, on an 80 acre cattle ranch where my wife takes care of the animals. If we choose to leave, we will just hook up our 33′ travel trailer to our pickup and be at home where ever we land.
    Thanks for sharing your stories.

  • Jen

    For small eco-friendly travel trailers, check out the Safari Alto, made in Quebec. Made of lightweight aluminum, includes solar panels and many other eco-friendly features.

  • Liz

    me again – thanks for the info on distillation. Thinking about that, is there a viable way (or any way, really) to reuse gray water? If not for drinking/cooking, at least for washing or any other general use.

  • Liz

    Have you considered composting toilets? And rainwater capture? Thanks for doing this blog!

    • Hey Liz! We do have a composting toilet (and love it)! As for the rain capture system it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless you are planning on staying in areas where it rains often, which we are not. Plus the buckets and piping take up a lot of storage space. If we are boondocking we try and stay near a water source such as a river or lake. With our water set up we can distill our own water: . You will find our posts on the toilet here:

  • Jason G.

    Hello, I have been fallowing your blog for awhile now and I think it is great! I have just become full time last month. I have seen and reposted some of your great videos, but I have not seen any by you on solar heating. Have you tried it and or what are your thoughts?
    Thank you,

      • Jason G.

        Thank you for your answer. I can see how roof space is a huge issue for this.
        Keep up on the great site!

        • oh yea, just thought about weight, make sure your roof can support the weight of the solar tubes filled with water. I’m sure it’s fine, but I know water is a lot heaver than one might think.

  • Linda

    I think you forgot to mention that if you compare the impact of an RV on a campsite, vs. a tent, the difference can be dramatic. A tent camper can hardly leave without a trace, but an RV? You’ll likely never know it was there.

  • Annette

    I do, as a master of fact 🙂 do you think new is always best? After reading your answer, I found a 34 ft 1993 Pace Arrow. Really good price. Can’t decide if I should look at it now or wait to see what may be available next year. Thoughts on older class A?

  • Annette

    Question: our youngest child will be graduating from high school in 18 months and my goal is to part-time RV. I saw you have a motor home and tow a car. Why did you choose that versus getting a hybrid suv and towing a light travel trailer? My husband and I are looking at both options and looking for pros and cons.

      • Annette

        I do, as a master of fact 🙂 do you think new is always best? After reading your answer, I found a 34 ft 1993 Pace Arrow. Really good price. Can’t decide if I should look at it now or wait to see what may be available next year. Thoughts on older class A?

  • Hi, I just found your blog. Fantastic!
    You should visit Cecelia & Brenda’ blog,
    They are all about green rv’ing

  • We would love to run our RV on old Oil from the Fish n chips store! David (hubby) has looked into the workings of it all – and we reckon our next RV will either have it set up or changed it over 🙂
    And we too are trying to work out how to recycle our water to save using too much. It is possible to drive an RV as a Green Source 🙂

  • We really enjoy your articles and adventures . We look forward to your E-Mails ! Thank you so much …we are learning a lot about rving from you !

  • Don M

    Do you like the Smart Car? Would you buy it again if you had a chance to do it over?

  • Victor and Leslie

    It always amazes us how much (unnecessary?) space we have in our home after a road trip with our teens. Travelling with a trailer has taught us to buy less (since there is no where to put it) and save the environment in the process. With one exception: I need to buy some of the biodegradable plastic bags you recommended! Look forward to seeing you in the Pacific Northwest – and maybe we’ll see you in an EcoRoamer doing a global trek (see!

  • I really like your views about being green. I also pratice as much conservation as possible when we are using our RV. I was once one of those persons who didn’t care for RV useage, but I have now change. I’ve incorporated all the same suggestions you folks made as well. Great story…

  • kitty kat

    Wow! I had no idea!

  • Dave and Phyllis

    Hey, thanks!

  • Dave and Phyllis

    We are also full timers and believe that our footprint, setting aside the mileage of our Diesel Pusher, is quite green. We also take military showers, use biodegradable soaps, shower every other day, re-use our shower towels, etc.

    We are however guilty of using plastic bags and have yet to find alternatives to garbage bags…I do not like paper either….

  • The full time RV life also prevents mindless consumerism. When we had a house and jobs, we shopped as entertainment. Now that we have 40 feet in which to live, nothing comes in unless something goes out. So, we’re not shopping!

  • mary van

    I put way over 15,000 miles on my Hybrid a year AND I fly for business. I may need to get one of those RV’s you’ve been telling me about.

  • I absolutely agree, especially when you live in an RV fulltime like we both do. Most people only consider the awful gas millage RV’s get, but fail to take into account all the other factors such as its far smaller size. The average U.S. home is now 2,700 square feet. You’re RV is nearly 14x smaller than the place most folks live. That’s 14x less room to heat and cool. Your average outside temperature is also likely to be more moderate as most of us RVers don’t choose to park in Phoenix in the summer and Wisconsin in the winter.

    Water use also factors heavily in the “green” column for RVs. The typical American uses 69 gallons of water per person, per day. We, meanwhile, have a 75 gallon water tank that can last the two of us as much as a full week – meaning that once again, we use about 14x less water than then the typical U.S. homeowner.

    Add in the mods you suggest in this post, along with limiting RV drive times, and us RVers can be super green super stars. 🙂

      • Haha, considering that a single flush of a normal toilet uses 3 gallons, that’s really great! RV Living is really extremely green, and it’s part of the reason why I got into extremely simplistic living in the first place. If more people were living in RV’s then maybe Americans wouldn’t be responsible for 50% of the world’s waste!


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