One of the more common topics discussed among RVers who enjoy boondocking is how to power a CPAP device in their RV with limited to no power source. CPAP machines, and other electric-powered medical devices, have become essential to the health and livelihoods of those who need them. For those who travel, using a CPAP machine has presented a challenge for RVers not hooked up to electricity - and this shouldn’t prevent anyone from enjoying the RV or camping lifestyle.
We’ve put together a compilation of how users can still power their device when electricity is not available.
What is a CPAP Device?
CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy, is a common treatment for OSA aka Obstructive Sleep Apnea. A CPAP device facilitates a hose and mask, or nosepiece, to deliver constant and steady air pressure from an electrical device. Those who have been diagnosed with OSA rely on their devices to literally, keep them breathing during sleep. The most common issues among CPAP users include a leaky mask, trouble falling asleep, stuffy nose and a dry mouth. As I’ve experienced on the road while boondocking, power interruptions have become a detriment to my regulated CPAP therapy – forcing us to come up with a viable remedy.
CPAP Device Requirements
Powering on a CPAP device when a RV is not plugged into an electric power pedestal will require using energy from your RV’s batteries or an alternate power source. You will need to calculate your CPAP device’s daily usage based on the label on the device - not forgetting to add in humidification if you are required to use it. Remember, anytime heat or dispersal of moisture is used in any appliance, it will require more energy.
Powering a CPAP via RV Energy Management System
Face it, RV batteries are not created equal.
Your travel trailer or fifth wheel is, most likely, equipped with basic lead acid batteries. If you don’t know this already, you will need to be conscious about not allowing your RV house batteries to discharge below a 50% state of charge as lead acid batteries will develop a lower voltage as they discharge.
Some CPAP devices may be affected by the lower voltage and not function properly - I have experienced constant interruptions using our former lead acid batteries. Additionally, there’s always the responsibility of continued monthly battery maintenance and servicing.
The exception to this rule would be switching out your lead acid batteries and investing in lithium ion batteries. While we acknowledge that lithium ion batteries are a pricey option, they are much more versatile, and we highly recommended them for consideration.
As a major game changer in our energy management system, our Battle Born Lithium Ion Batteries can be discharged down to a 10% state of charge, while maintaining a consistent 13 volts. This provides the perfect voltage for continued use of my CPAP device. Lithium ion batteries also require no maintenance or service and can last upwards to 15 years. Since we’ve installed our lithium ion batteries, I’ve experienced no interruptions in my CPAP therapy while boondocking off the grid.
Option 1: Inverter
The most common option for powering your CPAP device is by using alternating current (AC) also known as 120-volt service. When powering the device on 120-volt service, you will need an inverter to energize the wall outlet that your machine is plugged into. The inverter will require large enough wattage to provide the proper amount of electricity to operate the device. Check the label on the machine to determine the appropriate size inverter for the device. The inverter will change power from your RV’s 12-volt battery to 120 volts to power the device. The inverter is not the most efficient method to power your machine but is the most common.
Option 2: Direct Current (DC)
A second option is to use direct current (DC). This method is less complex but requires wiring a 12-volt outlet into your fifth wheel or travel trailer to allow use of a DC cable to power the CPAP device. The installation of the outlet needs to be done in accordance with electrical specs for your specific RV. You will need to have the correct size wire and fuse for the safe operation of your machine. The outlets are similar to cigarette lighter receptacles and can be purchased from Amazon or almost any auto parts store.
The DC cable required can be purchased from several sources, but they are brand and machine specific so you will need to purchase the right cable. In our opinion, this method is the most efficient use of your RV’s batteries.
Option 3: Portable Battery Pack
The third and probably least common method is to power the CPAP device off of a portable battery pack. This portable battery pack is brand and machine specific. It can be purchased from Amazon or most Durable Medical Goods suppliers. In most cases, the battery pack usually will provide enough energy to power your machine for two nights of usage. Of course, this also will depend on humidification requirements - which lowers its usage availability.
This method will require you to recharge the battery pack once you plug back into a power pedestal at a campground. Or, you will have to energize your generator(s) to recharge (see below). This method is the least desirable for boondocking or extended periods away from a normal power pedestal unless you have a method to recharge the battery pack.
Option 4: Generator
The last option is to provide power to the CPAP device by powering your entire fifth wheel or travel trailer by generator(s). This method can range from factory installed large generators to those like our portable 2000 watt inverter generators.
The generator method has zero drain on your batteries, and it assists in recharging your battery bank. Factory installed generators are easy to use – simply ensure you have enough fuel and flip the switch to start your onboard generator.
Less-expensive portable generators will require you to carry fuel in an approved external container, can or bottle, and takes a small amount of time to set up for use. A portable generator may require adapters to allow your 30 or 50-amp power cord to connect to the generator.
For short stays, in private areas where the noise won’t bother your neighbors, a generator may be your best option.
The caveats, however, if your plan is to stay overnight in an area populated by other RVs and campers, you probably will upset your neighbors if you run your generator after 10:00 pm. Also, worth noting, generators require monthly service and maintenance to encourage flawless operation.
In closing, we hope this helps RVers who are dependent on medical devices decide which power option is best for them and their fifth wheel or travel trailer. Requiring a CPAP device should not deter you from staying outside of traditional campgrounds or RV parks with electric hookups. It simply takes a little research, time and money to allow you to enjoy RVing off the grid or boondocking (yes, at Walmart too!) while taking care of your respiratory health.