Tips for Green RV Living  How to Hit the Road With Sustainability in Mind

Tips for Green RV Living: How to Hit the Road With Sustainability in Mind

RVs aren’t typically synonymous with sustainability. Before I purchased my RV for full-timing, I was concerned about the environmental impact. The image of hefty rigs parading through public lands while inefficiently consuming fuel and running loud generators worried me. Although that’s an aspect of RVing for many, RV living can be done with a focus on sustainability.

When you consider your entire camping lifestyle—not just daily driving—RVing can be a greener alternative. Adventuring in a camper means you can avoid flying, staying in hotels, and eating out. This decreases carbon emissions, water and electricity usage, and waste.

Because the square footage of an RV, whether it’s a small Class C or a behemoth motorhome, is a lot smaller than stationary homes, fewer natural resources are needed. RVers also tend to be more conscious about water and power usage since these resources are limited on the road.

Here are other ways that you can make RV living more environmentally conscious.

Install Solar Panels 

Minimizing fossil fuel usage is a priority for living more eco-friendly (propane, like diesel and gas, is also a fossil fuel). Harnessing the power of the sun is truly optimal for green RV living. Any number of solar panels is beneficial, but consider installing enough panels and batteries to replace some of your propane appliances with electrical ones.

Man cleaning solar panels on top of an RV
Photo: Ching Fu

An induction cooktop and electric toaster oven can easily take the place of an RV stove and oven. You can also replace your propane water heater with an electric mini-tank. This cleaner source of power means no more guilt (or noise) from running a generator.

Drive Fewer Miles and Travel Slower

It often feels like RV life is about accruing miles to destinations you’ve traveled to. This is hard to accept when RVs don’t get good fuel economy. The benefit of a home with wheels is having the freedom to choose where and when you want to go. Be strategic about your travel plans to minimize driving.

Reclaim stressful travel days by making them an enjoyable part of your trip. Choose to stay near places you want to visit so daily drives to destinations are shorter or even unnecessary. Bicycles or e-bikes are useful alternative modes of transportation that help you get in some exercise, too. Spend more time in one area—not only will you get to know a place more personally, but it also prevents burnout from constant travel.

Follow Proper Boondocking Etiquette

Boondocking lets RVers camp in breathtaking natural destinations off the grid. But popular outdoor locations are seeing an unprecedented amount of boondocking traffic. To ensure these natural places remain open and in pristine condition, we need to commit to being stewards of the environment.

Designated dispersed campsite in Utah
Photo: Ching Fu

Each land management area has its own set of rules regarding where you can camp, how far from the road you need to be, and how long you’re allowed to stay. A fire ring doesn’t always mean it’s a legit spot to camp overnight in your rig, so visit local national forest and Bureau of Land Management websites to learn more about specific camping guidelines, along with familiarizing yourself with Leave No Trace principles.

More and more dispersed campsites are becoming designated dispersed campsites, requiring RVers to stay in specific spots that are marked with a placard. Others are shutting down for camping due to mistreatment. Responsible boondocking is key to keeping these places open and ecologically sound.

Properly Empty Your Black and Gray Tanks

There are a plethora of RV dump stations across the U.S., many of which are free, so there’s no reason to empty your black or gray tanks on public lands. It’s illegal to empty a black tank anywhere besides a dump station. While the rules vary from state to state regarding gray water, some states classify kitchen sink water as “black water.” Kitchen scraps and cooking oil draw unwanted, and potentially harmful, attention from wildlife.

RV at a dump station in Arizona
Photo: Ching Fu

Chemicals from cleaning products contaminate the ground—even if you use biodegradable soap, bathroom sink water negatively changes the pH levels of the soil. When gray water enters natural waterways, it can cause algae blooms and other degradation to rivers and lakes.

Using an enzyme-based cleaner will help break down solid waste inside your holding tanks that can cause clogs and backups over time.

Don’t Use Disposable Tableware

The convenience of disposable dishes and cutlery is appealing—it’s easy to clean up and helps extend the next trip into town to fill fresh water tanks and empty gray tanks. However, these products aren’t environmentally friendly.

It takes natural resources for disposable tableware to be manufactured and transported to stores and your home. Disposable plastic plates, bowls, and cups are rarely recyclable, and plastic utensils never are. Even compostable options end up in landfills unless taken to an industrial or commercial composting facility. While reusable tableware might take up more of your RV tank resources, it’s the best option for the environment.

To maximize your fresh and gray water tanks’ capacity, consider installing a touch-faucet or foot pedal at your kitchen sink to control the water flow better. One-pot or pressure cooker meals can also conserve water with fewer dishes to wash.

Manage Your Sun and Shade

Optimize the sun and shade to your advantage so you can save propane and electricity from having to run your A/C or furnace. Park with your biggest windows facing north in the summer to keep it cooler inside, but face them south in the winter to warm up your rig. Place a reflective insulation product like Reflectix in south-facing windows, open windows on the shaded side, and run fans to create air movement in the summer.

RV with extended awning for shade

During colder months, leave the Reflectix in the north-facing windows and let the sunlight enter the southern ones. If you have an awning, use it to shade the south side of your rig during those sweltering months.

How do I make my RV eco-friendly?

In addition to the tips above, here are a few things you can do to improve your fuel economy:

  • Downsize to a smaller rig.
  • Avoid overpacking.
  • Keep your tires properly inflated.
  • Travel with empty gray, black, and fresh water tanks.

Are RVs bad for the environment?

Newer RVs are manufactured with some sustainability in mind and it’s great to renovate old RVs to keep them out of the landfill. But there’s more to be done before campers are “environmentally friendly.” Whether you’re remodeling or shopping for an RV, consider one that uses recycled, sustainable, low volatile organic compound materials, and implements other environmentally responsible features.

How can I make my RV more energy efficient?

  • If remodeling, increase your R-value—the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow—with eco-friendly insulation.
  • Find phantom loads—items that draw electricity even when switched off—and unplug or replace them for longer RV battery life.
  • Convert electronic power adapters to use 12-volt receptacles to prevent the inverter from constantly running.
  • Consider towing with an electric vehicle if it makes sense for your lifestyle.

What is the greenest RV?

TRA Certification is a third-party green certification company. Ratings are based on construction waste, materials used, water and energy efficiency, and indoor air quality of the campers. The company has only certified a small portion of RV manufacturers.

RVs aren’t inherently environmentally friendly, but we have the power to make RV living greener by making just a few—or more extensive—changes. The key to a more sustainable RV is to consider not just your equipment but also your lifestyle.

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