Medical conditions requiring a CPAP device and other electronic medical equipment shouldn’t preclude you or your family from enjoying the RV lifestyle or camping in the great outdoors. But face it, there are issues RVers and Campers must contend when it comes to medical devices. In general, RVs lack the necessary accommodations and adaptations for CPAP device placement and electrical requirements. So, we’ve put together a great guide to power your CPAP device and other electrical medical equipment.
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It’s unknown what the exact percentage of RVers that are using CPAP devices is. Yet, speaking with several CPAP wearers who RV, I can tell you that that the numbers are staggeringly high; especially amongst the older generation. And though millions like myself, despise wearing these ugly and cumbersome breathing apparatus, they are necessary for our health, safety and even help how we function throughout the day.
So, we’ll show different ways you can still enjoy RV living and have your own CPAP machine in your motorhome, towable RV, truck camper or even van.
CPAP Device Solutions for RV, Van or Boat Living
What is a CPAP Device and what is it for?
First, let’s discuss exactly what a CPAP device is and why it’s so critical for some to survive. CPAP, short for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, is sleep apnea therapy. From a CPAP device through an attached hose and mask, constant air pressure is delivered to the wearer as he or she breathes while sleeping. Without using a CPAP device, sleep apnea sufferers can literally die in their sleep. And if they do live through another night, there are serious consequences.
Untreated sleep apnea can be associated with high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and heart failure that may lead to serious health complications and even death. As well, untreated sleep apnea can affect a person’s focus and daily function. Lack of proper sleep has been the blame for many vehicle accidents. That’s why it’s important to have a sleep study and be properly diagnosed. CPAP devices can only prescribed strictly by a Physician through recommendation of a Sleep Specialist after a sleep study. Sleep therapy must be monitored and regulated under proper medical protocol once a CPAP machine has been prescribed and used.
CPAP Devices in RVs, Campers and Boats
In most motorhomes, towable campers and even boats, beds are nestled snuggly with no nightstand or even such a place to set a CPAP device. Even if there is a bonafide CPAP shelf, they are often way too small, too narrow or placement isn’t conducive to proper usage. Also, RVs have different electrical systems that can affect CPAP devices such as power interruptions and off-grid limited power. So, most Rving CPAP users have to reconfigure their RV sleeping quarters to accommodate their CPAP devices.
Obviously, being plugged into an electrical pedestal will provide the necessary power to operate your CPAP device. It literally is a plug-n-play medical device that requires no guesswork.
However, if you’re going to be camping off grid, powering your CPAP device will require using energy from your RV batteries or an alternate power source. You’ll need to calculate your CPAP device’s daily usage based on the label on your device. Don’t forget to add in humidification if required. Anytime heat or dispersal of moisture is used in any appliance requires more energy.
“How does one deal with a CPAP device and limited power availability when electricity isn’t available when living in an RV or camper?”
Powering your CPAP Device while hooked up to an electric pedestal
The most common way to power your CPAP device is by using alternating current (AC) also known as 120-volt service. Simply plug the machine in and let it do its thing. You also can power your machine on 120-volt service when unplugged. However, 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 your CPAP machine to determine the appropriate size inverter needed to operate the device. The inverter will change power from your RV’s 12-volt battery to 120 volts to power the device. That said, the inverter is not the most efficient method to power your machine but is the most common.
Powering your CPAP Device through your RV’s Direct Current (DC)
Using your RV’s direct current (DC) is less complex but requires wiring a 12-volt outlet 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 medical equipment. DC outlets are similar to cigarette lighter receptacles.
Be aware though, DC adapter cables 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.
Here’s some of the most popular machines today and DC adapters that work with them:
Powering a CPAP Device while using a generator
If you’re not going to be tethered to an electrical pedestal at a campground or RV park, you’ll need another power option. You can use your RV’s onboard generator or portable generator(s) to power your CPAP device instead. That said, the generator method has zero drain on your batteries, and it assists in recharging your battery bank. Factory installed generators are easy to use just by flipping the switch to start your onboard generator. Just make sure you have enough fuel and you maintain your generator’s monthly maintenance.
Our small Class C diesel generator fuel source comes from our same diesel tank that feeds our motorhome. However, a lot of RVs may have propane generators instead which require you to replenish at a propane filling station.
Like our former fifth wheels, if you don’t have an onboard generator, you’ll want to look into getting a portable inverter generator (or two?). Inverter generators are claimed to be quieter but nonetheless, can still be a nuisance to those camping around you. Portable generators require you to carry fuel in an approved external container, can or bottle. They also take 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 more secluded areas where noise won’t bother your neighbors, a generator may be your best option. Just be conscious and respectful where you park if you’re going to use a generator; especially during quiet hours (11:00 p.m to 8:00 a.m). Though we understand the reason for wee hour generator use, not everyone else is equally understanding. Oh, and don’t forget, even portable generators require monthly service and maintenance.
What if you want to park your RV off grid but don’t have a generator? How else could you power your CPAP device?
Powering your CPAP Device through your RV energy management system
Face it, all RV batteries are not created equal. Unless you’ve already upgraded, your motorhome or towable RV is most likely equipped with basic lead acid batteries. Honest, you’ll be lucky if your CPAP device will even acquire enough power from those batteries depending on what other appliances require power from the same battery source.
Your biggest concern is not allowing your RV house lead-acid batteries to discharge below a 50% state of charge. Lead acid batteries will develop a lower voltage as they discharge which means CPAP devices may be affected by the lower voltage and not function properly. Speaking from experience, when we originally had lead-acid batteries in our fifth wheels, my CPAP device experienced interruptions due to low voltage. This actually led us to switching out our lead-acid batteries for lithium batteries.
In our revised energy management system, our lithium batteries could be discharged down to a 10% state of charge, while maintaining a consistent 13 volts. This provided the perfect voltage for continued use of my CPAP device. Since installing lithium in our coach(es), there are no more power interruptions.
While we appreciate that lithium batteries are pricey, they are an option that will relieve you of excessive draw you get from lead-acid batteries as well as necessary monthly maintenance.
What if you don’t have the cashflow to replace your lead acid with lithium or even new(er) lead acid batteries that will hold the necessary charge?
Powering your CPAP Device via CPAP battery power bank
You could power your CPAP device using a CPAP battery power bank. However, CPAP battery power banks limit use to one or two nights (depending on pressure and humidification requirements) before it would need recharging. By having two or three on hand, you can extend the time you’re away from home. So, given that, it may not be the most viable option and an expensive one at that, it’s still a more portable option; especially for tent campers or RV’s such as pop-ups or hybrid campers.
Here’s some of the most popular machines today and portable camping CPAP battery backup options that work well with them:
- DreamStation Auto:
- DreamStation Go:
- Resmed AirSense 10:
Sleep tight and sweet dreams!
In closing, I hope this helps RVers, Campers and Boaters who are dependent upon medical devices decide which power option is best for them. Requiring a CPAP device or medical equipment should not deter you from staying outside of traditional campgrounds, RV parks or marinas with electric hookups. Just do a little research on which CPAP equipment, adapters, batteries, etc., and soon, you’ll be enjoying off the grid camping or boondocking while minding your respiratory health.
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