Your Guide to Green RVs

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If you love the idea of exploring the country in your own home but can't handle the guilt of a massive carbon footprint -- let alone the expense of a gas-guzzling standard recreational vehicle -- green RVing may be for you.

Green RVing isn't an oxymoron. A green RV is built with green building materials, uses renewable energy and is fuel- and energy-efficient. So if the open road beckons, consider choosing a greener RV -- or retrofit your current RV to be as eco-friendly as possible. Here are tips on how to do it.

Buying

If you're in the market for a new RV, look for a fuel-efficient model. Last summer, Damon Motor Coach introduced the Avanti, a Class-A clean diesel motorhome that promises to get at least 14.5 miles per gallon. That may sound dismal, but it's more than 80% better than the average RV, which gets just 8 mpg. The Avanti -- with an aerodynamic design that the manufacturer calls "the most drivable Class-A motorhome" -- starts at $144,060.

Sportsmobile offers Class-B motorhomes, also known as camper vans. The company converts Ford (F), Dodge and Chevrolet/GM (GM) vans into custom RVs with fuel-efficiency ratings between 12 and 20 miles per gallon. Base costs vary depending on the van model: A Sportsmobile 2009 Ford RB Van starts around $56,000, while the more fuel-efficient Sportsmobile 2009 Dodge Sprinter RB Van starts around $73,000.

Increase your RV's energy efficiency just as you would a stationary home. Seal drafts, beef up your insulation and use Energy Star appliances. And increase your RV's fuel efficiency the same way you would with any vehicle: Make sure your tires are optimally inflated and drive the speed limit.

 

If you're willing to wait for your eco-friendly RV, reserve your Verdier. Modeled after the Volkswagen Westfalia camper van, the Verdier has a hybrid engine and solar panels that track the sun -- and an HD home theater, LED lights and an on-board computer with Internet, Bluetooth and green energy software. Models start at $129,000. The only problem? The company has not yet set a delivery date for the "New Pioneers Edition," as it's dubbed the first 250 units it plan to make.

Retrofitting

Until manufacturers catch up with the Green RV trend, you might be better off making your own green RV. Soltrekker, a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit, has created what it calls the "most eco-friendly motorhome in the universe." The Soltrekker RV runs on biodiesel and uses six roof-mounted solar panels and two roof-mounted solar thermal collectors to provide all of its electricity and heating.

It's also equipped with a rainwater catchment system, a dehydrating toilet and LED lights. And the Soltrekker's interior is decked out in nontoxic sustainable materials ranging from recycled denim insulation to cork flooring and organic cotton upholstery.

You can hire Soltrekker to retrofit an RV for you at a base cost of $50,000 (for the same systems used in the Soltrekker) -- or you can pimp your own eco-friendly ride.

Use Biofuel

 

Start by switching to alternative fuel. Any diesel vehicle can run on biodiesel, a cleaner-burning fuel than petroleum-based diesel. BioWillie, country star Willie Nelson's brand of biodiesel, is a blend of petroleum-based diesel and foodstock-based biodiesel from American family farmers.

If you're ready to take the next step in biofuel, convert your RV to run on vegetable oil, which you can obtain cheaply -- or even for free -- from local restaurants. If you're really handy, you could make the conversion yourself, as the Adler family did. If you're not up to the task, Golden Fuel Systems can do it for you at one of its 10 locations across the country.


Go Solar

A solar system will convert energy from the sun to electricity for your RV, storing any extra electricity in your RV's batteries. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, at least 15% of RV owners are already using solar panels.

To figure out how many solar panels you'll need, figure out how many amp hours you typically use. Start by figuring out your appliances' current via its label, an ammeter or this helpful worksheet. Multiply the appliance's current by the number of hours the appliance is in use each day. Total the amp hours of all your appliances to find your total daily energy consumption. Then, use this RV solar calculator to determine the number of solar panels you will need.

A 10-watt solar system will produce 0.6 amps of charge power for about $145. A 110-watt solar system ($683 from Alter Systems) typically produces about 275 amp hours per week. All RV solar systems are modular, so you can add new panels as you need them.

 

 

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