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How To Run Amazon Alexa in an RV Using 12-Volt Power

PublishedMarch 4, 2019

The holiday season of 2018 I spent some time at a friend's house in Los Angeles.

They aren't too technologically savvy so they asked for help setting their Amazon Echo.

It had been lying around for over a year.

While I'd heard about the Amazon Echo, I'd never personally used one, so playing with theirs was a first for me.  

I was hooked!

Not sure why talking to this speaker was any different than talking to Siri on my iPhone, but it was.

Amazon Alexa Echo Dot speaker

Echo Dot Smart Speaker

This got me to thinking... Could I get an Amazon Echo and use it in my RV?

Will Alexa work in an RV?

I'm talking about bringing Alexa along with me as I boondock in some pretty remote places.

No shore power.

No generator.

Just good old solar power and my rig's 12-volt electrical system.

Amazon Alexa Dot in RV

Echo Dot In Marshall's Rig - Doesn't Take Any Room At All

Sure, using Amazon Alexa in an RV when you are hooked up to shore power is no biggie.

Or if you've got a whole house inverter that supplies 120-volts to the Echo device (which normally runs on a 120-volt power source).

BUT could it be done when you've only got a 12-volt power supply and didn't want to use a plug-in inverter?

To figure this out, I hit Google and did some searching around.

There wasn't a whole lot of information on this (shocking!)

But I did find a USB power cord on Amazon that allegedly could be used with the Echo Dot (the smallest Amazon Echo device).

That's a start!

Choose The Right Echo Smart Speaker

Amazon sells several models of the Echo. I believe that most run on 12-volts of power (via a 120-volt power 'brick' that plugs into a normal wall outlet).

So you might think you could run any of these Echo's from your RV's 12-volt electrical system. NOT SO FAST!

The larger an Echo device is, the larger speakers it's going to have.

This means that they may sound better than the smaller Echo's, but it also means that they require more power.

More amps of 'juice' at 12-volts of power.

I wanted to power my Echo from a USB plug, which is extremely limited as to how much power it can put out.

Which means I could only power the smallest

Echo device (that uses the least amount of power of all Echo's).

So I purchased the Echo Dot (the smallest Echo).

You may be able to find a 12-volt power outlet (the round cigarette lighter style outlet) power adapter that could work with larger Echo's and go that route.

I didn't look as this isn't what I wanted to do.

Go forth and investigate if that's what you're interested in.

Or stick with using an Echo Dot in your RV.

It sounds great!

You won't be disappointed.

If you are, complain to someone else - I don't want to hear it!

12-Volt Power From A 5-Volt USB Plug

The Amazon Echo Dot comes with a power supply that converts 120-volt power (house wall outlet) to 12-volts at 1.25 amps.

In other words, the Echo Dot requires 12-volts of power.

Bingo!

My RV is 12-volts, so this should be no biggie, right?

Um, not so fast.

I wanted to use a USB outlet as the source of power.

Even though USB outlets are using an RV's 12-volt electrical system as their power source, they actually output only 5-volts of power.

Ooops!

The Amazon Echo Spot needs 12-volts.

What to do?!?!?

USB Port

USB Plug Outputting 2.1 Amps at 5-Volts

Turns out the USB power cord I found on Amazon converts a USB power outlet's 5-volts of power to 12-volts of power.

Through some use of voodoo magic, I'm convinced.

Whatever!

As long as it works.

But more importantly, since it's the smallest of the Amazon Echo's, it has the smallest power requirement.

And can be powered via a USB port (in theory).

On paper, it was perfect for my rig.

So I ordered a 3rd generation Echo Dot, a cute little 4" diameter (1.7" tall) speaker that weighs well under a pound.

In other words, right-sized for my small RV.

Does Alexa Work In An RV?

So does Alexa actually work in an RV?

Yes, it does!

I've been using Alexa, via my Echo Dot, in my RV for several months now and I love it.

Other than having to order a second USB power cord (the first one didn't supply enough power to the Echo so I went with another brand), I've had no issues.

Amazon Echo Dot mounted on wall top view

Definitely Can Come Out If Jarred Enough

My Echo Dot has popped out of the wall mount once (and only once over many moves).

That may be because I ran my trailer over something (yikes!) that caused the interior to become a bit in disarray.

Oh, the joys of boondocking!

Is 'Alexa' The Same As 'Echo'?

No, Alexa and Echo are not one and the same. 

One refers to a virtual assistant (software) while the other refers to a smart speaker system (hardware).

Alexa is Amazon's virtual assistant, whereas Echo is the smart speaker device.

Think Siri and iPhone.

Echo is the hardware (iPhone) and Alexa is the virtual assistant (Siri) that you use to interact with the hardware.

Both Alexa and Echo are products from Amazon.

The Echo is Amazon's smart speaker series that includes several different sizes/versions of the Echo.

All Echo smart speakers come equipped with the Alexa virtual assistant.

Alexa is the way you interact with an Echo smart speaker, using your voice to communicate with Alexa (and thus the device).

How I Use Alexa In My RV

I'm not an Alexa power user by any stretch of the imagination.

I use it mainly for two things:

  • Listening to music
  • Setting cooking timers

Yep, that's how exciting things get around my rig!

There are many, many, many other things that Alexa is capable of doing.

I just haven't used it for anything else as of yet.

I've got Amazon Music (that comes with my Prime subscription) hooked up to Alexa on my Echo Dot, as well as a free trial of Apple Music I've currently got.

I also have my SiriusXM streaming account connected to the Echo Dot.

You can also use other music services such as Pandora or Spotify.

Most of the mainstream streaming music services will have an Alexa 'skill', which is what Amazon calls the apps that run on Echo devices.

You just activate the skill and connect your streaming account to your Echo (via the smartphone app) and you are good to go.

Connect To Your Rig's Stereo Via Bluetooth

I've connected my Echo Dot to my RV's stereo via Bluetooth.

Whenever I want to listen to music at a higher volume than the Echo can put out, I simply say "Alexa, connect" and the Echo Dot will connect, via Bluetooth, to my stereo.

All of Alexa's sounds (including the music I'm playing) will now come out of the stereo speakers.

It's really that easy.

You can learn how I did this by seeing the Bluetooth Adapter section below.

As mentioned above, I also use it to set cooking timers.

It is much easier to use Alexa for this than it is my iPhone, and Alexa allows you to have multiple timers running at once.

You can even name the timers, so when they go off, you know what it is for. Fancy!

What I like About Using An Echo In An RV

For starters, Alexa seems to listen better than Siri on my iPhone. 

Half the time when I say "Hey, Siri" the phone doesn't hear me.

Alexa responds far more frequently, it's always nice to be listened to!

(Even if it's only by some electronic device.)

My rig is fairly small.

The living space is under 20 feet in length, for a total of just under 175 square feet.

It doesn't matter where in the rig I am (like there's a lot of places to go!), I can talk to Alexa and she responds.

With such a small rig, the Echo Dot's sound output is more than acceptable.

In normal use, I only use volume levels 3 or 4 (out of 10). I rarely use the higher volume levels.

Amazon Echo Dot mounted on wall

Echo Dot Mounted To My Wall

The sound quality is amazingly good for the size of the device (4" diameter).

Apparently, the sound quality greatly improved with the 3rd generation.

It definitely fills my approximate 175 square feet of living space.

If I do want to listen to music louder, I'll usually just tell Alexa to connect (via Bluetooth) to my rig's stereo system and use those much larger and better speakers.

If you've got a larger rig where Alexa may have a hard time 'hearing' you depending on your location, you can always buy multiple Echo Dots.

They will 'talk' to each other so, in theory, you can have a network of them that gives you full coverage in even the largest RV.

For me, even if I'm laying in bed, Alexa will listen and respond to my voice commands. This isn't some great feat as the distance is maybe 15 feet.

I have no need for multiple Amazon Echo's in my RV.

Internet Connection Required

The Echo is a smart speaker system, which means it needs a constant Internet connection to work.

It communicates with Amazon's servers to interpret what you are asking of it.

It also needs the Internet in order to stream music, etc.

If Alexa cannot communicate with the Internet, she will not work for you.

I have my Echo Dot connected to my AT&T hotspot, which has unlimited data.

No problems so far!

There really isn't anything I don't like about using an Echo in my RV.

I guess the fact that Amazon is listening to you could wig you out, but it doesn't bother me.

You do need to have an Internet connection in order for Alexa to work.

Pros and Cons of Using Alexa in an RV (Echo Dot):

  • Echo Dot is easily powered via USB outlet
  • Great sound quality for speaker size 
  • Very responsive to voice commands
  • Many 'skills' that turn this into a very useful smart speaker for your RV
  • Able to connect via Bluetooth to your RV's stereo system for better sound
  • Needs Internet connection
  • Amazon listens to you, which may turn some people off

If You've Been Curious About Alexa, Just Do It!

If you've wanted to have an Alexa system in your RV but weren't sure it was possible, now you know it is!

I was able to purchase my Echo Dot on sale around the end of the year, so it was 40% off.

But they aren't that expensive to start with.

In other words, for not too much outlay you can have Alexa in your RV.

As long as you have a constant Internet connection for Alexa to use (WiFi or cellular data will work), it will function just fine.

Read on to see what I ordered to bring Alexa to my RV and run it off 12-volts via a USB plug.

What I Ordered To Have Alexa In My RV

Here is exactly what I ordered in order to run Amazon Alexa (via an Echo Dot smart speaker) in my RV and have it be powered by a 12-volt power source.

The power source I used was a 5-volt USB plug.

Amazon Echo Dot

I purchased the Amazon Echo Dot which (as of this writing) is in its 3rd generation.

With the below power cord, it works perfectly being powered from a 2.1 amp (5-volt) USB power outlet in my Lance travel trailer.

(Most all USB ports are 5-volt.)

The 3rd generation Amazon Echo Dot is available in three different colors, though none of which will match the hideous decor of most RVs.

Amazon Echo Dot on box

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Choose Color


USB 5-Volt to 12-Volt  Cable

There are a couple of different USB power cables on Amazon that will work to convert your USB's 5-volts output to the 12-volts that the Amazon Echo Dot requires.

The first one I ordered didn't have enough power to handle higher volume levels.

Get The Right USB Power Cord

There are multiple USB power cords available for sale on Amazon that will work with the Echo Spot.

BUT not all of them supply enough power to run the Spot at anything more than low volume.

The first USB power cord I ordered would cut power at anything above volume level 3 (out of 10).

I ordered the one below and it's been working like a champ!

It is able to power the Echo Dot at full volume with no issues so far.

The one below can power the 3rd Generation Amazon Echo Dot (that's the current one as of the publish date of this blog post).

This USB power cable is available in either black or white color.

The USB plug that you use for this power cable must output at least 2 amps in order for it to be able to convert the 5-volt USB output to the 12-volts that the Echo Dot needs.

Amazon Echo Dot 12 volt USB power cord

USB 5-Volt to 12-Volt Power Cable

Black Cable

White Cable


Echo Dot Wall Mount

Wall mount for Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation only) that can be mounted without drilling a hole in your RV.

It comes with removable adhesive strips (Command Strips) that securely fasten the mount to almost any surface on your RV.

There is the option to use screws if you feel better using them, though mine has been mounted in my RV for months using just the adhesive strips and it has yet to come off the wall.

Available in either white or black color.

Echo Dot wall mount top view

Wall Mount

Amazon Echo Dot mounted on wall top view

Wall Mount In Use

Choose Color


Bluetooth Adapter (optional)

This part is optional.

If your RV has a stereo receiver that isn't equipped with Bluetooth, you can add this Bluetooth adapter and give your RV Bluetooth capability.

Bluetooth Installation Explained

Both Camp Addict Kelly and Marshall use this setup in their rigs.

This allows you to connect your Echo to your RV's stereo, giving it better sound quality.

You can also connect your smartphone to your stereo via Bluetooth with this adapter.

Bluetooth adapter and noise isolater in use

Kelly's Homespot Is Powered By A USB Port

Your stereo will need a 3.5mm round auxiliary input to use this adapter (it connects to your non-Bluetooth receiver using this 3.5mm port).

And it requires an available USB power port.

Because of the way vehicles are wired (including an RV's 12-volt electrical system), there is a problem with ground loop noise (a bunch of static) when you use this type of Bluetooth adapter.

This problem is easily solved by purchasing the inexpensive ground loop noise isolator below.

Homespot Bluetooth module

Bluetooth Adapter

Mpow ground loop isolator

Ground Loop Noise Isolator

Conclusion

Yes, you can use your Amazon Echo in your RV powered by a USB plug!

It just takes the right power cord.

Get it, and you are on your way to boondocking smart-RV bliss!

If you are powered all the time to shore power, there's not much need for this.

(Unless you want connectivity during a power outage.) 

Are you using an Echo in your RV?

Comment below and let us know your setup and what your experience has been with it! 

Camp On, people!

Marshall Headshot

Camp Addict co-founder Marshall Wendler brings his technical expertise to help explain RV products in an easy to understand fashion. Full-time RVing from April 2014 - December 2020, Marshall loves sharing his knowledge of the RV lifestyle. Marshall spent the majority of his RVing life boondocking. He is the part of Camp Addict that knows 'all the things'. He's good at sharing his technical knowledge so you can benefit. 

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  • Hi, nice article… what’s power usage in your van when in standby (ie waiting and listening for you you) and when playing music… cheers Glen

    • Hi Glen,

      When the Echo is on standby, it has negligible power usage. When at full volume (which I never use – I commonly have it around volume 2 to 3 out of 10) it uses under 1 amp of power.

      In other words, power usage isn’t much of a concern with this setup.

  • I connected my EchoDot using the initial cable, but got a 3.0 v?a? USB plug and they, I have 2, 38′ class a, both work WONDERFULLY ! I was going to get the special power cord, and would have if the 3.0 USB hadn’t worked.

    • Hey Pat,

      I’m a bit confused as to what you did. As mentioned in the above article, USB outputs 5 volts. The Echo Dot requires 12 volts. You cannot just use a ‘normal’ USB power cord as it will only supply 5 volts.

      And the Echo Dot doesn’t have a ‘normal’ USB input, so again, you cannot use a normal USB power cord.

      I’m really confused at to what your setup is. Would you kindly elaborate? Thank you.

  • I suspect you have not checked the heat at the back of your USB socket.
    1.25 Amps at 12 volts is 15 watts.
    In order to supply 15 watts at 5 volts you would draw 3 amps from your USB socket which is rated at 2.1 Amps. 2.1 Amps is the maximum rating for USB due to the size of the electrical components and connections. If you go almost 30% above this rating you run the chance of the whole thing overheating and possibly bursting in to flames.
    Echo use a barrel type connector instead of a usb connector on purpose, to prevent people overloading the USB sockets.

    The cigarette lighter socket is already at 12v and usually fused at 15 Amps which is 180 watts.

    I suggest you buy a cable that converts a 12 volt cigarette lighter to 12v barrel connection just to safeguard the investment in your motorhome.

    I am a qualified electrical/electronic engineer. Only concerned for your own well being.

    • Hi Tony,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I appreciate your concern for my well being, but as of today, after using an Echo for well over a year with this power configuration, my travel trailer (I don’t have a motor home) has yet to burst into flames. Keep in mind I use the Echo on a daily basis, so this isn’t a case of very minimal usage on an annual basis.

      I have checked the back of the USB port. Just did it again right now. Room temp. Not even remotely warm.

      While I’m not an electrical/electronic engineer, I am someone with extensive, daily experience with powering their Echo Dot per how I explained in this blog post.

      The power requirements you mention are the max that the Echo Dot can require. It has been my experience that it real world use it requires no where near 15 watts. Even at full volume.

      Therefore, the concerns you bring up are not actual concerns, as verified by real-world use.

      I mostly listen to my Echo Dot at volume level 2 (our of 10). That’s plenty for my 175 square feet of space.

      You’d think that the max power of 15 watts would be at volume level 10, right? Well, according to my battery monitor (which, as I’m sure you know, gives a perfectly accurate reading of actual amperage use), turning up the volume from 2 to 10 results in a whopping 0.2 amp increase in draw from the batteries.

      At night, when there is no solar to supplement the battery, and one can get a true reading of battery usage, I NEVER see 3 amps total draw total if I’m not using some high amp draw appliance. That’s with some lights on, all the normal parasitic electrical draws, and the Echo Dot happily playing along.

      Just to be clear, that’s 3 amps total from the battery – not the one USB port. So the Echo’s USB port is drawing next to nothing when in use.

      Regarding the 12-volt cigarette option, I’ve already addressed this in a below comment. It’s not the route I wanted to go as I didn’t have an available 12-volt port near to where the Echo Dot is. Just an available USB port.

      Anyone who has RV experience will know that one thing most lack are 12-volt ports. In fact, my rig came with a grand total of one, which is used to power the TV.

      I’ve installed 8 other 12-volt outlets throughout my rig. Some done the right way, straight from a fuse at the power distribution panel. Most done by ‘borrowing’ power from an existing circuit. All are fused at the port with an appropriately sized fuse, which sometimes is under the 15 amps that you suggest all 12-volt outlets use.

      Bottom line is there is a distinct difference between theoretical electrical usage and real-world electrical usage of an Echo Dot. Like so many things in life, the difference between theory and reality can vary wildly.

      Thank you again for your comment. Fortunately the concerns you bring up aren’t what I personally have experienced.

    • It isn’t expensive when it’s the only option. As I mentioned in the blog post, Echos require a 12-volt power source but USB plugs supply 5-volts of power. They CAN’T supply the necessary voltage without the cord I list above. ZERO way around it if you use a 5-volt USB power source.

      I also mentioned that one might be able to find a plug that fits into a 12-volt outlet that is able to provide 12-volts of power via a USB cable. Since that’s not how I wanted to power my Echo (with a 12-volt outlet) so it isn’t the route I investigated.

      Sounds like maybe this is how you did it. Would be great if you provided a link/links to the items you used. In case someone wanted to go this route.

      • I found out 2 options 1) use cigarette lighter inverter and use echo default charger
        2) or find compatible usb barrel Jack and my car default was able to provide right output voltage

        Both options worked for me, people can find lot such options on Ebay or aliexpress

  • Marshall I have a Alfa WiFi Camp Pro 2 long range WiFi repeater kit R36A + Tube Booster + Antenna. How do I hook up a echo dot 3. What all do I need. I am not vert tech savy. Thanks Jack

    • Hey Jack,

      I assume you are asking how do you connect the Echo Dot to your WiFi network? That being the case, you do it just as you would hook the Echo up to any other WiFi network – via the Amazon Alexa app on your smart phone.

      Your Echo will come with instructions on how to do it, or you can find the instructions on this Amazon support page.

  • Dang! I wish I would have come across this before I began. I originally tried the echo input but the background noise was too great so I went with the Echo Auto – which I came to find out has no WIFI capability – only bluetooth. At least I can go back to my Input with the use of your ground loop eliminator. Thanks!

    • Hey David,

      Glad you found this article, but sorry it was too late!

      I tried the setup without the ground loop eliminator, and wow, talk about completely unusable. I don’t recall where I saw that this part was a critical piece of the puzzle, but I’m sure glad I did.

      I hope you enjoy your Echo even it it wasn’t the one you originally intended to use!

  • I’d love to automate my RV lighting through Alexa, but have yet to find any 12V smart switches. Is that just not a thing yet?

  • Thank you so much for this information! You have done all of my research for me 🙂 I feel like I ought to at least send you a gift card! Seriously, thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Hey Peggy,

      You are most welcome! I figured if I was going to go through the research how to do this for myself I might as well share it. Ultimately it’s a pretty easy process, but like so many things in life, until you figure out how to do it things seems a bit mysterious.

      I use mine every day, multiple times a day. And I love it!

      I am on Echo Dot #2 though. Apparently, much like me, Echo Dots don’t like to be dropped on their head repeatedly. The wall mount I used, and referenced above, is great for holding the Echo Dot in a non-moving house. But start hitting larger bumps, etc and the Dot has a tendency to launch itself right out of the holder. After 3 or 4 times of doing this, the Dot’s speaker started being distorted.

      I ended up purchasing a new one and using zip ties to secure the Dot to the holder. Problem solved!

      Enjoy your Echo Dot. I’ve really enjoyed mine. Hope you do the same!

  • So how are you getting your Internet connection? Cellphone Hotspot?
    I’ve used my phone with Roku for Netflix and Prime out on BLM. It worked well, but cost me a bunch of money…

    • Hi Griz,

      Both Kelly and I have cellular hotspots so that we maintain connectivity wherever we are camped. Since we work online, having access to the Internet is a must. We cannot camp (unfortunately) where there is no cell signal.

      We both use AT&T and Verizon (though AT&T is our primary) and have unlimited plans with both carriers.

      I have my Echo connected to my AT&T hotspot and that works great!

      Connectivity is really a thorn in our side sometimes, but a small price to pay for being able to enjoy this lifestyle.

      Thanks for the question, and Camp On!

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