RV Air Conditioner: The handy guide for RV AC & Camper AC Units

Last updated on March 2nd, 2022 at 11:25 am. Originally published on June 18th, 2020

For many, having an RV air conditioner is essential. After all, camping in the heat of summer is much more enjoyable when you can escape into a nice cool space each night. Those RVers who use their rigs to head south in the cooler months may even find that an RV A/C unit is nice to have during the winter time.

Considering how wonderful it is to have air conditioning while camping, it likely comes as no surprise that most RVers don’t want to go very long without it. If you’ve made your way to this article, we’re guessing you’re among them.

Whether your RV didn’t come with an RV A/C to begin with, or you need to replace a broken camper A/C unit, read on to learn everything you need to know before you dive into your project.

What is the Best RV Air Conditioner?

First, let’s talk about finding the best RV air conditioner. We could just recommend one unit and be done with it. However, the truth of the matter is that no one camper A/C is one-size-fits-all. There are several factors to consider in order to ensure you get the very best unit for your rig and camping style.

Power

In our opinion, power is the most important thing to look at when shopping for RV air conditioners. The power of an RV A/C is measured in BTUs, and most units are going to offer 13,500 BTUs of output.

That said, those who spend a large amount of time in places where the weather is hot will want to look into units with a higher output. Meanwhile, those who will rarely use their A/C may prefer something with less power at a lower price.

Dual Usage

Another thing to know when shopping for a camper air conditioner is that there are dual-usage units available. These versatile appliances include a heat pump, allowing them to function as heaters as well as air conditioners. This is great because it means you can use your propane furnace less often, saving you fuel and therefore money.

All that said, these air conditioner units are more expensive than most. Additionally, the heat pump will not warm a space in very cold weather.

Kinds of RV air conditioners

Ducted RV air conditioners are used in a motorhome with multiple ducts in the ceiling. The RV ducted air conditioner will match up to the ducts in the RV and distribute cooled air throughout the rig, ensuring consistent cooling. They are generally quieter, more expensive, and provide a more steady overall cooling of your motorhome. A non-ducted RV air conditioner just blows air out of the bottom part of the unit to cool a room, and are used more often in smaller RVs or campers. They don’t hook into the ducting system of your RV. While it’s possible to switch from a non-ducted to a ducted air conditioning set up, the change can be expensive. Also, low-profile air conditioner units may save you money in the long run by reducing drag and improving the gas mileage of your rig.

Where to purchase an RV ducted air conditioner

You can look for ducted RV air conditioners several places. Your trusted RV dealer will likely have them available to purchase. You can also look on eBay or other sites for used air conditioners. Finally, you can buy them online. You can purchase them from sites like Amazon, from RV retailers like Camping World, and often straight from the manufacturer’s website.

What’s the best RV ducted air conditioner?

What Portable RV Air Conditioner Suits Your Style?

Here are four viable options to choose from.

 

1. Rooftop Air Conditioner

This is a popular choice. Because it resides on the roof of the RV, this air conditioner doesn’t take up extra space in the RV. Most rooftop air conditioners have between 5,000 and 15,000 BTU/Hour. This is a modest number considering that more than 30% of the energy is consumed through the vents. A single roof top air conditioner can cool an area 10 feet by 50 feet.

The unit is cooled by the outside air and is powered through your RV. Depending on the size of the unit it can use a ton of power, so this is not the best choice for those who are conserving energy or like to camp off the grid. Roof top air conditioners can also be costly to repair. Keeping the air conditioner on the roof exposes it the moist air, leading to rust and possible bacterial growth.

A roof top AC unit is also hard for the average person to install. Some weigh in at more than 100 lbs, so two people or more are needed to handle the installation. It also has a lot of wires and vents that need to be connected properly. One shouldn’t do this if they lack proper qualification.

2. A Vent Free Portable Air Conditioner

This unit functions as a portable air conditioner but is smaller in size and the design can be rather captivating. A vent-free air conditioner is also called a “swamp cooler” due to its unique moist air ventilation. No refrigeration process is used to cool the air. The air conditioner uses evaporated water that is released in the dry air, quickly chilling the room.

On the plus side, it doesn’t consume very much energy since you only have to power the vent, and it doesn’t take up much space. On the negative side,  you will need to improvise a hose since sometimes the water is not completely evaporated. This can cause water to leak through the device and all over the floor.

There is one small problem. The unit can only be used in climates with relatively dry heat. Humid weather will counter the cooling effect and nullify it. For a greater effect, the air conditioner’s evaporation process needs to blend with the dry atmosphere to form the chill effect.

3. The Portable RV Air Conditioner

This device uses one or two holes to ventilate the hot air between the device and outside. It comes with adjustable frames that are placed under the window to keep the hoses in place. Be careful if you use the single hose air conditioner since there is a strong possibility that hot air will come inside the room due to improper ventilation.

Portable RV air conditioners can be cheap, but they take up a ton of space. A lot of customers point out that these types of units are not very efficient and can sometimes be extremely costly. Also, the compressor of the conditioner is inside the room so you will have to live with an annoying cooling sound for the rest of your road trip.

4. The RV Window Air Conditioner

Possibly the best choice in portable RV air conditioners.  The window air conditioner offers great cooling capacity in a small package.

It doesn’t take up space (since it’s easily installed outside of the window), and it’s easy to maintain. If you search hard enough, you can find mini window air conditioners as small as 14 inches that open horizontally instead of vertically. Plus it houses all the necessary cooling components within one box (compressors, vents, etc) so noise pollution isn’t a problem.

Best RV AC Brand

You will also want to consider brand when deciding what to buy. Some people are very loyal to a certain brand due to past experiences. Others simply want a brand that will have replacement parts readily available whenever they are needed.

The two most popular RV A/C brands are Coleman and Dometic. Coleman units are generally the least expensive not the market, making them a great budget choice. Dometic air conditioners tend to be a bit more expensive than their Coleman counterparts, but many people find them to be a bit sturdier, making them a good investment.

Coleman air conditioner models include:

  • Polar Cub — Low profile; low power; low price
  • Mach 8 — Super low profile; more powerful than Polar Cub; higher price tag
  • Mach 15 — Highly popular; high profile; moderate power and price tag

Dometic air conditioner models include:

  • Atwood Aircommand Ducted 15,000 BTU A/C Unit with Heat Pump — The ultimate RV A/C unit
  • Penguin II — Low profile; powerful cooling
  • Cool Cat — Super small RV air conditioner; perfect for vans

RV Air Conditioner Sizes

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices by considering the factors mentioned above, you’ll want to consider size. While most RV air conditioners are interchangeable in terms of what size hole they require in the roof, they do vary in height.

The lower profile (shorter) units are great for those wishing to keep their rig’s total height to a minimum. They also produce less drag, improving fuel efficiency and tend to cost a bit less. That said, low profile A/C units also tend to offer less power, making them less than ideal for cooling large spaces or traveling to hot places.

Higher profile travel air conditioner units will create more drag by making your RV taller. That said, these units will likely be better suited to cool bigger rigs and keep up in extremely hot temperatures.

How to Install an RV Air Conditioner?

Of course, purchasing an A/C for your camper is only half the battle. The next step is the RV air conditioner install. Luckily, it’s pretty simple to install RV air conditioner units, and can be done with basic hand tools.

Removing the Old Air Conditioner

Begin by turning off the air conditioner and unplugging your RV from all power sources. You might also want to put down blankets to protect the roof surrounding the A/C. Carefully climb onto the roof, remove the screws around the shroud of your old unit, and pull the shroud away. Using a putty knife, carefully scrape away any old adhesive.

Head back inside and remove the ceiling assembly from the ceiling. Remove the four long bolts that hold the A/C in place, and the metal retaining flange should drop down. At this point you should be able to disconnect the A/C wiring and unscrew or loosen the ducting from the unit.

Go back onto the roof and separate the old unit from the roof using the putty knife if necessary. Carefully lift the old unit out of the duct hole and clean the area well, making sure no adhesive or putty is left behind.

RV Air Conditioner Installation

To install the new unit, remove the shroud and place the unit over the duct hole, making sure the rubber gasket lines up with the hole perfectly.

Head back inside and connect the wiring and ducting. Install the metal flange, ensuring it is turned the correct way before placing and tightening the four long bolts that hold the unit in place. Finish by installing the ceiling assembly and replacing the shroud.

Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions before installing your new unit, because each unit is slightly different.

Image source: CORGI HomePlan

How Do You Maintain an RV Air Conditioner?

Of course, you’ll want to keep your new unit up and running for as long as possible. So how do you maintain an RV air conditioner? Well, it’s actually pretty simple.

Filter Changes

The most important (and easiest) part of RV air conditioner maintenance is changing the air filter. This is as easy as removing a piece of the ceiling assembly, pulling out the dirty filter, and cleaning it or replacing it with a new one.

You should do this at least one a month while the air conditioner is in use, and at the beginning and end of each camping season.

Checking the Coils

While the filter is out, you should be able to see up into the unit. Shine a flashlight up there and check for any dirt or dust buildup. If you see any, pull out your vacuum and use a stiff bristle brush attachment to clean up that debris.

Cleaning the Exterior

Finally, you will want to head out onto the roof once each year to clean the exterior of your A/C unit. Remove the shroud and use compressed air to blow out any debris that many have built up in the condenser coils.

How Long Do RV Air Conditioners Last?

How long an RV air conditioner lasts is dependent upon 1) how often it is used, 2) how hot the weather is when the A/C is in use, and 3) how durable the unit your purchase is. However, when maintained correctly, your RV air conditioner should last for several years, and in many cases will last for a decade or more.

Want to learn more about how to care for your RV and RV appliances? Our blog includes everything you might need to know about maintaining, repairing, and even renting your rig.

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