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

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.

Image source: Korey99

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.

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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