Many people don’t realize that a lot of maintenance goes into owning and operating an RV. Just like a normal car, components wear down over time and improvements can be made to individual parts like the stereo or in this case, the air conditioner.
Below, we’ve outlined what you need to consider when looking for a new AC unit, as well as your options for the best RV Air Conditioner to buy.
In this article, we’re going to review the following RV air conditioners:
How To Choose The Right AC Unit For Your RV?
Prior to getting into good RV air conditioners on the market today, let’s talk about value a little bit. Before you even start looking at different conditioners and their respective prices, there are a couple of important questions you should ask yourself. This could include anything, from “what subcategory of RV do I have?” to “How powerful of an air conditioner is really necessary, and how much would be splurging?” In this section, you’ll find the most salient aspects of buying a new RV AC unit that we’ve broken down and explained.
Types of RV Air Conditioners
Non-ducted units are often designed to fit in the RV’s pre-existing roof vents. They can also be installed through a hole cut in the roof of your RV. They consist of a compressor, condenser, and blower that are all packaged together in an aerodynamic body that sits on the roof of the RV. These function by blowing air out of the bottom part of the unit through vents that direct the air to where it’s needed within the RV.
Non-ducted RV AC units are perfect for smaller campers.
Ducted units work with the existing ducts in your RV to move air through your rig. Just like the non-ducted models, these units have the same part that sits on the roof but they don’t have the control unit on the inside of the RV.
Instead, these models control the temperature by passing air through a duct system that pipes through the ceiling, floor, or walls of the RV. This way you can to control the temperature in multiple rooms at once with a centralized control panel.
These are great for larger RVs because you can have a few of these air conditioners installed throughout your rig.
Window Air Conditioner
Window air conditioners offer a great cooling capacity in a small package with the compressor, condenser and vents all packed in the one box. They barely take any room either because you can easily install them on the outside of a window. They are also easy to maintain.
Portable Air Conditioner
Unlike a window air conditioner, the entire unit is sitting inside the room you need to cool. The unit uses conditioned air from the room to cool the condenser, and exhausts the warm air out through a large hose that looks like a dryer vent.
These units typically weigh between 50 and 80 pounds. It’s debatable how portable they really are because once you have the unit all connected to the window you may not feel like moving it around much. They also need to be located away from any walls and furniture to prevent airflow blockage. It’s something a bit hard to achieve inside an RV so they are probably not the best option in most cases.
What is the Best RV Air Conditioner for Your RV?
Truth is, this is a more complicated question than it seems. There’s no catch-all answer, and a lot of different factors go into figuring this one out. Here are some of them.
How big is your RV? Knowing which class your vehicle belongs to will be essential in choosing an air-conditioning unit.
There’s a very common-sense reason for this. If you own a larger RV, like a Class A vehicle that’s well over 20 feet in length, you’ll need a very powerful AC unit to cover that entire space. In fact, you may even need to invest in multiple units if your RV truly stretches the definition of “mobile.”
On the other hand, If you own a small, manageable Class B RV, less than 20 feet long, you’ll only need one unit to power air conditioning throughout the entire vehicle. You likely won’t even need a particularly powerful one.
Where do you want to install your RV air conditioning unit? There are 3 main types of units on the market at the moment. Rooftop models that are installed over a roof vent, window models, and portable models that sit on the floor of your vehicle. Each one has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.
For example, if you don’t already have an existing roof vent for the AC unit, you could install it in place of your skylight. I you really like your RV’s skylight and you don’t want to lose that sunlight, then you probably don’t want to install an air conditioning unit right where it sits. In this case, you would have to look at the option of getting a new roof vent opening cut into your RV’s roof, or look at portable or window options.
Another example is that you might drive an already very tall RV that comes close to hitting the undersides of some overpasses. If that’s the case, then you need to add the height of the AC to the overall height of the RV to determine if you will still be able to drive around safely. If your RV is quite high you may want to consider a low profile unit.
On the other hand, smaller vehicles often have leeway for a unit on top because they’re already relatively short and don’t need to worry about meeting height requirements on certain roads and highways. Furthermore, if you drive a Class B or a Class C RV, you might not even have that much space on the floor to begin with, because it’s already taken up by appliances, cabinet space and the like. That would make a floor-level unit rather impractical in comparison.
How To Install an AC Unit Through a Roof Vent
Type of Climate
Do you mainly use your RV in cold climates or hot ones? This is also important in determining the placement of any potential air conditioning unit.
Think about it: heat rises, so if you place the unit on the floor, it’ll be best-positioned to heat your rig evenly and effectively. If it’s on the roof, on the other hand, such heat might not spread as far throughout the cabin of your vehicle as you want it.
If you mainly plan on using your air conditioning unit for cold air, though, then the opposite is true. Placing it on your roof could easily be more beneficial than a floor unit, saving you space and distributing the AC’s effects more evenly.
How important is cooling (or heating) power to you when buying an air conditioning unit?
Imagine this: you walk into your RV on a blazing, hot summer day, with sweat running down your face. The only thing you need at this point is some cooling power, and as quickly as possible. So you switch on your new air conditioning unit, and then you immediately feel the temperature drop, cooling you down in an instant. It sounds appealing, right?
Unfortunately, not everybody will be able to go for very powerful air conditioning units. They come at a premium, both in terms of size and price. Depending on the size of your RV, you may not be able to fit in a larger model. You may not need as much power either.
Air conditioner cooling capacity is measured in BTUs, or British Thermal Units. So if you want that kind of quick action, look for models with a higher number in that category. More on BTUs below.
If a super-powerful air conditioner isn’t that important to you, though, that’s also good news. You’ll be able to save a lot on both energy and space in your RV by going for a smaller unit. Users on either end of the spectrum can get what they want when it comes to power.
Factors to Consider When buying an RV Air Conditioner
Air conditioner cooling capacity is measured in BTUs, or British Thermal Units. Standard models come with 13,500 BTUs.
If you like to travel to hot places and that keeping your RV cool inside at all times, you should look for a model with BTU higher than 13,500. If you have a large RV you may need at least 15,000 BTUs or more to keep the entire space cool. You may also want to invest in more than one unit.
It’s important that you find out the amount of BTU you need to cool your rig, which is based on the square footage of your RV.
Keep in mind that if you get an RV AC that has a higher BTU than you need, you will end up spending more than you have to at purchase and to run it.
On the other hand, if you buy an AC not powerful enough, it could end up costing you more because it has to work harder for longer periods. As you can see, choosing the right model for your needs is something that requires some consideration.
Use a BTU calculator to find out how much you need.
Your AC unit requires a good source of power to function. In fact, it’s considered to be the appliance that consumes the most power in an RV. For this reason, you should find out what the wattage of the unit is before buying to know exactly what amount of power you will need to run it. Remember, you may want to run it off a generator when you don’t have access to shore power. https://smartexploring.com/best-rv-generator/
Dual use with heat pump
If you like to travel in your RV during cooler months you may want to look at getting a unit equipped with a heat pump too. With this feature, you will stay cool during the summer season while also staying warm during the cold season.
No matter what type of air conditioner unit you choose, it will produce noise. However, some are quieter than others. Your choice should be the quietest RV air conditioner. The one that produces the least background noise when you turn it on to have that peace and quiet you are hoping for on your trip.
Ease of Use
While the majority of air conditioners today are easy to use, you still have to make sure it doesn’t take too much effort to operate. Ideally, you want controls that are intuitive to make your life easier.
Also, assess whether you will have an easier time dealing with ongoing maintenance concerns. This includes cleaning it up and making sure that its exhaust hoses are free of debris.
Find out if the unit is easy to maintain. Keep in mind that appliances can break from time to time while also needing regular cleaning. The AC unit should be easy to maintain and repair when you are on the road. That way, you won’t have to contact someone to do the repairs in the middle of your trip if it lets you down. Also, look for models that offer spare parts and a good warranty so you know you are covered if something does break.
How to care for your AC unit to keep it performing at its peak
Now that we’ve covered some of the main issues when buying, it’s time to get into some reviews. Here are your current best options when it comes to purchasing a new AC unit for your RV.
Top 5 Best Air Conditioner Reviews
Dometic Polar White 13,500 BTU Brisk Air Upper Unit
The Dometic Polar White 13,500 BTU unit, a rooftop model, is perfect for anybody looking for a great, reliable, middle-of-the-road option. With an output of 13,500 BTUs, it’s right in the middle of the pack: neither super powerful nor terribly overpriced.
Compared to some of the other units on this list, it also gets points for being relatively easy to install and maintain, as long as you keep the manual around for reference. If you’re no great shakes with a screwdriver and you dread the thought of installing a complex AC system, this unit should be able to put your fears to rest.
Finally, it also includes dampening brackets to help out with any potential noise or rattling. So if the idea of quiet reliability appeals to you, the Dometic Polar White could be a good choice.
Coleman Airxcel Mach 15
The Airxcel 48204C866 might not be the most charismatically named unit on this list, but don’t let that fool you. Even if its name doesn’t inspire confidence in you, its specs should. With 15,000 BTUs of cooling capacity, this is one of the most powerful rooftop RV air conditioners on this list. The airflow is even strong enough to power a duct system that takes airflow to your entire vehicle, rather than just putting out cool/warm air at one spot. Copper tubing and gas-flux brazed joints will make sure that it doesn’t fail on you.
Furthermore, this is a versatile unit that can suit any kind of RV owner and the climates they normally drive in. An optional heating unit can be added, which will provide 5,600 BTU of heat on top of maintaining its already impressive cooling power.
Of course, this unit isn’t for everybody. If you have no need for a heating unit or one that’s this powerful, then a cheaper and smaller air conditioning system could suit your needs just fine. And while this unit is still fairly easy to install, it’s not as easy as the Dometic Polar White above.
Dometic Penguin II 410 Amp Low Profile Rooftop Air Conditioner
Another great option from Dometic, the Penguin II also pushes out a very respectable 13,500 BTUs of cooling power.
Again, this option is a rooftop air conditioner, meaning you’ll lose out on your skylight in exchange for air conditioning. That makes the Penguin II a great option for drivers of Class B or Class C RV’s who can afford a few extra inches on the tops of their vehicles.
If your RV is a CLass A, don’t fret immediately! It just means you’ll have to check how much the Penguin II will add to your car’s height and whether or not that’s acceptable for your needs and travels.
Finally, this unit comes with a couple of unique amenities that may help buyers in tight situations. For example, it includes a pre-installed module board and heat strip, so you can install this unit even if your RV’s ceiling is relatively thin.
Dometic Brisk Air II 15,000 BTU Rv Ac Complete ND System W/Heat
Though this unit is also manufactured by Dometic, there’s something that sets it apart from the rest of their offerings so far: 15,000 BTUs of cooling power. That makes it one of the most powerful RV air conditioning units on this list.
For customers who may be brand-loyal to Dometic but need an option with increased power, this unit is the answer. It also offers optional heating capabilities, meaning even those of you who like the cold can benefit from having this unit installed in your vehicle if you plan to travel during the cold season.
There are a couple downsides to this unit: with increased power and capability comes increased complexity. The Dometic Brisk Air II won’t be as easy to install as its little brother, the Brisk Air I. It’ll also take up more space and energy in your RV setup. At 74 pounds, however, it’s not terribly heavy for the extra power it offers.
To sum things up, every single one of the air conditioners on this list will likely do the job, but there are important differences to consider. As such, there’s one winner that’s a standout from the rest of the pack: The Coleman Airxcel Mach 15 model. It’s a premium option that comes at a premium price, but it gives users heat capabilities, powerful cooling, and sturdy construction. That said, any of these options is a good choice when it comes to RV air conditioners, so good luck and happy camping!