Most RVs today are equipped with a 120V AC air conditioner that requires shore power, a generator, or an inverter if running on batteries. However, it’s possible to reduce your power consumption by switching to a 12V RV air conditioner.
In this article, we’ll be looking at some of the things you need to know about running a 12V air conditioner in your RV and a few of the options. Let’s dig a little deeper.
Can You Run RV AC on 12V?
A typical RV air conditioner runs on 120V AC power. However, it is possible to run an RV AC on 12V battery power. The hiccup is you’ll need an inverter to turn the 12V DC electric charge from your RV battery into 120V AC power. Doing so will incur extra electrical losses and even generate more heat, the very thing you are probably trying to avoid.
Pro Tip: An inverter is an essential component of any off-grid RV power system. Find out What Does an Inverter Do in an RV?
But if you’re not using an inverter, you’ll require a generator to power the 120V AC air conditioner in your RV. Sure, a generator is a convenient backup option, but it could be a nuisance because of the noise, especially if you’re boondocking at night.
On the other hand, you can power a 12V RV air conditioner directly off your battery without relying on an inverter. Besides that, a 12V RV air conditioner tends to be more energy-efficient, especially when operating on a battery, since you don’t have to worry about losing a fraction of the converted power through the RV inverter.
Here’s the thing; it’s challenging to run a 120V AC air conditioner consistently while the engine/generator is off unless it’s hooked to a generator or solar system. However, a battery-operated 12V RV air conditioner consumes less power, and it can run longer than a 120V AC air conditioner while the engine is off.
That means you can go outside for a few hours and come back to a cool RV. Not to mention, if you’re at a public campground, you won’t upset your neighbors with a loud generator all night long.
Is There Such Thing as a 12V Air Conditioner?
Even though battery-powered RV air conditioners are not yet mainstream, a couple of manufacturers, such as Dometic, Nomadic Cooling, and Indel B, have introduced them to the market.
Most of these models had their start and inspiration in the trucking market. Truckers who want to shut their vehicles down overnight instead of letting them idle to remain powered frequently install 24V air conditioners. Slowly, these technologies and models have been converted from 24V to 12V to fit campers and motorhomes as well.
Some of the biggest 12V RV air conditioners can produce up to 12,000 BTU, which is enough to cool most average-sized RVs. However, you have to dig deeper into your pockets to purchase a powerful battery-operated air conditioner.
Then again, if you want a budget-friendly option and you’re mainly traveling to dry climates, you could choose a 12V RV swamp cooler.
What Is a Swamp Cooler?
A swamp cooler, otherwise known as an evaporative cooler, uses a technique that blows hot, dry air through a moistened cooling pad. The wet pad absorbs the heat causing the water to evaporate and cool your RV. These coolers can often run off 12V power as well.
Since a swamp cooler increases the humidity level in the air, it’s better suited for dry climates. Of course, if you’re living in a humid environment, a swamp cooler wouldn’t be effective.
Swamp Cooler vs. Air Conditioner
Unlike a swamp cooler that needs water in the reservoir, an air conditioner uses chemical refrigerants to cool a room. Sure, air conditioners are better at controlling temperature than evaporative coolers, but the latter consumes a lot less energy.
Also, swamp coolers are usually cheaper and easier to install than air conditioners.
Drawbacks of 12V Air Conditioners
The biggest drawback to a 12V air conditioner is the current draw. We don’t use 12V in our homes because the wires would need to be huge. For an RV air conditioner operating on 12V, the wires will need to be larger and the electronics need to handle higher currents which can cause voltage drops and efficiency losses.
Because of these high currents, you will also need a lot of battery capacity. This means to run them overnight, you will most likely need to invest in lithium batteries.
Once again, the high current draw comes back to bite when thinking about powering 12V air conditioners from shore power. To do so, you need a high-current converter or inverter charger. This also means that your batteries will charge slowly when running the air conditioner hard.
Because of this, 12V air conditioners are mainly suited for smaller RVs that require a lot less cooling. On a larger RV, 24, 48, or higher voltage units will most likely still be the best option.
5 Best 12V RV Air Conditioners
Let’s have a look at some of the best 12V RV air conditioners (the ones that use compressors and run off 12V power) on the market.
Dometic RTX 2000
This Dometic RTX 2000 was designed for truck drivers, having been adapted from a 24V unit available in Europe. As a relatively new product on the US market, we’re very excited to see a bigger RV parts manufacturer offer a solution for 12V air conditioning.
This 12V air conditioner can keep your RV cool for 12 hours and draw just 19 amps on Eco mode. But if you want to control the temperature quickly, you can switch on the turbo cooling operating mode and pump it up to 6,824 BTU or 2000W.
When installed, it has a slim and sleek profile that sits just 6 inches above your RV roof. This is the unit we installed in our overland truck camper, and we’ve been very happy with its performance.
It’ll cost you about $2400.
If you’re interested, also check out the Dometic RTX 2000 Installation Video!
Nomadic Cooling 1000 & 3000 12V RV Air Conditioners
The Nomadic Cooling 1000 12V RV air conditioner was created by Nomadic Cooling, pioneers of the 12V cooling realm for vans and campers. This RV AC unit has a 65 Amp compressor that runs between 25-65 amps depending on whether you’re using Eco or Powerful mode.
The slightly bigger Nomadic Cooling 3000 12V air conditioner can deliver up to 11,830 BTU while drawing 100 amps.
What’s more, it doesn’t vibrate, and the noise level is 60dBA, so the sound probably won’t distract you.
Fortunately, it comes with everything you need to install it on the roof. The 1000 model runs at $3,490 and the 3000 model is $5,379 – which is pretty high for an air conditioner and is more than the Dometic RTX. However, the 3000 model has a significantly higher BTU capacity, so would likely work better for larger rigs.
If you’re not feeling up to doing the installation yourself, you can visit these guys in Arizona and for a $750 installation fee, they’ll get you all taken care of.
Indel B 12V Air Conditioners – Plein-Aircon & Sleeping Well Cube
Italian company Indel B offers two models of 12V air conditioners: the Plein-Aircon and the Sleeping Well Cube.
These units use highly efficient compressor technology to deliver safe and quiet cooling. Cooling capacities are 1200W for the Plein-Aircon and 950W for the Sleeping Well Cube.
Unfortunately, these models are not readily available in the North American market with a major distributor. You will likely need to figure out a way to ship/import from a European distributor if this is the way you’d like to go.
VELIT 2000R 12V Air Conditioner
The VELIT 2000R is one of the newest 12V RV air conditioners on the market, but is undoubtedly the most affordable at $1,599.
This unit produces 8,000 BTUs or 2,300W of cooling power—an impressive amount considering the price. It fits in a standard 14″ x 14″ rooftop cutout and stands just 7″ tall. In Eco mode, the VELIT 2000R consumes about 550W of power. In Boost mode, expect a power draw around 680W.
CAMPELIFY 12V Cooling System
The CAMPELIFY 12V Cooling System is a bit more of a DIY solution for your 12V air conditioning needs. This kit has a driver board, condenser, capillary mini rotary compressor, and evaporator.
Its maximum power is 450W, and it has a cooling capacity of 1,535 BTU. This means that it is definitely more suited to very small, compact campers, like off-road campers and vans. It may also work for cooling a single room in a medium-large RV.
- Maximum cooling temperature the micro dc a/c achieves, 15-20...
- Rated Voltage: DC 12V; Max Current : 10A; Power:150W; Rated...
- Ultra compact direct refrigeration unit with miniature dc rotary...
12V RV Air Coolers (Evaporative or Swamp Cooler)
If you live in an arid region and want a 12V RV swamp cooler, consider the following options.
Turbokool 2B-0001 White 12 Volt Evaporative Swamp Air Cooler
The Turbokool 2B-0001 12 Volt Evaporative Swamp Air Cooler is designed to be roof-mounted over an existing 14″ x 14″ roof vent or can replace an existing RV air conditioner with the purchase of a metal vent frame.
The makers of Turbokool say it will cool air by 20 to 30 degrees while only drawing on 4.6 amps of 12v power. It is not recommended to be used in places where the average relative humidity exceeds 75 percent, and you might want to expect degradation in performance the closer to that 75 percent threshold you get.
The price tag comes in around $649.
MightyKool Swamp Cooler
This MightyKool Swamp Cooler is a 12v swamp cooler that makes no claims of being an air conditioner. In fact, the manufacturer won’t even send it to you unless they verify that you understand what you’re buying!
Be sure to read the reviews and not expect it to do what it can’t. Again, swamp coolers work best in dry climates.
This model features two cool air vents that can blow humidified air at 25 mph. It uses water (any temperature) and not ice to evaporatively cool people and pets in non-moving small enclosures like RV campers.
- We will ship your order sooner if you answer our email and...
- The K2 will not cool a vehicle, however it will typically may...
- The MightyKool K2 Evaporative Cooler produces 25 mph of cool air...
Are 12V RV Air Conditioners The Future?
The currently available 12V RV air conditioners may not pack the same power as a traditional 120V unit, but it’s a good solution for a small RV. These units can be pricey, so weigh the pros and cons before buying.
In general, 12V air conditioners are gaining some popularity with the growing interest in boondocking off-grid and the availability of lithium RV batteries. We fully expect to see more companies and models pop up on the market in the coming years to meet the demand to have more efficient air conditioning capabilities.
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Friday 31st of March 2023
Well, this is interesting, as I just got a new AC for my Beaver Monterey motorhome, and it has been tripping my home breaker... I thought it was run off my batteries... ?
Mortons on the Move
Monday 24th of April 2023
Nope, that AC will be on the house system and has a very large draw.
Tuesday 31st of May 2022
This is great click-bait. Basically if you really want to sacrifice the storage space, you'll perhaps find the resources to stow away enough LiFePo4 batteries to power your 12V A/C for a few hours but you'll need to start the engine or a generator each day to recharge because there is no solar array that will fit on a common size vehicle that will charge a bank of batteries enough to have them topped up every night for another long-haul session of 75 amps out to continuously run a 12V A/C system. Unless you drive every day to recharge, it won't be practical even if you do spend 10-15K$ for both the batteries and a descent A/C system. And if you are going to run your generator all day to charge the all night depletion for HVAC use, you may as well just design a quieter generator and run it all night because the cost and inconvenience is the same and by doing that, you can cut the expenses about 75% or more by using conventional 120vac/240vac equipment.
Thursday 3rd of March 2022
12v roof mount aircon required for my RV which is cost effective.
Monday 28th of February 2022
Hi "Mortons on the Move!" Have you any good information on the 12V KoolCat AC's? I've seen them installed in cabinets with the cooling vents and buttons put at the back of the top surface. There's also a vent panel or connection on the outside too. They can be found in early fold down top A-liner RVs, though many have switched to standard window unit ACs probably due to high costs of purchase. I 've heard good things, but have never encountered anyone in person who's actually used one of these units. Have you guys? Thanks!
Mortons on the Move
Friday 18th of March 2022
Hi Gail, good question. Cant say i was aware of this brand but it looks like a neat little mini-split. Seems designed for truckers mainly, but not sure why it wouldn't work well in a small RV like thos A-Liners!
Thursday 9th of September 2021
Why is it that there are no evaporative coolers that have a heat exchanger as part of the unit? The evap cooler cools the outside air and passes it into the heat exchanger which vents back out to atmosphere. The air from inside the RV/Trailer is then recirculated through the heat exchanger where it is chilled and is then passed back into the space being cooled. The advantage here is that there is no humidity added to the RV/Trailer space thus keeping it more comfortable because the humidity is kept low.