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12V RV Air Conditioners Explained + Your 8 Best Options

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, we’ve discovered that we can reduce our power consumption by switching to a 12V RV air conditioner.  

In this article, we’ll examine 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.

What Goes Into an Off-Grid Power System? Overland RV Solar Power System With 12V Air Conditioning

Can You Run RV AC on 12V?

A typical RV air conditioner runs on 120V AC power. However, running an RV AC on 12V battery power is possible. The hiccup is that you’ll need an inverter to turn your RV battery’s 12V DC electric charge 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.

inverter graphic

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. Plus, some generators are not powerful enough.

Here’s the thing: It’s challenging to consistently run a 120V AC air conditioner while the engine/generator is off unless it’s hooked to a generator or solar system.

120V ac rv air conditioner
12V air conditioners can run directly off your battery bank without needing an inverter.

Is There Such Thing as a 12V Air Conditioner?

Yes! Even though 12V 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.

Benefits of 12V Air Conditioners

The benefits of 12V RV air conditioners tackle many of the problems with traditional 120V RV air conditioners.

  • You can power a 12V RV air conditioner directly off your battery without relying on an inverter
  • A 12V RV air conditioner tends to be more energy-efficient, especially when operating on battery power
  • You don’t have to worry about losing a fraction of the converted power through the RV inverter
  • Some of the biggest 12V RV air conditioners can produce up to 12,000 BTU, which is enough to cool most average-sized RVs.
  • A battery-operated 12V RV air conditioner consumes less power and can run longer than a 120V AC air conditioner while the engine is off 
  • If you’re at a public campground, you won’t upset your neighbors with a loud generator all night long to stay cool

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.

Pro Tip: Use this guide on How to Run RV A/C on Batteries (Without a Generator) to keep cool this summer.

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. 

dometic rtx 2000 air conditioner
You’ll likely need to invest in lithium batteries to run your 12V air conditioner.

Drawbacks of 12V RV Air Conditioners

Besides the higher price tag, the biggest drawback to a 12V RV 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. This 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 RV 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.

6 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.

1. 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.

Dometic CoolAir RTX 2000 | 12 Volt Air Conditioner | UNBOXING + FIRST IMPRESSIONS | Nomadic Cooling

2. Nomadic Cooling X2 & X3 12V RV Air Conditioners

The Nomadic Cooling X2 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 X3 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 X2 model runs at $465 and the X2 model is $627.

Cooling Capacity I Battery Powered AC I Nomadic Cooling 3000

3. 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.

Inside the OFF Plein-Aircon 12V air conditioner by indel B ⚡️ Battery Powered AC by Nomadic Cooling

4. 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 of around 680W.

NEW Affordable 12 Volt Air Conditioner for Vans, RVs, Overlanding - Velit Camping

5. 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 its cooling capacity is 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.

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  • 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…

6. Mabru Rooftop 12V Air Conditioner

If you have a sprinter van, the Mabru Rooftop 12V AC unit is a great option for cooling comfort. The unit is also suitable for RVs, buses, and trucks. With a maximum cooling capacity of 12,000 BTU, this unit ensures your space stays pleasantly cool even in the hottest conditions. The design seamlessly integrates into the vehicle’s roof for a discreet exterior look.

This unit has three working cooling modes – manual, automatic, and ECO. The unit’s noise level is 33 dB, allowing you to enjoy peaceful relaxation wherever you go. The Mabru Rooftop 12V AC unit costs $2599.

MABRU RVSC 12 DC ROOFTOP

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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

K2 is a personal 12-volt Cooler for Campers,…
  • We have all swampy parts ready dot to ship net right from the…
  • 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. However, we are even more excited about mini-split ACs starting to get a foothold in the RV industry. Learn more about RV mini-split air conditioners here.

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Pete

Tuesday 7th of May 2024

I wish you had talked and included 12v mini splits...I don't quite understand why it's not the norm with RVs. More efficient, quieter, smaller hole in the camper AND they also heat. In winter, if you have enough solar, you just keep it on and don't need to winterize..how cool is that !?

Chelsea Harmon

Tuesday 16th of July 2024

Hi Pete, check out this article: https://www.mortonsonthemove.com/mini-split-ac-for-rv/

Steve H

Saturday 4th of May 2024

Our Coleman-Mach heat pump burned up the control box last fall. Spending $220 for a new control box and $250 for a SoftStart conversion + labor was a no-go to repair a unit old enough that the compressor could go out next. So I am currently replacing the whole unit with a TurboKool evaporative cooler and doing all of the simple plumbing and 12v wiring labor myself. We live in CO and camp only in the SW US in summer and early fall in humidities that seldom exceed 30%. Plus we have had only "swamp coolers" (no compressor AC) in our houses for more than 50 years. We occasionally RV east of the Mississippi River but only between October and March when we don't need AC. So this a permanent fix for us!

Joe Curbelo

Saturday 4th of May 2024

What a great article...our MH is too big and the large wires required is a concern but these definitely have their place in the industry. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I'm surprised there's not more of a push to Split A/C units which can cool so much more effectively than the traditional RV A/C.

Eric

Thursday 15th of June 2023

Wht about thermo electric instead of compressor?They use for potable coolers,fridges. Can't you just have one with a blower into room instead of just inside box?

Mortons on the Move

Monday 19th of June 2023

Good question, Technically yes, however they have very poor operating efficiency and maximum heat differential capabilities. In theory it would work, but it would be far less efficient.

Lisa

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.