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The Complete Guide to RV Air Conditioners

The Complete Guide to RV Air Conditioners

If you’re planning to spend any time in your RV in warmer weather, you’ll want an RV air conditioner. RV’s dont hold their cool like a house and if in the sun warm up quickly. Let’s look at what you need to know about keeping your RV cool.

RV air conditioner

How Does an RV Air Conditioner Work?

Using your RV during the heat of the summer is much more comfortable with a quality air conditioner. Depending on the size of your RV, you may even need two or three of these power-hungry appliances.

An RV air conditioner works the same way other air conditioners work for your home or car. A compressor runs a refrigerant through a circuit of tubes in what’s called a vapor compression refrigeration circuit. The refrigerant first gets compressed and gets hot. It then passes through a set of fins outside that have a fan blowing air over them to cool the refrigerant. This causes it to condense into a liquid that then passes into another set of fins called the evaporator. Here the refrigerant evaporates and gets cold. The refrigerant then gets compressed again and starts the cycle over.

vapor compression rv refrigerator
This what the closed circuit compressor refrigeration looks like. Its the same type of system the runs your home fridge too!

In the evaporator, the air conditioner passes your RV’s inside air over the fins to cool it. The air also condenses moisture on the fins that is drained outside as well. Then the cooler air travels out of vents into your RV living space. An air conditioner doesn’t create cool air, it removes the heat from the air already present and puts it outside. 

What Are The Different Types Of RV Air Conditioners?

There are a few different types of air conditioners you can use inside your RV. Let’s take a look.

Roof-Mount 

One of the most common RV air conditioners is a roof-mounted unit. These units come in various sizes, and many RVs will have one to three. Many taller RVs will install “low profile” roof-mounted RV air conditioners to avoid adding height to their RV.

Cool air produced in the roof-mounted air conditioner travels into the living space through a duct system. However, ductless models have a “dump” feature that dumps cool air into the living space. 

In general roof mount units tend to be noisy inside and out. However some manufacturers try to quiet them down by ducting the interior air. Ductless roof mount AC units can be very loud. Roof mount units also tend to be less energy efficient as they have small compact condensor and evaporators.

Roof Mount RV air Conditioner
This is a roof mount RV air conditioner

Basement 

Many luxury motorcoaches come with an air conditioning unit installed in the basement. Having the air conditioning mounted in the basement provides a much quieter and more peaceful environment in the living space. If you’re driving a larger motorhome and don’t want to listen to the air conditioner, this is a great option.

Many motorcoach users love that they don’t have to climb on top of their RV to maintain their unit. However, some complain about heat loss from pumping the air up into the RV because cool air sinks. In general, basement AC tends to be a bit more efficient than rooftop, however, they are much more costly.  

Basement air conditioner
This luxury coach has basement air conditioners, note that there is nothing sticking up on the roof

Split Unit 

A split unit (mini split air conditioner) is a high-efficiency air conditioning unit that’s growing in popularity. You’re likely to find these units installed on high-end coaches and custom builds. These are the choice for RVers who value low noise and high efficiency.

Retrofitting a split unit into your RV is relatively easy. These units can be mounted to an RV’s frame to help reduce the amount of interior noise created by a bulky roof-mounted air conditioning unit. 

12V DC Air Conditioners

A new trend in RV air conditioners is going to DC power. This means that the RV AC unit could more effectively and efficiently run off batteries and solar power. Read our article all about 12V DC RV air conditioners.

Tips to Keep Your Air Conditioner Working Well

No matter what kind or how many air conditioners you have, you need to keep them running well. Let’s look at a handful of ways you can maintain your unit.

Remember to Clean Your Filters

Many RV air conditioners have filters that help eliminate particulates from entering the condenser. These need regular changes. The more you’re using your RV air conditioner, the more you should clean the filters.

RV AC filter

A full-time RVer should clean their filters every month during the warmer months. Not keeping your air filters clean is a great way to increase the wear and tear on the compressor and other sensitive parts. However, if you’re not using your air conditioning unit, there’s no need to clean the filters. 

Keep the Exterior Air Exchanger Clean

An RV air conditoner needs to be able to reject heat outside via its exterior air exchanger. This is a set of cooling fins outside that a fan blows air through. If these get clogged with debris or bugs the air conditioner will become less efficient and may even freeze up.

We recommend checking the exterior exchangers once a year or anytime the AC has been run for long periods of time.

Cleaning RV air conditioner fins

Close Your Windows and Doors When Your AC Is On

Windows and doors are among the largest culprits in letting hot air into your RV in warmer months. Many RVers install curtains that block heat or use Reflectix to prevent heat from entering the RV.

Use Reflectors and Awnings to Keep Sun out of Windows

Shading your RV is a great way to keep the temperature down. Using your RV’s awning, especially during the late afternoon or early evening hours, can do wonders for your RV.

Some RVers are even using Reflectix material to cover windows. This special material reflects the heat and prevents it from entering your RV. You’ll notice the air conditioner can be more efficient when you give it a little help.

RV window reflector

What Size AC Do You Need for Your RV?

RV air conditioners use BTU, British Thermal Unit, ratings. The higher the number, the more power the unit uses. Two of the most common RV air conditioning sizes are 13,500 BTUs and 15,000 BTUs but smaller ones can be found.

The general rule of thumb for RVs is if your RV is more than 32 feet, you’ll likely want a second air conditioning unit. However, if you have a larger RV, such as a toy hauler, you’ll probably wish you had a third air conditioning unit. Toy haulers often struggle to keep the garage portion of the RV cool, but it is possible.

RV with 3 air conditioners
Three RV Air Conditioners on a fifth wheel RV.

Is It OK for RV AC Units to Run All Day?

Yes, your RV air conditioner can run all day. However, it uses a ridiculous amount of energy. Depending on the price of power, running multiple ACs can cost $.75 to $1 per hour. If you’re planning to use multiple air conditioners, be sure you’re ready for the electric bill.

12V RV Air Conditioner

How Much Does an RV Air Conditioner Cost?

It can cost as little as $200 or exceed $1,000, especially if you’re paying for installation. You can save a few bucks by installing the unit yourself. Keep in mind that you’ll be connecting electricity to a heavy-duty electrical appliance. If you’re unsure of what you’re doing, hire a professional.

Make the most of your time by escaping the heat in your RV with a quality RV air conditioner. What tips do you have for other campers to stay cool in their RVs this summer?

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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