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Can You Put a Mini Split AC in an RV?

Can You Put a Mini Split AC in an RV?

RV air conditioners have gotten a bad rap over the years. And generally for good reasons, they tend to be loud, very inefficient, and not great at their job. We have had 7 RV air conditioners over the years and can say most of them were not great. Thus, we sought out a different option and immediatly started asking if we could put a mini split in an RV?

Well, today lets take a look at the traditional mini split that has become a popular choice for homes and businesses and find out if they are a good choice for an RV.

What Is a Mini Split AC? 

A mini split AC is a ductless air conditioning system. The “split” part of the name indicates the system uses an indoor and an outdoor unit. This is the same type of system used on most homes and businesses, just a miniature version. Some homes use one large AC unit for the whole house, where these are intended for point of use, usually one or two rooms.

Mini Split AC for RV
Mini split AC systems have an indoor and outdoor unit, and most include a remote control for convenient operation.

Mini splits are efficient and convenient because they operate independently in whichever room you place them in. When installed in a house, this means the living room and master bedroom could cool at different temperatures.

Many mini splits also offer extremely high energy efficiencies and can operate as a heating system too. Overall many mini-splits have efficiencies that are more than twice that of an RV air conditioner. This means a lot more cool for a lot less power!

➡ Looking for something even smaller? Take a look at the Smallest Portable Air Conditioners for Tight Spaces.

How Does a Mini Split Work? 

A mini split 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 on the outside unit that has a fan blowing air over them to cool the refrigerant. This causes it to condense into a liquid.

This liquid is then pumped through flexible lines and into another set of fins called the evaporator. The evaporator is the inside part of the mini split.

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 inside air over the fins to cool it. The air also condenses moisture on the fins. In a mini split, this moisture is usually collected and then pumped outside.

Like mentioned above the air conditioner doesn’t create cool air, it removes the heat from the air already present and puts it outside. 

You can install the indoor unit on the floor, wall, or ceiling. It includes an evaporator coil, an air handler, and a blower.

A suction line connects the indoor and outdoor pieces. The outdoor unit is a compressor, sending the refrigerant to the indoor unit. The water from condensation passes through the suction line to the outdoor unit to drain. This suction line only requires a small hole in the wall. You can also run the line out a window, depending on where you place the units.

trailer with minisplit installed
Many homemade RV trailers will use mini splits because they are efficient and easy to install in custom applications,.

Many of these units have an inverter that helps to regulate them. This means a mini split AC for an RV won’t cycle like a rooftop air conditioner. A rooftop unit turns on or off, whereas a mini-split AC unit will start at full force and then gradually cycle down. They won’t turn off but continue running and maintaining the set temperature without the noise and startup energy draw.

Can You Put a Mini Split AC in an RV? 

Yes! Many people have installed them including us.

You can install a mini-split AC in an RV but usually, it will be a custom setup. We have only seen a few manufacturers offer a mini split setup and they are usually a custom build.

One of the most popular choices people go with is the Mr. Cool DIY unit. These units come pre-charged and will not require a vacuum and refrigerant to set up. Because of this, it makes installing it yourself much easier.

If you opt for a unit that is not pre-charged you will need to get a vacuum (for ACs), Refrigerant, and a pressure kit. There are plenty of videos showing how to charge a system but if you are uncomfortable with the process you will need to hire an HVAC pro.

mini split installed on camper

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to clean and replace your air conditioner filter if yours is not self-cleaning.

Pay attention to the voltage as well. In in north America, you’ll usually want to purchase a mini-split AC that operates on 110-120V because a higher voltage make operating with solar power systems more complicated. A 220V unit can be installed on a 50 amp RV but will require more wiring and may not run on the inverter. If you want to run an AC on 220V off solar you will need a split-phase inverter system.

 A standard mini split AC for RVs is 9,000 BTU, but if you frequently travel to warmer climates or have a larger RV, you may want to consider a 12,000 BTU unit. Larger multi-zone units are an option as well.

Forest Air Mini Split
Before installing an off-grid solar system and Dometic 12V air conditioner, we temporarily used a mini split AC to cool our Bigfoot truck camper.

Most people choose to use the simple interior wall mounted cooling unit, but a more elegant solution is using the ceiling cassettes. This however is usually a more complicated build because it generally requires modifying the roofing structure and building a box that protrudes.

rv mini split ceiling cassette
This is a ceiling cassette in an RV. It is much larger than the 14 inch opening of a standard roof mounted AC unit.

Figuring out where to mount the outside unit can also be a challenge. Most travel trailers put them on the tongue and most motorhomes and fifth wheels mount them to the bumper. We have however seen a few clever designs with them mounted in the basement storage area with a vent hole cut out.

Keep in mind that the fan balance of the exterior unit has been a problem for some as well. Because the fan is so large and spins slower it can set up a vibration in the RV. Some have had to try and balance the fan blades to correct this. These units are designed to be mounted outside a home and a slight vibration is usually not a problem, but it can be very annoying in an RV.

basement vented minisplit RV
This is a basement vent cut out of a fifth wheel

Benefits

A mini-split AC is an energy-efficient choice for an RV. It can lower your power consumption and reduce propane usage if you also choose to get one with a heat pump. Heat pump versions have the capability to heat and cool. These units are far more efficient at heating than traditional resistive heaters and most can go down to 0F degrees or below. This is compared to around 40F with a traditional RV heat pump.

This high efficiency also makes operation with an off-grid system like lithium batteries and solar power much more attainable. Even running a generator will burn much less fuel to stay cool off grid.

Another major benefit of mini split ACs is that they tend to be much quieter than a traditional rooftop AC unit. The indoor and outdoor units are usually variable speed and whisper-quiet compared to RV air conditioners.

Sometimes these units have a dehumidifying mode, which is a handy feature considering how prone RVs are to water damage. And because installation requires only a small hole, you won’t have to do a serious renovation to your space.

Need more dehumidifying power than your AC can provide? Here are the 6 Best RV Dehumidifiers.

Also, because mini splits come in various sizes, you can choose a larger, 12,000 BTU model to cool your entire RV. Or you can choose a smaller, 6,000 BTU option to cool the bedroom only for a more comfortable night’s sleep.

Drawbacks

If you’ve never done any kind of installation before, you may want to consult an expert or do your research before attempting to install a mini-split AC for your RV. You will need some know-how and a few basic tools. You may end up having to make modifications as well.

Additionally, it’s a two-person job. You’ll likely have difficulty installing the inside and outside units by yourself. Have someone carry the external unit to the outside of the RV while the other person installs the internal one. 

Indoor RV minisplit
Finding a spot inside and outside of your RV for both pieces is one of the challenges of a mini split AC.

Furthermore, finding the space to do the installation could also pose a challenge depending on the layout and size of your RV. Make sure you have enough space inside and outside for the return airflow, too. Many people choose to install the outside unit on the hitch or young of an RV if there is space.

A mini split AC will add weight to your RV. The internal section of a 12,000 BTU model weighs around 20 to 40 lbs, and the external part weighs about 65 to 100lbs. 

It’s also an expensive addition. A 110-120V mini split AC for an RV will run about $750-1200. A higher-quality unit from a bigger brand will cost $1,500. And if you hire someone to do the installation, that will add another few hundred bucks.

Can You Run a Mini Split AC on RV Solar? 

You can run a mini split AC off your RV’s solar panels and batteries if you have a big enough system. You will need to know how much power you are using, just like you do for your refrigerator, microwave, and other appliances.

With almost 4000 watts we run a mini-split most of the summer and it works great. With a smaller amount of solar, your runtime will be limited, but it can be great to cool off the space just before sleeping or for shorter durations.

If you plan on running a mini split AC on solar power frequently, you may want to consider purchasing a unit with a lower BTU, like 6,000 instead of a 9,000 or 12,000 BTU model.

How Much Does a Mini Split AC Cost? 

This varies from brand to brand and size to size. The higher the SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio), the more you’ll pay, too. 

For example, the Pioneer 12,000 BTU Mini Split AC Heat Pump costs around $900.

Sale
Pioneer Air Conditioner WYS012A-19 Wall Mount...
  • Save money all year-round with a highly efficient ductless mini...
  • Ultra-silent and beautifully built perfect for home or light...
  • Comes with every needed component in the box, including an...

While the Senville 9,000 BTU Mini Split AC Heat Pump costs around $700. 

Senville LETO Series Mini Split Air Conditioner...
  • ALEXA ENABLED: Use voice or app control to control your air...
  • 4-IN-1 MINI SPLIT SYSTEM: With air conditioning, built-in heat...
  • DESIGNED FOR HOME & BUSINESS: Powerful performance and dependable...

Of course, you’ll find more expensive options out there from big-name brands that offer higher cooling and heating capabilities.

As mentioned above the Mr cool DIY model is one of the most popular.

MRCOOL - DIY-12-HP-115B25 DIY 12k BTU 22 SEER...
  • Country Of Origin : United States
  • Easy Diy Installation: Pre-Charged R-410A 25Ft Quick Connect Line...
  • New Smarthvac App: Wifi Control - Compatible With Alexa And...

Is a Mini Split AC Worth It for an RV? 

If you have a 40 ft fifth wheel or Class A motorhome, a mini split AC might not cool the entire rig. But if you want to add an air conditioning unit to a smaller RV or single room, perhaps to a bedroom or bunkroom, consider getting a mini split AC for your RV. 

Just make sure you know where the two units will go before making a purchase. You have to have space around the internal and external unit for the return airflow so you can’t stick the compressor piece in a storage bay without funneling the air outside.

mini split AC installed on the tongue of a trailer
You may have to get creative with the placement of your mini split, but the benefits of these units make the challenge worthwhile.

If you do your homework, we think you’ll enjoy using a mini-split AC to cool your RV. The benefits of a quieter, higher energy efficiency unit are well worth the investment.

Window units are a popular air conditioner option used in residential homes. But do they work for RVs? Find out here: Can You Install a Window AC Unit in Your RV?

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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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Steve H

Thursday 1st of December 2022

If you live in the arid West, as we do, a much less involved and as effective an RV AC system is to use evaporative cooling. We have had only evaporative cooling in our house for nearly 50 years and, despite summer temperatures occasionally exceeding 100 F in the Denver area, it has always kept our house comfortable. A TurboKool 12v rooftop evaporative unit, which can be operated off battery power with no inverter required, can drop right into a standard 14" AC cutout or vent. Combined with a rooftop solar system, this unit can cool without hookups for as long as the fresh water tank has water and the batteries can be recharged. And a side benefit is the addition of humidity to SW US inside air that may have a relative humidity of 20% or less!

Tony Schy

Wednesday 9th of March 2022

Do you need/have a soft start installed with your mini-split system?

Mortons on the Move

Sunday 10th of April 2022

No, most of the time mini splits are inverted and already soft starts.

Bruce Dillahunty

Sunday 26th of December 2021

Be aware that the ‘inside unit’ of mini splits come in other configurations than just the horizontal wall mount you usually see. There are low wall mounts and even ‘ceiling cassette’ models that can be recessed. You have to search a bit, but they are out there.

richie

Sunday 2nd of January 2022

I have a 2020 Cass "C" MH i would love to change it to a Mini Spit, I hate the noisy roof unit

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