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Many RV Factories Don’t Have Air Conditioning. Should They?

It was a cool fall day when we visited one of the newest RV manufacturing plants just outside Elkhart, Indiana. Brinkley RV’s shiny new factory has been talked about in the industry so we decided to take a tour. Our guide impressed us with innovations they had made to the manufacturing process, but it was a comment about what we felt would be standard that stood out. “The whole factory is air-conditioned.” This led to a series of follow-up questions in which we learned that most RV factories lack AC. 

Which RV Factories Don’t Have AC?

We had a few more factories to tour, so we started asking about air conditioning. At factories like Entegra, Dutchman, and Keystone, employees are working in conditions where temperatures can soar above 90 and even hit 100 degrees sometimes during summer. While doors are left open and giant fans whirl to offer some respite, the absence of air conditioning raises questions about both worker welfare and product quality.

Conversely, facilities like Fleetwood, Brinkley, and Thor Motor Coach stand out for their air-conditioned workspaces, providing a stark contrast. This disparity highlights an industry divided on the necessity and feasibility of cooling large manufacturing spaces.

While we reached out to many other factories to see if they would tell us if they had air conditioning, most did not respond.

Brinkley Air Conditioned Factory
We were visiting the Brinkley factory when we learned of the lack of air conditioning in most RV manufacturing facilities.

Is Air Conditioning In Factories Normal?

The lack of air conditioning in factories is not unique to the RV industry or to Elkhart. Historically, many factories have foregone climate control due to the high costs associated with cooling vast, open spaces. Many factories also employ processes that add enormous heat loads to a building that would be infeasible to cool.

I have worked in steel factories and chemical plants, and I would never expect AC. But these are not delicate processes. However, as temperatures rise globally, the impact on workers and the manufacturing process is becoming increasingly hard to ignore.

Experts warn that extreme heat can have significant effects on the health of employees. Extended exposure to extreme heat can lead to a range of health issues for workers, including heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and dehydration, posing serious safety concerns. 

Hot Processes in factories
Some processes generate lots of heat and are not suitable for AC. Welding can usually be done in AC, but there are many processes that are just too hot.

Should RVs Be Manufactured In AC?

Additionally, large temperature swings may affect the quality of the products they produce. From a manufacturing perspective, the heat could potentially affect the quality of RVs being produced. Let’s imagine a luxury motorhome being assembled in the sweltering heat. Workers doing repetitive work on delicate and expensive equipment might rush things or get a bit sloppy. One misplaced staple, screw, or bead of glue could be the cause of extensive headaches for the owner down the road. 

Despite these concerns, the move to install comprehensive air conditioning systems in factories like those in Elkhart remains a complex and costly proposition. While the upfront costs are high, proponents argue that the long-term benefits in terms of worker safety and product quality could be significant.

It’s a little surreal to think of the workers at the heart of Elkhart’s RV industry persevering, adapting to the demanding conditions as they assemble the vehicles that symbolize freedom and leisure for their users. The industry is at a crossroads, balancing economic considerations with the growing imperative to provide safe and sustainable working conditions. 

RV manufacturing Bubble

We’re not going to say whether providing AC is right or wrong. But we expect that capitalism will define the future as we consumers vote with our dollars. Thus, we leave it up to you to ask if the factory your RV was made in has air conditioning.  

Let us know what you think: Have you worked in hot factories? Do you think an air-conditioned factory would build a better RV?

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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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Jerry

Thursday 14th of March 2024

When we have had wood planking floors installed in our home, the installers instructed us to let the wood acclimate to the environment of our home for a couple of days prior to installation. Is it possible that some RV plants have the same thing in mind for assembly of the materials for their products? After all, 99.9% of them are used outside.

Tom and Caitlin Morton

Thursday 14th of March 2024

There might be something to that, but with wild swings in temps (high in summer low in winter) any woods or materials will change depending on season, and they would have more fitment problems in general compared to a climate controlled environment. As for humidity in the RV's after they are built, that is an interesting thought. I do know that some processes like lamination really do require specific climate control or are more subject to fail (hence alot of factories outsource lamination)