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A pop-up camper is a home on wheels, so why not treat it like your home and equip it with an AC?
With that said, air conditioner options for pop-up campers are limited. Most aren’t compatible with roof-mounted RV AC units.
That’s not a problem though since you can buy a portable air conditioner! And below, we have 10 options for you to choose from!
10,000 – 12,000BTU air conditioners
14,000 BTU air conditioners
Why Buy A Portable Air Conditioner For A Pop-Up Camper?
When it comes to air conditioners in RVs, probably most people opt for the roof-mounted AC units provided by the manufacturers by default.
On the other hand, we have portable air conditioners, a type of ACs that has been lately gaining popularity.
Which type of AC is better though? And why would you choose a portable AC over a regular RV AC for your pop-up camper?
Pros of portable air conditioners
The answer to the question above is the benefits of portable air conditioners:
- Portable ACs can be used in RVs that aren’t compatible with roof-mounted ACs.This is the biggest benefit of portable ACs. Even if your pop-up camper isn’t compatible with any roof-mounted RV AC, you can use a portable AC in it for your cooling needs.
- As suggested by their name, portable AC units can be moved around when needed. Roof-mounted RV air conditioners do not have this benefit – they are fixed in place and cannot be moved elsewhere.
- Quick installation. Portable ACs are much quicker to install than roof-mounted ACs. Portable units come with window kits that you need to mount to one of your RVs windows. The installation of the window kit takes relatively little time.
- Portable AC units are often less expensive than traditional roof-mounted RV ACs. If your RV is compatible with an RV AC but you simply don’t have the budget for one, then a portable AC is a good alternative.
- Lower power requirements. While portable AC units require plenty of power, their power needs are lower than those of roof-mounted ACs. If you don’t have a powerful enough generator for a roof-mounted AC, then you can opt for a portable AC.
- Lower weight. Portable air conditioners also tend to be lighter than roof-mounted units. The difference isn’t huge – we aren’t talking a two- or three-fold reduction – but if your pop-up camper has very limited cargo capacity, then even 10 or 20 pounds of weight reduction will be vital for you.
Cons of portable air conditioners
Portable air conditioners sure have some great benefits, but they also have big disadvantages that you must know about.Depending on your needs, these disadvantages may actually make traditional roof-mounted RV ACs more appealing to you.
- Issues with heat evacuation. This is the biggest and most important downside of portable air conditioners to know about. In fact, it’s so important that we are going to cover it more in-depth a little later.
Located outside, roof-mounted air conditioners have a much easier time evacuating the hot air produced during operation. Conversely, portable air conditioners are designed to be placed inside. And since they often have limited means of air evacuation, heating becomes a concern with them.
And when an appliance that is designed to cool the room produces heat, it’s getting less efficient.
- Lower cooling capacity.Portable air conditioners mostly have lower cooling capacity than roof-mounted units. Roof-mounted units are more efficient with heat, not to mention that they can be much bigger than portable AC units.
- Space requirements.Mounted on the roof, an RV AC won’t require any floor area for installation. Portable air ACs don’t have this benefit – they are designed precisely to be mounted on the floor.
And while this implies flexibility in placement, it also means that you need to provide a portable AC unit with floor space.
The Heat Efficiency Of Portable AC Units
To understand what the heat efficiency issue in portable air conditioners is, we should first understand how air conditioners generally work.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the air cooling process in air conditioners:
- The air conditioner intakes warm air from the room.
- The warm air flows over the cold & low-pressure evaporation coils. As this happens, the refrigerant inside the AC changes from liquid to gas, absorbing heat from the warm air and cooling it down.
- The cool air is blown back into the house.
- The refrigerant then needs to be converted back intoa liquid state so that it can cool down the next portion of warm air from the room. To do this, a compressor inside the AC unit puts the gas under high pressure. This process creates waste heat. The heat is evacuated from the air conditioner unit to the outside of the house via condenser coils and a fan.
- As the gaseous refrigerant cools down, it changes back into a liquid state and is ready to absorb heat from the warm inside air again.
The problem with portable air conditioners is that they aren’t as efficient with the 4th step, i.e. evacuating heat from the house.
A window or roof-mounted AC uses outside air to cool the coils, while a portable AC has to use conditioned air from the room to cool its components. Using air from the inside, portable AC units cause negative pressure inside the room. In turn, this negative pressure allows hot air from other rooms and outside to flow into the room that the AC is in.
There are a few portable AC units though that deal with this issue by employing two hoses – one totake in air from the outside for cooling and the other to evacuate the heat waste. We’ll overview dual-hose units a little later.
ASHRAE-128 vs DOE 2017 standard
Clearly, the decreased heat efficiency of portable air conditioners implies that wall and portable AC units’ efficiency cannot be tested with the same measures. Due to this, the US Department of Energy set forth new efficiency standards for portable ACs in 2016.
But according to Consumer Reports, while these standards are in force, they have yet to be finalized.
Previously, the ASHRAE-128 standard has been used to assess the efficiency of portable air conditioners. The testing procedures were the same as for window AC units.Thus, the old standard didn’t take into account the heat leakage problem of portable ACs.
The US DOE’s new standard does take this issue into account.
The adoption of the new standard has caused and continues to cause confusion among buyers. Both standards rate the cooling capacity of portable air conditioners in BTUs, but ASHRAE-128 ratings are usually higher than DOE ratings.
The reason for this is simple – as explained above, the DOE rating takes into account the increased heat production of portable air conditioners. And needless to say, if an air conditioner produces a certain amount of heat, it means that it’s cooling capacity is reduced by the amount of heat produced.
Manufacturers of portable air conditioners still use both ASHRAE-128 and DOE BTU ratings to market their products.However,they usually put ASHRAE-128 ratinginto their product namessince it gives a higher number.
But in the product description, they bring the DOE rating as well since it is required by the Department of Energy.And know that you should give preference to the DOE rating since it gives a better assessmentof the cooling capacity of a portable air conditioner.
However, keep in mind that you can’t directly compare window and portable ACs’ BTU ratings. As Consumer Reports writes, the Department of Energy’s tests for window ACs are more demanding than for portable units. An 8,000BTU window unit will deliver more cooling than an 8,000BTU portable unit.
Things To Look For In The Best Portable AC For Your Pop-Up Camper?
Now, the heat inefficiencies aside, how do you choose a good portable AC unit for your pop-up RV camper? Let’s have a look at the features that matter in them the most.
The cooling capacity of a portable AC unit is the most important thing to look for.The higher it is, the more effective an air conditioner will be, and the larger areas it will be able to cool.
The desired AC’s cooling capacity should correspond to the area that is to be cooled. There are plenty of BTU-to-room charts online that you may base your decision upon. One of them is this chart provided by
|Area (Square Feet)||BTUs Needed|
|100 up to 150||5,000|
|150 up to 250||6,000|
|250 up to 300||7,000|
|300 up to 350||8,000|
|350 up to 400||9,000|
|400 up to 450||10,000|
|450 up to 550||12,000|
|550 up to 700||14,000|
|700 up to 1,000||18,000|
|1,000 up to 1,200||21,000|
|1,200 up to 1,400||23,000|
|1,400 up to 1,500||24,000|
|1,500 up to 2,000||30,000|
|2,000 up to 2,500||34,000|
While this chart is made for room ACs, it should work for portable ACs as well. Unfortunately, there appear to be no similar charts made specifically for portable ACs.
Do make sure to follow the DOE 2017 ratings instead of the ASHRAE-128 ratings. We’ve already explained why the DOE 2017 rating is a more precise way of measuring a portable air conditioner’s cooling capacity.
And besides, you may add 1,000 – 2,000 BTUs on top of what is indicated in this chart. As mentioned above, portable AC units aren’t as efficient as window units even if they are rated the same.
Single-hose vs dual-hose ACs
We’ve overviewed one portable AC that had a dual-hose design. It was Whynter’s ARC-14S air conditioner. And thanks to its dual-hose design, this portable AC is way more efficient than single-hose units.
The purpose of a dual-hose unit is to solve the negative pressure problem we’ve talked about above.
Dual-hose units have two hoses:
- One output hose to evacuate the heat coming from the refrigerant as it is condensed into a liquid state. This is the hose that single-hose units also have.
- One intake hose whose purpose is to take air for cooling from the outside.
Dual-hose units are thus similar in operation to window ACs (and roof-mounted RV ACs for that matter). And since they take air for cooling from outside, they do not cause negative pressure, and warm air from the outside thus doesn’t rush into the space that you are trying to cool.
Thanks to this, dual-hose portable air conditioners are much more efficient than single-hose models.
With that said, dual-hose units are still rated by both ASHRAE-128 and DOE standards. And these ACs still aren’t as efficient as window units. However, with the same ASHRAE-128 rating, a dual-hose portable AC will probably have a noticeably higher DOE rating than a single-hose unit.
Auto condensate evaporation
When the refrigerant condenses (turns from gas to liquid), some moisture forms on the condenser coils. This moisture has to be removed from the AC somehow.
Many portable ACs rely on a drip pan for condensation removal. That is, with some portable units, you have to occasionally manually drain the drip pan from the fluid.
Newer and more expensive portable air conditioners often come with an auto condensate evaporation feature. If a portable air conditioner has such a feature, it will remove the condensate through the exhaust without you having to manually drain the drip pan.
In very humid areasthough, this feature will be less useful. This doesn’t mean that it’s pointless – you may still want to look for a portable AC with such a feature since it will make your life easier no matter how humid your area is.
Often, the humidity of the air is the thing that causes discomfort, not the high temperature itself. Due to this, a dehumidifier can also be a very useful appliance to have, especially in very humid areas.
Not only that, but in humid areas, the air conditioner may be unable to remove the condensation caused by the cooling process fast enough. This results in cold but wet air. This issue can be combatted by a dehumidifier.
The vast majority of portable air conditioners available out there has a dehumidifier mode.The capacity of the dehumidifier mode is measured by the amount of moisture (measured in pints) it can remove from the air in a given period, usually per day.
The right capacity will depend on the humidity and size of your area. Sylvane, a manufacturer of air treatment products, provides this chart for sizing a dehumidifier:
Consider what kind of features the desired portable AC comes with. Among the things to consider are:
- Temperature controls to shut the AC off once the desired temperature is reached.
- Timer to allow you to run the AC for a fixed amount of time and then shut off.
- Sleep mode for quieter operation.
- Swing mode for exhaust oscillation.
- Fan speed controls.
These aren’t that important in ACs, but they can make your life a little bit easier.
You may want to pay attention to how much noise the desired portable AC produces as well. The noise level is measured in dB. Needless to say, if you want a quiet AC, then look for one that has a lower dB rating.
Pay attention to how the manufacturer measures the noise level – some give the noise level at the max setting, while others at the lowest setting.
Remember that one of portable AC units’ downsides is that they need floor space?
Well, pop-up campers are smaller than other RV types, so you should pay careful attention to how much floor area you have and how large the desired AC is.
At first glance, it may seem that you just need to do some measurements and pick an AC that fits in them. But things aren’t quite as easy.
Portable air conditioners may be required to be placed at a certain distance from walls and other objects. What this means is that you should ensure that you have floor space not only for the AC unit itself but also for the clearings recommended by the manufacturer or maybe even required by law in your area.
Consider also the weight of the desired portable air conditioner. Pop-up campers are quite sturdy, but their capabilities are limited.
Every RV has a maximum cargo capacity that should not be exceeded. If you didn’t know, the cargo capacity limits may be due to the materials used in an RV, its suspension, or maybe some local laws and regulations.
You should make sure that the combined weight of everything in the camper – including passengers – stays within the cargo capacity of your camper. The same applies to your portable air conditioner.
Most portable air conditioner models out there have built-in casters. Only the lightest models won’t have them, but it’s a good feature to have no matter how light a portable AC is. Portable ACs don’t get as light as 20 or even 30 pounds, so every bit of assistance is welcome.
Given the downsides of portable AC units, we’d say that you should go for an RV AC if your pop-up camper does work with it.
But since most pop-up campers don’t have the roof space for roof-mounted ACs, you probably have no other option than to opt for a portable unit.
If you do have to buy a portable AC, then make sure that it’s the best unit you can get. As explained above, portable ACs aren’t terribly efficient, so you should choose a unit that’s going to allow you to save as much money as possible. We suggest that you avoid cheap units and look for something more serious.