Looking forward to using your RV for long day trips? Relishing the idea of a summer vacation filled with adventure and nonstop traveling? DREADING the thought of suffering through the midsummer heat?
Fret not, because you can always get an air conditioning unit to keep your motorhome cool and comfortable even through the worst heat of summer. And luckily, this article is here to ensure that you get the best unit for your needs.
In order to do that, first we’re going to brush you up on all the important information you need to know as well as the little tips and tricks that may help you find the most ideal choice for you.
Not only that, but we’ll even provide you with ten different products that we believe are the best choices to get this 2020 as well as their reviews. Of course, you don’t NEED to buy any of these, but we believe that if you do, you won’t regret it. At the very least, it will give you an idea of where to start looking.
This article is the beginning of a journey, your journey to having the most comfortable time in your RV even through the most blazing summers. Say goodbye to sweaty summers and uncomfortable road trips, these products will make sure to keep you cool and comfortable.
Table of Contents
WHAT MAKES AN RV AIR CONDITIONING UNIT PERFECT?
It doesn’t matter if you’re buying a computer, a phone, a couch or your lunch, there are always tiny little details that seem insignificant but will surprise you with the effect they have on your life. This much is true when shopping for the next air conditioning unit for your RV.
Here, we will discuss the different factors and little details that will ensure that your choice is the best one to make in order to suit your specific needs. When it’s over, you will know enough to make the best possible purchase, and you can rest assured in knowing that it’s perfect for you.
DUCTED VS NON-DUCTED
All the air conditioning units in the world are separated into two categories, and this is true even for units that are for RV use. It’s simple, your unit is either ducted or not. Obviously, there are cases where one option is better than the other, and this portion is here to help you decide which one is better for you.
Both options have their own pros and cons, and the only person who can really know which one is best for you is yourself. Depending on your needs or your situation, one option will always be better than the other. This is why you need to evaluate your lifestyle first before making a decision.
First, think about how much space do you have in your recreational vehicle. Is it a lot? Is your RV the big kind, the ones that have multiple rooms and enough space to fit a big system of air conditioning? Then most likely, a ducted air conditioning unit is what’s best for you.
Why is that? Because as the name implies, a ducted air conditioning unit works by having a system of passageways through which the air travels, or the ducts. These ducts will run through the length of your motorhome, along with the ceiling, walls and even the floor. This system may take up more space, but it also allows for further distribution of the cold air throughout your vehicle, making sure that no space is left uncooled.
But what if your motorhome isn’t big enough to house such a system, much less need it? In this scenario, you probably don’t have to worry about cooling several rooms at the same time. For you, a ductless air conditioning unit should be a perfect choice.
This particular type works by simply blowing the cool air out of the air conditioning unit itself. This is the reason why it’s more suited for smaller RVs with not much space to cool. Since there isn’t that much space, you don’t really need to have a system of ducts to circulate the cool air around. Getting a ducted system just wouldn’t make sense, logically or financially.
In short, the amount of space you need to cool inside your RV is a huge factor in which type you should go for. Do consider that the ducts of a ducted system also take up space, so make sure you have enough for it.
DUAL USE (HEAT PUMPS/STRIPS)
Another factor that you should most definitely take into consideration is whether you want an air conditioning unit with heat pumps. This type of units would be able to provide you with not just cold air during warm weather, but also heating during the freezing winter. This ability means that you can use your air conditioning unit as a heating device, allowing you to use it during any time of the year.
Understand that such feature will obviously make a unit cost more, which is why you need to carefully consider it. If you’re not the type of person who goes to different places with varied weather or you only like traveling during the summer, then this option is probably not for you.
On the other hand, if you’re the adventurous type who travels all year round and you see yourself going to places with deadly winters, then this is probably a good investment. Long story short, you need to evaluate your lifestyle and what you want to do with your RV before you can decide on whether or not you need an air conditioning unit with a heat up.
BTU (BRITISH THERMAL UNIT)
An important term to know when shopping for the right air conditioning unit for your RV is the British Thermal Unit, henceforth referred to as BTU. The BTU is unit used to measure the energy consumed by your air conditioning unit for every hour of usage.
This means that in order to find the best air conditioning unit for your RV, you need to know the exact number of BTUs that it’s going to be needing. For example, if you buy an air conditioning unit with BTU higher than what you actually need, you’ll just end up paying more for a unit that doesn’t really give you anything more than what a cheaper unit would be able to provide.
For the long run, it will end up being a financial burden to you, since having a higher BTU means that it will consume more energy than a cheaper unit with less BTU. This excess energy won’t be used at all and will just end up being wasted.
On the flip side, however, if the air conditioning unit you buy doesn’t have the capacity to provide the cooling power you need, then it’ll also end up costing you more. If it’s too weak to cool your place, it will have to run for longer before achieving your desired results.
From this alone, you can already see that making the wrong decision about this can be financially damaging not just in the short run, but also in the long run. It is therefore of utmost importance to carefully think about your needs, to ensure that you don’t waste any money getting extras that you won’t need.
One rule of thumb that can make your life easier is by keeping in mind the so-called 13,500-line. The standard BTU for the average air conditioning unit is 13,500. This means that if you think you’ll find yourself spending some time in hotter than average places where you’ll be needing to use your aircon a lot, then investing in an air conditioning unit with more than 13,500 BTUs is almost essential.
On the other hand, if you don’t like the cold too much, or you believe you won’t be using the aircon all that often, then getting an air conditioning unit with less than 13,500 BTU should more than sufficient for you.
Of course, it’s hard to get a measure of quality. Most manufacturers would love to tell you that all of their products are of high quality, but it’s understandable that you’ll find this dubious at best. And that’s perfectly understandable. All companies have one goal: to sell their products. And sometimes, some companies are willing to be less than clean in order to achieve this, and the ones making air conditioning units for your RV might just be one example of such a company.
It is imperative to not be so trusting when it comes to product descriptions that come with the unit, or even from a salesperson. There will often be cases where they would try to twist their words in order to make it seem like their products are capable of something that they aren’t. With this in mind, there are other, more foolproof ways of ensuring a product’s quality.
One such method is by reading the customer reviews of other people who have tried that same product. Before buying something, make it a habit to rigorously read as many customer reviews of that product that you can find. Make sure that the reviews are sufficient enough to support the claims of the company.
Another method is finding a compilation of reviews from someone who’s done that very same research. Just like this one. So if you don’t have it in you to go through hundreds of customer reviews, then you can rest assured that I have, and know that the products that will be recommended are true to their words.
BEST AIR CONDITIONING UNITS FOR YOUR RV IN 2020 COMPARISON TABLE
Coleman 48204C866 Mach 15+ A/C Unit
- Rated at 15,000 BTU
- Heating capabilities
Coleman 48203C966 Mach 3+ A/C Unit
- 13,500 BTU
- 320 CFM airflow
Atwood 15028 Ducted A/C Unit
- Heat pump
- 15,000 BTU
Dometic Brisk II Rooftop Air Conditioner,...
- 15,000 BTUs
- Package comes complete with a ceiling kit
Atwood 15026 Non-Ducted A/C Unit
- 15,000 BTU
- Dual motors for the fans
Dometic 640315C Penguin II 410 Amp Low...
- Available in both 15,000 BTU and 13,500 BTU options
- Black or Polar white model
Dometic Brisk II Rooftop Air Conditioner,...
- 2-year warranty
- Can be used as ducted or non-ducted
ASA Electronics ACM135 Advent Air 13,500 BTU...
- 13,500 BTU
- Heat strip (plug-in)
Dometic 651816 651816.CXX1C0 Penguin HP Heat...
- 15,000 BTUs
- Heat pump
Brisk Air II Air Conditioner with Non Ducted...
- Comes with a heat strip
THE 10 BEST AIR CONDITIONING UNITS TO GET FOR YOUR RV IN 2019
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQS)
In this section, we will discuss the other common questions that most RV owners have that are important to making the best decision in buying an air conditioning unit.
HOW DOES AN AIR CONDITIONING UNIT WORK?
The way air conditioning units work for RVs hasn’t changed since they were first invented. However, in the past, air conditioning units used to run on alternating current or AC power, which normally comes from generators or shore power through a 120-volt socket.
The problem is that these generators are rather expensive, which prompted most RVers to start looking for alternative options when it comes to the power source. For most of them, this came in the form of solar panel systems that they can directly attach to their RVs.
As for how air conditioning units actually work, most of the units made for RVs have vents placed on the RV’s roof to allow the units to offer superior cooling abilities even during long drives.
Honestly, the long story short of how they work is not very different from the long version. It works a lot like refrigerators, where the machine basically functions by merely taking the heat inside and pushing it outside. And of course the process is a lot more complicated than that, but this simple explanation should be all that you’ll need.
In short, its only purpose is to keep taking the heat inside and force it outside in order to keep the insides of your motorhome cool during the blazing summer days so that your life is a whole lot more comfortable.
If your air conditioning unit is of a good enough quality, expect to find your summer days without any hint of discomfort. In fact, there’s a chance that you’ll find yourself enjoying them.
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE REASONS FOR GETTING AN AIR CONDITIONING UNIT FOR MY RV?
One word: summer. If you’re a true RV enthusiast, you’ll probably often find yourself traveling all the time. And if you’ve experienced a long drive during the summer, you’ll know that the sensation is far from pleasant. In fact, it makes your RV feel like some sort of dreaded sweatbox as opposed to a comfortable home.
Enter the air conditioning units. If these weren’t invented, it’s highly questionable how people could even survive hot summer nights. Luckily, they were invented, and they do a great job of ensuring that your next trips in your RV are as pleasant as can be regardless of the weather or the place.
Now, you might be thinking that an air conditioning unit is the same everywhere regardless of whether it’s in a conference room, your house or on an RV. And you would be wrong. You see, normal units won’t be able to survive vibrations that can be caused by bumpy drives. This is why products are specifically designed to be used on RVs.
This specificity is also the reason why air conditioning units that are made for household use shouldn’t be used in RVs. And don’t try it in an attempt to save money, you’ll just end up breaking it and needing to buy another two: a special one made for RVs, and one to replace your home’s now broken unit.
If the unit you have in your RV is of good quality, it will also help in making sure the air inside is clean. If you have allergies, this can be a great help.
But the truth is, the greatest reason why you would ever want an air conditioning unit inside your RV is that you don’t want your summer days to drive you and your family crazy.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF AIR CONDITIONING UNITS FOR RVS?
When it comes to the ones made for RVs, the air conditioning units come in two different types, each one with their own pros and cons: those that make use of ducts (ducted) and those that don’t (non-ducted). Obviously, these two types will have different features that will appeal to different types of people.
- Ducted Air Conditioning Units
This is the more complicated of the two. Ducted units will have a part which gets bolted on the vehicle’s roof, which should contain a condenser, a compressor, as well as a blower. Aside from this, ducted units will also have a system of ducts that snake through the length of your motorhome. This type works by passing the cooled air through these ducts. What makes this system better is that it gives you control over the temperature of several rooms at once, which you control through a centralized panel.
- Non-ducted Air Conditioning Units
The simpler type, non-ducted AC units are installed via a hole through the roof of your recreational vehicle (normally there are already specifically made roof vents). A non-ducted unit will also come with the same part as that of the ducted units. This part will also have the compressor, a condenser, and a blower.
The difference is that there is no system of ducts, so the air is sent through the vents and to the place inside your recreational vehicle where it is needed. This also means that the vent decides the direction of the air flow, and it can only be adjusted to point to the front or to the back of your motorhome, giving you limited control.
In short, if your RV is composed only of a single long room then this is the best option for you to get. Since these units are also cheaper, it’s just foolish to get a ducted one if you don’t have several rooms that need cooling in your RV.
WHAT ARE SOME GOOD BRANDS THAT MAKE AIR CONDITIONING UNITS FOR RVS?
There are several brands in this list that kept on showing up, and these are obviously easy to recommend (otherwise they wouldn’t be there in the first place). To give a short summary, here are the companies that we mentioned which we believe are sufficiently trustworthy.
This company has been selling their products since 1919, and the fact that they’re still in the business is all the proof they need to show you that they are trustworthy, and their products are of high quality. If you like having the peace of mind knowing that your unit is from the best, then you don’t have to look further than Dometic.
In 1909, the brothers Seth and James Atwood founded this brand. Their company has survived the test of time and their products have been proven to be worthy of consideration, if not admiration.
Airxcel is composed of several quality brands that joined together into one holding company. While their history is not yet as impressive as the first two, their products are no less worthy of your consideration.
- ASA Electronics
This company has been churning out electronics since 1977, and they’re still going strong even until now. Their products are fantastic, there is bound to be one that will perfectly fit your wants and needs, and it will surely not disappoint in attaining both.
HOW BIG SHOULD MY RV AC UNIT BE?
Only you can answer this question, and you can only get the right answer by knowing the British Thermal Units or BTU, which is the measurement of energy that your unit will consume per hour. That means the BTU of a unit directly affect its size. And you need to know the exact BTU you’ll be needing in order to ensure that you won’t be running out of power any time soon.
One possible huge blunder that you can make in choosing an air conditioning unit for your RV is getting the wrong capacity for your needs. While it’s true that the standard for RV-use air conditioning units is 13,500 BTU, this doesn’t immediately mean that this is the perfect one for you.
In order to really make sure that the BTU of your unit is just perfect for you, first you need to consider the places where you feel like you’ll be going in the near future. Are you planning on going to places with hotter climates? If yes, then a BTU of 13,500 will probably not be enough for you. In order to ensure absolute comfort for you and your family during long trips through hot weather, you should get an air conditioning unit with a higher capacity.
Meanwhile, if you don’t see such hot places in your near future, then getting a 13,500 BTU unit should be more than sufficient. While it does seem tempting to just get units that are rated higher, remember that getting a unit that’s rated lower will not only save you the cost of the unit itself but also help you save energy. So unless you’re planning on going to places like Arizona or Florida, just get a 13,500 BTU unit.
In short, just take your daily routine into consideration. If you think you’ll be needing it, then go for the units that are rated higher. Otherwise, save yourself some money and just settle for a 13,500 BTU one. The decision is simple, so no need to overthink.
HOW DO I CHARGE MY RV’S AIR CONDITIONING UNIT?
Air conditioning units run on something called refrigerant, which is necessary for the unit to run at maximum efficiency. Normally, you should be refilling the refrigerant constantly, but there is the possibility that it will run out. In that case, you will have to recharge your unit.
While it does sound unnecessary and complicated, the fact is that you just need to follow these steps properly and you should be successful.
- Buy the refrigerant that’s compatible with your unit. You can confirm this by checking the information on the side of the unit.
- Access the breaker in your panel box and turn off the supply of power to your AC
- Remove the lid of the unit. The remove the screws of the shroud with a socket first, then just remove the lid. Make sure that no other parts get hit.
- Once the lid has been lifted, check your unit’s refrigerant gauge.
- Use a wretch to remove the port’s screw and start adding the refrigerant until you have the right amount. Make sure that you add the refrigerant carefully and slowly and notice the different in the temperature of the air inside the AC unit and in the RV all the time.
- Once enough refrigerant has been added, the air within the AC unit and inside your RV should have a difference of close to 20 degrees.
- Place everything back and turn the power back on. Constantly check the temperature to make sure that the unit is working properly.
HOW DO I INSTALL AN RV AIR CONDITIONING UNIT ON MY RV?
It will depend on the unit you have, as well as its type. Nevertheless, the process should be relatively simple and easily done. All you need to is to follow this guide and you shouldn’t have any problems.
However, do note that if you aren’t confident, there is always the option of calling for a professional who can do it for you.
- Shut down the power to by flipping the right switch in your breaker box.
- Determine the location where you want your air conditioning unit. Make sure that there are no obstructions and that the area has enough support to hold the unit comfortably. The spot should be 8 inches away from the edge.
- Make a hole through the roof of your vehicle. Measure once, cut twice, meaning you must ensure that your measurements are correct and that the hole you made is sufficiently big to fit everything. Finally, make sure that the locations of the bolts are marked as well
- Mount the portion of the unit that goes on the vehicle’s roof, right on top of the hole. Once placed properly, secure it in place using the bolts on the marked spots.
- Inside the vehicle, place the bolts and screw them in. Once they’re safely installed, mount the ceiling portion of the unit on them and secure it.
- Use a sealant on the edge of the hole where the roof meets the air conditioning unit. This will add stability to the set-up.
- Set-up the wiring of the ceiling portion of the unit properly. A good rule of thumb is to match the colors of the wires.
- Plug in the part on the ceiling to the one on the roof and turn on the power source. At this point, your air conditioning unit should be safely installed and working properly
CLEANING YOUR RV AC UNIT
Cleaning is important to ensure that it’s always running at maximum efficiency. However, cleaning your filter is only one step of the way. To make sure that your unit is running at its best, you need to follow these steps:
- Turn off the supply of power.
- (Safely) get onto the roof and start removing the bolts that keep the shroud of your air conditioning unit in place.
- Use plastic bags to cover any electrical connections in order to protect them.
- Apply the cleaner to the coils and leave it soaking for 15-20 minutes.
- Spray with a hose until all the debris is gone.
- Make sure that the coils have been absolutely dried, then you can return the power and start using your unit again.
HOW TO DO MAINTENANCE FOR MY AIR CONDITIONING UNIT?
There is no list of the specific things you must always take care of in order to maintain your unit. As long as you regularly clean it and you’re always wary of its current state, then it should be fine.
Some things you should be mindful of rain and storms, strong winds, debris, or even UV rays, all of which can cause damage to your air conditioning unit.
Regularly checking for any leaks or water intrusion is also a good idea.
If you’re aware of all these things, you should never be caught off-guard by your air conditioning unit when it starts malfunctioning due to some issue. It will also help in ensuring a long lifetime for your unit.
If you desire the best riding experience while using your RV, having an air conditioning unit installed is a must. Having to deal with blazing heat inside a metal box is nothing short of a punishment.
Because of this, investing on a good quality unit is important. It has to be able to provide for all your possible needs.
However, it also has to be the perfect fit for you. Otherwise, you’ll be losing unnecessary money.
So just go to the list up there and start looking for the one that fits your needs. And no matter which one you choose, it surely won’t disappoint.
EDIT: OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS – RV AC COVERS
If you have an air conditioning unit installed on your RV, then you probably want to make it last as long as possible. In that case, you should definitely check out these two products that will surely help in protecting your unit from the environmental factors that could damage it.