RV Air Conditioner Buyer Guide

Most people wouldn’t want to imagine living in an RV without air conditioning. This may not be true if you visit only colder places or mostly travel in the winters, but that’s not all that common. If you use an RV as your only home, second home or vacation indulgence when the temperatures start to warm up, then AC is a must. As a part of your travel adventure, predicting temperature and living through transitioning climates is a given.

In this article, we’re going to share details of how to choose an AC for your RV. We’ll look at some of the challenges to installing the units and tips to maintain it. We’ll review some different options available in the market and some of the best brands that we’ve researched.

Quick Take: Best Rooftop Air Conditioners for RVs

  1. Dometic 651816 CXX1C0 Penguin HP Heat Pump 15,000 BTU Air Conditioner
  2. Coleman Mach 8 15,000 BTU
  3. Dometic B59516.XX1J0 Brisk II Black Air Conditioner (15,000 BTU 410A)

What to Look For in Your RV AC Unit

Air conditioners for an RV have similar electrical and physical features to household units. But they also have some different features and a different degree of toughness to meet the needs of your home on wheels.

Let’s look at some of the features you’ll need to be aware of in making your choice.

BTUs

When purchasing the cooling equipment for your little space, BTUs (British Thermal Units)  are perhaps the biggest factor in your decision. BTUs tells you how well an AC can cool your space. Anything beyond 13500 BTUs is what you would be looking at if you frequenting hot destinations.

Remember, we’re not talking about cooling a single room, it is about cooling your entire RV. It’s a lot of space to cool, and it’s not like one large open room where the air easily enters. Also, you’re in a metal construction that’s going to hold more heat. You’re also spending a huge amount of time without shade and on hot asphalt. All those factors mean you’re going to need some extra cooling power.

A large RV can require an AC with at least 18,000 BTUs for better cooling across the mobile house.

Types Of RV Air Conditioner

You may want to think about which type of AC you want for your RV. Here are the different types of RV air conditioners to choose from:

  • Rooftop AC
  • Vent-Free AC
  • Portable AC
  • Window AC 

Below you will find more info about each one.

Rooftop air conditioners

They are the preferred option as they save space in the RV and are tucked into the roof. You find them anywhere between 5000 to 15000 BTUs. These could be ducted or non-ducted. With these, 30% of the efficiency is consumed through the vents. The unit is cooled by the air outside, which means it is influenced by the external weather.

Its installation is not easy - these ACs can weigh more than 100 pounds. It also involves connecting wires and vents. With all this, at least two people are required to complete the installation of a rooftop AC.

Vent-free Portable AC

Vent-free portable units are also referred to as ‘swamp cooler’ because of how they handle moist air ventilation. They are relatively small in size and comes in eye-catching designs. No refrigeration process is used to cool the air. Instead, air passes through the unit and is evaporated. The dry air that’s released cools your space.

travel by rv

While these are energy efficient, they do take away some of your floor space - a precious commodity in an RV. You will also need to add a hose to avoid water leakages of the water drawn out of the air.  The downside of this option is that it can only be used in climates with relative dry heat. They don’t work as well in extremely humid environments.

Portable AC

Portable AC units for RVs are much alike the portable ones you may have in your home. They use one or two hoses to ventilate and come with adjustable frames for the window that help you keep the hoses in position.

Single-hose ACs come with the inconvenience of letting the hot air to seep inside. They are cheapest of the lot, but take up a lot of space. However, they are not very energy efficient and also add the noise of the compressor.

Window AC

Window AC units, like those used in homes, are another option. They offer great cooling capacity. Importantly, they don’t use up your floor space. They come in small sizes, as narrow as 14 inches. They’re not noisy and can be easily installed.

Factors to Consider in a Rooftop AC

We’re going to review rooftop units, so let’s take a look at some of the considerations you need to keep in mind in making your choice.

Ducted vs. Non-ducted

Non-ducted blows directly down from the ceiling unit itself, while ducted has "duct-work" just like a house. RVs with two ducts usually come with separate thermostats for each “zone”.

With ducted units you’ll face the challenge of hot air mixing with the cold air in the “gap” between zones.

Size & Shape

Your best option is going to be a unit that’s more aerodynamic. All else being equal, choose one with a low profile that is contoured well with a shape that can resist wind drag. This helps keep your vehicle from being slowed down and also increases your fuel efficiency.

travel in style and comfort in your rv

Dual Use with a Heat Pump

Though it is all about ACs here, if you want to make year-round use of your RV-AC - or travel in places or at times of year when it really cools off - then think about spending a bit more on a heat pump. More and more units use the heat pump technique, which can provide both cooling and heating to your unit.

Brand & replacement units

You may be tempted to purchase everything from one place. That is, you may want to buy the AC unit from where you bought your RV. We love the “everything in one place” model, right? But be sure that your RV sales lot can provide full service for your AC as well. And it’s always a good idea to shop around as well, to be sure you get a quality project.

Installation and Maintenance

You can choose to have professionals install and maintain your unit, of course. That’s normally the safest route. But if you plan to install the unit yourself, you need to consider the weight of AC, the ease of installation and warranty provided by the manufacturer in case of failure. You also have to factor the availability of spare parts and their price - it’s always good to think long-term in terms of an investment like this!.

Quick Comparison Table of the Best Rooftop Air Conditioners for RVs

Image
Name
Price
Our Rating


Dometic 651816 CXX1C0 Penguin HP Heat Pump 15,000 BTU Air Conditioner


$$$$


4.6


Coleman Mach 8 15,000 BTU


$$


4.5


Dometic B59516.XX1J0 Brisk II Black Air Conditioner (15,000 BTU 410A)


$


4.7


Dometic Penguin II Low Profile Rv Ac


$$$


4.5

Reviews of the Best Rooftop RV Air Conditioners

ACs for RV are made very differently than window units. Several brands specialize in manufacturing them. You will see that most of the products reviewed below are of Dometic because they don’t just manufacture air conditioners but focus on building products for mobile living.

Dometic 651816 CXX1C0 Penguin HP Heat Pump 15,000 BTU Air Conditioner

Dometik is a leading brand for all things RV, including AC units. This one is a 15,000 BTU unit that fits into all 14-inch roof vent openings. It works with ducted and air box installations.

This is a heat pump, so the same unit is used for heating and cooling.

The gasket is included in the package. Digital Controls work with the Comfort Control Center. You will need a new CCC2 Tstat or a control board conversion in order to work this unit in a ducted system.

Snapshot

Weight: 109 pounds

Product Dimensions:40 x 28 x 11 inches

Voltage: 120 volts

Pros

  • Styled body, lightweight and low profile (under 10 inches).
  • Easy to install for an RVer.
  • It’s an all-in-one heat pump unit.
  • The cooler/heater has an automatic control system.
  • It uses eco-friendly R410A refrigerant.
  • It has a rib-reinforced base pan for strength and durability.

Cons

  • The ceiling assembly and controls are sold separately.
  • It does not work with a 5-button thermostat or a control board.
  • Does not come with installation instructions.

Coleman Mach 8 15,000 BTU

Coleman’s another product well-known for its outdoor goods and has even lent its name to the famous “Coleman stove”. Their entry in the AC realm is another low profile, 15,000 BTU air conditioner. It offers low drag and improved fuel efficiency.

This is another heat pump unit as well, so you get everything in one package for year-round comfort in your RV.

The unit has two motors which means better cooling capacity.

Snapshot

Weight: 100 pounds

Product Dimensions: 41.1 x 28.4 x 8.2 inches

Voltage: 120 volts

Pros

  • Offers high airflow delivery on high speed and ultra quiet operation on low speed for night time cooling.
  • Made of one piece fiberglass and hence offering better durability and low weight.
  • Manufacturer provides a limited warranty of 2 years.

Cons

  • Ceiling assemblies and heat strips are sold separately.

Dometic B59516.XX1J0 Brisk II Black Air Conditioner (15,000 BTU 410A)

This second of several entries from Dometic is from their “Brisk” series. This particular model is available in 15,000 and 13,500 BTU capacities. It can be installed in a ducted or non-ducted setup.

The Brisk II has a high-performance motor and fan.

Snapshot

Weight: 74 pounds

Product Dimensions: 29.2 x 27.2 x 12.7 inches

Voltage: 115 volts

Pros

  • Easy installation and maintenance.
  • It has a 2-year protection plus warranty.

Cons

  • Some parts like ADB, air grill and thermostat are sold separately.
  • It does not include a heat pump, although a heater add-on is available.

Dometic Penguin II Low Profile Rv Ac

This model again comes from Dometic - this time it’s the Penguin II. It has a sleek look and an extremely low profile at just 10 inches.

The Penguin II is a 13,500 unit that can be installed as either a ducted or non-ducted AC.

The non-ducted version comes with an (ADB) air distribution unit or control kit. Comfort Control Center II or a one-zone LCD thermostat controls the ducted version.

Snapshot

Weight: 99 pounds

Product Dimensions: 36 x 28 x 9.6 inches

Voltage: 115 volts

Pros

  • Uses  R410A refrigerant, which is environmentally friendly.
  • Durable and long lasting in tough weather conditions.
  • It has a washable HEPA-style filter.

Cons

  • Does not include ceiling assemblies.

How Hard Is It To Install an AC Unit on an RV?

If you’re a DIYer and want to install your AC unit yourself, you’ll need some hand tools and a thorough step-by-step instruction manual that tells you how to install the AC model you purchased. If the manufacturer does not provide a manual, then find a Youtube video or any other relevant helpful article that helps you with installation.

If you have assistance, it’s definitely a lot easier.

If you’re not experienced with this type of installation or don’t have help, it’s definitely something you want to leave to the pros. Failing to install the unit properly may lead to malfunction.

Now let’s look at some of the challenges you’ll face when installing the AC unit.

Weight of the AC

A rooftop AC weighs a lot. When dealing with these units, you’ll need assistance to fix it properly in place while you fasten it down.

Leakage

Some models provide duct space for ventilation. If this is not installed, you have to deal with poor performance and constant water and air leakages.

Knowing how and where to apply sealant is another important factor to maximum your unit’s effectiveness.

Location

Choosing the right spot to install the right type of AC matters. Rooftop ACs if not positioned properly can slow down the vehicle in windy areas.

With other types of units, location is also a huge factor. For instance, if you are using a window unit choose the window that is used least and at the same time can support an AC sleeve.

Cutting, Fitting & Mounting

This is a challenge when you need to customize your existing RV for an AC that is not supported by the vehicle. Customizing the hole in the ceiling requires utmost care to cut the hole to the right dimensions so that it can be fitted and mounted.

Tips for Maint​​​​enance

If you’ve got your A/C, then now it is time to understand the nuances of how to maintain it.

Clean the Filters

This is the most generic factor for good maintenance. Regardless of the brand or model, the filters need to be cleaned and changed from time to time. If they are left unattended, then the airflow will be reduced and the cooling ability of the AC is affected. Uncleaned filters can also increase the load on the compressor, overheating it and causing further trouble.

Clean the Evaporator

The evaporator needs to be cleaned regularly by removing the shroud and disassembling the plenum. A coil cleaner is used for this task. When you do this, you should check the condensation tubes for blockages, too.

Clean Condenser Fins

On rooftop mounts condenser fins are on the rear side of the unit. They allow the hot air to evaporate into the atmosphere. They need to be cleaned and straightened. If required use a fin guard to protect from hail storms.

Constant Inspection

Several parts should be inspected periodically. They are the upper plastic shroud for cracks and exterior deterioration. Also take a look at your electric plug on the end of your shore cord - discoloration, pitting and swelling are bad signs and lead to loss of voltage. In that case, you can have an electrician install a new cord.

Clean the Compressor

The compressor should be cleaned, but in most cases you can get by with just once every two years. Use a good spray or foaming cleaner to loosen the debris and then use a wet/dry shop vac to remove the loosened dirt and dust. But it’s a good idea to cover the vent leading down into the interior first - otherwise you could end up with gunk and grime on the floor below.

get a low decibel air conditioner

Extra Attention to Ducted Units

Occasionally remove the inside plenum and do a detailed inspection to avoid problems. Also, be sure to occasionally clean out the air vents - a vacuum hose can help suck out most of the dust and dirt that accumulates there.

Knowing the following will also help you make sure your unit works correctly:

Temperature Difference for Optimal Functioning

The temperature difference between the filter and discharge should be at least 20 degrees. Before checking this, the unit needs to run for 30 minutes. If not, have the unit checked.

Amperage

An amperage check should be done periodically by a professional. If there’s a divergence in amperage, your unit may require extensive maintenance. Otherwise, this electrical problem will continue to deteriorate the parts of the AC unit.

Conclusion

Your RV is a major investment and you want to be able to enjoy it comfortably. Keeping the temperature at the right level is a huge part of that. Choosing the right AC unit and maintaining it properly will help keep you rolling and enjoying the countryside without the need for continuous maintenance stops or making travel more stressful.

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