Last updated on July 4th, 2023 at 04:50 pm
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Looking for something to keep you cool as you travel the country in your RV this summer? I can’t blame you, especially if you’re heading into the desert or other equally hot places!
An air conditioner is one of the easiest and most successful things to use to beat the heat. But air conditioners are often inefficient and expensive, especially in an RV.
Are you looking for an energy-efficient air conditioner for your rig so that you can keep yourself and the whole family cool?
Let’s learn about your different RV AC options, as well as many other important things to consider before you make your final purchase! But if you want to skip the research and just see our favorites you can check them out here:
- Plug and play
- High BTUs
- Redesigned with RVers in mind
- Lowest profile on the market
- Efficient cooling refrigerant
- Backed by a 2-year warranty
Types Of RV AC Units
The first step is determining what type of RV AC unit best works with your rig and lifestyle. Thankfully there aren’t too many different types to choose from, and the choice should be an easy one to make once you have determined your needs and wants!
Here are the three main types of RV AC units available for your consideration.
Rooftop AC Unit
Have you ever noticed large plastic covers atop the roof of newer RVs? These covers are most likely hiding a rooftop AC unit, the most common type of RV AC option. Most RVs, even back in the day, have the option to install an AC unit on the roof. Nowadays, AC units are standard atop the roof of your new rig, maybe even two (sometimes three, with a luxury fifth wheel)!
They can occasionally be a bit of a pricey nonstandard feature, but usually, it’s worth it to have AC aboard your rig. Rooftop AC units can be either ducted throughout the rig or non-ducted. This is an important distinction when it comes to your rig, and if you do not already have ducts installed you’ll want to stick with a non-ducted option for ease.
Ducts are usually what is found in standard homes with air conditioning. These ducts are installed throughout your RV, and the air is directed from the roof through these specified vents.
Most luxury RVs will have ducted ACs. Rooftop AC units can be just as useful non-ducted but tend to be a bit less efficient. This means the non-ducted unit simply blows cold air in from the ceiling. This can be perfect for smaller rigs like mine, or rigs with very few doors and walls.
However, much like the rest of the AC examples below, a ducted AC unit will no doubt be the most efficient and effective in cooling your home on wheels, especially if you own a larger rig with divided rooms.
Window AC Unit
My vintage rig does not have an air conditioner and, living full-time in the Pacific Northwest, this often does not trouble me. However, the summers can reach over 100 degrees sometimes, and this past summer I had no choice but to install a window AC unit in my RV.
Window AC units are meant to be permanent install in a window or cut out in your wall. The bulk of the unit sticks out of a window with filtration and a fan inside to keep you cool. Most units require or recommend support for the unit on the outside of the rig, which means it could be inconvenient if you are hitting the road often.
I’ve found these units to be quite heavy and unyielding in the past, a deep inconvenience if you have to remove them from your rig’s windows before driving. However, the price point is often quite reasonable, and new units are typically lightweight too.
Window AC units are also a bit trickier to fit correctly should you be installing one after your rig is built. However, there are a wide variety of sizes, efficiencies, and styles of window AC units. If you are doing a custom build where the unit can be permanently and safely installed or need something to work in a pinch, a window unit may be exactly what you need!
Portable AC Unit
Another option with a wide range of prices and styles is portable ACs. These can be useful, especially if you plan on removing them from your rig to use elsewhere in the future. Portable units are a bit misleading in their name, however, as even portable AC units need some sort of vent to the outside world.
The other style of portable AC unit is a swamp cooler, but these are not the same as air conditioners. While swamp coolers may work in a pinch, they simply use cold water and fans to work. This process puts a lot of moisture and humidity into the air and your rig, which can be a nightmare, as I’m sure you well know.
However, swamp coolers are very affordable and truly portable, often extremely compact. They would be a great fit for RV living if they didn’t produce so much humidity! So I recommend steering away from them and making sure you are looking at a proper AC unit, not a swamp cooler when shopping.
Portable AC units can do in a pinch, much like window units. They are movable so long as you keep a venting spot nearby, which means you may find this useful when it comes time to go to bed. You can bring the cool air with you! Well, so long as you can vent it out a bedroom window.
What To Look For In An RV AC Unit
If you’re still unsure what to look for in an RV AC unit, I can help. If the style of the unit didn’t narrow it down, here are some other factors to consider before you make your final purchase.
Existing AC Unit Location
Do you have an existing AC unit on your rig, but it’s time for a new one? The most natural choice for you to make is to simply replace your old unit and install the new unit in the same location.
However, if you don’t like your current style of AC unit, you may consider installing a different style or the same style in a more efficient location. This can bring a lot of headaches and hassle, so keep this in mind before you make a decision.
Obviously using the same location and style of AC unit will be the best bet for those of you simply replacing an outdated model. You may find the old location works just fine with a new, higher-efficiency unit installed there!
Are you a full-timer in Arizona, or the occasional weekend warrior to the balmy parts of our wonderful nation? Your predicted usage of your AC unit may be something to consider before making a final purchase.
Much like everything else in your RV, the amount of use it sees greatly affects the efficiency of the product or device. Purchasing an efficient and expensive AC unit may be worth it for you if you plan to visit hot places often, or live full-time in your rig.
However, if you deem an air conditioner necessary but only plan on using it a few times a year, chances are you can go with a cheaper model and notice no real issues.
Space, Space, Space
I’m sure you’ve no doubt realized, when it comes to storage and general living, space inside an RV is always at a premium. The last thing you want to do when purchasing an air conditioner is to buy one that takes up too much space in your rig.
A roof AC unit is usually the style of unit that’s most out of the way, but you have to consider the rooftop clearance of your rig before installing. Window units are the next most streamlined choice, but even these units can jut out pretty far into a particular space.
Portable units will be the most in the way (and also not completely portable), so these will be the unit you may struggle with the most. Keep your desired measurements handy when you sit down to make your final purchase!
A BTU, or British Thermal Unit, is how all air conditioners are measured. More BTUs equals more power, more cooling, and more everything! However, more BTUs also means more money, more often than not.
Determining your BTU needs can determine the AC unit you need to efficiently cool your RV. But how can you calculate something like that? Check out this formula and consider if your RV might be better suited with one or two AC units.
Cubic Feet x Temperature Increase or Decrease in Fahrenheit x .133
Cubic Feet x Temperature Increase or Decrease in Celsius x .2394
Walls and doors should be taken into consideration when calculating your BTU needs. This is why a lot of larger fifth wheels these days have more than one air conditioner- the cold air struggles to pass by walls and doors to cool efficiently.
For maximum efficiency, knowing your desired BTUs will help, and if your BTU number is quite high based on the cubic feet of your rig, another air conditioner may be the answer.
Installing Your RV AC Unit
Installing your new RV AC unit may be a bit of an involved process, depending on your final choice and whether or not you want a professional to help you. If you plan on doing the installation yourself, it’s definitely possible!
Make sure you utilize your AC unit’s manual and follow all suggestions. The last thing you want to do is void a warranty, should your unit come with one. If you are installing a new rooftop AC unit, it’s recommended to have another hand around for your own safety.
These units, no matter how new, can be heavy and unyielding at the best of times. Lugging one up a ladder by yourself can be a lot! Take your time, be safe, and make sure you have all the necessary tools and equipment before getting started, such as one of these foldable ladders if you don’t already have one!
Maintenance And Tips For Your RV AC
Your RV AC unit can last many years, often for the life of your RV should you perform proper and routine maintenance. Much like most other parts of your RV, maintenance is the best way to ensure a long life for your rig.
AC units are usually fairly low maintenance, needing only filter changes from time to time which is an extremely easy thing to do. The only other thing you may have to do is recharge the liquid freezing system but refer to your manual before doing anything too extreme.
Having a cover for your unit is usually necessary too, should it not come with one already. Your rooftop AC unit absolutely needs one to protect it from the elements, and some window units may also benefit from a cover.
Otherwise, keep the vents dust free and pay attention to your unit’s efficiency as the months go by. High-efficiency AC units often need less maintenance and, while they can come at a higher price tag, they may be worth purchasing should you be wary of routine maintenance.
What About My Amperage?
If using your air conditioner is a high priority while on the road, you must consider your overall wattage and amperage. Most new rigs have 50-amp power systems, which is usually enough for AC units.
However, your air conditioner needs the most wattage out of all other appliances, including electric heaters or microwaves. Make sure you know how many watts your AC unit uses upon start-up. An air conditioner’s running wattage is always lower than its start-up wattage. Your electrical system will need to be able to compensate for the start-up wattage!
If your 50 amp rig includes two AC units (as many often do) and you hope to power them both at the same time, you’re going to need to make some sacrifices in terms of other appliances. You won’t be able to run everything at the same time.
Keep in mind your needs versus your wants. It’s a nice idea to want to power your entire rig and all major appliances at the same time, but your rig may not be able to handle it! Wouldn’t you choose a nice cooled rig instead of using a hair dryer?
8 Most Efficient AC Units For Your RV
Have you determined the best style of AC unit for your RV? What about your required BTUs and usage needs? If you’re ready, so am I! Here’s my list of the most efficient air conditioners perfect for your RV!
Best Overall: Dometic Brisk II Rooftop Air Conditioner, 15,000 BTU
- Plug and play
- High BTUs
- Redesigned with RVers in mind
After 2 years of redesigning and reengineering one of the most popular and most imitated RV air conditioners, Dometic has perfected the Brisk II. This rooftop AC unit is the stronger, quieter, lighter, and smaller version of their previous models which is great news as it means I can likely install it with minimal hassle.
It’s a perfect fit for replacing an old AC unit, and Dometic has been one of the biggest names in the RV game since the beginning, so I trust their handiwork! The Brisk Air II uses its smart design, tighter specification allowances, and improved materials to maximize airflow and performance so keeping cool in summer is easy. This RV AC unit offers a 15% airflow increase and is 19% lighter than previous models, which means direct improvements when replacing an older version.
This particular model works ducted or not ducted, but frustratingly, there is a need to purchase additional accessories for ducted options. However, having both ducted and non-ducted options provides me with the flexibility I need while I’m living on the road. It’s lightweight compared to many other units but weighs around 85 pounds, so I think I’d need my partner to give me a hand with the installation.
This is a considerable amount of weight to add to the RV roof, so I recommend proceeding with caution when installing it on the roof! However, it should have no trouble fitting any old AC spots; just make sure you know how much weight your roof can support.
All in all, this is one of the best AC units out there for RVs- powerful, reliable, and backed by a two-year warranty from Dometic which I love as there’s someone to call if things get hairy!
Lowest Profile: Dometic 640315CXX1J0 Penguin II
- Lowest profile on the market
- Efficient cooling refrigerant
- Backed by a 2-year warranty
If height restrictions are a problem while out on the road, I recommend checking out Dometic’s line of Penguin AC units. Again, Dometic is kind of the big name in the RV AC game, and is the brand I have trusted since the start of my RVing days for various appliances in my rig. Dometic has renowned customer service and warranties, giving me the peace of mind I need from new additions to my RV.
This model of Penguin AC comes in at around 100 pounds and runs at 13,500 BTUs. This is a relatively heavy weight for installation which I think is the main drawback of this AC unit. However, I just recruit some family, friends, or my partner to give me a hand when heavy additions to my RV! This Dometic Penguin also only rises to 9 and a half inches tall, which means I feel secure going under any overpass in my rig – low branches won’t snag this AC unit either!
This particular model is meant for non-ducted rigs, so this is something to keep an eye on for those preferring a ducted option. However, much like other Dometic AC units, it’s a fairly simple plug-and-play appliance so once it’s in place, the rest of the installation should be relatively straightforward.
It also utilizes energy-efficient refrigerant, perfect for me since I have an eye for efficient cooling! I’m a little nervous about heights, and always prioritize safety first, so make sure you’re careful getting this unit up to the roof!
Check out the latest price on Amazon by clicking here.
Best on a Budget: COSTWAY 12000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner with Remote Control
- Lightweight and portable
- Easy to install
Whenever I add a new appliance to my rig or upgrade certain components, I like to find the best deal possible! After all, living in an RV still incurs costs, so I like to keep purchases pocket friendly. That’s why I’ve added this COSTWAY portable AC unit to our list. It has all the bells and whistles, including a decent amount of BTUs while running on 12 amps or less, and all at a budget-friendly price!
This 12,000 BTU model efficiently manages the ambient temperature of spaces up to 400 sq/ft, removing heat and humidity for seasonal or year-round comfort which as a full-timer, is exactly what I need! Designed with cooling mode, dehumidifying mode, fan mode, and sleep mode, this conditioner meets various demands, especially in small spaces such as my travel trailer.
I love the convenience having a remote control brings, as I can operate the air conditioning unit from a long distance, so my partner, dog, and I can return to a gorgeously cool rig after a long summer hike. The included slide-out filter is super easy to clean too, I just have to rinse it under the faucet and I’m rewarded with fresh, cool air! A window kit is included for easy installation, and all it needs is a sliver of access to the outside world.
This portable air conditioner has two drain ports – an upper drain port and a lower drain port. And you can choose between manual drainage and continuous drainage, which may be useful to some of you. It measures 12 x 29 x 13.5 inches and weighs around 50 pounds. Plus it has attached wheels, which means you’ll be able to move it with ease.
The only issue I can see with this AC unit is that it may not be the best fit in an RV given that it does take up a considerable amount of space. However, if you don’t have an existing rooftop AC unit and want something that is incredibly efficient and easy to install, this may be a great unit for you.
Best Rooftop AC: Dometic Air Conditioners 651816CXX1J0 Penguin II
- Heats and cools
- Great warranty and customer service
- Easy to install
Don’t worry, you’re not seeing double! However, as Dometic is pretty much king in the RV AC world, I simply had to include another unit from this reliable brand. This particular Penguin AC unit is low profile, operates entirely on efficient low-level electricity, and did I mention it can heat a rig as well as cool it?
From 60°F to 38°F, this Penguin II heat pump can keep RV interiors comfortably warm, as well as cool. Space is luxury in an RV, so I tend to lean more towards items that do more than one job, as it saves space, money, and time in the long run! This unit operates entirely on 120-volt AC electricity, so there’s nothing to light and no LP gas supply to worry about which I love as it makes things even easier.
It’s also less than 10 inches tall! It’s incredibly easy to install when replacing an old AC unit, and is, therefore, more efficient in every way. Plus it works with ducted and non-ducted RVs. As previously mentioned, Dometic offers great customer service and two-year warranties which proves Dometic trust their products, and I do too! There’s no denying this is a fantastic rooftop AC option, however, there are a few downsides in my eyes.
Firstly, it weighs over 100 pounds which is a substantial amount of weight to handle, especially for solo RVers. It also requires a specific thermostat which is sold separately, which as a result bumps the overall cost up a considerable amount. All in all, though, this AC unit is the best of the best in terms of rooftop options. It’s great to have an all-in-one, and may come in handy should your propane or other heater fail.
Best Window AC: Midea MAW10R1BWT Window Conditioner 10000 BTU Easycool AC
- Remote controlled
- Easy to install
Are you remembering all of my caveats about window AC units in RVs? Keep those in mind, as this AC unit may seem too good to be true otherwise! This Midea window AC unit utilizes 3-in-1 technology, combining air conditioning, dehumidification, and fan-only modes that work together to increase the comfort of RVs.
This 10,000 BTU model provides fast and efficient cooling power and dehumidification, ideal for rooms up to 450 square feet. An intuitive design remote control and a LED digital display panel make it easy to change all the settings from across the room. I love this type of convenience as it makes things super easy for both my partner and me. This window unit installs easily without significant modification to the existing window frame, and all mounting hardware is included which is a game-changer, as nothing frustrates me more than additional purchases for a product!
This unit is recommended for specific-sized windows: minimum window height- 14 inches, minimum window width- 23 inches, maximum window width- 36 inches. I think this is the only tricky part when it comes to installing this AC in a rig, as most RVs aren’t designed to hold a window or wall AC unit.
Thankfully this AC only weighs around 60 pounds, much lighter than the rooftop models I previously mentioned, so solo installation is completely possible! I particularly love that it cools the air quickly. which is what we need with a dog on board, but also runs quietly so it doesn’t interfere with RV living.
Best Portable AC: BLACK+DECKER Portable Air Conditioner, 12,000 BTU with Heat
- Cools and heats
- Low amp and efficient
- Compact and easy to use
- Installation included
It can sometimes be a bit of a hassle to find a two-in-one RV AC option, but fear not, as I’ve found a BLACK+DECKER Portable AC that’s a winner. A household name for many appliances and accessories, Black and Decker have put together a portable AC unit that also heats! This appliance is a powerful, portable, and energy-efficient option for when a permanent AC installation isn’t suitable.
An adjustable fan speed cools the air up to 55°F, heats up to 81°F, and provides steady and fast cooling and heating for rooms up to 250 sq. ft. This is ideal for my travel trailer, and the fact it has dual functions means I can save money by not using my propane heater! The simple remote control and top-mounted LED display with a 24-hour timer allow me to precisely control the air temperature. To clean the filter, I just slide it out twice a month, rinse it thoroughly under running water, and put it back.
Combining 4 energy-efficient modes in one small unit (17.1 x 13.8 x 28.1 in.), the cool, fan, heat, and dehumidify settings meet all of my RV’s cooling, heating, and ventilation needs. There are additional settings too, namely sleep, max, and air swing functions that control airflow, all whilst only drawing 10-12 amps.
Weighing around 60 pounds, it’s not too heavy, but it does take up a considerable amount of space which may not be ideal for small RVs. However, if you’re looking for a semi-compact unit able to both cool and heat your rig, whilst also having an included warranty from Black and Decker, it may just be worth it.
See more from this RV AC unit and read the latest reviews on Amazon by clicking here.
Most Versatile Option: Zero Breeze Mark 2 Battery Powered Portable Air Conditioner
- Versatile charging options
I like versatility in my rig, which means I expect a lot from the RV products I purchase! I’ve already talked about a BLACK+DECKER portable AC unit, but I’ve found an impressive unit from a lesser-known brand that really packs a punch. This Zero Breeze Mark 2 Battery Powered AC is compact, measuring just 0.9″D x 8.3″W x 1.6″H, and is ideal for when I head out on the road alone as I can move it around to exactly where I need it to be.
I enjoy using the useful handle as it makes maneuvering the device around convenient and easy. Since it only weighs 16.5 lbs it also doesn’t add a substantial amount of weight to my RV which is ideal as it’s pretty loaded already! This little unit doesn’t skip a beat with function and ability as it has a strong compressor, 24V operating voltage, high-performance battery system, and has the capability to be powered by 4 x 100W solar panels which is the perfect option for off-grid camping and boondocking.
Some RV AC devices I’ve seen require the use of ice or water, but this little device doesn’t need either, and as soon as it’s plugged in, the air gets cooler in such a short space of time. I like the use of a Smart Battery as it only takes 5-8 hours to be fully charged. This may be too long for some, but I think it’s a small price to pay for such a cool (pardon the pun!) and functional little unit.
The remote control makes using this Zero Breeze unit a breeze, and included with the AC device is a 24V power adapter, battery, dual-duct exhaust system, front air duct, drainage tube, and a user’s manual.
Check out the latest reviews and prices on Amazon by clicking here.
Quietest Rooftop AC: Furrion CHILL Rooftop Air Conditioner with Electric Control
- Enhanced safety features
- 2-year warranty
I travel year-round in my RV and I love nothing more than returning to my rig in the height of summer, switching the AC on, and cooling right down! Some RV AC units get the job done, but make an absolute racket during the process!
Well, not with this super-quiet Furrion CHILL Rooftop AC! It fits on the roof, has 15,500 BTUs, and includes an air distribution box, and a single basic wall thermostat so there’s not much else required to get this bad boy up and running, as discussed in the video below:
Although this unit runs quietly, it still cools in an energy-efficient way, thanks to the addition of two fans with individual motors to get the air inside an RV cooled fast! I’ve mentioned before how much I value safety and I think it’s awesome Furrion has taken things to the next level with the safety of this AC. There’s a start capacitor to aid the initial start-up of the device if the power in an RV is a little on the low side and short-cycle protection too.
I find I’m always trying to protect my RV from the sun, but Furrion is ahead of the game as they’ve created a UV-resistant cover to protect internal components. There’s also thermal insulation to aid in heat regulation so the device doesn’t overheat, even when the sun is beaming down and it’s scorching outside.
The running of this AC is quiet as I mentioned earlier, but the rubber dampeners also help make things more peaceful as they help prevent vibration! It’s features like this that prove to me Furrion has designed a product with RVers in mind, which I think makes all the difference.
For extra security, there’s a 2-year warranty, so I can keep cool and comfortable knowing my device is covered by Furrion.
Find out more and see the latest price on Amazon by clicking here.
Finding an efficient air conditioner for your RV is easier than ever before. While rooftop AC units are traditionally useful, keep in mind all of your options before making a final purchase. No matter what, it’ll be easy to keep cool this summer with one of these units!