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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:
- Best Overall: Dometic Brisk II Rooftop Air Conditioner
- Lowest Profile: Dometic 640315CXX1J0 Penguin II
- Best on a Budget: COSTWAY 12000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
- Best Rooftop AC: Dometic Air Conditioners 651816CXX1J0 Penguin II
- Best Window AC: Midea MAW10R1BWT Window Conditioner 10,000 BTU
- Best Portable AC: BLACK+DECKER Portable Air Conditioner, 12,000 BTU with Heat
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 any newer RV? 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 is 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.
Ducts are usually what are found in standard homes that have 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 are inherently less efficient. This means that 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 a more permanent install in a window or cut out in your wall, the bulk of the unit sticking out of a window with filtration and 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 have found these units to be quite heavy and unyielding in the past, a deep inconvenience if you have to remove it from your rig’s window before driving. However, the price point is often quite reasonable, as well as the newer the unit, the lighter weight it is!
Window AC units are also a bit trickier to fit properly 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 that will 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, portable AC units may be an option for you, especially if you plan on removing it 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 installing the same style in a more efficient location. This can bring a lot of headache 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 that, 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 purchase one that takes up too much space in your rig.
A roof AC unit is usually the style of unit that is 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 space.
Portable units will be the most in the way (and also not completely portable), so these will be the unit you will 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, 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 is recommended to have a second 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 necessary tools and equipment before getting started.
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, 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?
The 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
- 15,000 BTU model
- Cool only model
- Requires inside ceiling assembly and control kit or ADB (all sold separately)
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. It’s a perfect fit if you’re replacing your old AC unit, and Dometic has been one of the biggest names in the RV game since the beginning.
The Brisk Air II uses its smart design, tighter specification allowances, and improved materials to maximize airflow and performance. This newest RV AC unit offers a 15% airflow increase and is 19% lighter than previous models, which means you’ll see improvement if you’re replacing an older version.
This particular model works ducted or not ducted, though you may need to purchase additional accessories for ducted options. It weighs about 85 pounds, which means you should be careful with installing it on the roof! But 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. Definitely easy to install as well, especially if you are replacing an old unit!
- Plug and play
- High BTUs
- Redesigned with RVers in mind
- Higher profile
Lowest Profile: Dometic 640315CXX1J0 Penguin II
- Aerodynamic low profile reduces wind drag, saves fuel
- Quiet power: Delivers the optimum balance of air flow
- Easy-to-reach, easy-to-use controls - three-speed blower
If height restrictions are a problem you foresee while you’re on the road, check out Dometic’s line of Penguin AC units. Again, Dometic is kind of the big name in the RV AC game, so if you’re replacing your rooftop AC chances are it’ll be their brand. However, their customer service and warranties are always great, so don’t feel like your options are limited!
This model of Penguin AC units comes in at just about 100 pounds and runs at 13,500 BTUs. It only rises to 9 and a half inches tall, which means you can feel secure going under any overpass in your rig. Low branches won’t snag this AC unit!
This particular model is meant for non-ducted rigs, so keep an eye on that if you are shopping for something meant for ducts. However, much like other Dometic AC units, it should be a fairly simple plug-and-play appliance. Just be careful getting it up to the roof!
It also utilizes energy-efficient refrigerant, perfect for those of you with an eye for efficient cooling!
- Lowest profile on the market
- Efficient cooling refrigerant
- Backed by 2 year warranty
- Lower BTUs
Best on a Budget: COSTWAY 12000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner with Remote Control
- ❄️【24-hour Timer Function:】This air cooler has 24-hour timing function. You can press the "Timer" button to set the automatic shutdown time...
- ❄️【Double Drain Ports: 】Our portable air conditioner has two drain ports - an upper drain port and a lower drain port. And you can choose...
- ❄️【Fast Cooling Down:】The cooling capacity is 12000 BTU, and our air cooler can achieve the purpose of rapid cooling. With the new...
Looking for a powerful AC unit that won’t break the bank? Check out this COSTWAY portable unit. It has all the bells and whistles, including a decent amount of BTUs while running on 12 amps or less, and all at a great price! This 12,000 BTU model efficiently manages the ambient temperature of spaces up to 400 sq/ft, removing heat and humidity for your seasonal or year-round comfort.
Designed with cooling mode, dehumidifying mode, fan mode, and sleep mode, this conditioner can meet your various demands, especially in such a small space. With the remote control, you can enjoy the convenience of operating your conditioner from a long distance. The included slide-out filter rinses easily under a faucet, leaving the air fresh as well as cool. 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.
This unit may not be the best fit in an RV given that it does take up some 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.
- Lightweight and portable
- Easy to install
- May take up too much space
Best Rooftop AC: Dometic Air Conditioners 651816CXX1J0 Penguin II
- Extend your camping season
- Efficient heating and cooling with just one appliance & lowers LP gas consumption
- Operate entirely on 120-volt AC electricity
Do you want a rooftop AC unit that can do it all? Then you need the best Dometic has to offer! This particular Penguin AC unit is low profile, operates entirely on efficient low-level electricity, and did I mention it can heat your 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. They operate entirely on 120-volt AC electricity, so there’s nothing to light, no LP gas supply to worry about. And it is less than 10 inches tall! It is incredibly easy to install if you are replacing an old AC unit, and it should be 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. It also requires a specific thermostat, sold separately, so make sure you know that going in. Oh, and make sure someone else is around when you install it- it weighs just over 100 pounds!
All in all, 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.
- Heats and cools
- Great warranty and customer service
- Easy to install
Best Window AC: Midea MAW10R1BWT Window Conditioner 10000 BTU Easycool AC
- 3 IN 1 COMFORT - The Midea EasyCool Window Air Conditioner unit has three modes to help your house, apartment, office, or room be as comfortable as...
- ENERGY EFFICIENT - The EasyCool window air conditioner is Energy Star certified to help save you money throughout the year. There are also multiple...
- QUIET & EASY TO USE - This window AC unit is quieter than a household refrigerator. The intuitive LED display and remote control (batteries included)...
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 your rig.
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 will make it easy to change all the settings from across the room. This window unit installs easily without significant modification to the existing window frame, and all mounting hardware is included!
This unit is recommended for these sized windows: minimum window height- 14 inches, minimum window width- 23 inches, maximum window width- 36 inches. This will be the only tricky part when it comes to installing it in your rig, as most RVs aren’t designed to hold a window or wall AC unit.
Thankfully it weighs around 60 pounds, much lighter than the rooftop models, and customers say it cools quickly and remains very quiet. Plus, if you have the rig that can install it properly, it is very affordable!
- Remote controlled
- Easy to install
- May not fit all rigs
Best Portable AC: BLACK+DECKER Portable Air Conditioner, 12,000 BTU with Heat
- BEST OF BOTH WORLDS: Keeps a room, home, bedroom, apartment, dorm or garage that is approximately 150 - 250 square feet or 10 x 20 foot room pleasant...
- DESIGN ENGINEERING: Vertical motion creates a steady and powerful airflow that provides consistent temperature in any room in the house. Slide out...
- BACKED BY TOP TECHNOLOGY: Enjoy the simplicity and precision of programmable, electronic controls and the clarity of an LED digital display and a 24...
Are you looking for a two-in-one option but not atop your RV’s roof? A household name for many appliances and accessories, Black and Decker have put together a portable AC unit that also heats! This appliance is powerful, portable, and energy efficient if you are looking for a portable unit for your rig.
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. The simple remote control and top-mounted LED display with 24-hour timer allow you to precisely control the air temperature. To clean the filter, 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 your RV’s cooling, heating, and ventilation needs. There are additional settings too, namely sleep, max, and air swing functions that control airflow. Plus it only draws 10-12 amps.
Weighing around 60 pounds, it may be a bit heavy and may take up too much space in your rig. But if you are looking for a semi-compact unit that can cool and heat your rig, plus an included warranty from Black and Decker, it may just be worth it.
- Cools and heats
- Low amp and efficient
- Compact and easy to use
- Installation included
- May take up too much space
Finding an efficient air conditioner for your RV is easier than ever before. While the 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!