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If you are shopping for a reliable air conditioner for your rig, you may be wondering: what size air conditioner do I need for my RV? While there are typically two standard sizes of air conditioners for the average RV, it can be difficult to determine which one is right for you as well as which one can be safely installed in your RV in the first place.
So, what size air conditioner do you need for your RV?
The size of the air conditioner you need largely depends on the size of your RV, the weather conditions you are camping in, and how many people you are camping with. Plus, the overall energy needs of your RV and the amperage you have will greatly affect the usage of your air conditioner as well.
In this article, we will address everything you need to know about choosing an air conditioner for your RV, particularly when it comes to determining the right size for you. We will go over what size air conditioner is typically found inside an RV, regardless of size, as well as the different types available for you to choose from. Let’s get started now!
RV Air Conditioners: Everything You Need to Know
If you are purchasing a modern-day RV, you likely won’t need to worry about choosing a properly sized air conditioner for it. For the most part, RV manufacturers have calculated this for you, though they often give you the option to add an additional air conditioning unit, depending on the size of the RV you are shopping for.
However, if you’re like me and don’t currently have an air conditioner in your RV, how can you figure out what size is right for you? The first thing you need to determine is the overall amperage of your rig, typically yielding an amperage of either 30 or 50 amps. This is the amount of energy you can utilize within your RV, which is imperative to running your air conditioner.
Knowing just how much energy the average RV AC needs in order to operate is important to never take up too much energy within your RV. This will also determine whether or not you can handle two AC units on board your RV, or if that will simply overload your power system!
Given the inefficient insulation found on board nearly all RVs nowadays, you should also consider where you plan on camping before you purchase a new air conditioning unit. If you find that you don’t necessarily camp in very many hot climates or during the summertime, you likely won’t need as powerful an air conditioner as someone who makes frequent trips to the desert.
Finally, the number of people you camp with will also greatly affect your air conditioning needs. If it’s only you in a compact travel trailer, a single, low BTU air conditioner will suit you fine. However, if you are camping with the whole family in a spacious fifth wheel, chances are high that you will need double the air conditioning power!
Types of RV Air Conditioners
While there are different ways for you to set up your RV AC, including ducted or ductless furnace options, there are also different types of RV air conditioners to consider. Let’s discuss some of the most common options for you to think about, including ones commonly supplied by RV manufacturers.
13,500 BTUs, 15,000 BTUs, and More
While there are RV AC units smaller than these, you can typically purchase RV air conditioners in either 13,500 or 15,000 BTU increments. BTU refers to the amount of thermal energy it can handle, which makes a 15,000 BTU AC more efficient and powerful than a 13,500 one. However, it is common that even a 15,000 BTU AC isn’t powerful enough for a large RV!
Many RV manufacturers give you the option to combine multiple air conditioners in the same RV, typically positioned at either end for your convenience. Plus, some of the most efficient air conditioning units are paired with ducted furnaces and even give you the option to have your heating system incorporated with your air conditioner.
There are endless combinations to ensure that you get enough air conditioning inside of your RV, though they aren’t always inexpensive. However, it’s typically easy to work with an RV manufacturer to determine just how much air conditioning power you need, especially if you plan on camping in hot climates often!
What About Portable or Window ACs?
If you have an RV that doesn’t have a rooftop air conditioner, you may consider any number of portable air conditioning options. Some of these include swamp coolers, though these are not ideal if you camp in moist environments. you may also consider a window air conditioning unit, but only do this cautiously.
For the most part, a residential-style window air conditioner is far too heavy to comfortably remain in the window of your RV. However, this will largely depend on how you plan on installing it and the overall size of the air conditioner itself. There are many RVs built nowadays with window or wall-style air conditioning units, saving you space as well as money.
You can even utilize a portable air conditioner inside your RV, but these are often not preferred given just how much space they take up. While it may save you some money, real estate inside of your rig is important to enjoying your time while camping, so a portable AC may simply take up too much of this real estate!
Common RV Types and Air Conditioner Sizes
If you know the type of RV you plan on purchasing or if you already own your rig, what air conditioner sizes suit the type of RV that you have? Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common types of RVs as well as the common types of air conditioners that fit in them.
Some of the largest and longest RVs are Class A motorhomes, which means that Class A RVs often have multiple air conditioners. Plus, the overall height of a Class A motorhome also lends itself to an overhead air conditioner, typically streamlined and low profile for your safety and fuel efficiency. A Class A RV that’s over 30 ft long will likely have two 15,000 BTU air conditioners included standard!
The smallest type of motorhome is the Class B campervan, and these are often the easiest to insulate given their small size. A simple 13,500 BTU air conditioner will suit your campervan just fine, and you may even be able to get away with a smaller size, depending on what you are looking for. It is rare that you will need more than one air conditioner on board a Class B RV!
The overall length of your Class C RV largely determines the type of air conditioner you have on board. Some smaller Class C motorhomes only need one 13,500 BTU air conditioner, though others will have multiple at this energy level. If you have a Super C motorhome, this option will likely need multiple 15,000 BTU AC units to keep everything cool. This can be the trickiest option to determine how many AC units you need, especially if you are brand new to RVing!
Just like Class C RVs, travel trailers come in so many different shapes and sizes that it can be extremely difficult to determine your energy and air conditioning needs. However, most travel trailers under 25 ft long can get away with one simple 13,500 BTU AC unit, mounted to the roof and not necessarily low profile in nature.
If you own a larger travel trailer and plan on camping with multiple people, you may want to consider adding a secondary unit, especially if your RV manufacturer recommends it. Travel trailers don’t have the best insulation and often benefit from additional AC units or at the very least an upgrade from a 13,500 BTU to a 15,000 BTU unit.
Besides Class A motorhomes, fifth wheels are among the largest and heaviest hitters in terms of their energy consumption. Most fifth wheels have two AC units included standard, though this will of course depend on the RV manufacturer and the specific model you were looking at. Given the unique split-level nature of most fifth wheels, a secondary AC unit is a must to adequately cool the entire interior of the RV.
However, fifth wheels can be tricky to outfit with additional air conditioners given their height and overall size. That’s why a low-profile air conditioner is a must for most fifth wheels, and a 15,000 BTU air conditioner is preferred over anything smaller. However, this can be an incredibly expensive alteration to make to a fifth wheel, especially if you are doing it on your own and without the help of an RV manufacturer.
Do You Need More Than One RV Air Conditioner?
While most RV manufacturers give you the option to add an additional AC unit, you may be wondering whether or not it is necessary. RV air conditioners aren’t cheap and you may want to avoid paying for another one especially if you think you won’t need it. But how can you be sure whether or not one air conditioner is enough on board your RV?
You may want to use the rule of thumb that you need roughly 70 BTUs per square foot inside your RV. while this may mean that you need to measure or otherwise figure out the square footage of your rig, this is the best way to determine whether another AC unit will be necessary. however, your lifestyle may also determine this for you as well.
If you find that you only camp in temperate or colder locations, another air conditioner is likely not necessary to enjoy your RV, even a larger travel trailer or Class C motorhome. Depending on your AC, it might also be possible to modify it and help it run somewhat cooler, as you can see in the video.
However, if that’s not something you want to do or even if you plan on camping during the summertime for a few days, a larger RV such as a Class A motorhome or a fifth wheel likely needs two air conditioners in order to efficiently cool the entirety of your rig down.
This will be necessary if you camp with multiple people, as you will likely need the entire RV to stay cool rather than just the room that you are spending the most time in. A larger RV doesn’t circulate cooled air well if the only AC unit is located at one end of your rig. Plus, more people means more heat generated, giving your AC unit even more reason to work hard!
Determining what size air conditioner you need for your RV can be difficult if you don’t know everything that you should consider. However, with your typical camping adventures in mind as well as how many people you plan on camping with, you can likely determine how much air conditioning you need.
This is especially true if you have a particularly large RV that is difficult to keep cool. It may benefit you to install a secondary air conditioner, even if it is slightly less powerful than your initial unit. Regardless, staying cool while you camp is key to enjoying your time while on the road, so make sure you choose an appropriately sized air conditioner for your rig!