Navigating the road to comfort: A comprehensive guide to RV air conditioning

RV air conditioning systems differ; two common types are ducted and ductless units, each catering to specific preferences, a portable AC unit is also an option.

In general, recreation vehicles (RVs) come with one air conditioner on the ceiling, while others come with dashboard air conditioning systems as well.

Certain RVs are boast more than one air conditioner, with two or even three air conditioners in one RV.

Nowadays, it’s uncommon to encounter an RV without any form of air conditioning, whether it comes directly from the manufacturer or has been installed by the owner.

RV air conditioning: Power sources, alternatives and operational considerations

Built-in air conditioners in RVs do not solely rely on the engine power of the vehicle. Instead, they typically require a generator to supply the substantial energy needed for operation.

These air conditioners use a feature known as AC Power, derived from a standard 120-volt socket found in sources like home electricity and portable generators.

For more environmentally conscious full-timers, solar panels are also available as an alternative power source, offering a sustainable and cost-effective option compared to gas generators.

RVs installed with dashboard air conditioners will run whenever the vehicle is on.

Dashboard air conditioners are, however, noted to not be as powerful as those that are able to be connected to the generator, but can deliver a reasonably adequate amount of cooling for the RV while it is on the move.

Please remember though, that operating your RV’s air conditioner while driving is only possible if it has a functioning built-in generator; it is crucial to avoid using a portable generator while driving.

Instead, rely on the dash AC to keep you cool until you reach your destination.

Additionally, each RV with an air conditioning system operates differently, so it is best to refer to your owner’s manual for guidance on proper usage and troubleshooting.

Many modern RV manufacturers provide online access to manuals, making it easy to access answers to common RV AC questions without risking warranty voidance or AC damage.

RV air conditioning: Exploring ducted and ductless options for enhanced comfort

In the realm of RV air conditioning, there are two common types – ducted and ductless units, each offering distinct advantages to cater to different preferences and needs.

Ducted RV Air Conditioning

Ducted systems are designed with a centralized unit that connects to a network of ducts running throughout the RV.

These ducts distribute conditioned air through the ceiling, walls, and floor, controlling the temperature in more than one RV room, providing a more even and consistent cooling experience.

Ducted systems are often favored for larger RVs with multiple rooms, as they allow for better temperature control throughout the entire vehicle.

The centralized nature of ducted units also makes them quieter, as the noisy components are typically located on the roof.

However, their ability to deliver a more uniform and consistent cooling experience across the entire RV comes at a higher cost.

Ductless RV Air Conditioning

Ductless or non-ducted RV air conditioning systems feature individual units placed strategically within the RV.

These units can be mounted on the ceiling or walls, or inside a window or wall opening, providing localized cooling for specific areas.

Ductless systems are often more compact, making them suitable for smaller travel trailers, teardrops, and class B’s (camper vans) or those with flexible floor plans.

Additionally, they are generally easier to install and more cost-effective than ducted systems.

Portable AC Unit

You can also consider a portable air conditioner as an alternative for your RV. These units don’t require installation, making them budget-friendly and ideal for those with lower AC needs.

Ensure you choose a compact portable unit that can be easily stored, and opt for a well-constructed design with a stable, bottom-heavy structure to prevent tipping over while on the move.

Optimizing RV comfort: Choosing the right air conditioner size for your rig

Each RV type differs from the other in size, floor plan, weight, design and price to fit the needs of different customers.

RV air conditioners too, are available in various styles, and the size of your unit is influenced by factors like personal cooling preferences, the square footage of your camper, interior layout, wall insulation, among others.

If your recreational vehicle is not equipped with an AC, it is essential to invest in one to ensure proper… well… recreation.

The size of your recreational vehicle is the primary factor to consider when looking for an RV AC unit, as cooling a larger RV requires more power and energy.

Installing a small rooftop AC unit in a large travel trailer can result in inefficient cooling, while an excessively large unit for a small camper van can be both wasteful and power-demanding.

Consider the size of your vehicle when shopping for a new RV air conditioner, ensuring that the unit’s capacity matches the dimensions of your RV.

Two common sizes for RV air conditioners are 13,500 BTUs and 15,000 BTUs, although smaller and larger options are also available.

Longer RVs, exceeding 32 feet, may require two AC units to effectively combat summer heat, while larger RVs like toy haulers might even need a third AC unit for adequate cooling.

Whether you are considering purchasing a specific RV type or already own one, it is essential to determine which air conditioner sizes are suitable for your RV.

Also read:Comparing the top 6 RV air conditioners: Rooftop, under bench and portable models

Here are some of the most common RV types and the corresponding air conditioner options that best fit each other:

Type Size (BTU) Notes
Class A 15,000
  • Over 30 ft
  • At least 2 AC units
Class B 13,500
Class C 13,500 – 15,000
  • Small Class C motorhome – one 13,500 BTU AC unit
  • Super C motorhome – multiple 15,000 BTU AC units
Travel Trailer 13,500 – 15,000
  • If the insulation is bad or there are more people – add a secondary unit, or upgrade to a 15,000 BTU unit
Fifth Wheel 15,000
  • 2 units
Read more: Comparing Travel Trailers and Motorhomes

Assessing the need for additional air conditioners

Adding another AC unit to your RV is an option provided by most manufacturers, but it raises questions about necessity, given the cost.

A practical approach is to use the rule of thumb of around 70 BTUs per square foot inside your RV (so know your rig’s square footage).

Consider your lifestyle – if you camp in temperate or colder locations, an additional air conditioner may not be necessary, even in larger RVs like travel trailers or Class C motorhomes.

However, if you plan on camping during hot summer days or own a larger RV, such as a Class A motorhome or fifth wheel, having two air conditioners may be crucial for efficient cooling.

This becomes especially necessary when camping with multiple people, as relying on a single AC unit at one end of a larger RV may not circulate cooled air effectively.

With more occupants generating additional heat, having two AC units ensures optimal cooling for the entire RV.

Tips for optimizing your RV air conditioner performance

Irrespective of the quantity or size of air conditioning units in your recreational vehicle, the effectiveness of their performance is influenced by various factors.

These factors encompass aspects such as the outside temperature, the level of maintenance your air conditioning units receive, and the overall efficiency of your RV’s ventilation system, how big the trailer is and how many air conditioners are operating, what kind of things (like cooking) you do inside and how often you go in and out the door, how many occupants, etc.

Additionally, proper sealing of windows, doors, and any potential gaps plays a pivotal role in enhancing the overall performance of the air conditioning units.

Below we share some tips to enhance the cooling performance of your RV AC unit:

1. Park strategically

Park strategically, under trees or near tall buildings, as shade effectively lowers the temperature inside your RV.

2. Cover your windows

During summer, the primary source of heat entering your RV is often doors and windows.

Install window coverings such as sunshades, blinds, or curtains to block heat from entering the RV. Opt for reflective or blackout curtains.

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Do not forget to close these window coverings during the peak heat hours.

3. Install external shade solutions

If parking under a tree or any other shaded palce is not an option, consider implementing external shading devices such as canopies, pop-up gazebos, or shade sails, an RV awning to offer extra shade for your RV.

Installing these structures near your RV shields it from the sun, minimizing heat absorption and contributing to a cooler interior temperature, particularly during peak sunlight hours.

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4. Insulate and seal your windows and doors

Insulate the windows using reflective material or insulating panels to block the heat.

Also, inspect the RV’s doors, windows, and walls for any gaps or leaks and seal them with weatherstripping, sealant tape or caulking, in order minimize heat transfer, ensuring a cooler interior temperature.

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5. Limit heat generating activities

Minimize cooking and other activities that generate heat during the hottest parts of the day to reduce the load of your AC.

6. Consider alternative cooling

Explore alternative cooling methods such as portable fans, swamp coolers, or additional fans strategically placed inside the RV.

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7. Regularly clean your RV AC

Keep your RV air conditioner in optimal condition by regularly cleaning filters, coils, and other components, ensuring efficient performance.

Final thoughts

Optimizing your RV journey requires careful consideration of multiple factors, from choosing the right air conditioning unit size and type based on your RV’s dimensions to understanding the power sources and maintenance requirements.

Strategic parking, proper insulation, and managing interior heat sources are crucial for enhancing cooling performance.

Whether you’re a full-timer or a seasonal traveler, these tips can contribute to a more comfortable and enjoyable journey.

Also, consult the owner’s manual to know about your specific RV model’s operation for proper usage and troubleshooting.

A well-maintained and efficiently cooled RV ensures a pleasant and refreshing adventure on the road.

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