Best RV Air Conditioner of 2020 | Expert Advice
The best RV air conditioner is the one that makes you most comfortable in your RV. But the options available out in the market can feel overwhelming.
This article will help you understand the different features of air conditioner models, with which you can choose the ideal unit that fits in your RV. We’ve tested many travel trailer air conditioner units on our RV camping trips, and have zeroed in on the best RV air conditioner for you.
Our Top 3 RV Air Conditioners of 2020
Below is a comprehensive RV Air Conditioner Buying Guide for you.
How to choose the best RV Air Conditioner
Ducted vs Non-Ducted RV AC Units
For RV’s and motorhomes, Ducted is the way you should go. But let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.
Non-Ducted AC units expel the cooled air from the lower vent at the bottom of their unit. Ducted AC units distribute air evenly throughout the RV with the help of ducts that are installed in the ceilings.
The operation is also quieter with ducted models, which makes it a quiet RV air conditioner. Many RV’s have ceiling ducts already as a part of their design, which can be easily integrated with your ducted units.
Non-ducted models work fine for single room RV motorhomes, though they might not be the best solution if it has more than one room. You will need more AC units in this case.
BTU (British Thermal Units)
The BTU is one of the key factors that you should consider while buying an RV air conditioner. It is the energy that the air conditioner uses per hour for the cooling process (BTU/hr), or in other words - the cooling capacity of the unit.
This is important for two reasons. First, we need to save energy. Second, we want our air conditioner to last. An RV AC unit with a higher BTU than needed, will consume more energy. And if you go for a unit that has less BTU than needed, it has to run for longer times to achieve the same result.
So, how do we arrive at the optimum?
Fortunately, we have a standard BTU for RV’s. RV air conditioners with a capacity of 13,500 BTU’s are ideal in most cases.
Consider the size of your RV, the time of the year you are camping, and the number of people you are planning to take along. These help you decide the right BTU needed for your RV. If you would need to use it extensively, 18,000 might be the next higher rating to look at. Here’s also a link which helps you choose: BTU calculator.
Remember that more the BTU, the more the power consumed, which can lead to generators of higher capacities.
Look for an energy efficient air conditioner that saves power. By saving energy, it saves the environment as well. Look for a mention of Low-Power Consumption in the product descriptions.
Power compatibility is important as well, as power sources vary in different countries. Make sure you have the right adaptor/convertor that works with the local electricity sources.
Air conditioners can do more than just cool air. With a heat pump, they can heat air as well. The units that don’t have heat pumps can be complemented with heat strips or heater assembly kits.
Are you a full time RV-er? Do you enjoy camping both in summer and in winter? Do you predict a range of climate conditions on your trip? If yes, then it is recommended to go for these dual purpose units. You can fix it once and forget, and the power consumption is also lesser as compared to RV Furnaces.
But instead, if you go RV camping only in the summer, then you can forget about this. You’ll be saving a lot of money as well, as the RV air conditioners with dual usages are pricey. We have tested both types of units in this article.
RV Air Conditioner Types
Rooftop AC Units
Portable AC Units
Window AC Units
On the rooftop
Inside the RV
Outside, over a window
Doesn’t require any installation, except for a water hose to prevent water leakage
Easy installation, can be easily mounted
Doesn’t obstruct natural light
Doesn’t obstruct natural light
Can obstruct natural light
Affects the clearance height of the RV vehicle
Air distribution inside RV
Can be used wither with a duct system or with an air distribution box
Needs a duct system
Can be used wither with a duct system or with an air distribution box
Rooftop position isn’t optimal for heating the RV
Gives the best heating results
Window AC units heat the room more effectively than Rooftops, but not more than Portable ones.
Number of Units
The RV’s length heavily influences the type & number of air conditioner units you would need. Larger vehicles ( more than 8m ) need a more powerful unit, or even multiple units.
The type of installation - ducted or non-ducted, is also a major factor. Ducted installations spread the cooled air evenly through the RV through ducts, so a single powerful unit might be the best solution here. If it is a non-ducted installation, the cooled air might not cover the entire RV in which case, two separate units are required.
Shape & Size
The shape of the AC unit is important if it is a rooftop installation. We need it to be as sleek as possible, which otherwise can increase the clearance height of the RV. Choose low-profile aerodynamic units in this case.
The size matters if it is going to be placed inside the RV. Space is a premium in RV’s and we want to save as much as possible.
Maintaining RV Air Conditioners
Clean the air conditioner every couple of months. Clean the air vents, compressor and filters. You can use vacuum hoses for cleaning the air vents. For the compressors, foaming cleaners work best.
Change the filters regularly. Check your product’s descriptions and decide how frequently you should change them.
Make sure that the exterior of the air conditioner is cleaned periodically and doesn’t obstruct air that comes out. Not cleaning it for longer periods also pollutes the air.
Top 3 RV Air Conditioners
The Dometic Polar Conditioner is a rooftop RV AC units that has evolved with time, and has emerged to be the best. It has both ducted and non-ducted types of installation which is a big advantage. The installation is straightforward and can be done in half a day.
It comes with two BTU specifications, 13,500 and 15,000 - you can choose the one that best fits your RV. It’s compact in size yet very powerful in cooling air and maintaining a steady air flow.
Thanks to its sleek design, you don’t have to worry about the clearance.
It has a high performance design; be it the carbon steel base that adds strength, or the larger air openings that deliver an increased 15 % air flow as compared to the previous models, durability is unquestionable with Dometic.
One thing that could have been better in the Dometic air conditioner is its noise. Although the manufacturers claim that it's quiet, it does make some noise. But the pros easily overlook the cons here. Also, it doesn’t come with the control panel and the heating element, if you wish to use it in the winter.
Bonus point - it comes with a 2 year warranty and protection.
- Both ducted and non-ducted installation
- Easy & Straightforward to install
- High performance design built for durability
- Superior cooling capacity
- Compact in size & sleek in design
- 2 BTU specs’ and colors to choose from
- 2 year warranty
- Doesn’t come with a control unit
The Dometic is a heavy-duty product worth investing in, that performs well in most areas.
The Costway RV air conditioner is a portable unit that is quite a versatile product with many different functions. It offers cooling, fanning, dehumidifying, and sleeping modes to meet the exact need of the customer. When in sleeping mode, the noise is greatly reduced.
It comes with a BTU of 10,000, which is perfect for RV’s upto 400 sq. ft. If you have a larger RV, we suggest looking at the other products reviewed in the article.
The unit is equipped with other thoughtful features such as Water-Full Warning, which keeps your floors from getting wet. It also comes with a control unit, a long drain hose and an exhaust hose.
One feature that we particularly liked was the energy-saving capabilities of the air conditioner. You have the option of setting a time after which the unit will turn off automatically. What customers weren’t impressed with is the noise it makes in other modes apart from sleeping.
- Multiple modes - offers cooling, dehumidifying, fanning and sleeping
- Energy saving design
- Compact in size
- Priced reasonably
- Comes with a good set of accessories
- Noisy other than in sleeping mode
- Occupies space in RV
A multi-functional portable air conditioner at a reasonable price.
The Airxcel unit is one of the most powerful RV air conditioners in our review. It’s a roof-mounted conditioner and is a breeze to install. It takes about an hour to install it, and is easily DIY, which saves a good deal of money spent on labour cost. The installation is ducted, and the strong air-flow cools the RV efficiently.
It has a cooling/heating capacity of 15,000 BTU’s which is one of the highest cooling capacities among the products reviewed in the article. It owes it to the 1/3 HP fan motor which produces cool air at 320 cubic feet / minute. It is an 85-pound small RV air conditioner.
One interesting feature about the Airxcel RV Air conditioner is that it has a heating element as well. It makes the unit as useful in the winter as in the summer. Isn’t that cool? 😉
However, the packaging doesn’t seem to be solid. If it’s not handled properly, the product might get damaged. But with Amazon returns and the unprecedented quality of the product, this can easily be overlooked.
- Exceptional cooling capacity ( the best in the article )
- Quick DIY installation
- Powerful and quiet
- Dual usage - comes with heating element as well
- Sleek design - doesn't affect clearance
- No solid packaging
Excellent value for money, a solid product with superior cooling capacities.
Now that we have broken down what you need to look for in an RV air conditioner, it’s time for us to announce the winner of this RV air conditioner reviews article. The Dometic Polar Rooftop Conditioner is easily our pick for the best RV AC unit, owing to its many unique features. Of all the factors that you need to consider before purchasing, the Dometic performs decently in almost all of them.
It supports both ducted and non-ducted installation, it’s easy to install and has a very superior cooling capacity. Not only is it compact in size, it is also a very powerful unit with two different BTU specifications that you choose according to your need. The choices are very limited with a few top brands dominating the others. Dometic and Airxcel have been the best companies we have tested so far. They are totally worth the investment.
Have you picked your unit yet? Did you find our guide helpful? Let us know in the comments below.
If you are interested in RV washer dryer combos, check out our guide on the best RV washer dryer combos.