Air conditioners on an RV are like peanut butter and jelly. They just make sense. But what kind of air conditioner do you get? With all the options out there, we’re here to help make sure you get the right model for your RV and your lifestyle.
What to Consider When Choosing an RV AC Unit
While RV AC models all come in a similar base shape, with the mechanical items protected by a shell. But the resemblance ends there. There are low-profile models, compact models, larger models, and so much more. Our advice? Pick one that has a sleek, aerodynamic shape. With the sleek lines and design, it resists wind drag more than the other, more boxy models. Because of this reduction in drag, you get better gas mileage and better fuel efficiency. How’s that for a deal? You get a nice, sleek RV air conditioner unit while reducing your gas bill.
While there are some RVs out there that have a ton of space on their roof, many of us have to make do with the small space that we have. From roof vents, skylights, and more, you have to take into consideration the amount of space on your roof and ceiling. Make sure your ac unit fits within the space you have available. Also, look into the amount of vertical space that you have. If you have a tall RV, then a low profile unit is the way to go, since you can’t add as much height as you could with a lower model. So, take into consideration the space you have available, both on your ceiling and roof and between your roof and structures such as your garage door opening. Once you have these dimensions, you can better understand how large of a unit you can have on your RV.
For power, you’re looking at BTU. BTUs are the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree. In other words, heating or cooling power. If you are going to be using your RV AC unit for long periods of time, then a higher amount of BTUs would be a good choice. Also, if you are going to be traveling to places with a high amount of heat and humidity, then you’ll be wanting more BTUs. If you don’t use it as much or are going to be traveling to places that aren’t quite as hot or humid, then you can use a unit with less BTUs. Also, keep in mind the possibility of two RV AC units. If you are going to use two units, then you might be able to get away with a lower BTU unit.
Dual Usage Units
Dual usage RV AC units are equipped with both heating and cooling capabilities, with an added heat pump. This will help keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Just keep in mind, though, that these units are not full heating units, just a heat pump. If you are going to be camping in really cold environments, make sure you have a space heater as well.
Ease of Installation
This is one of those considerations that so many people forget. Air conditioners aren’t one of those RV parts that you just sit into place, press play, and it’s good to go. With all of the steps that go into putting one in, it’s a good idea to take into consideration the amount of work that will be necessary to put it in. Are you going to have someone install it for you, like a dealership or shop? Are you going to install it by yourself or have someone assist you? Have you ever installed an AC unit before? How heavy is it? Can you or your helpers lift it? With all of these considerations, it’s necessary to have the capability to even install it. If you’re not sure you can do the installation yourself, either contact an RV dealership or mechanic or look for a unit that is light or small enough that you can install it.
Should I Get a Second RV Air Conditioner?
This question comes up a lot for units that are larger or that travel to really warm and humid areas. There are many perks to having a second air conditioner unit in your RV, however, they come at a price. So, how do you know whether to get a second RV AC unit or whether to just bring along a box fan? Well, the general rule of thumb is that if your RV is up to 32 feet, you’re probably good with just one. Any longer than 32 feet, investing in a second AC unit would be a good idea. This is because there is more space to cool and more areas that can be blocked off, such as the bathroom, bedroom, or drivers area. Another consideration to getting a second RV AC unit is the color of your RV. This might seem like a completely separate area, but the color of your RV can influence how hot it gets and how much power you’ll need to cool it. The darker the color of your RV, the more power you’ll need. Where are you going to be vacationing? If you’re going camping up in Michigan, you probably won’t need another AC unit. But if you’re more of a Florida or Texas fan, then another AC unit can keep you from sweating through every outfit you own.
Some other considerations are your budget, your RV’s power capabilities, and space available. And if your current AC unit is ducted, then you might not be able to fit in another AC unit.
How Long Do AC Units Last?
We would all like our air conditioners to last forever. No one likes replacing them and without them, we’re left to be hot and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, though, they have the same downfall as every other electrical appliance: they eventually break down. Now, we’re not saying that you can’t get a whole lot of life out of them before they go. But their life will eventually end. The life of the AC unit will depend on a few things, including how often it’s used, how hot the weather is when it’s in use, how durable the unit is, and how well it’s taken care of. If it’s installed and used correctly, it should last you a good many years and in many cases, over a decade.
So, if you want to extend the life of your RV AC unit, then what do you do? The answer is simple. Make sure it’s installed correctly and that you are using it correctly. Keep it maintained and clean it regularly. Check up on your unit to make sure it doesn’t have any faulty parts that need replaced or damaged areas that need fixed before they become a larger issue.
Common AC Issues and How to Fix Them
While we can’t physically fix every problem for you, we can give you some advice so that you can find the solution on your own. Below are a few common issues as well as some tips to prevent or treat them.
Dirty Air Filters
Having dirty air filters doesn’t sound like the most serious of problems, but it can lead to some serious issues. They can lead to problems like freezing up, poor air quality, lack of airflow, not enough air even on high, and a malfunctioning AC unit. It can also cause electrical problems that can damage the AC unit and can spread allergens and germs throughout the RV. Yeah, not a good time. Luckily, it’s the easiest part of maintenance on an air conditioner. Just clean the filter at least once per camping season and if it starts to break down or if it gets damaged, get a new one as soon as possible. Whenever you’re working with the filter, turn the power off. When you’re ready to use the unit again, make sure the filter is in.
If your filter is removable, you can try these cleaning methods:
Vacuum - use a vacuum cleaner on low or medium setting and aim the nozzle or brush at the filter, especially at visible spots of dust or grime. Make sure you don’t press too hard or use the vacuum on high, as this can cause ripping, breaking, or denting the filter.
Bath - Fill a bucket with lukewarm water and some mild detergent or dish soap. Submerge the filter in this mixture and move it about until it’s completely covered. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, longer if it’s really dirty. If necessary, you can also use a soft brush to gently scrub any grime away. Once done, rinse it off and make sure it’s completely dry before placing it back into the AC unit.
Disinfect - If you want to make sure there’s no bacteria on the filter, you can make a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar. Spray this solution all around the filter and on all sides. Let this sit for about 10 minutes, rinse it all off, and dry it off completely before placing it back into the AC unit.
Too Much Humidity
This problem has more to do with the environment you’re in. If you are in a really humid place, it can cause problems with your air conditioner. Too much humidity in your environment can cause ice to develop within your air conditioner because it can’t keep up with the amount of moisture in the air, causing the condensation to freeze onto the unit.
To help keep your AC unit in good condition even in these high humidity environments, run your fan on high and place additional fans throughout the RV to keep the air moving. Make sure the AC unit is clean, especially the air filter. This will make sure the air can properly flow through it. If you are regularly in these humid environments, invest in a dehumidifier. This device not only helps out your AC unit, but takes down the humidity level of the whole RV, allowing you to be more comfortable and preventing any humidity damage from happening anywhere else.
Bad Flow Dividers
Flow dividers are up in the AC unit itself and are also called baffles. They separate the cold air flow from the hot air intake. If there is a problem with these, these two streams of air can mix, causing the unit to misread the needs of the environment and either freeze up or stop cooling the air. To fix this, check the divider for any leaks or cracks. Fix any problem that might be there and reseal it with HVAC foil tape.
Dirty Evaporator or Condenser Coils
These coils on the top of the unit have important uses, evaporation and cooling the air. If they are left unattended and become dirty, it makes your AC unit work harder to transfer heat out of your RV and cool the air inside, causing freezing to occur. To prevent problems with these, clean them regularly. Shut off all power going to the air conditioner and remove the cover on top of the unit. Be careful and practice safety. Remove the sheet metal housing around the evaporator coils so that you can see both sets of coils. Vacuum the coils, making sure to first block any air openings going into your RV to stop any debris from getting in. Be sure not to damage the gasket around the AC unit, as this keeps water from getting into your RV. Gently vacuum both sets of coils with a soft brush attachment. Mix dish soap and water in a spray bottle and spray both sets of coils down. Let this sit for a few minutes before wiping them down with a cloth or soft brush. Vacuum them once more to remove any remaining dirt or debris. Once clean, inspect the fins for any bends of damaged spots. If you find any, straighten them with a screwdriver, knife, or fin comb. After everything is dry, clean the cover before replacing it and the sheet metal surrounding the evaporator coils.
Sometimes, the problem with your AC unit is just a problem with the thermostat or remote. If your AC unit only works when you continually turn down the thermostat or if the reading on your thermostat doesn’t match the reading of a separate thermometer, then you need a new remote or thermostat.
Damage to Wiring
If you’re still stuck on what’s wrong with your RV, it could be an electrical issue. Check your AC out to see if there is any damage from water, overheating, animals, or normal wear and tear. If you do see something, then you should call an RV technician or electrician to fix the problem. As electrical problems can be difficult and dangerous, we do not recommend trying to fix them on your own.