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The best RV air conditioners of 2020

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Summer is a popular time to jump into your RV or campervan and head out on an adventure. But summer is the hottest time of the year, which means your rig may feel more like a sauna than a cozy home. The good news is this: there is a solution to your overheated, sweaty misery.

 

An RV air conditioner is just the ticket to keeping your RV cool and comfortable during the summer months. An RV air conditioner is easy to install and creates a constant whisper of cool air throughout your camper. Imagine how good that would feel after a long hike in the woods.

If you haven’t invested in an RV roof air conditioner yet, now just might be the right time.

We’ve researched and highlighted the best RV AC units out there so you can make the right decision. Maybe this is the summer where you’ll feel cool and refreshed in your motorhome on even the most sweltering days.

Don’t feel like reading the whole article?

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You can also check out our easy-to-read comparison table.

What is an RV air conditioner and how does it work?

Most RV air conditioners are units on the roof of your RV that are built to withstand vibration and the elements. They work with similar technology as the refrigerator in your home, by using a compressor. Instead of pumping cold air into your RV, the unit actually removes warm air from your rig. If you love learning about the tech behind an RV AC unit, read this article on how RV air conditioners work.

An RV rooftop air conditioner works differently than the AC in your house. Typically, an RV air conditioner only cools the air 20 degrees lower than the outside temperature. So if it’s a scorching 110 degrees outside, it will still be 90 degrees in your RV. Yuck. 

RV air conditioner’s works with a 110-volt power supply, like the plugs you see in your house. That means to run your AC unit while camping off-grid, you’ll need to connect it to a generator or use a solar system. If you’re staying in an RV park, you can hook up to electricity and use that to run your camper AC.

An RV AC unit isn’t cheap. Most of the good quality models cost anywhere between $500-$1,000. If you’re looking for a more affordable option, check out our article on the best RV roof vents.

Keep in mind that RV air conditioners aren’t super lightweight. Many weigh between 70-100 pounds, so make sure you can lift the weight onto your roof if you’re installing it yourself.

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Things to consider before you buy an RV AC Unit

Airstream camper with Dometic air conditioner
Photo: Dometic

If you’re spending over $5oo for an RV air conditioner, you want to be sure you’re picking the right one. It’s important to make sure you’re getting the right AC unit for your camper. Here are some things to consider before picking the best RV air conditioner for your particular situation.

Ducted vs. non-ducted RV air conditioners

RV air conditioners come in two types: ducted or non-ducted. A ducted unit works with the existing ducts in your RV to move air through your rig. A non-ducted unit just blows air out of the bottom part of the unit. Many people with larger RVs opt for a ducted unit, while a non-ducted RV AC unit is perfect for a smaller camper.

The RV air conditioner’s BTUs

An RV rooftop AC unit’s power is measured using BTUs, or British Thermal Units. Typically, the higher the number of BTUs, the more powerful your AC unit will be. This also means it will take more energy to run in the form of a gas generator, electrical hookup or solar power. Standard models come with 13,500 BTUs, but if you have a larger rig or camp frequently in hot climates, you may need an AC unit topping 15,000 BTUs.

The size and shape of the RV roof AC unit

If you’re putting something on your RV’s roof, you want to make sure it’s aerodynamic. The more sleek and low the RV air conditioner is, the less drag on your vehicle when you’re driving. An AC unit with a higher profile will create more drag, and therefore increase your rig’s fuel consumption. The size of your rooftop AC unit can also impact whether your vehicle will fit in a parking garage, so it’s definitely something to consider.

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Whether you need one or two RV AC units

The size of your rig also matters. If you drive a bigger RV, you might need two RV roof air conditioning units to make sure your entire motorhome stays cold. The RVers Gone with the Wynns wondered why their RV was still hot even with an AC unit. The solution? Two units. 

Do you need rooftop RV AC that comes with a heater?

If you’re also traveling to cold climates in your RV, you might want to consider an RV air conditioner that can also heat your RV on cool evenings or mornings. These AC units come with a heat pump or heating strips. A heat pump works by taking warmer air from outside your RV and pumping it into your motorhome. A heat strip works a little bit like a space heater. When it warms up, your AC unit blows air over the strip, creating a warm air flow.

These units don’t operate below 40-degrees, though. If you’re traveling to an extremely cold climate you’ll want to consider a propane furnace, fireplace or space heaters.

The power required to run your RV roof AC unit

Rooftop RV ac units use a lot of power to function. A common ballpark to think about is an AC unit can draw 16 amps when starting up and then 13 amps to run. If you prefer to think about this in terms of watts, a 13,500 BTU rooftop RV AC unit can take 2,750 watts to start and 1,250 to run, if not more. It all depends on the unit you buy. See this awesome chart for more details on watts used to run various appliances in an RV.

RV rooftop air conditioner installation

A rooftop RV air conditioner requires a 14×14 hole in your RV’s roof, which many RVs already have. You can either install your new RV air conditioner by yourself or take it into an RV shop for installation. Keep in mind that these AC units aren’t light. They typically weight between 70-100 pounds, so you’ll need two people to lift it up onto the roof. You can download RV AC unit user manual’s online. It’s a good idea to read through before you purchase to see if you can handle the installation.

The noise level created by your RV AC unit

If you’re sensitive to noise, you’ll want to think about the amount of noise your RV unit will create. This is subjective as everyone has a different tolerance to noise.  One thing you can do is read through the comments and reviews associated with these RV air conditioners and see what people say about the noise level. 

Best RV air conditioner comparison table

Sifting through all the information to find the best RV air conditioner for your camper can be confusing and overwhelming. To simplify, we’re including the information in an easy-to-read chart. You can click on any link and head over to Amazon to read more about each RV AC Unit.

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The best rooftop RV AC units you can buy

Airstream trailer using a Dometic rooftop air conditioner

Here are our recommendations for the best RV AC units you can purchase for the sweltering summer months. Hopefully one of these units will keep you feeling cooler and more comfortable when living in your RV.

There are several top manufacturers for rooftop RV AC units, which is why you’ll see several models from the same company in our review. Each model provides something different

Dometic Brisk II RV Air Conditioner – $650-$750

BTUs: 13,500 or 15,000

Weight: 77 pounds

Type: Ducted or non-ducted

Dometic’s newest RV air conditioner, the Brisk II Air, is an improvement on older models with a lightweight, durable design. This rooftop AC unit has a carbon steel base, making it able to withstand the vibration of driving. It’s also made with larger vents which promotes a higher level of air flow. Dometic claims this AC unit has 15% more airflow than previous designs and is 19% lighter.  Plus, if you’re feeling chilly at night or in the morning, switch on this AC unit’s heating function to move some warm air through your rig. 

Reviewers say the Brisk II Air is easy to install once you lug it on top of your RV.  Top complaints are about the noisiness of this rooftop RV unit. As one reviewer said, “It cools like a blizzard and is as loud as one, too.”

Dometic is a trusted brand in the RVing world. So trusted, in fact, that NASA charged Dometic with building an air conditioner for its lunar rover. 

Pros:

  • Powerful
  • Lightweight
  • Aerodynamic
  • Strong air flow with large vents
  • Easy installation
  • Two-year warranty 

Cons:

  • Some say it’s loud
  • Complaints of unit breaking after one year

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Airxcel (Coleman) Mach 15 – $700-$800

BTUs: 15,000

Weight: 85 pounds

Type: Ducted or non-ducted

The Airxcel Mach 15 is arguably the most powerful AC unit on the market, equipped with a 1/3 hp fan motor, the largest in the industry. The power and strength of this rooftop AC unit make it a great bet for a ducted system. If you don’t have a ducted system, expect this RV AC unit to blast cold air throughout your rig at an astonishing 325 cubic feet per minute. A low, aerodynamic profile means less drag when you’re driving down the highway.

Reviewers love the power of this unit, saying it keeps the inside of an RV comfortable even in extreme heat. 

Traveling somewhere chilly? Add an optional heater assembly to this unit to pump warmth throughout your RV.

Pros:

  • The most powerful unit on the market
  • Easy installation
  • Aerodynamic
  • The largest motor in any RV ac unit
  • Two-year warranty 

Cons:

  • None found

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Dometic Penguin II – $830-$850

BTUs: 13,500

Weight: 101 pounds

Type: Ducted or non-ducted

If you’re looking for the sleekest and most aerodynamic RV rooftop air conditioner on the market, look no further than Dometic’s Penguin II. This futuristic unit only extends 11 and a quarter inches above your RV’s roof, meaning better gas mileage and less drag. This RV AC unit uses the more eco-friendly R401A refrigerant and has a powerful cooling performance. It’s compact and easy to install if you can heft it up to your RV roof.

Pros:

  • The lowest-profile of all RV AC units
  • Easy installation
  • Cools efficiently
  • Two-year warranty 

Cons:

  • Some reviewers complain about the noise
  • Expensive

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Atwood Air Command – $750-$800

BTUs: 13,500

Weight: 80 pounds

Type: Non-ducted

The Atwood Air Command is an RV AC unit designed to withstand harsh conditions. It has separate motors for the condenser fan and blower, which means its quieter and more efficient than other rooftop AC units. The Atwood blasts air throughout your RV at 360 cubic feet per minute, and the digital display ensures an accurate temperature. If you’re heading to a place with chilly mornings or nights, this RV air conditioner comes with a heating option as well.

Pros:

  • Designed to withstand harsh elements
  • Quieter than the RV AC units
  • Comes with heat pump
  • Easy to install
  • Two-year warranty 

Cons:

  • Some say the fan runs too often

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Airxcel Mach 3 RV AC Unit – $615-$675

BTUs: 13,500

Weight: 80 pounds

Type: Ducted and non-ducted 

The Arxcel Mach 3 RV Air Conditioner is one of the best selling on the market and is more affordable than others we found. This unit features a large evaporator and condenser coils with raised lance fins to help dissipate heat. This RV air conditioner was built to last, made with copper tubing and gas-fluxed brazed joints. Cold air pumps out of this unit at 320 cubic feet per minute. Just like the Mach 15 we discussed above, this unit also comes with the 1/3 hp fan motor.

If you need some heat, you can add an optional heater assembly to this RV AC unit to take the edge of chilly mornings or evenings. 

Pros:

  • Lighter than some other models
  • Low profile
  • Easy to install
  • Most affordable AC unit on this list
  • Runs on largest fan motor for RV ac units

Cons:

  • Some say they are not dependable
  • Some complaints of noise

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RV Air Conditioner accessories you might want to add

Now that you’ve thought about the best RV air conditioner for your motorhome, now its time to dive into accessories. You may or may not want to purchase these items, but they will help keep your RV ac in good working order.

A cover for your RV air conditioner

Even though RV air conditioners are designed to withstand UV and other natural elements, it’s still a good idea to give your unit another layer of protection. Rooftop RV ac units are exposed to the harshest of conditions, and since you spent a pretty penny, might as well make it last as long as possible. A cover helps keep your RV air conditioner safe.

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New filters for your RV AC unit

There will come a time in your life you’ll need to replace the filters in your RV air conditioner. A clogged filter can influence how cold your air conditioner will get and if it will even blow cold air. Follow the instructions on the RV air conditioner you buy to make sure you’re using the right replacement filters. Also, you can clean an existing filter before replacing it to improve efficiency.

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Tips for keeping your RV cool in the summer months

Woman sitting insider an RV cooled with an RV AC unit

If you rely only on your RV air conditioner to keep your rig cool in summer, you’re going to end up sweating. There are some simple things you can do to increase the effectiveness of your rooftop RV AC. Keep in mind these units only cool to about 20 degrees lower than the outside temperature.

Here are some handy tips to keep your motorhome cooler on a sunny day.

Park in the shade

Don’t underestimate the power of the trees! Parking your RV in the shade can lower the temperature a whopping 20-degrees. This means your RV air conditioner won’t have to work as hard to keep your camper cold.

Keep your curtains closed

Yes, it is tempting to keep your window shades wide open to enjoy the beautiful view. But leaving curtains open during the peak hot hours of the day will only serve to make your RV unbearably hot. It’s a good idea to close all the curtains and shades during the day and open them back up to enjoy the cooler evening.

Replace your incandescent lights with LED lights

LED lights require a lot less energy and also produce way less heat than your traditional light bulb. Up to 90% of the energy an incandescent light uses goes toward creating heat. Yuck!

Cook outside whenever possible

Cooking inside your RV is a surefire way to raise the overall heat. If you can, do everything from boiling water to cooking breakfast outside. You can do this easily with a portable camping table and a propane camping stove. 

Use a roof vent to pull cool air in

Using an RV roof vent is a great way to keep your RV cool, especially at night. Just crank up the RV roof vent when you’re sleeping to draw in that refreshing outside air. This way, you won’t have to listen to your AC unit working while you’re trying to sleep.

Don’t use appliances that create heat

When you’re baking on a hot summer day, the last thing you want to do is turn on your crockpot, right? A good way to keep your RV cool is to cut down on your use of heat-generating appliances.

Start your AC unit early in the morning

Get your RV air conditioner running before the day heats up! This will give your AC unit a head start in keeping your RV cool. Instead of working hard to cool down the inside of your RV when its 100 degrees, it can start when its 70 and attempt to maintain that temperature.

Clean the air filter in your air conditioning unit

In order to keep your RV air conditioner in good working order, it’s important to clean or replace the filters. Dometic recommends removing the air filter every two to six months and washing it with soap and warm water. Let it dry, then reinstall it in your rooftop AC unit.

Conclusion on the best RV air conditioners

RV air conditioners are a great investment for RVers who plan on traveling during warm summer months. Rooftop RV AC units are designed to withstand the vibration of constant driving and the harsh outside elements. 

When choosing an RV AC unit, you’ll want to pick one that’s sleek and aerodynamic to reduce drag.

An RV air conditioner isn’t cheap, ranging from $600 at the low end to over $1,000 on the high end.

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, check out this post: The best RV roof vents.

Here are our favorite RV air conditioners one more time:


3 thoughts on “The best RV air conditioners of 2020”

  1. Besides cleaning awnings, resealing roofs, and checking RV batteries and water heaters, it’s very easy to forget that air conditioners need maintenance on a regular basis too. Air conditioners are mostly self-sufficient, but annually you should give them a good look to make sure all is well. Depending on where and when you travel, you’ll want and need your air conditioners operating at peak efficiency.

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