Not sure where to start with your new caravan air conditioner purchase? The following is a guide to help you better understand what’s important in order to find the right caravan aircon for you.
Don’t get me wrong, travelling around Australia in a caravan can be amazing however there are times when it can get damn hot in that box on wheels. So what do you do? install a caravan air conditioner of course! Those magical white boxes on the top of vans do a great job keeping you cool in summer, but for the southerners, they can also provide important heating in the cooler months.
So what should you look for when buying an aircon? Read on and I’ll explain.
When it comes to choosing a air conditioner for your caravan in Australia there are several questions to first ask yourself
- What type of aircon do you require?
Reverse cycle or heating element style.
- Where will it be installed?
Do you need a rooftop, portable or under bench system.
- What size of aircon required?
This will depend on the size of your van and if your current battery system handle it.
Don’t want to read all about aircon units? Jump to the caravan air conditioner reviews.
Do You Even Need A Caravan Air Conditioner?
Is it necessary to invest in an AC designed explicitly for a caravan? Won’t just a regular split AC do? Won’t that be cheaper and reusable at home if needed?
Well, yes, you definitely need only a caravan AC, and other models will not do. An AC designed for a home will not fit your mobile home, just like many other fittings around. There are many differences between them both, and trying to fit the split AC into your RV will only lead to compliance nightmares.
Do you require a replacement air con?
There could be many reasons why you are not happy with your existing caravan AC. Some of the most common problems seen in these air conditioners are:
- It does not turn on or has trouble turning on every time
- Not blowing enough cold air
- Temperature fluctuates
- Compressor goes off frequently
Get a professional AC mechanic to look at your machine. Sometimes, they might be able to salvage your existing machine with simple repairs such as resetting the machine, cleaning the coil, or resolving a compressor issue. If all this does not work and the professional himself declares the AC needs to be changed, you are left with no choice.
Yes, it might be an unexpected expenditure, but you need a good AC in working condition to enjoy your trips in your RV.
What model is best - Roof top or built in?
Ok, so now we know you need to look only at ACs designed for RVs. So, should you opt for the rooftop model or the built-in model? Both come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Before you choose the model, you need to consider the size of your RV, the extent of usage, the number of people living in it, the weather conditions, etc.
Rooftop Air Conditioner
Rooftop models fit on top of your caravan, right in the opening on your caravan’s roof. It comes in two sizes – measuring 360x360mm or 400x400mm. Most RV users prefer rooftop models as they do not take much space.
- Easy to mount
- It does not take up much space
- The flow of cold air could be better as it comes from the top
- If your rooftop opening is 400x400mm, you can fit even the 360x360mm model with an adapter
- Some models can be very high and wide which can be an issue in low garages or underpasses.
- If the roof opening is only 360x360mm, you cannot fit in the 400x400mm model without cutting out and remodeling your RV’s roof.
- Will add weight to the caravan and can affect the lifting mechanism.
- Can obstruct the natural lighting coming from the top. If there are very small windows, this can make the RV rather dark inside.
- Hot air rises. When you use this model to heat the RV, it may not heat optimally as all the hot air will come from the top and stay there.
Built-In Air Conditioner
This model is perfect for those caravans with a single skin roof. It can be mounted in one of the cupboards or placed under a bench. It is a good option for caravans that are not insulated.
- When placed lower, it can cool the RV faster as air is already cooler at the bottom compared to the top
- Does not add weight to the roof
- Does not add height to the roof, so no impact on clearance height
- Can be an add on AC to the RV’s original AC
- Does not block natural light from the roof
- Has a wide distribution as a duct system is used
- When used for heating, hot air comes from the sides or bottom and spreads well around the caravan
- Takes up space in the living area
Shape and Size of the Air Conditioner
If you are opting for the rooftop model, you need to consider the various shapes of air conditioners available in the market. Choose an aerodynamic one that is sleek and not bulky or too high. This will reduce the resistance against wind and not affect the vehicle’s performance.
Some models will add as little as 25cm to your clearance height and will not make much difference.
Note: Do not consider just the height of the AC that will be sticking out on top and discard it as too high. Consider the fittings on your roof as well. The handles, luggage racks, etc., will also add height to your RV. If your AC can fit within this height, it will actually not have any “additional” impact on your clearance.
The size of your RV impacts the number of or the power of the AC you buy. The longer your RV, the more powerful the AC should be. The general rule is:
- For a vehicle measuring up to 5mts long – a 2-2.5kW power unit will be good
- For a vehicle measuring up to 6mts long – 2.5 – 3kW
- For vehicles measuring up to 7mts – 3-3.5kW
If you have bought a smaller AC for a big caravan, you may have to invest in more than one AC unit. Initially, the cooling might seem to be enough. When you go on long trips and live in your RV for an extended time, you may want more comfort, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
How Many BTU's do you require?
BTUs (British Thermal Units) are the measurement of the AC’s heating capacity. This is a very important factor to consider for two reasons:
- Your expenses on power
- How much your AC can cool
Caravan ACs generally fall under the 13,500 BTU or 15,000 BTU categories. Which category does your AC fall under?
- Check the spec sheet provided by the manufacturer as it will give you all the details that you need to know.
- If you have lost or misplaced this sheet, check the AC model number and find out the corresponding details from the manufacturer’s website (various spare parts will carry a model number, do not confuse this with the AC model number)
- Check the amperage in your RV. If it is 30amp, your AC must be 13,500 Btu. If it is a 50 amp, the AC must be a 15,000 BTU (there can be exemptions)
- If the AC is ducted, it will mostly be 15,000 BTU. On the other hand, if it is not ducted, then in most cases, it will be 13,500 BTU (this does not mean the reverse is not possible).
The default AC will be a 13,500 BTU in most cases unless you specifically ask for the more powerful one. If you are not happy with the airflow or the cooling, you can always change it to a 15,000 BTU. This is quite simple to do. You will have to remove the old one and fit it into the new one. Mostly, the wiring and hole size does not need a change.
A 15,000 BTU can work on a 30amp, provided no other appliances run during the AC start-up. A lot of power is required for the start-up. If any other equipment is running and drawing power from the generator, it will not be easy to start the AC. You can switch on the appliances after the AC is started and run for a while.
It would be best to consider how much power this little machine is going to consume to keep you comfortable at all times. Your fridge might consume only 50 – 100 watts, whereas the AC can consume around 1000-2000 watts. That is a lot of power!
If you have a generator to power up your AC, the power consumption can be similar to what is mentioned above and can cause a dent in your pocket. However, charging your AC in a caravan site may not be this expensive as they don’t charge you by the kilowatt.
You cannot solely depend on charging sites. It would be best if you also had a generator to power up your AC in emergencies. Some of the reasons to invest in a generator when you buy an AC for your RV are:
- Improves efficiency of the AC as the electronic throttle can be controlled according to the demand
- Lower emissions
- Operational noise is low, so you won’t be disturbed much, even at night when your AC is running on a generator
- These are very affordable
- Small in size but loaded with power to run the caravan AC
Some of the factors to consider before buying a generator for your caravan AC are:
- The type of generator that will suit your needs the best (inverter or portable)
- Power required by your AC at start-up and to run afterward (startup requires a lot of power)
- The capacity of the generator
Once you buy the right generator, you need to pay attention to these factors when you run your AC on the generator:
The temperature outside your caravan plays a vital role in your AC’s performance. If it is too hot or humid outside, the power required to start the AC will be higher. If the temperature is low, the power required will also be lower.
Length of Extension
Shorter the extension lead, the better will be the power. Longer leads will cause the amperage to drop. It is advisable to keep the lead below 4 meters.
Number Of Appliances
It is not enough to consider just the AC’s load. It would be best if you considered all other equipment too. Check how much power each piece of equipment will need. You can opt to have a generator exclusively for your AC and one for others. However, this will occupy a lot of space.
The difference types of Air Conditioners
How does the air conditioner cool the caravan? What type of a system does it use to achieve the required temperature?
There are 3 main types of air conditioner; reverse cycle, heating systems and inverter systems.
Reverse cycle models use a compressor. In Reverse cycle air conditioners, cool air will be pulled in while the hot air gets moved out, which effectively maintains the temperature uniform inside the caravan. This system works better for cooling than for heating.
- This system very efficiently transfers the heat from inside to outside and cools your RV easily
- No high power-consuming heating elements are used
- The ventilation is excellent, so you don’t have to worry about oxygen depletion in small areas
- If the temperature outside is too low, this system might not work efficiently. Meaning, it may not heat the RV properly. Check the manufacturer’s specifications regarding ambient temperatures as it will give you a clear idea of how outside temperature can affect this model.
Heating Element Systems
Heating systems use a specific heating element to heat the area. If you plan to travel in freezing temperatures, this can be a good option as the cooling and heating systems are separate. However, if your caravan is big, it may not heat it up completely. So, one may not suffice.
- Works well with ambient temperatures and heat the caravan efficiently
- The power required to run this type of AC can be high, thus pushing up your expenses
Inverter Air Con
Inverter models have a soft start technology, meaning it will not pull too much power during start-up like the Reverse cycle or Heating systems, making it a good option if your AC runs on a generator.
- You won’t have to invest in a bigger generator or switch off other appliances to provide sufficient power during start-up.
- Every time the compressor cuts off and restarts, there won’t be a big pull. This, in turn, will help reduce your power consumption, which can be a big relief for your wallet.
- It can cool the area faster than other models.
- It is not noisy
- If your RV is not well insulated, this model can draw more power to keep the area cool
- This is technically advanced so that the repairs will be more expensive
- It can be more expensive than the other models
How to install a caravan air conditioner
Once you have bought your new AC for your caravan, it is time to install it. If you have DIY skills and some experience fitting an AC, you can do it yourself.
If you are installing a rooftop model, you might require some extra set of hands to help you lift the machine to the roof. Not to forget, to bring down the old AC as well.
Here is how you can install the AC on your own:
Follow these steps to remove the existing rooftop model
- First, check the roof. See if it can hold your weight. Generally, they are light and tend to give under your weight. If this is the case, use planks around to support your weight. This way, you will not be stepping directly onto some specific spot.
- Now, remove the shroud or the AC cover. This will require you to unscrew the bolts holding the shroud in place.
- The old AC will be fixed to the ceiling with bolts. The bolts are also secured with the help of a rubber seal. You need to remove all these bolts and the rubber seal. Use a screwdriver or a wrench to remove all the bolts.
- Next, remove the flange bolts that are holding the AC.
- The roof and the AC gasket will be tightly sealed. You cannot stand on top of the roof and use all your strength to pry it off. Use a putty knife and pry it little by little.
- Disconnect all the wires. Do this carefully and pay a lot of attention to which wire came from where. This can save you a lot of precious time when you try to push back all those wires into the AC.
- Once separated, remove the roof coating as well as the sealants. Before installing the new AC, you need to completely remove all the rubber, debris, putty, etc.
- Now hand down the machine to someone standing below to receive it. If it is too heavy, gravity can add more weight to it. You can even get another set of hands to help them pass over.
Placing The AC in position
- Once the area is completely cleared and cleaned, check for anything sticking out. Ensure the area is clear. Get an extra pair of hands and lift the AC to the roof.
- Now, put the new AC where the old AC was. If the new one is the same size as the old one, it will fit in perfectly. If not, you will need extra materials and a trained professional to do it.
- Align the gasket with the ceiling opening properly. Check the AC manual to understand how to turn the flanges of the ceiling unit.
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions and fit the AC into the opening and tighten all the bolts and screws as instructed. This may be different from the one you removed, as installation can vary from model to model (even if it is the same brand).
You might need an electrician to do this if you are not too sure about what you are doing or the laws require you to hire a professional
Congratulations! You have successfully fixed your new AC in its place.
Now, let’s see how to get those wires in place:
- Connect all the wires to the unit. Your memory from removing those wires, as well as the instruction manual, will help. Also, these wires will be colored. Try matching the colors on both ends, and the job is pretty much done. Use the wire nuts to connect the electrical wires.
- There should be no exposed wiring after the installation. If needed, put some tape around the joints.
- Put on the filter cover. Slide the shroud carefully onto the AC and fasten it with the corresponding screws.
- Plugin the power and try starting it. Check all the features to see if the AC runs smoothly when they are turned on. If there is a problem, you can find it right away.
Other Factors To Consider when buying a Caravan Air Conditioner
Some of the other factors to consider in addition to all those listed above are:
Look for a model that offers a good warranty period. If the company is sure about its products, the warranty offered will be solid. You need not worry about repairs and maintenance expenses for a few years.
You will be on the move. There is no point if you have to come back to the home ground to repair your AC. This only means you will be driving around without a properly functioning AC. So, look for national service. Many companies have tie-ups and can offer services in other states too.
Sometimes, you can fix the issue yourself. All you will need are the parts. Like service, if the company can offer spare parts in other states, it can be very convenient. Even if a professional mechanic is called to work on some repairs while on a trip, they can easily find parts; this will also save you a lot of precious time.
Go through customer reviews on websites to understand which brands have been performing well consistently. These reviews will also throw light on the issues the customers faced and how they were resolved.
Try to choose a company that offers all models. Yes, you may want to opt for the best brand in rooftop ACs or the best in built-in. If you want to change the model after some time or need an additional AC, buying within the same brand might be beneficial. Service, spares, warranty, everything will be similar.
An air purifier is essential if you will be traveling in areas filled with pollution and dust. This will provide good quality air for you to breathe in. Some AC models come with an air purifier. You can opt for such a model.
If your main requirement is only cooling, and you don’t have much need for a heating system, you can invest in an all-in-one system. This can double up as an AC as well as a heater in wintertime. However, if you plan to travel extensively, even in a cold climate, this may not be enough to heat the entire RV all the time.
Depending on the size of your caravan and the number of people using it, you can opt for more outlets. This way, everyone can be comfortable. Even if it’s just two of you, you can have more vents optimally positioned for comfort wherever you are in your van.
Choose the right type of generator. You need to choose the right size and power based on your air conditioner model. ACs require a lot more power to start running than when they are continuously running. Also, pay attention to the design of the generator. The suitcase design helps keep the sound inside and does not disturb your journey.
The insulation in your caravan plays a big role in how your AC works and the AC you need to choose. The recent caravan models come with insulation and can retain the temperature inside.
However, if you are using an older model, check its insulation. If the insulation is not sufficient, it will not retain the temperature and require a more powerful or a bigger AC.
Tips To Keep Your Caravan Cool
Sometimes, the weather can be very tricky, and no matter how big or powerful your AC is, it may not suffice. Sometimes, your AC might have seen its best days and might require some extra support. You cannot suffer in the heat. It would be best if you did something about it but, at the same time, not burn a hole in your pocket.
Here are a few tips to improve the cooling in your Caravan or RV
If you are driving an older model, the chances are that the insulation is insufficient or spoiled. Replace it for better temperature retention.
Switch to LED lights. These generate only a fraction of the heat produced by other lights. This will help keep the insides of your RV cooler.
check your roof and exterior. If the paint is peeling off, replace it with reflective paint. This will prevent heat penetration and keep your RV cooler.
Invest in portable fans. These need not be too big or expensive. When more air is blown at you, you will not feel the heat or lack of cooling from your AC.
It can be nice to get some natural light into the RV, but along with it comes the heat. You can cover the windows when it is too hot outside to reduce the heat that comes in.
Cook your meals outside the RV as and when possible. Cooking generates a lot of heat, and keeping it outdoors will keep the indoors cooler.
Park under a shade. This will keep the entire vehicle cooler. If this is not possible, carry tarps and cover your RV with them.
Check your refrigerator vent and remove the blockage, if any. This will help in removing the heat more efficiently.
Traveling around in a caravan can be a lot of fun if everything is in order. The temperature is one of the most important factors when it comes to comfort and cannot be taken lightly. Investing in the proper AC for your RV can make or break your caravan experience. Take all factors into consideration and choose wisely. Sometimes, it may seem a little expensive but think about the benefits it can give you and everyone else in that RV.