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Do You Need Air Conditioning in Your Motorhome?

Summer has arrived, and the heat is on. You might be thinking about taking a summer road trip with your family. The big question is, do you need air conditioning in your motorhome?

The answer to this question is yes and no. If you live in a hotter region of the world, then an air conditioner might be a necessity to sleep at night. However, if you are located in the UK, the climate is temperate for most of the year and an air conditioning unit may not be necessary.

The key factors determining whether an air conditioner is needed are the temperature and humidity levels of where you live and your schedule while travelling. If you plan on travelling on the continent on the hottest days of the summer, installing air conditioning might make for a much more comfortable trip. If you happen to be on the road in your motorhome when there’s a heatwave in the UK, you might also be glad for having installed an air conditioner.

For most motorhome owners, the biggest consideration is their budget. For those who hate being sweaty or uncomfortably hot – and they have the funds – then an investment in an air conditioning unit is likely to be a good choice. Still, none of us likes being hot and uncomfortable when we are on holiday. So, for those with smaller budgets, we’ll discuss a few affordable options and alternatives in this article.

 

Pros and Cons of Installing an Air Conditioner in Your Motorhome

The benefits to installing an air conditioner are pretty straightforward: it keeps the motorhome cool. Excessive hot weather for days on end can make the motorhome unbearably hot. Air conditioning units keep people comfortable by lowering both the temperature and humidity levels inside a motorhome, allowing them to sleep better at night and make daytime activities more enjoyable.

Another advantage is those who suffer from allergies or asthma might find relief with air conditioning units installed.

The disadvantages would include the cost for purchase and installation of the air conditioner, as well as the running costs. The motorhome will require a bigger power supply and more energy use when an air conditioning system is operating. Another downside is that air conditioning units can take up space inside the motorhome, which could be better used for other things.

Ultimately your decision about whether you need an air conditioning unit will depend on what level of comfort you want in your motorhome and how much money you’re willing to spend.

Another factor to consider is that the power supply of different campsite pitches differs. You might find that when you run your air conditioner at the same time as using other electrical items, you might end up tripping the power supply.

 

Considerations Before Installing Motorhome Air Conditioning

There are a few things you should ask yourself before deciding on the best motorhome air conditioning for your needs.

● How much money are you willing to spend on a new motorhome air conditioner installation project, including any necessary materials and labour costs associated with the installation process itself?
● What is the size of your motorhome?
● How much power does your motorhome need to run the air conditioning unit?
● How often will you be using your RV in hot weather conditions?
● Where will the air conditioner be installed – on the roof or inside?
● Portable air conditioner or a permanent one? Both have their benefits, but one might work better than another depending on your situation.

Some air conditioners have added functionality such as air purifiers and heating. So, if you are going to use your motorhome a lot in cooler weather or suffer when the hay fever season hits, these kinds of air conditioners might be worthwhile options to consider.

 

Types of Motorhome Air Conditioning

When it comes to air conditioning systems for your vehicle, it boils down to two choices of air conditioning units for motorhomes – under bench or roof-mounted. There is a third non-motorhome specific option – a portable air conditioning.

Roof Mounted Air Conditioning

Roof-mounted air conditioning is a cooling system mounted on top of your vehicle. A roof-mounted unit has two major benefits: it frees up interior space by not taking up any room inside but instead takes up valuable rooftop real estate. It also keeps all mechanical components out of sight so that nothing detracts from the interior design of your motorhome.

A roof air conditioner has few downsides – except that it is an expensive purchase. Most standard-sized motorhomes will usually accommodate a roof air conditioner, but you should check with the manufacturer to ensure your vehicle is suitable.

Modern roof-mounted air conditioning is designed to be sleek and streamlined, but it still might add some extra clearance height to your vehicle’s roof, so bear this in mind.

 

 

 

 

 

Under Bench Air Conditioning

Under-bench air conditioning is installed inside your motorhome under seating or inside a storage compartment. If your motorhome has a curved roof or other devices such as solar panels on it, this could be the best option. Under bench also ensures that you still get natural light from the roof window.

Some drivers prefer under-bench air conditioners as the lower centre of gravity makes for a smoother ride. The primary limitation to under-bench air conditioning is that you’ll lose valuable internal storage space.

 

 

 

Portable Motorhome Air Conditioner

Portable air conditioning units may be an option for you as they do have a couple of distinct advantages over a fixed device which is specially designed for a leisure vehicle.

One major consideration is price; portable air conditioners with comparable output are a fraction of the price and don’t require any costly installation technician time. You will find it quite easy to re-sell the unit should you no longer need it.

Another great advantage of a portable unit is the fact that it is fully portable meaning it is not only a motorhome air conditioner. Like a lot of motorhome owners, you may only use your motorhome for a few weeks or months of the year. When not in use in your motorhome, a portable air conditioner can be used at home or in the office the rest of the time.

The only real disadvantage to a portable motorhome air conditioner is the floor space it takes up whilst it is in use and the storage space needed when you are travelling or on the cooler days when it is not in use. You may want to have a think about your specific motorhome layout to decide where you could conveniently fit it in without getting in your way.

 

There are two main types of portable air conditioner;

Integrated Air Conditioning Unit

This type is a single unit which has the ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ parts of the machine together in a single housing. The cold air is usually blown out of vents on the unit but in order to remove heat, the machine will have a hot air pipe which will need to vent outside similar to a tumble drier. The pipe which goes outside tends to be between 100-200mm so will need a window or door open wide enough to pass it through.

Split Air Conditioning Unit

This type of unit has the ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ parts of the machine split into two separate units, one is positioned inside the motorhome and the other is outside. The two units are joined together by a thin flat pipe which only needs a narrow opening to pass through meaning a window would only need to be open a couple of centimetres.

The Top Air Conditioner Brands

The UK motorhome and caravan air conditioner market is dominated by two brands, Dometic and Truma. Both offer high-quality premium performance, and you can’t go wrong with either brand’s product range.

Dometic

The Swedish company Dometic is a leading manufacturer of air conditioners for motorhomes, campers, and other vehicles. They have a wide variety of models from under-bench to rooftop units. In addition, they sell a wide range of outdoor products, including awnings, tents, camp furniture, ventilation solutions and more. Their current air conditioner range for caravans and motorhomes consist of six roof-top and one under-bench option.

Popular models include:

 

Dometic FreshWell 3000 – This is a compact under bench / floor mounted air conditioner that can supply both cool air and warm air. The FreshWell 3000 has a cooling capacity of 2700 watts / 9200 BTU/h and warm air heating Capacity of 3000 watts / 10230 BTU/h. The Dometic Freshwell vents through the floor of the motorhome meaning it can be fitted in more places and there is no risk of water ingress from failed seals. Roof space can be quite cluttered with roof lights, tv aerial, satellite etc the great thing about the Dometic FreshWell, it doesn’t take up valuable roof space or increase the vehicles height.

Pros Cons
Floor Vented – No Leaks possible
Doesn’t Increase Vehicle Height
Can Replace Space Heater
Low Centre of Gravity
Better distribution around the Motorhome
Low Start-up Current
Needs to be Ducted around the Motorhome
Compressor Noise inside the Motorhome
Consumes Internal Storage Space

 

 

Dometic Freshjet 1700 – This is a rooftop caravan and motorhome air conditioner which usually replaces a skylight, if not a new hole needs cutting. This is the most common type of air conditioner and one of the easiest to fit even though it does need to be fitted by a Dometic Approved Installer for the warranty to be valid. The Dometic Freshjet range provides cooling capacity up 2516W / 8600 BTU/h and heating up to 3107W / 10600 BTU/h. The latest models come with super-bright LED lights which are great at night but also help in the day if the unit replaced a skylight.

Pros Cons
Main Bulk of the Unit Outside
Compressor Noise Outside
Dehumidify setting Removes Moisture
Powerful LED Light
Low Start-up Current
Increases Vehicle Height
Replaces a Skylight or Uses Roofspace
Weight High Up – High Centre of Gravity
More Expensive than FreshWell
Only Cools / Heats One Location

 

Dometic FreshLight 2200 – The Dometic FreshLight is very similar to the Dometic FreshJet but the main difference is the integrated skylight. Roof mounted air conditioning units usually replace a skylight when fitted which obviously reduces light and ventilation in the motorhome. The skylight part of the unit opens just like a normal skylight and includes both black out blind and fly screen. The Dometic Freshlight 2200 has a cooling capacity of 2050 watts / 7000 BTU/h and a heating capacity of 2700 watts / 9200 BTU/h.

 

Truma

Truma is a German Company first established in 1949 – Truma UK was founded in April 1997. Truma specialises in products for caravans and motorhomes, including air conditioners, heaters, caravan movers, and water systems. Their range of air conditioners includes three rooftop options and two under bench (storage box) units.

These are some of their popular models:

 

Truma Aventa Compact – Truma describe this model as the lightest and quietest roof-mounted motorhome and caravan air conditioner in its class. Lightweight and compact enough to fit even on small vehicles, it is specially designed to take up the smallest amount of roof space. The Truma Aventa Compact Plus model offers an impressive cooling power of 2200 watts / 7500 BTU/h. Like most modern air conditioning units there is a remote control but the Truma Aventa is also iNet ready. Truma iNet allows you to control the climate in your motorhome using up to 4 different phones or tablets, the system will use your Truma heating or air conditioner to get the temperature just right.

Pros Cons
Main Bulk of the Unit Outside
Compressor Noise Outside
Takes up Less Roofspace than Similar Models
Truma iNet Compatible
Can be controlled from Smart Phone / Tablet
Compact Air Distributor
Increases Vehicle Height
Replaces a Skylight or Uses Roofspace
Weight High Up – High Centre of Gravity
Only Cools / Heats One Location
No Heating function
High Power Start-up, May Trip Some Sites

 

 

Truma Aventa Comfort – The Truma Aventa Comfort is similar to the Truma Aventa Compact. The Comfort version is the fully-fledged air-conditioning unit with all the features but a slightly less compact external unit. The Avent Comfort has a higher output of 2400 W / 8200 BTU/h of cooling power and unlike the Compact, the Comfort is fitted with a heat pump outputting 1700 W / 5800 BTU/h.

Pros Cons
Main Bulk of the Unit Outside
Compressor Noise Outside
Truma iNet Compatible
Can be controlled from Smart Phone / Tablet
Includes Space Heat Function
Increases Vehicle Height
Replaces a Skylight or Uses Roofspace
Weight High Up – High Centre of Gravity
Only Cools / Heats One Location
High Power Start-up, May Trip Some Sites

 

 

Truma Saphir Comfort RC – This is an air conditioning unit that can be installed inside a storage compartment. At a weight of just 23.5 kg, it won’t increase your payload excessively. It is lighter than an equivalent roof mounted unit, has a much lower centre of gravity when fitted to the vehicles and doesn’t take up any valuable roof space or replace a skylight. If you can afford the loss of storage space and run the necessary ducting, the under-bench air conditioners are usually the best choice. The Truma Saphir Comfort RC has 2400 W / 8200 BTU/h colling capacity along with 1700 W / 5800 BTU/h heating output. As with all modern Truma equipment it come with a remote control and is iNet compatible allowing it to be controlled from a smart phone or tablet.

Pros Cons
Floor Vented – No Leaks possible
Doesn’t Increase Vehicle Height
Can Replace Space Heater
Low Centre of Gravity
Better distribution around the Motorhome
Truma iNet Compatible
Can be controlled from Smart Phone / Tablet
Includes Space Heat Function
Fan Operates Quietly in Sleep Mode
Needs to be Ducted around the Motorhome
Compressor Noise inside the Motorhome
Consumes Internal Storage Space
High Power Start-up, May Trip Some Sites

 

Tips on How to Maintain Your Air Conditioner

An air conditioner for your motorhome is a large investment, so you’ll want to make sure that its cooling performance is running optimally and that it lasts as long as possible. You can help ensure this by keeping your unit regularly maintained.

Before working on your air conditioner, disconnect the power supply so you don’t accidentally give yourself an electric shock.

The most important task is to check and clean your air conditioner unit’s filters regularly. Whilst you are camping you can use a vacuum cleaner to remove surface dust and hair from the filters. After a period of regular use you should remove the filters and wash them in warm soapy water. A dirty air filter can make the unit work harder, leading to higher energy bills and a shortened life span for the entire system.

The dust filters in the air discharge unit should last the lifetime of the machine but quite a lot of modern air conditioning units for motorhomes have carbon filters for removing impurities and toxins from the air. Activated carbon filters are not cleanable and need to be replaced periodically, they continue to absorb toxins even when the machine is not in use so will still need to be replaced as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. For example, Dometic recommend carbon filters are replace yearly.

Keep an eye out for any warning signs of problems such as leaking refrigerant or oil, unusual sounds, or excessive noise coming from the unit when it’s running.

When roof top units are not in use for extended periods it is a good idea to cover them up. Most air conditioning suppliers sell specific covers to fit over the roof mounted unit to keep it in the best condition and free from debris.

Additional Tips for Keeping Your Motorhome Cool

Parking your motorhome in the shade is one of the best ways to keep it cool on a hot summer day. If you can find a shaded area with trees when you pitch your camp, you can enjoy cooler temperatures inside your RV. Also, try to orientate your motorhome so that the side of your motorhome with the largest window area gets the least amount of sun. If you don’t have silver screens, then you are probably best facing the cab to the North as the cab tends to gather a lot of heat.

In addition to parking in the shade, it may also be a good idea to park near water or as close to a river or stream as possible if there is one nearby. This will allow for some natural cooling as the coolest air gathers at the lowest points just like water, and if you’re brave enough, you can also take a dip to cool down!

You can even find cheap and simple fan to help keep you cool that are easily purchased online. Consider getting a cooling pillow designed specifically for use during travel time to help regulate body temperature throughout the night-time hours.

Forget cooking inside your motorhome when the weather warms up; it’s time to go alfresco and eat outside. Not only will your food taste better, but it will also keep your motorhome from heating up even more.

Our last suggestion is if you don’t have one already, consider buying an awning for your motorhome. An awning does a great job of keeping the sun off one side of your motorhome especially if you can park that side to face south. In addition to keeping the sun off your motorhome, it will be handy when it rains and maximises your outdoor living space.

In Summary

Air conditioning is a great way to stay cool, but it can be an expensive luxury especially if your road trips are restricted to the UK, where scorching hot days are less frequent than with many other European countries. An air conditioner for domestic trips might be overkill. If you need some relief from the heat without breaking your budget, there are other options available that can keep you cool.

However, if you are travelling on the continent, for instance, in the South of France, where the average temperatures in summer are 30C (80F), an air conditioner could be a blessing and make the trip so much more pleasant.

Read more on camper equipment and motorhome power supply in our other blog articles.

FAQs

To finish the article, we have answered a few of the commonly asked questions regarding motorhome air conditioners.

Why not use the cab air conditioner?

The cab air conditioning system only works when the engine is running so it is only really practical when you are on the road. The other reason is that the cab air conditioning system is designed more for a small, enclosed space; the motorhome’s large open areas will not be cooled efficiently with this type of system.

How much does an air conditioning unit for a motorhome cost?

The typical cost for an AC unit is somewhere between £1,400 and £3,000, depending on the features and specifications. You should also factor in installation costs if you are not installing the air conditioning unit yourself. Most manufacturers recommend the system is fitted by an approved installer to ensure the warranty is valid.

Running costs will depend entirely on how much electricity the AC unit consumes which is determined by size, efficiency and temperature changes during operation. A lot of motorhome sites offer a flat rate per night for electricity so electricity usage may not be a concern.

How long do motorhome air conditioners last?

It is difficult to estimate how long a motorhome air conditioner will last. If you only use the air conditioner when on holiday on the warmest days then the machine isn’t really getting much use. Wear and tear isn’t likely to be a problem unless you are living in the motorhome or spending the whole summer in Spain for an example.

We see units which are 10 and 15 years old regularly which are still going strong. The main thing to do with the roof top component is make sure the grills are clean and the condensation channels are clear. It you have bought the vehicle second hand with one fitted it may be a good idea to remove the cover (make sure you are not plugged in) and check for debris inside the casing.