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Selecting The Correct Caravan Air Conditioner

Article by Peter Smith - Caravans Plus

Caravan Air Conditioners - Quick Overview

With the importation of Coleman and Denso into the Australian RV Industry stopped, and the acquisition of AirCommand, Dometic now has almost a complete monopoly on RV air conditioners in Australia.

Due to this most caravan air conditioners available in the Australian market today follow the same general rules of features vs price. They are fully reverse cycle, include a remote control, with an airflow from between 88L/s to 216L/s. The range includes air-conditioners suitable for 5 metre caravans up to 7.5 metres, with overall size vs power of the units ultimately dictating the price.

Larger roof top units ( Cormorant / BR342) generally have the greater cooling capacity at a good price point. As you move towards more slimline profiles ( Ibis / Harrier) the price increases for equal or reduced cooling capacity. Finally you you have the compact lightweight air conditioners (Sparrow) which are around 25% lighter and ideal for smaller caravans.

We have put together a Comparison Chart which clearly displays price, power and size making it easy to short list the units which suit your needs.

Compare Caravan & RV Roof Top Air Conditioners

Compare Caravan & RV Roof Top Air Conditioners

View the different Roof Top Air Conditioners available. Compare their specifications, prices, reviews and more.
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Compare Caravan & RV Built-in Air Conditioners

Compare Caravan & RV Built-in Air Conditioners

View the different Built-in Air Conditioners available. Compare their specifications, prices, reviews and more.
Read

What is the best air conditioner for my Caravan or Motorhome?

If you don't have time to read the entire article, just read the answers to your questions.

I will look at the most important questions you should ask yourself and explain what each feature means.

Not everyone needs the best Air Conditioner, but it is important to get one that has the features you need. Some items will be pointed out that would be considered as a disadvantage in certain situations. I have no inclination toward any particular brand but some models have definite advantages. Some points on spare parts price and availability will also be explained.

Why do I need an RV air conditioner? Will a household air conditioner do the same job?

Household split systems or window mounted air conditioners are cheaper than the specialist RV air conditioners. If you are installing them into an onsite caravan, a mobile home, or an RV that rarely moves then you should also check out the household versions available from other retailers.

You should only look at specialist RV air conditioners if you will be travelling. They are designed to keep water out when travelling and the mountings and fittings are designed for constant vibration that occurs when travelling.

What does the 360mm or 400mm opening mean?

Roof top air conditioners are made to fit either a 360mm square opening in your roof, or a 400mm square opening. The 400mm typically originate in Europe while the 360mm are based on the 14 inch American style roof vent. Some models provide adapters to suit both sizes, this will be mentioned in the products description.

Whilst a newly built Caravan or RV can be made to suit either size, the extra work to modify an existing hole could be a deciding factor in your purchase. Why make things more difficult unless you need to. Thickness of your ceiling is also a consideration, but many allow for quite a range in thickness. This should be included in the specifications.

Heights

Above: The weights of each model shown for comparison.


Which is best, a roof top air conditioner or built-in style?

Because there are a number of each style on the market, there is clearly no overall winner.

The first preference should be to have a roof top air conditioner because cold air likes to drop, so it is preferable to start up high.
It does not take up any of your valuable internal space. With almost all recreational vehicle layouts you can get the most central location.

If you have a Pop-Top, Camper Trailer or Camper Van with an single skin roof you should seriously look at the built-in models. Any air conditioner added to a Pop-Top roof or a Camper Trailer roof will add additional weight that will effect the lifting of the roof, irrespective of the roof strength. Additional gas struts, canopy lifters or changing the gearing in a winch must be considered if attempting this.

All roof mounted and built in air conditioners are shown using the link below:



What is the difference between reverse cycle and those with heating elements?

A number of air conditioners use heat exchange to cool, while they use a simple heat element just like a fan heater for heating. This is less efficient for heating, however it works at any outside temperature.

Reverse cycle uses heat exchange when cooling or heating. Cooling moves the heat from inside to outside. Heating moves the outside heat to the inside. But this heating method does cause problems when the exchange fins ice up in very cold outside air.

This is an important consideration, often intentionally overlooked by sales people when describing the benefits of their brand.

You should check how outside temperatures will effect the heating function of your proposed air conditioner if you intend using your RV in very cold climates. Some air conditioners give disappointing results for heating when outside temperatures drop toward Zero.

An air conditioner that gets over this problem will make a point of specifying this in their features or specification section.


How cold or hot will they make my RV?

You can expect the manufacturers to quote the maximum size RV their air conditioners will work with. They will always assume you have insulation in your walls and ceilings.

Pop-Tops and Camper Trailers will loose or gain much more heat through the vinyl section and non insulated walls or ceilings. This does not mean you cannot use an air conditioner on these RVs, but the effect will be less, or a more powerful unit should be used.

Even a change of a few degrees can make the interior more pleasant than without.


What does BTU or kW mean?

A kilowatt (kW) is a measure of cooling output or heating output.
BTU stands for British Thermal Unit. It is a different unit but measures the same thing.

1 kW = 3412 BTU

Please check current specifications of products that may vary each year as efficiencies are made.

Heights

Above: The kWs of cooling of each model shown for comparison.


Does the profile affect wind resistance?

Not really. The roof top versions seem to all provide about the same frontal area that needs to go through the air, however some are short and wide and others are higher and wider.

The following shows the relative height of each roof top unit in mm. Please check current specifications of products that may vary from below.

Heights

Above: The heights of each model shown for comparison.

The height may be important if you need to get under a garage doorway, but it will have little effect on air flow.

The height could be considered a very important cosmetic consideration, especially on smaller RVs. The cost to produce a low profile unit is higher than a standard height unit due to the need to specially make more compact components. This may change over time.

You may think that a higher unit will alter the centre of gravity. Since the air conditioners are already located in the centre of the roof, and the heavier components are toward the base, there is very little difference in the centre of gravity, certainly much less than the eye perceives. But again this does effect the cosmetics of your whole RV.


Amperage. Is it important?

Yes and No. If you are staying at caravan parks where your fees already include your power, then apart from your conscience at using extra power for one model against another, the amperage is not the most important consideration.

However, if you often use your air conditioner from a generator, this may be VERY important. The amperage should reflect the generator size but this is not strictly correct. An air conditioner will require more than the rated amps to get started, and for continuous use, the generator should be able to provide more kW than the air conditioner requires. Where we have this information it is stated in the description. There have been great improvements in this area and soft start options are very important if using an generator.

Also be aware that budget generators often over-quote their rated output and it may refer to just a short burst, being unable to maintain that level for very long at all. If you are intending to use a generator for an air conditioner stick with a well known brand with a proven agent network.

Does Caravans Plus have a model recommendation?

Firstly, if we do not think the air conditioner offers good features or reasonable value for money then we do not sell it. However just because we do not sell an air conditioner does not mean we would not recommend it.

There may be new models we have not yet evaluated or there may be alternate suppliers that we do not deal with.
If we receive a number of bad reports of inherent problems with a particular model we stop selling them.

Waeco 12V CA-1000 - Was removed following poor customer feedback. We welcome customer feedback or reviews for air conditioners they have used.

If there is insufficient brand after sales support in the form of service agents, we will stop selling the product or at the very least mention this in the product description.

Carrier Air V - Was removed after supply problems.

In short if we list it, it is either a new product or an established model with a good reputation.


Do we provide brand recommendations?

As an independent reseller of multiple brands we are happy to provide an overview of our experience.

Dometic/Waeco/Truma:

They are a large international company with a reputation for quality RV products. They offer good warranty support and hold a good supply of spare parts within Australia. They have a very comprehensive service agent network. Service agents are listed on www.dometic.com.au.

However, we believe the cost of spare parts, (even the ones we sell) are relatively expensive.

Air Command:

Dometic has acquired Air Command which was previously was a separate Australian entity. The products are very good and have been made to a high standard in China for a number of years. Many of the features, durability and ease of use cannot be faulted.

Spare parts have always been reasonably priced. The service agent network will increase with the new ownership structure and parts prices are expected to increase.

Coleman (No Longer Imported by Major RV Wholesalers)

Manufactured in the USA they are a proven product with very few problems. We have had many customers replace their old Coleman with a new Coleman after many years of faultless operation. The low profile Coleman have now been on the market for a number of years and are very powerful and reliable. There are probably less service agents than Dometic/Air Command, but Coast To Coast (www.coastrv.com.au ) keeps an up-to-date list, and we find them quick to provide technical advice and fast warranty service.

Spare parts are readily available and at a reasonable price.

Denso (No Longer Imported by Major RV Wholesalers)

Denso is an international company heavily involved in Car and Truck air conditioning. Their Australian arm has designed and built a rooftop and under-bunk version specifically for the local RV industry. While these products have only been on the market for a few years, their experience and existing service network appear to match their local competitors.

What is best value for money?

Suppliers change their prices or offer discounts from time to time, so this can effect the value for money of one or more brands. Specials that we offer are genuine and would usually represent a recommendation provided the features meet your needs. Quantity buys or popular models allow us to pass discounts directly to purchasers.

Real feedback from real customers shown on our website and forums give additional information to help you make your final decision.

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9 Comments

  • comment-avatar

    Nicholas Beck

    Generally, I think your buying guide on RV a/c is very good. I appreciated your clear assessments of a/c units. However, I have read repeatedly that Coleman Mach 8 is so loud that there are many complaints from their neighbors in RV parks. There is fix in an alternative fan blade but it is an additional cost. You should have mentioned that into consideration in your recommendations. Also, I would like to have a good chart or way to figure out what size of a/c I need for my RV.

  • comment-avatar

    Laura - CaravansPlus

    Hi Nicholas, we have included 'best for vehicle length' in the specifications of each Aircon where available. To easily compare all models side-by-side see our comparison chart here: https://www.caravansplus.com.au/compare-best-rv-roof-top-air-conditioners-cc-7.html

  • comment-avatar

    Trev

    Thanks Peter., I've just had an expirence with an inadequate air conditioner fitted to my van ( it's 5yrs old now) I want to replace it with a new inverter model, but have been told that if I don't buy something that is around the same weight as the original version I could have trouble with insurance claims, I know you touched on this ! But I don't want the same aircon put back in..

  • comment-avatar

    Pat

    A chart detailing internal and external noise levels would be a good addition. My van is 4years old but the ac is very noisy inside the van

  • comment-avatar

    Jo from Woody World Packer

    Very detailed guide! Great advice, however, we decided to go for a Portable Mini Aircon from Dimplex Australia. We 've got a lovely renovated 1988 Hallmark Caravan ( check our blog ;) ) and both of the mentioned airconditioners weren't really suitable for our van. Our Dimplex was very easy to install, cheap, and cools down our 18ft van in a short amount of time. Yes, it takes in more space, but when we travel to cooler areas, we just store the air conditioner :) Jo woodyworldpacker.com

  • comment-avatar

    Tony

    I have a 2002 Jayco Heritage with an Air Command Wren roof top air conditioner.. we would like to replace it but nowhere is the Wren mentioned.. is it no longer available? and which one would suit our 26 foot caravan if unavailable?

  • comment-avatar

    Ray

    Tony__ the first thing I can say to you in replacing your air command wren is try to go spec for spec would be the easiest way for starters or slightly over spec

  • comment-avatar

    Martin

    I have a 1969 Viscount with a roof opening of L-800 W-650 D115 which liw profile reverse cycle unit would you suggest.

  • comment-avatar

    Graeme

    I purchased the Harrier V2 last week for my 6m motorhome after replacing a Dometic penguin (about 10 yrs old but still working well---apart from the 'clunk' when compressor starts) I was told and read that the harrier was extremely quiet. THIS IS NOT THE CASE. The airflow noise is louder than the old Dometic and it whistles on low speed. The ONLY advantage is no clunk. I WOULD STRONGLY ADVISE ANYONE NOT TO BUY AN AIRCON WITHOUT FIRST LISTENING TO IT YOURSELF...do not believe the advertising.

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