Buyer’s Guide To Caravan Air Conditioners

Spend time travelling in a caravan/motorhome around Australia and an air conditioner can become a must-have, not a luxury. But Caravan Air Conditioners don’t come cheaply and there are a few different types. So you need to understand how each of them works before you decide which is best for your next adventure.
Caravan Air Conditioners
Having a Caravan air Conditioner is not Luxury. Now a days, it’s a must have.

Why Choose Specialist Caravan Air Conditioners?

Sure, you could get a household split air-con system for your van, but we don’t recommend it. Air conditioners designed for caravans (that move) have different features than those designed for homes (that don’t move). For example, caravan air conditioners are designed to keep water out while you’re on the move, plus the mounting and fittings are designed to withstand vibrations of the moving vehicle.

Roof Top Air Conditioners or Built-In Air Conditioners?

Rooftop air conditioners are made to fit the opening in your caravan’s roof, which is either a 360x360mm or 400x400mm square opening (note that for caravans with 400 x 400 roof openings, a 360×360 air conditioner can be fitted with an adapter). The benefit of a rooftop air-con unit is that it doesn’t take up valuable living space inside the caravan and it’s easy to mount, making them the most popular type of caravan air conditioner if your RV suits a rooftop style. Plus some say that having it on the roof makes it more efficient because cold air tends to drop. And it shouldn’t affect wind resistance either, though some models can be higher and wider than others, which is worth remembering when entering car parks and garages!

Air Conditioners for Recreational Vehicles

Built-in caravan air conditioners, on the other hand, are ideal for pop-top caravans, camper trailers or camper vans with a single skin roof. Rooftop air conditioners will add weight to the roof, which will affect the lifting mechanism. Built-in air conditioners are split system / ducted units and tend to be mounted in one of your caravan cupboards or under a bench/bunk. Some say that the benefit of built-in units is that they can cool quicker because they are installed lower, where the air is already cooler.

Caravan Air Conditioners

Reverse cycle or heating elements?

Another major factor when looking at caravan air conditioners for sale is how the heating/cooling works. Some of the older style air conditioners use heat exchange to cool and an electrical heat element to warm. It’s not the most efficient heating method, and now all caravan air conditioners are reverse cycle.

Reverse cycle units use a compressor whether heating or cooling. This is the most efficient method but the air conditioners work better when cooling than in heating mode.

If you will be travelling into particularly cold temperatures, we recommend a dedicated caravan heater which are available from various brands.

How is cooling and heating capacity measured?

There are two measurements you need to look for when comparing caravan air conditioners:

  • Cooling capacity (kilowatts): Power output of the cooling unit, typically between 2.0 to 3.2 kW.
  • Heating capacity (kilowatts or BTUs): Power output of the heating unit, typically between 1.0 to 3.2 kW.
Caravan Air Conditioners
2 to 2.5kW: Suitable for vehicles up to 5 metres , 3 kW plus:  Suitable for vehicles up to 7 metres

What size air conditioner for my sized van?

As a general rule, there are two groups of air conditioner sizes:

  • 2 to 2.5kW: Suitable for vehicles up to 5 metres
  • 2.5 to 3kW: Suitable for vehicles up to 6 metres
  • 3 to 3.5kW plus:  Suitable for vehicles up to 7 metres

How much power do caravan air conditioners consume?

We’re not going to lie: your caravan air conditioner will likely be the most energy consuming item in your caravan. An average unit consumes between 1000 to 2000 watts, compared to around 100-200 watts for your laptop, 50-100 watts for your fridge, and 40-50 watts for a fan.

However this will only be an issue if you are using a generator to power it, as powered caravan sites don’t charge by the kilowatt! Trying to run your camping air conditioner from a large battery or solar system can be done in some instances, but typically is not economical, so it’s worth making sure your generator has the capacity to handle it. For more info on running your caravan air conditioner from a generator, we recommend you read this article HERE.

What accessories do I need with the air conditioner?

Most caravan air conditioners will come as a kit, including all the required components for operation, install and fitting. However, there are some additional accessory items which might be relevant to your situation, including:

  • H-Frame for Roof Mounted Air Conditioners: designed for the roof of Caravans/ Motorhomes to provide extra strength and support for roof top air conditioners. These are not as typical as they once were.
  • Thick Roof Adapter: Check the permissible roof thickness for each model and you may be required to purchase a thick roof adapter or extension duct. For example, if purchasing the Dometic Ibis MK4 Reverse Cycle Roof Top Air Conditioner and your roof thickness is greater than 68mm, you will need to purchase Dometic Extension Ducts (SKU: 4450017931) for roof thickness greater than 68mm. You’ll require one piece for every extra 10mm.
  • Extra Long Bolts: For the Dometic IBIS 4, Harrier Plus and Harrier Lite be sure to purchase 4 x (SKU: 4450012023) Dometic 160mm Extra Long Bolt for roof thickness greater than 68mm.
  • Adaptor for 400mm Roof Opening: some models you are required to purchase an adapter to suit your roof opening. The three Dometic air conditioners include an adapter to include 360 x 360mm or 400mm x 400mm roof openings.

What about installation?

For most quality caravan air conditioners models, the full fitting and install instructions come with the unit, but it is advised a qualified installer (electrical contractor) undertakes the installation.

All current caravan air conditioner models come with a compressor completely gassed up with refrigerant.

Caravan Air Conditioners
It is advised a qualified installer (electrical contractor) undertakes the installation for your Caravan Air Conditioner
Which brand is best?

We always recommend to opt for a quality brand that provides a good warranty, and has a national service and spare parts network. So if something does go wrong or you need a spare part, you won’t be without cool air for long! Our best picks are:

Dometic: These guys have a solid reputation for being reliable, high quality and great value for money. Designed in Europe, these guys are at the cutting edge of recreational vehicle air conditioner technology, as illustrated by their release of the Dometic Harrier Inverter Air Conditioner in mid-2016; Featuring the first use of an inverter compressor in an RV application, the Dometic Harrier Inverter can help eliminate start-up current issues when running from generators or when current supply is restricted.

Even our customers love the Dometic! Check out My Generator customer,
Rudi from Russell Island, QLD who provides a video review of their Dometic Harrier Plus Inverter Rooftop Air Conditioner.

Reviewing The Best Caravan Air Conditioner: The Dometic Harrier Plus

Dometic has expanded their range from one air conditioner with inverter technology to three. The Dometic Harrier Lite, IBIS 4 and Harrier Plus are a small, medium and large air conditioner option for vehicles from 6m to 7.5m.

All three air conditioners can be run from good quality 2000W inverter generators, come with a three year warranty and are the quietest and most efficient models on the market due to their inverter technology.

Dometic Ibis 4 Review

Truma: Truma is well known in the caravan / RV industry for their caravan heaters, hot water systems and air conditioners! They offer both rooftop and underbunk air conditioners, and their Truma Saphir Underbunk A/C is one of the most popular models on the market. Their two rooftop models, the compact and the comfort are european designed, well built and come with a two year warranty. The Truma models have one of the slimmest air distributors on the market.

Houghton Belaire: Houghton Belaire offers great value for money air conditioners. They offer a small, medium and large rooftop air conditioner model and 1 underbunk model (branded as Finch). Their HB3500 rooftop model is especially popular as a result of its cooling capacity and of course price!

For more info on caravan air conditioners, check out our full range HERE.

DISCLAIMER* Please note, this advice is general in nature and we strongly recommend consulting the product manual and where relevant, a professional installer.

S Reynolds

Steve Reynolds, Power Product Expert at mygenerator.com.au is a small engine specialist with particular expertise in Generators, Water Pumps, Pressure Washers and other Outdoor Power Equipment products. Outside of work; an avid caravan enthusiast who enjoys time on the road and has gained years of familiarity with Caravan & Camping products also. A passion for power products used for work, home and leisure!

You May Also Like

Maxwatt Generator Review: How Do They Compare To The Big Brands?

Englaon TV Review: Are They Worth The Hype?

Comparing The Best Caravan Aircons

Our Guide To Front Runner Roof Racks

34 thoughts on “Buyer’s Guide To Caravan Air Conditioners”

  1. Hi sir,
    I have a room in my caravan with a dimension of 5×3 meter and I want to fix an air conditioner with it’s own generator in it. I was wondering if your product is suitable for such requirements, put on your consideration, that we are living in Kuwait and the temperature goes to 55 degrees Celsius in summer. Please, inform me with the price of your item, the shipping rate and the duration that will take to reach Kuwait as soon as possible.


    1. Hi Mohammad, unfortunately we do not ship to Kuwait. We are an Australian based power products retailer. You would need to source your air conditioner and generator requirement from a Middle Eastern based retailer. Good luck, thank you.

  2. Hi there, I am looking to purchase and self install air con for my Jayco Hawk. I like the look of the rooftop mounted systems but am also looking to put a roof mounted boat rack for my tinny up there. Any alternative suggestions?
    Cheers, Simon

    1. Hi Simon, thanks for your question. The alternative to a Rooftop Caravan Air Conditioner is a Built-In (or ‘under-bunk’) Caravan Air Conditioner. You can check out our full range of Built-In Caravan Air Conditioner models HERE.
      For your type of Caravan, I would suggest looking at a single unit system, with the most popular models being:

      Air Command Sandpiper Ducted Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner – best for vehicles up to 5 metres in length.

      Truma Saphir Comfort Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner – best for vehicles up to 6.5 metres in length.

      Remember with any Caravan Air Conditioner; Fitting and Install instructions come with the unit, but it is advised a qualified installer (electrical contractor) undertakes the installation. Thank you.

  3. Hi I live in south australia,
    I have a hi-ace camper and want to buy a roof top air con ,just for the cab but if it will do the whole van even better looking for one on a budget of 1000 dollars, quiet and not bulky.
    What do you recommend? thanks.

    1. Hi Charlie, thanks for your inquiry. Our range of Caravan/RV Air Conditioners includes both rooftop and under-bunk (built-in) models and are from premium brands like Dometic, Air Command and Truma. Their prices start at around $1,400 and are designed for RV vehicles from around 5 metres to 8 metres in length. Popular smaller models are the Air Command Sparrow (rooftop) and Air Command Sandpiper (under-bunk). All models require 240V power, so you’ll either need a mains power source or an inverter generator of around 2kVA to 3kVA in size. Also note that Fitting and Install instructions come with the unit, but it is advised a qualified installer (electrical contractor) undertakes the installation. Thanks

  4. After a replacement for my old Ibis rooftop unit as it too noisy. Which would be the quietest: the ibis3 or the Dometic with the inverter compressor? Neither unit gives a decibel rating. Regards, Anthony

    1. Hi Anthony, great question. Unfortunately caravan air conditioner manufacturers don’t provide dBA ratings with their unit specifications, which is a pity because it is a hot topic among caravan enthusiasts. However, relating to your question about the two specific models; both the Dometic Harrier Inverter Rooftop Air Conditioner and the Air Command Ibis MK3 Reverse Cycle Roof Top Air Conditioner are considered very quiet models. The Harrier has a variable speed inverter compressor, making its operation very quiet for its size (its designed for vehicles up 7.5 metres in length). The Air Command Ibis Mk 3 model (designed for vehicles up to 6.5 metres in length) has improved its high speed fan operation from previous models, also making it a very quiet roof top caravan air conditioner.
      Overall, from our testing the Ibis 3 would be only slightly quieter, but this is not surprising given it has slightly smaller cooling/heating capacity than the Harrier. Thanks.

  5. I have a Hino 145 I’d like to put a split roof system in which would you recommend
    I have a 4.6 kva gen so which is best and is there anywhere in Tassie I can get it fitted

    1. Hi Derek, your Hino cabin would likely have a smaller space to cool than a standard size Caravan/Motorhome. Therefore I would suggest you consider a smaller rooftop model such as the Air Command Sparrow Reverse Cycle Roof Top Air Conditioner – it is a small and sleek unit, but still powerful and efficient. Your 4.6kVA generator would be more than enough to run this RV Air Conditioner – just note that the manufacturer (and us) recommend an inverter generator to run RV Air Conditioners as inverters provide safe, clean power.
      If you would like to browse other RV Air Consditioner Rooftop models, you can visit our range here: Caravan Air Conditioners
      We would ship the complete Air Con unit kit directly to you in Tasmania. For fitting and installation, you would need to engage a qualified electrical contractor. Many thanks

  6. Hi,
    I am looking to purchase a secondhand Ibis for my LWB VW T4 van, which I am converting to a camper. The fella who is selling it to me is saying I can run it off my cranking battery whilst I’m driving, and then at a caravan park whilst I’m still. I cannot find any information about it running off the cranking battery, will the alternator be able to charge it up? Any information about this would be greatly appreciated,

    Many thanks,

    1. Hi Poppy, The roof top Air Conditioner runs from 240V AC, which means it would need to be powered through an AC Inverter. I do not know whether you can generate enough amperage from the specific cranking battery. This could be a question for an electrician or the vehicle manufacturer. You need to be careful when designing a system that can use mains power, Battery and Generator. An electrician would likely need to sign off on such an installation. Many thanks

  7. Hi, we have not had a caravan for about 30 years and are buying one with an ibis3 aircon fitted. When we are plugged in at a caravan park and want to use it, are we still able to ‘boil the jug’ etc or will that be an overload on the power?

    1. Hi Moira, when you are ‘plugged in’ at a caravan park, you would be using mains power and would not have any power overload issues.

      If you intend to run your caravan from a generator, this is when you need to be a little bit conscious of power consumption. To run an Air Command Ibis Mk 3 Air Conditioner, we would recommend an inverter generator with around 2.4 to 3kVA maximum power capacity, including models such as:

      Yamaha 2400w Inverter Generator
      Yamaha 2800w Inverter Generator
      Briggs & Stratton 3000w Inverter Generator
      Yamaha 3000w Inverter Generator with Elec Start

      Each of these generator models have the capacity to handle the Caravan Air Conditioner power surge requirement – especially when the ambient temperatures are hot, which is often when you need your Caravan A/C the most. You will be able to also run a few appliances at the same time, but just be conscious of any appliance’s max power draw and be aware of an appliance like a household kettle, which will typically draw over 2000 watts – so upon other appliances surging at the same time (such as your Air Conditioner), you could experience overload issues. Often the best way to approach this is to stagger the use of your appliances, so they are not all starting at the same time. Hope that helps, many thanks.

  8. Hi there I have a 21 Ft Caravan and use it in the Pilbara, very, very hot in sumer, presently i have a colman mach, which is useless in the summer, i want to upgrade, I have two in mind:

    1. Dometic Harrier or
    2. Cormorant MK2 , this was suggested at the RV service center.

    Please note, i am not concerned with price or heating, its the cooling thats important.

    1. Hi Glenn,
      Great question. Both of those Rooftop RV Air Conditioners are appropriate for your sized Caravan. Both also have impressive cooling capacity and are backed by Dometic’s 3 year warranty and national service agent network (Dometic now own the Air Command brand). So overall, we would comfortably recommend either unit for your RV. However, since you are choosing between the two models, I would opt for the Dometic Harrier model as it is rated to work in up to 52°C and has as a slightly higher cooling capacity.
      Hope that helps – thanks again for your question.

  9. Hey There!
    I have a 1999 Hino school bus and am currently researching the best air con suitable for its size. It will be going into the roof hatch replacing the emergency exit. Do you have any recommendations?
    Thanks Heaps

    1. Hi Lily, sounds like cool project! 🙂
      In our range of Recreational Vehicle Rooftop Air Conditioners, I would suggest you consider the Dometic Harrier – this model is designed for vehicles up to around 8 metres in length, has a powerful 3.1kW cooling capacity, and can fit either 360mm x 360mm or 400mm x 400mm rooftop openings. The Harrier also incorporates inverter technology, which has two main benefits:
      1) it significantly reduces start-up current issues, so the A/C unit will easily start and run off a 2000w generator (many other A/C models will need a larger generator)
      2) has a variable speed compressor that is extremely quiet, even when running at maximum speed

      The other model in our range you could consider which has similar cooling capacity is the Air Command Cormorant – this does not posses the inverter technology like the Harrier, but it is a cheaper option and you get good cooling performance for your dollar.

      Hope that helps – feel free to call our team for any additional advice: 1300 400 122. Many thanks.

  10. Hi,

    Hi, i was looking at the truma saphir, but it says its only able to cope to up to 40 degrees c. I only have a bedroom to cool with a small aircon, can you recommend something that will cope with higher temperature as I live in Western QLD and its often over 40… cant see if the sandpiper can cope with a higher temp. I also intend to run it with a Honda eu2. Finally I don’t want a roof mount as it a pop top and space is at a premium

    1. Hi Travis, both the Truma Saphir Comfort Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner and the Air Command Sandpiper Ducted Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner are rated to operate in temperatures up to 43°C.
      We would sell more of the Saphir model, as even though they are slightly more expensive, they are a similar physical size to the Sandpiper, but the Saphir has greater cooling power at 2.4kW. As an under bunk RV Air Con solution, we would have no hesitation in recommending the Truma Saphir for your described application. Thank you.

  11. I have a Yamaha 2000 generator and have heard that it may run the Air Command Ibis 3 unit. Someone told me I might need something called soft start technology to run it. Which is correct?

    1. Hi Ken, to run the Air Command Ibis 3 model of RV Air Conditioner, we would recommend a slightly larger generator such as the Yamaha EF2400iS – this being the most popular model of generator to run the majority of Caravan / Motorhome Air Conditioners on the market. Sometimes a 2000w generator (such as the Yamaha EF2000iS you have) will be enough (read further below), but often there are other things to take into consideration such as ambient temperature (any generator’s capacity is slightly de-rated in hotter environments), extension leads (there is amperage drop over longer leads) and if you want to run some other smaller appliances at the same time…so a 2400w sized generator can often be the most suitable size to run a caravan/motorhome that includes an air conditioner.

      The exception to this rule is the latest caravan air conditioner model from Dometic: Dometic Harrier Inverter Rooftop Air Conditioner. This model features the first use of an inverter compressor in an RV application, so the Dometic Harrier Inverter can help eliminate start-up current issues when running from generators. Often this is referred to as ‘soft start’. So, the Dometic Harrier will comfortably start and run from a 2000 watt inverter generator. Therefore, if you already own a Yamaha EF2000iS 2000 watt inverter generator model, then we would recommend you consider a Dometic Harrier Air Conditioner unit for your caravan. Many thanks.

  12. Hi,just wanting some advise …we have recently purchased our pop top van with an under bed air con we had a first big holiday in van and before we left air con wasn’t working had an air con man came out he took it out and took it back to shop he told us there was no gas in it so he regased it and put some dye in it to find the leak he could not find the leak so he put it back in van and we set off on our holidays…but when we went to use it and it never got very cold and all the pipes got soaking wet . It’s not working no were as we thought it would air con Man told us we probably need a new air con.. we have a big discussion on whether or not to get same brand as we have or not also some people have told us to get roof top air con. This van has been a big purchase for us don’t get me wrong I love the van just very disappointed with air con as it’s only just out of warranty the company don’t want to help us out the van is not even 2yrs old..many thanx for any input you can give us…

  13. Hello, I have a school bus that has been converted into a motorhome. Which unit would you recommend for heating/cooling. Is reverse cycle the best option?
    11 metres long

    I am situated in South Australia and need to have this fitted as soon as possible.
    Thank you

    1. Hi Caroline, for your application we would recommend one of the larger roof top reverse cycle RV aircon models. The most powerful models are:

      – Air Command Cormorant Reverse Cycle Roof Top Air Conditioner

      – Dometic Harrier Inverter Rooftop Air Conditioner

      These are excellent Recreational Vehicle Air Conditioners, complete with a 3 year warranty and national service agent support network. Fitting and Install instructions come with the units, but it is advised a qualified installer (electrical contractor) undertakes the installation. Please feel free to call our team on 1300 400 122 for more help. Thank you

  14. I am planning the purchase of a new caravan and because of height restrictions I am looking at an under bunk a/con. I have read about some issues re condensation on the air ducts, Given we will keep items under the bed that do not need to get damp have you any experience or comments in this regard.

    1. Hi David, great question. This is something that I have heard of, but our team has not experienced first hand. Upon inspecting the manual of one of our popular under bunk models (Air Command Sandpiper Ducted Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner), there are the following comments regarding condensation:

      In areas of high humidity, the humid air within the van will cause “sweating” or condensation in parts of the unit as the humid, warm air contacts the colder air discharged from the system. If this occurs please ensure the following:
      – Close all doors, hatches, windows and blinds to limit the ingress of warm humid air.
      – Don’t route the ductwork near any heat producing appliances such as the rear of a refrigerator.
      – Avoid running the inside fan on LOW or AUTO in humid conditions. Running the fan on HIGH fan speed will result in higher airflow and reduce the tendency to have condensation form.

      Similarly, the Truma Saphir Comfort Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner has condensation traps and drain to help with this issue should it arise.

      Both product manuals are available for you to read on the product pages of our Website.

  15. Hi. We have a Jayco Penguin pop top caravan. Would love some advice on best type of cooling and heating unit which is also quiet. Thank you

    1. Hi Andrew,

      I would receommend the following two models for a Jayco pop top
      1) Air Command Sparrow Reverse Cycle Roof Top Air Conditioner

      – Light Weight
      – Quiet
      – Cooling Capacity (ISO5151) 1.7kW
      – Heating Capacity 1.7kW
      – Best for vehicle length up to 5 m

      2) Truma Saphir Comfort Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner

      – Under Bunk Model
      – Whisper Quiet
      – Cooling Capacity (ISO5151) approx. 2.4 kW
      – Heating Capacity approx. 1.7 kW (Note:Heating is not possible at an outside temperature of less than 4 °C)
      – Best for vehicle length up to 6.5 m

      Cheers Paul @ My Generator

  16. Hello
    Can you please tell me if the Truma Saphir Comfort will start with a HOnda EU2000i generator? Asumming no other loads of course.



  17. Hi
    i have a dometic B3000 plus in my ice cream van . Thinking of changing it for a Ibis 3 or a belaire 3200 .
    Which would be a better choice or any other better recommendations .

    1. Hi Gino, we would have no hesitation in recommending the Air Command Ibis Mark 3 RV Air Conditioner. These are Australian designed units and have been one of the most popular RV models in this country for a long time – low profile, built tough to handle hot environments and bumpy travelling, low noise emission, suits vehicles up to 6.5 metres. You cannot really go wring with this model in your van. Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *