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.–
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.