We invited Australian caravan enthusiast and RV parts expert Jessica Stewart to write a guest article for BeginRV. Jessica writes for RV Parts Express, a leading Australian RV part and accessory retailer.
It’s the dog days of summer and most caravaners know the feeling.
Hot. Sweaty. Sticky. Slow. Irritable. No sleep as you toss and turn all night long inside your mobile oven where you feel more like a human torch than a human being.
SPOILER ALERT: You don’t have to live a baked potato inside your caravan.
When it comes to choosing a caravan air conditioner, one of the biggest questions we get is: Should I choose a rooftop or portable caravan air conditioning unit? It’s like choosing between chocolate or vanilla ice cream – there’s no one right answer, you just have to know what’s the best option for Y-O-U.
Today we’re here to help you understand the pros and cons of each style of unit. So, without further ado …
Portable or Rooftop Caravan Air Conditioner: Which Is Best to Beat the Heat?
Today, we compare the pros and cons of the portable caravan air conditioner against the rooftop caravan air conditioner. Both are effective cooling units that will have advantages and disadvantages depending on how you use your caravan.
Each system has its advantages and disadvantages to consider including:
- Ease of Installation
Let’s take a look at the two different units and see what fits your needs:
Quickfire Comparison: Rooftop Caravan Air Conditioner vs. Portable Air Conditioner
If you are looking for a quickfire breakdown of portable vs. rooftop caravan air conditioning you can see our comparison here.
Some of the basic questions you need to ask are: As you can see, both the rooftop and portable units have elements which they excel in. Your buying decision will come down to your individual needs which you should carefully assess before you purchase a unit.
- How much do I plan on traveling?
- How important is it that me and my passengers are cool?
- What is my budget?
- Do I prefer portability?
- How much do I value extra space?
- How much do I value extra light?
- Does excess noise bother me?
Now you know what to ask, let’s compare the two styles of unit.
Portable Caravan Air Conditioner
While rooftop A/C units have been the standard for years, portable caravan air conditioners are becoming a more popular alternative on the market.
Portable caravan air conditioners will vary in size, cost and power, but the growing selection allows caravaners to choose a make and model that fits their particular needs.
Portable caravan air conditioners are perfect for people who:
- Only travel for a few weeks out of the year;
- Mainly travel during the cooler fall and winter months;
- Are looking to save on up front costs;
- Prefer the versatility and portability of a portable unit.
What are the ADVANTAGES of the portable caravan air conditioner?
One of the best parts of a portable caravan air conditioner is it will not require any installation. You can simply purchase your unit, take it out of the package and press POWER. Angels voices sing … and you have cool air.
Unlike the roof A/C unit which will take a good half day of labor to install, the lightweight, portable unit is a breeze to set up. When the first portable A/C units first came out they were large and heavy – modern units are much lighter, slimmer and easier to carry by one person.
DOES TOWING A CARAVAN PUTS MILES ON IT? FIND OUT THE ANSWER HERE.
Maybe the name tipped you off, but one of the best features of the portable air conditioner is that it can be taken anywhere. Yes, it can be used in your caravan when you are on the road, but it is also a great cooling unit for smaller spaces such as your office, bedroom or home storage space.
If you are someone who just takes out their caravan on long weekends or for 1-2 weeks a year, you may prefer the versatility of using the portable air conditioner unit in your home. If you have a small home, it can definitely help you save on cost.
Speaking of cost …
Modern portable air conditioners are a great value. You can find high-quality units ranging anywhere between 330-660AUD or $250-$500USD.
With units able to cool areas ranging from 250-500square feet you are actually getting a pretty good value for your dollar for its cooling capacity. A higher-end unit should be able to adequately (but maybe not perfectly) cool your entire caravan during the hot months.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the advantages of the portable caravan air conditioner, let’s look at a few of the DISADVANTAGES:
Need to Be Placed By A Window
Portable A/C unit typically need to be placed near a window as they use vent lines that transfer the hot air to the outside. This limits where you can place your portable air conditioning unit and often means they will take up valuable floor space in your caravan.
Less Effective Than Rooftop
Most portable caravan air conditioners units are not as effective as caravan rooftop air conditioners at cooling. They simply don’t have the power to compete with the rooftop versions.
Even in high powered portable units, the maximum space rating you can find is about 500sq feet. However, even in highly rated portable units you may find that cooling larger spaces is ambitious.
If you plan on being on the road for anything more than a few weeks a year, the portable unit may not satisfy your cooling needs.
While modern units continue to get quieter, portable air conditioners can still make quite a bit of noise while running. The normal range of noise for a portable caravan air conditioning unit can be between 40-60 decibels.
While this level of noise won’t blow out your ear drums, units on the louder end of the scale can certainly be an annoyance for light sleepers. Before you purchase, you should check the specs for the decibel level to make sure you are comfortable with the noise output.
Some models of portable caravan air conditioners will have a tank to store the water created during the cooling process. Owners will need to empty this tank on a regular basis to prevent overflows and a buildup of mold in your unit.
While it’s not a huge deal, it is another inconvenient daily chore you will have to do while you are on your caravan trip.
Rooftop Caravan Air Conditioner
The most common type of air conditioner unit in caravans is the tried and true rooftop air conditioner. Rooftop air conditioner units are mounted onto the roof and force the cool air down into the van from the ceiling.
Rooftop air conditioners are one of the most effective options for your caravan since they circulate air down through the roof allowing the cold air to sink. This type of air conditioner should reliably cool the entire surface area of your caravan.
The ADVANTAGES of a Rooftop Caravan Air Conditioner are clear:
The single biggest advantage of the rooftop air conditioner is the effectiveness. Rooftop air conditioners will typically be much more powerful than portable units and will effectively cool your caravan during the hot months.
If you are comparing simply based on effectiveness of the cooling unit, rooftop units win hands down – it’s not really even a competition. Just think of the difference between a central A/C unit in your home vs a portable unit – its a big difference.
With an average BTU of about 15,000 bytes, you will typically have no problem cooling your caravan even during the hottest days of summer.
Portable air conditioning units can be noisy, take up space and need to be placed near a window. Once a rooftop unit is installed, it stays there and just does its job for about 5 years.
Sure, these units may break down from time to time, but you typically won’t have to deal with the day-to-day hassle you will experience with a portable unit. The portable unit can be just a bit more high maintenance – which not all caravaners are down for.
More Floor Space
Since the rooftop air conditioner is positioned over the skylight windowin your caravan’s roof, you don’t lose any floor space like you would with a portable unit.
This is important for travelers with smaller caravans where every inch of floor space is at a premium. As a bonus, newer rooftop units have integrated windows so you won’t have to sacrifice any natural lighting.
The major DISADVANTAGES of the caravan rooftop air conditioner are:
One of the biggest downsides of the rooftop air conditioner is the installation. A rooftop caravan air conditioning unit may weigh around 45kgs or 100lbs, so you’ll need at least one other person for lifting and installation if you choose to install yourself.
Don’t be fooled, rooftop A/C installation is not a 30 minute job. You can probably expect to spend at least a half day (or longer) on the installation, so its best to do this during the off season when you have plenty of time.
If you are looking to install a rooftop caravan air conditioner yourself, here are a few DIY videos that can help you out. However, as there is electrical work involved, you should always do it under the supervision of someone who has experience installing these units.
This said, most people hire a certified RV mechanic or caravan repair technician to install their A/C units. As this sort of installation is a routine job, you should be able to get a pretty decent deal if you call around to local RV repair shops.
Less Natural Light
While some newer caravan rooftop air conditioners now come with a built-in skylight, most models will still cover your RV skylight. If you plan on traveling in your caravan for long stretches of time, your skylight can:
- make your caravan feel larger;
- make it feel less claustrophobic inside your caravan;
- be a source of Vitamin D; and, most importantly,
- make you feel happier
Many of you will not be bothered by having your caravan skylight blocked, but for others the blockage is a non-starter. You need to decide what’s important to you – if extra light is critical, go for a model that has a built-in skylight to give you that extra sunshine you need.
Where to Learn More about Caravan Air Conditioners
If you want to learn more about caravan air conditioners you can do your research on the internet (like you are now), however, in our opinion it’s always best to couple that with expert advice.
Seasoned pros, like the ones we have at RV Parts Express can answer your questions based on years of experience and help you find a unit that suits your particular needs.
The key is to let us know what type of traveler you are. You don’t want a unit that is not powerful enough for your caravan, but at the same time you don’t want to overspend on a unit that is much too powerful for what you actually need.
By letting us know how you travel, we can help you find a unit that is both powerful and economical enough to suit your needs.
Keep yourself cool and safe during the summer months by getting the right air conditioning for your caravan. When making your final decision ask yourself:
- How important is constant cool air?
- How much do I plan on traveling?
- What is my budget?
- Do I prefer portability?
- Is space a factor?
Once you’ve answered these questions, the solution should be clear. It’s as simple as that.
Questions? Comments? Want to share your short story with the world? Leave a comment below or fill out our contact form to get in touch. We LOVE to hear from our readers!
Did you find this article helpful? Find out more answers to all your caravan and RV questions here.
Not only will having your AC unit on your roof free up your yard space, but it can also improve the visual aesthetics of your home's exteriors. You won't have to deal with looking at the unattractive unit or worrying about the sounds of your AC unit drowning out conversations around the patio table.What is the disadvantage of portable AC? ›
The Cons: Limitations of Portable AC
Portable air conditioners often take more BTUs — and therefore use more electricity — to cool the same square foot space as a window unit. This is likely because they generate waste heat indoors instead of outside, creating more overall heat for the unit to deal with.
Portable air conditioners work well in a caravan. A portable caravan air conditioner can be used to keep you comfortable, while a larger unit might not work well for your big RV. Before you spend any money, do your research to make sure that the unit you are looking to purchase will cool the space.Why would you put an air conditioner on the roof? ›
Why is Rooftop Air Conditioning the Best? Your home benefits the most from rooftop air conditioning because the air circulates throughout your home quickly and easily. Because of the routing of the cool air, your cooler air will rise to the warmer air. A rooftop system does not have to work hard to make your home cool.How long do roof top AC units last? ›
The average life expectancy of a large rooftop unit (RTU) is 20 years. During its lifespan, things like continuous operation, the buildup of dirt, or poor maintenance can impede the mechanical functions. The dampers may begin to fail to open and close. Refrigerant could leak.What is the life expectancy of a rooftop unit? ›
Items such as your rooftop or central air typically last up to 15 years. Other items such as a water heater unit can last up to 14 years. A furnace system that is taken care of can last around 18 years before it needs replacing.Do portable AC units use a lot of electricity? ›
How Much Electricity Does A Portable Air Conditioner Use? Mid-sized portable air conditioners use an average of 2900 watts per hour. Particularly large units can exceed the electricity usage of even central air conditioners, expending about 4100 watts per hour.Is it cheaper to leave portable AC on all day? ›
First things first, yes, it is more efficient to leave your air conditioning on. This doesn't mean what many people assume, though. You shouldn't be leaving your air conditioner on full blast 24/7 by any means. There's a right way and a wrong way to do this, which we'll explore shortly.What is the best way to cool A caravan? ›
- Encourage Air Flow. ...
- Keep Blinds and Curtains Down. ...
- Insulation is Your Best Friend. ...
- Cook Outside (if possible) ...
- Switch Lighting. ...
- Camp Near Large, Shady Trees. ...
- Bring Out the Big (Cooling) Guns.
Window and portable air conditioners are both designed to cool a room, but their performance is not equal. A window AC cools a room the best and is more energy-efficient and affordable. A portable air AC is easier to install and is useful when your window is too small for a traditional unit.
Portable air conditioners are good for specific cooling needs. If you want a portable AC unit that can move from room to room, then it is a good cooling option. It's also the efficient air conditioner choice that is not permanently installed.Can you run rooftop AC while driving? ›
Becuase the rooftop air conditioning is responsible for a larger area, it requires much more power in comparison to the dash air conditioning. The Rooftop air conditioning can be used while driving very easily. However, there are some things to take into account with its use.What is a rooftop air conditioner called? ›
The RTU is the most widely used commercial heating and the cooling unit found in the U.S. The rooftop unit is sometimes called a package unit, as all its components are contained in one unit.Do rooftop AC units have filters? ›
Obviously commercial rooftop unit filters are a bit different than the filters you have in your furnace at home. The bigger the RTU you have, the more filters you need. You may have “rows and rows” of filters, says Hoger.Do rooftop units use refrigerant? ›
Once a rooftop AC unit is installed, cool, low-pressure refrigerant arrives at the compressor as a gas and then compresses into a hot, high-pressure gas as it flows into the condenser coil. There, the metal fins on the coil absorb and disperse the heat, and the condenser fan blows the exhaust away from the building.Do rooftop units heat and cool? ›
A rooftop unit is a type of HVAC system mostly found in commercial buildings. These systems provide heating, cooling, and ventilation to a building. Rooftop units are also sometimes found in residential homes.Can you recharge a rooftop air conditioner? ›
Camper air conditioning units are closed systems and have no refill point. If an Open Road RV Repair technician or any RVIA Certified Technician tests your system and determines that the issue is low refrigerant charge the only option is replacement of the rooftop assembly.How rooftop units are controlled? ›
A large slice of the commercial building stock is heated and cooled primarily by packaged rooftop units (RTUs). Most of these units are controlled by a simple thermostat on the wall.Can rooftop unit be installed on ground? ›
Rooftop HVAC units are usually installed on the roof of a building, though they can also be installed on a slab at ground level.How do you tell the age of a carrier rooftop unit? ›
The most common way to to determine the carrier ac age is through the serial number. In the above style, the determining factor is having a letter in the middle of the serial number. The first two digits are the week of manufacturer. The second set of digits are the year of manufacture.
Here's how long some of the most common types of AC last:
Portable AC — 5-10 years. Residential single whole-home AC unit — 15 years. Central air-source heat pumps — 15 years (and up to 20–25 years if well-maintained and in a well-insulated home)
False. Air conditioners cannot and do not purify air. The air filter located near the return air duct or air handler does filter dust, pollen and other allergens. But it's a misconception that the air filter is a part of the air conditioner itself, rather air filters are a part of the entire HVAC system.Is it more expensive to run a portable air conditioner? ›
So, compared to other household appliances, portable air conditioners are expensive to run.How many hours should portable AC run per day? ›
8-14 hours total run time for central air. 12-18 hours run time for a window unit. 16-24 hours run time for a portable air conditioner.Do all portable air conditioners have to be vented out a window? ›
Do all portable air conditioners have to be vented out a window? No. With a ventless portable AC system, you don't need to vent anything out the window—but it will be harder to circulate the hot air from the room without one, so you'll need to come up with another solution (like a fan).How often do you have to empty portable air conditioner? ›
In high humidity areas, homeowners will have to drain the portable AC every few hours (2 to 8 hours, in general). In other areas, you have to drain the unit once per day or every few days.What is the cheapest way to run an air conditioner? ›
Turning the air conditioner off when you're not home saves energy. That's because it runs most efficiently at full speed, and running it all day—even at a less powerful setting—requires more energy overall.What is the best AC temp to save money? ›
According to the Department of Energy1, 78° Fahrenheit is the sweet spot for air conditioners to balance energy savings and comfort when people are at home and need cooling.How do I keep my caravan cool during heatwave? ›
- Open the windows. ...
- Close the blinds or draw the curtains. ...
- Invest in air conditioners or mobile fans for cool air. ...
- Try to cook outdoors. ...
- Turn appliances off. ...
- Create and enjoy some shade. ...
- Keep cool at night.
One of the most effective methods of cooling is a water bath with water at 90 F (26.7 C). Colder temperatures may cause shivering.
- Choose a coastal or elevated spot. ...
- Park in the shade. ...
- Keep doors and windows open. ...
- Install a vent fan in the roof. ...
- Use powered fans to move air. ...
- Use reflective window shades. ...
- Avoid hanging out inside the van. ...
- Cook outside.
Here is the short answer: Single-hose portable air conditioners don't pull air from outside. They merely recirculate the existing indoor air. Dual-hose portable air conditioners do pull in air from outside.Do portable air conditioners create negative pressure? ›
Portable ACs, like window units, use a small amount of the air they draw in to push out waste heat through the outside exhaust. Because air is being pulled out of the room and not replaced, this creates negative pressure.
For example, a 100 Ah lithium battery will power a typical 15,000 BTU RV AC unit for about 30 minutes. If you're RVing in hot weather, running your AC for 30 minutes likely won't do much to increase your comfort. However, if you had a bank of eight 100 Ah batteries, it would run for about four hours.Can you sleep in an RV while driving? ›
Conversely, sleeping in an RV bed while someone is driving is not allowed. Even if you live in a state where all passengers aren't required to wear a seatbelt, it isn't safe. If your RV comes to a quick stop, your sleeping passenger may end up falling out of bed.Is it better to run RV AC on high or low? ›
Keep in mind that your air conditioner operates off of an intake temperature from outside air. Because of this, RV air conditioners only cool to about 20 degrees below the outside temperature, so don't blast your air conditioner at its highest setting mindlessly. Remember to keep it “low and slow”.What is the difference between roof top unit and make up air unit? ›
There are no differences between an AHU and an RTU except for the fact that an RTU is placed on the rooftop. The Air Handling Unit is a huge metal box, which helps in conditioning and circulating the air to create an ideal atmosphere.What is difference between make up air unit and rooftop unit? ›
A rooftop unit is a type of air handler that is placed on the roof of a building. A makeup air unit is a type of air handler that provides 100% outside air.How do you clean a rooftop air conditioner? ›
- Turn the thermostat and main power switch off.
- Visually inspect the unit for damage. ...
- Remove leaves and debris from the outside of the unit.
- Use a cooling fin comb to straighten any bent fins.
- Remove the top of the unit, carefully. ...
- Vacuum dirt and debris out of the bottom of the unit.
You should replace these about every 90 days if you have no allergies, but AC pros typically recommend every 45 days for max efficiency. Be sure to replace them with the right size and type of air filter. If your AC was working properly, you could remove the filter and buy one that is identical to it.
As a general rule, you'll want to replace pleated air filters and furnace filters in your home every 90 days. The longer the filter is in place, the more dirt, dust and allergens are trapped clogging the filter and decreasing their efficiency.Is AC better on roof or ground? ›
Homeowners, living in areas which tend to have warmer climates, should ideally prefer to install the outdoor unit on the ground. This is because, placing the unit on the rooftop means, exposing it to the scorching heat of the sun. Consequently, the air conditioner will not operate at optimum efficiency.Why do they put AC units on the roof in Las Vegas? ›
Ease of access: Rooftops offer plenty of open space, which means AC technicians have an easier time accessing and repairing units placed there. Fewer disruptions: AC units can be very loud when in use, and a rooftop placement can greatly reduce the sound that you hear from them.Is in better to have HVAC in ceiling or floor? ›
Ceiling vents do a better job cooling and floor vents do a better job heating. If your priority is cooling, put your HVAC in the attic and ducting and vents in the ceiling. If you prioritize heating, put the HVAC and vents in (or below) the floor. This principle works for return vents as well.Can you run rooftop AC while driving an RV? ›
Can you run an RV air conditioner while driving? Your RV's generator can power your RV's rooftop air conditioner. So, you can run your air conditioner if your generator is on while you're driving. Just keep your fuel tank's capacity in mind and turn off your AC before turning your generator off.Can you put air conditioner on the roof? ›
One of the basic reasons why most of us choose a roof-mounted AC unit is the amount of space it room. This can be an excellent solution for those who are living in residential areas and most likely don't have much both indoor and outdoor space for their air conditioning system.Does AC really use a lot of electricity? ›
Conclusion. While air conditioners are fairly energy-intensive, their exact energy usage depends on several factors. Generally speaking, however, you can expect a central air conditioner to use between 3000 and 3500 watts per hour.Why do homes in England not have AC? ›
“We are a heating-dominated country, not a cooling-dominated country,” said Tadj Oreszczyn, a professor of energy and environment at the University College London Energy Institute. He added: “We haven't designed our homes historically to cope with overheating. We've designed them to keep ourselves warm.”Why do people cover their AC units in the winter? ›
Deterring debris: A cover will prevent debris like leaves, sticks, and other yard waste from blowing into your A/C unit. Preventing freezing: Covers help prevent water from directly resting on your coils and freezing, which could be damaging.What is the disadvantage of having ducts in the ceiling? ›
Cons of ceiling vents
Exposes HVAC system to unconditioned spaces – Attics tend to be dusty and prone to extreme temperatures, which can add wear-and-tear on the equipment and increase heat transfer loss.
Why should you place an air conditioner at the top of a room near the ceiling rather than at the bottom near the floor? ›
As cool air is more dense than hot air so this cool air shift downward that is why the A.C. is installed at a height. If the A.C. would be installed at low level then coll air will not be able to cool whole room because then it become limited to areas near floor of the room.What will happen if an air conditioner is positioned near the floor instead of the ceiling? ›
This placement provides an efficient method of cooling the room. If the unit were to be placed near the floor, the cool air would be "stuck" at the bottom and the room would not be cooled effectively.Do RV rooftop air conditioners need to be recharged? ›
When your camper's air conditioner runs out of refrigerant, it will need to be recharged and can be done by refilling the refrigerant. Depending on the type of air conditioner in your camper and where the unit is located, it may be either easier or harder to recharge than other models.Can an AC in RV run on battery? ›
Can You Run Your RV AC Unit On Batteries? The short answer is yes. With the proper equipment and enough batteries, you can run your RV AC unit on batteries. In addition to the lithium batteries, you'll need an inverter to invert the DC battery power into AC power for most air conditioning units.Does RV AC use a lot of electricity? ›
How Much Power Do RV Air Conditioners Use, and Which RV Air Conditioners Are Most Efficient? RV air conditioners are notorious for being the largest power consumers in modern RVs. When running they can draw between 700 watts (for a 10,000 BTU unit) all the way up to 1,500 watts (for a 15,000 BTU unit).