We’re in the heat of summer, and if you have an RV and your AC fails, my guess is you’ll want to find the best RV Air Conditioner ASAP We review several excellent RV AC units that we feel are worth your hard-earned money. When you’re on the road or hanging out at an RV park, having a fully-functional air conditioner is essential to enjoying your journey. A poorly functioning RV AC can truly make your life miserable.
Welcome to our RV Air Conditioner buying guide…
Intro | Best RV Air Conditioner
RV air conditioners come in different colors, shapes, and sizes, and their specifications vary. Some suppliers will declare that the best RV air conditioner is a Dometic, while others will swear by a Coleman. So, how do you decide which unit is the best RV air conditioner? There are so many models and what do all the acronyms mean? I found a “Dometic 15,000 BTU 410A” which sounds like it uses 410 Amp. I even saw the same unit advertised as a “410 Amp low profile rooftop air conditioner”. 410 Amps? It will never work in an RV. Fortunately, I understand what it’s all about, and I’ll explain it as we go.
Maybe your RV air conditioner is not working anymore and needs to be replaced or overhauled. Or it isn’t doing the job really well. Now you may be wanting to replace it with a stronger air conditioner. But, is it really the unit that is faulty? Let’s delve into that for a little.
Coleman Mach 3+ (48203C966) | 13,500 BTU RV AC Unit
As a general rule, a fully functioning unit has air coming from the air conditioner at 15° to 20°F cooler than the air entering it. You can measure this at the bottom of the ceiling assembly air grilles. If the air entering the air conditioner through the return air vent is 85°F, the air it pumps into the vehicle should be 65° to 70°F. If you can measure this difference, the air conditioner on top of the vehicle is doing a good job. If this test determines the unit is good but the system is not doing a good job of cooling the vehicle. Then the control is failing. It does not let the air conditioner operate for long enough to cool the RV, and it should be replaced or adjusted. A section on air conditioner maintenance and testing is included at the end that explains in more detail how to evaluate an air conditioner.
When the temperature difference is good, and the unit’s running all the time, you should give careful consideration to the heat entering the vehicle. During extreme outdoor temperatures, it’s best to park the vehicle in a shaded area. You must also keep the windows and doors closed. Using window shades like blinds and /or curtains also help to keep the heat out. You may even consider tinting the windows and improve the insulation of the RV.
If you’re still in the market for an RV air conditioner, you will find all the advice you need right here. I will review four of the best RV air conditioners. There are two 13,500 BTU units manufactured by Dometic:
- Dometic Brisk II Air : B57915.XX1C0 — 13,500 BTU : 79 lbs.
- Size : 27 5/8 ” D x 29 5/8 ” W x 15″ H
- Dometic Penguin II : 640315C — 13,500 BTU : 101 lbs.
- 29″ D x 40.5 ” W x 11.25″ H
We’ll also review two of the best RV air conditioners in the 15,000 BTU range:
- Dometic Penguin II – 651816CXX1C0, 101 lbs.
- 29″ D X 11.25″ H X 40.5″ W
- Coleman Mach 15 : 48204C866 — 80 lbs., 13.8” high
- 14″ x 14″ Vent Opening | 38″ L x 26.1″ W x 13.8″ H
Following that, I’ll explain the important considerations when selecting an RV air conditioner.
It is interesting to note the large weight difference between the different air conditioners. Weight is important when you do the installation. Anyone would prefer lifting 72 pounds onto the roof of an RV compared to 101 pounds. This is also important because it affects the vehicle’s weight distribution, it is much better when the rooftop air conditioner is lighter. The Dometic Brisk II only weighs 72 pounds, the Penguin II weighs 99 pounds and its 15,000 BTU brother weighs 101 pounds. The Coleman Mach 15 weighs 90 pounds.
VIDEO | Learn More about Dometic RV Air Conditioners
You might be a nature lover who enjoys taking your RV off the beaten track where no utility power is available. Then a generator comes in handy, you can use it to power the RV utilities and any one of these RV air conditioners. If you plan to do this, you will need to take into consideration that the air conditioners reviewed here consume between 3,500 Watts and 5,000 Watt, when using two air conditioners.
Best RV Air Conditioners
Dometic Brisk II Air : B57915.XX1C0
— 13,500 BTU, 72 lbs.
More Structure, less weight, Cooler, Stronger, Quieter, Lighter. Engineered to perfection. Best RV air conditioner for the money. 15% increased air flow and 19% lighter than previous models
- 13,500 BTU Rooftop Air Conditioner,
- Ducted or Non-ducted application. ADB or control kit required.
- Lightweight : EPP foam housing reduces weight and also improves cooling. Galvanized steel top plate provides lasting strength while long copper lines minimize vibration and, therefore, noise
- Custom wrap-around shroud and carbon steel base add strength, protection and durability
- Quiet : Dampening brackets reduce noise and vibration. Long copper lines and dual rubber bushings are also responsible for minimizing noise and vibration
- High-performance design delivers 15 % air flow increase over previous models
- Easy installation and maintenance
- Requires inside ceiling assembly and control kit or ADB
- Custom-composite laminated shroud is UV-protected for lasting beauty
This unit is listed on the Amazon site as a 13,500 BTU 410A unit. But 410A is not the amperage that it uses, it’s a reference to the R410a refrigerant gas used. Following the reviews, I will explain the refrigerant. For now, just remember that all RV air conditioners use R410a refrigerant gas and will never consume 410 Amps. In fact, the amperage rating for all Brisk models is 20 Amp.
VIDEO | Easy to Install Dometic Brisk II Air (13,500K BTU)
The Dometic B57915 is an air-cool only model with a nominal capacity of 13,500 BTU/hour. Because all the Brisk II models use a 20 Amp breaker, it’s safe to replace a 13,500 BTU model with a 15,000 BTU model. These RV air conditioners are suitable for ducted or non-ducted installations. This newest RV air conditioner unit from Dometic offers 15% increased airflow compared to previous models. It will make a huge difference when cooling an RV. It’s also the smallest Dometic rooftop air conditioning unit available.
The Brisk II is also available as a heat pump unit.
The Dometic B57915 is 12-7/8″ high, about an inch lower than the tallest unit, the Coleman.
Dometic Penguin II : 640315C
Low Profile — 13,500 BTU : 101 lbs. / Size : 29″ D x 40.5″ W 9.5” H
- 13,500 BTU Low Profile Rooftop Air Conditioner,
- Ducted or Non-ducted application – Pre-installed Multi-Zone CCC II control board and heat strip, CCC II wall thermostat required.
- High-perfomance motor and fan
- Low profile (9.5″ high) the lowest in the industry.
- Sleek, contemporary shroud improves aerodynamics, reduces wind resistance
- Accommodates ducted or non-ducted cooling
- Requires Multi-Zone CCC II thermostat (available separately)
The nominal capacity of this air conditioner is 13,500 BTU, and it is the only unit that cannot be used with ducting. It’s therefore used with an air distribution box (ADB). The ADB is a neat alternative to the air ducting used in some RVs and provides control for the air conditioner and distributes the air. It’s to be used with the Air Distribution Box (3314851.000) with an Integral Mechanical control, which is available in Polar-White.
This unit is 9.5″ high, making it highly streamlined and aerodynamic.
VIDEO | Dometic Penguin II
All Dometic RV air conditioners have a 2-year protection plus warranty. From user feedback, it seems that the warranty is worthwhile and honored by Dometic Corp.
The Dometic Penguin II Air – 640315C Weighs 101 pounds, which is a hefty 22 pounds heavier than the Brisk II model.
A roof gasket is supplied with the unit, but not the control assembly. You may be able to use your current one, or you have to order that separately.
VIDEO | See the Dometic penguin II in Detail
The general feeling among users is that they are highly satisfied with the Dometic RV air conditioners. The installation is straightforward, and the installation manuals are clear and concise. This range is one of the best RV air conditioners on the market today.
Dometic Penguin II : 651816CXX1C0
— 15,000 BTU, Air Conditioner and Heater, 101 lbs. : Best RV air conditioner if you need a heavy-duty air conditioner with plenty of blowing power coupled with a built-in heater.
- High Capacity Low Profile Rooftop Heat Pump
- Ducted or Non-ducted application – Pre-installed Multi-Zone CCC II control board, CCC II thermostat required
- Cool and heats air giving year-round comfort
- Improved aerodynamics reduces wind resistance while underway
- Effortless, fully automated comfort control
- Rib-reinforced base pan for strength and durability
- High-performance motor and fan
✓ View or download the BROCHURE for the Dometic Penguin II RV AC’s to see all the great internal components and features.
The Dometic Penguin II 651816C is also referred to as a high capacity low profile rooftop heat pump. It’s a 15,000 BTU air conditioner for use with ducted or non-ducted installations. The heat pump means it can reverse the refrigerant flow to heat the interior of the RV. Because of its dual role, it requires a Multi-Zone Comfort Control Center (CCC) II thermostat. If you are replacing the unit, you may find that the control is already pre-installed.
This unit weighs 101 pounds, 29 pounds heavier than the Brisk II models. Not so easy to get onto the RV roof and I suggest you keep it in the shipping container when you do this, it’s a lot easier to handle.
The Dometic Penguin II – 651816C unit is 11.25” high.
Coleman Mach 15+ : 48204C866
— 14″ x 14″ Vent Opening, 85 lbs. 13.8” high
- 1/3 HP fan motor
- Sealed shaft to protect against damage from the elements.
- Large evaporator and condenser coils with raised lance fins enhance the system’s ability to dissipate heat.
- Engineered for easier starting under high temperature and humidity conditions.
- Optional 5600 BTU Heater Assembly can be added anytime.
- Plastic drain pan eliminates corrosion.
- Corrosion-resistant, stainless steel truss head screws secure the shroud.
- Motor is mounted directly to the bulkhead to prevent distortion of the angle of the blower wheel and to ensure a free turning action.
- Approximate full load amps cooling—14.4-14.8
- Approximate full load amps heating with optional heater assembly—16
- Evaporator air delivery (high speed) 325 cu. ft. per minute (CFM)
- Unit weight 85 lbs. (without ceiling assembly)
- Exterior shroud 13.8″H x 26.1″H x 38″L
- Interior shroud 2.2″D x 19.9″W x 20.1″L
- Fits standard 14″ x 14″ roof opening
The Mach 15+ (48204C866) is equipped with the largest fan motor (1/3 hp), used in this line-up of RV air conditioners, delivering cool air at high volumes and it’s a lot quieter than smaller fan models. The same streamlined shape of previous Coleman products is used for The Mach 15. This model is a 15,000 BTU air conditioner that is available as a heat pump unit too.
The unit weighs 85 pounds and fits the standard 14 x 14 vent cut out used on RVs for air conditioners. An electric heater element with a capacity of 5,600 Watt is supplied with the air conditioner. It is 13.8” high, not what I’d consider a low profile RV air conditioner. The Mach 8 is the low profile unit in the Coleman range.
The feedback from users is very positive, and many testify that they replaced a 13,500 BTU machine with the 15,000 BTU model without any problems. Some even found that you do not need to use a Coleman thermostat as it worked with what was installed in the camper – which was not necessarily Coleman.
The unit is not supplied with a deflector for ceiling ductwork. At least one user used the one of the old one. As can be expected, the air conditioner is reported to be quieter and blows out a bit more air than the 13,500 it replaced. It comes with the seal attached, so you don’t need to buy one.
The optional Elect-A-Heat heating assembly is intended to take the chill out of the indoor air. The heating assembly is an effective “chill chaser”. It’s not a substitute for a heat pump. Do not expect the heating coil on your heater to glow.
Things to consider when replacing your current unit
In most cases, installing a replacement RV air conditioner is an easy job. No more complicated than unscrewing and dropping the interior ceiling cover to reveal all the plugs/ wiring and bolts. Usually, the power and thermostat wiring simply plugs together. The unit itself is mounted to the roof with four long bolts which must be removed. The installation of the new air conditioner is done in reverse order. Bolting it down to the roof with the long bolts, plugging in the cables and replacing the original cover and thermostat. The most challenging part is to lift the heavy replacement onto the rooftop.
A good suggestion is to open the shipping container to ensure that everything is inside and in good order and then to close it again. The container has handles for easy handling and protects the unit. This makes it a lot easier to get the air conditioner onto the roof. When the unit’s removed from the packaging, you can then place the old one in the container, seal it and lower it to the ground.
It’s unlikely that the Wattage and voltage ratings of the new air conditioner will differ much from the installed unit in your RV. However, you have to be sure that you will not exceed the limits of the circuit. If your RV is fitted with a 30 Amp supply socket, 30 Amps is what you have. Anything beyond that will trip the circuit.
The standard roof cutout size for an RV rooftop air conditioners is 14” x 14”. Even so, I recommend that you make sure the machine will fit this cutout and that it will fit the mountings on your RV. Some units require a 14½” x 14½” opening. This will mean cutting the opening to the correct size.
Something that could be a show stopper when replacing your unit, especially if it’s old, could be the Control unit/thermostat. Several versions and types of control exist. Some are mechanical and others fully electronic. So you need to be sure that the new air conditioner works with the control fitted to your RV. I found that there is good information available on the websites and installation manuals of both the Coleman and Dometic manufacturers. It’s worth checking out to be sure.
Some units are supplied with a gasket while others are not. Fortunately, all the units we reviewed do come with gaskets, and you should always use the new one. The gasket is exposed to the environment on the rooftop. The high temperatures of the rooftop in high summer, friction, ultraviolet radiation from the sun and dirt cause it to become brittle or frayed. Since the gasket prevents leaks during rain or snow, it’s best to spend a few moments during the installation to ensure it seals properly. Both areas it will be in contact and must be completely clean and free of corrosion to ensure a good seal. This is one gasket you do not fit with a light grease or oil film, it will become dirty very quickly. Rather use talcum powder for a bit of lubrication during installation.
The air conditioner BTU rating for RVs will be either 13,500 BTU or 15,000 BTU. Some manufacturers or suppliers list 13,500 BTU air conditioners but claim it will “perform like a 16,000 BTU”. Do not trust those claims, the purpose of a rated BTU figure is to enable you to compare units. When a system is rated, it is tested in a controlled environment where it’s confirmed to be a 13,500 BTU air conditioner and not something that performs like a 16,000 BTU unit.
If your current air conditioner is normally working as it should but is less effective in direct sunlight, you have a few options. You may consider a 15,000 BTU replacement unit, or install an additional air conditioner if one is not fitted already. It’s an option, but it may be somewhat expensive when doing a clean installation. The best RV air conditioner will sometimes fail to keep the RV temperature to your liking. But considering the variables it has to deal with, this is no surprise.
A van parked in the direct sun on a really hot summer’s day is a challenge for the air conditioner. If you then leave the doors open and have five active people inside, it can’t keep the RV cool. Not as cool as another RV parked next to it in a shady spot with two resting occupants.
If your van has a ceiling duct with outlets dispersed in the living areas, your replacement must be designed for a ducted installation. (The Dometic Penguin II – 640315C is a non-ducted unit) Air conditioners used with ducting have a deflector mounted in the ducting to control the flow of air. If the unit’s not designed to accommodate it, you could possibly use the current deflector, but it’s best to make sure.
When replacing a rooftop unit, you must consider the height of the outside unit. If you park your RV in a garage or covered area and it’s a close fit, this is especially important. You will notice that in the introduction to the review and with each unit, we supplied the measurements you need.
Heat strips are sometimes a reason for disappointment when customer expectations are too high. The Coleman Elect-A-Heat is one such example. The optional Elect-A-Heat heating assembly is intended to take the chill out of the indoor air when the air is a bit too cool for comfort. The heating assembly is an effective “chill chaser” but won’t effectively heat the entire RV.
R410a – What is it? This is the refrigerant used in the cooling circuit of the air conditioner. It’s what absorbs the heat from the evaporator on the inside of the vehicle and transfers it to the condenser on the outside. It’s an essential component of the air conditioner that determines the efficiency of the unit. R410a is a very effective refrigerant. For this reason, it’s used in RV air conditioners.
What is a basement unit?
Also called an under-bench air conditioner, this alternative to rooftop air conditioners is installed completely out of sight under a bench, on or underneath the floor of your mobile home.
Over the years several MH manufacturers have used basement air conditioners and then reverted back to the rooftop design. It may be because basement air uses valuable basement bay storage space and because tag axles that reduce basement storage space are often used. A tag axle is a trailing axle or a third axle positioned behind the rear drive axle of a recreational vehicle. It’s a non-drive axle, with two or four wheels.
A basement air conditioner also needs additional ducting from the unit to the overhead ducting for distribution, and from the inside of the RV to the unit. All the additional ducting adds to the cost of the installation. On the plus side of things, you can customize the installation. You can locate the unit where it works best, and you can adapt the distribution system to suit your design requirements. It also enhances the overall stability of the vehicle due to a lower center of gravity.
The so-called 2 Ton units are unique because they utilize two compressors in a single, self-contained package. When the cooling requirements are moderate, it uses only one compressor. When additional cooling is needed, the second compressor adds to the cooling capacity. The total capacity is also a lot better at 24,000BTUs.
Some of the feedback from owners is that the noise of the compressors are a disturbance and it can even interfere with your sleep.
Can I use the air conditioner while driving?
It is possible, but you have to take your 115V AC supply with to power the unit. You can use a special 115V alternator fitted in the engine bay of the vehicle or by using an Inverter with batteries. You may even consider a complete uninterrupted power supply (UPS). It will automatically charge the batteries when the vehicle is plugged into the AC supply and run the air conditioner on the batteries when unplugged. Fitting a 115V alternator to the engine has its disadvantages, the engine must be running to power the air conditioner. The UPS and its batteries add some weight, and you also need space for the installation.
RV AC Maintenance
Being an RV, the installation of the air conditioner and the ducting should be to a high standard. Most cooling problems will be due to poor maintenance or improper usage. It is seldom due to a loss of refrigerant or a mechanical failure.
You can easily evaluate the performance of the air conditioner yourself. It is relatively simple and requires only a thermometer and some basic hand tools. You should do these tests at ambient temperatures above 75°F.
The first task is to visually inspect the installation before you evaluate the performance of the air conditioner. Check the installation of all connecting duct collars or divider plates which separate the return and discharge/supply air. Any leakage from the cooler air supplied to the RV and the air returning to the unit reduces the capacity of the system and must be sealed.
VIDEO | Practical video on RV AC maintenance
Continuing with the visual inspection, you must make sure the return air filter(s) and the evaporator, inside the duct that cools down, and condenser coils are clean and undamaged. Clean and straighten the fins on both coils and clean the filter(s) as needed before starting a cooling performance test.
After cleaning the unit and inspecting the air conditioner installation, conduct a cooling performance test as follows:
- Measure the evaporator temperature difference:
- Fully open all air vents.
- Tum the selector switch or wall thermostat to the HIGH COOL position.
- Operate the air conditioner for at least a half an hour, longer if possible. This is necessary to saturate the evaporator coil of the unit with condensate water before beginning a temperature test.
- Use a standard dial type or digital thermometer to measure the temperature of the air immediately entering the return air filter/grille to the air conditioner.
- Measure the air temperature coming from the unit at the louvers, find the difference between that and the return air temperature. When testing an air conditioner that is fitted to a vehicle with ducting in the roof, be careful. Measure the supply temperature at the closest air outlet to the AC unit. Make sure you are only measuring the air temperature.
- A properly running AC unit should have a temperature difference of approximately 16 to 22°F. When the humidity is extremely high, the temperature differences may be slightly lower. (The unit may have to run longer to remove moisture.) Temperature differences greater than 22 degrees are possible in hot, dry weather.
Restricted airflow over the evaporator may also cause greater than 22° temperature differences. In this case, even though the difference in temperature is greater, the unit will not perform well.
When the temperature difference between the incoming air and the evaporated air are within a reasonable range, your RV air conditioner is working well.