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How to Pick the Best Van Air Conditioner

How to Pick the Best Van Air Conditioner

Posted by Heatso on 20th Apr 2022

An AC is one of 5 RV essentials for good reason. It cools off the air in your cabin which is good on its own, but it also has a few very important hidden benefits.

HOW TO PICK THE BEST VAN AIR CONDITIONER

INTRODUCTION

Summer is hands down the most popular time to hit the road and go on adventures in your van or RV. But the beautiful sunny days can also get quite hot, which is especially problematic if you’re in a metal box on wheels with little to no ventilation. That’s why a high-quality roof-mounted or portable air conditioner for camper vans makes all the difference.

An AC is one of 5 RV essentials for good reason. It cools off the air in your cabin which is good on its own, but it also has a few very important hidden benefits. A van air conditioner adds a new level of comfort to your vanlife experience if chosen correctly, but it can also become a noisy nuisance if you get the wrong one.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover all the ins and outs of choosing an AC that’s right for you. Additionally, we’ll briefly cover how an AC works, so you’ll have a better idea about what to look for when picking an air conditioner for your camper van.

HOW DOES A VAN AIR CONDITIONER WORK?

There are five components in any air conditioner that let it cool off the air inside: a compressor, condenser coil, evaporator coil, liquid refrigerant, and a thermostat.

The process starts off when the thermostat detects increased temperature and sends a signal to the fan. The fan blows hot air over the evaporator coil, where the excess heat is absorbed by the cool liquid refrigerant running through the coils.

The now hot refrigerant then flows to the compressor, which increases the pressure to make the refrigerant hotter than the temperature outside. During this process, the refrigerant turns from liquid to gas. Once the gaseous refrigerant is hotter than the air outdoors, it moves on to the condenser coil.

Finally, in the condenser coil, the hot, gaseous refrigerant releases all its heat outside. During this process, it condenses back into liquid, ready to go back to the evaporator to absorb more heat from your cabin.

A van with a rooftop van air conditioner

UNDERSTANDING YOUR PERSONAL PREFERENCES

When choosing an AC, it all comes down to your tastes and lifestyle. A bulky AC will take up more space but offers extra cooling. A silent van AC unit won’t interrupt your peace of mind, but it will cost more than a noisy one. These things are highly subjective and depend exclusively on your personal preferences, but understanding what you want will make choosing an AC much simpler.

To make it easier, try writing down the features that you would like your air conditioner to have. Would you like it to be portable or roof-mounted? Maybe you’d like to have a remote control or a way to easily monitor the AC unit’s performance. Are you looking for a 12V air conditioner for your van, or do you have an inverter that lets you use shore power appliances?

Here are some questions that may help you decide what kind of van air conditioner you’re looking for.

How much time do you spend indoors?

Is your van or RV your full-time home? A high-quality air conditioner has the added benefit of cleaning the air from pollutants and debris which naturally accumulate with time. If you spend most of your time in the cabin, then you’ll want to invest a bit more and get an AC with a heavy-duty compressor. These will last you longer and are made for continuous use over long periods of time.

Where will you be traveling?

Are you planning to visit hot and humid places? If so, you’ll want an AC that not only cools but also dehumidifies. Excess moisture in the air can promote mold growth and even rust, and create an unpleasant environment to live in. However, if you just need to cool off your bed area in the RV, a portable air conditioner for camper vans will work perfectly.

How many people will be staying in the campervan?

The required cooling capacity of an air conditioner will depend on how many people you’re traveling with. A family of four will generate more heat and moisture, and will probably require more space to be cooled than a couple of vanlifers. Keep this in mind until we get to the section in which we discuss cooling capacity and why it matters.

How often do you cook inside?

Cooking (especially boiling) generates a lot of excess moisture that needs to be vented out. Do you have an indoor kitchen where you cook every day? Or do you cook your meals over a campfire and sustain yourself on sandwiches when on the road? Depending on your eating habits you’ll need to decide whether dehumidifying is important for you or not.

TECHNICAL CRITERIA OF A VAN AC UNIT

Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to figure out the technical aspects. The AC’s size and cooling capacity will depend on your motorhome’s size, but there are also other factors such as price and maintainability. Or maybe, you’ll decide that you don’t even need an air conditioning unit, and want to find out how to choose a van ventilation system instead.

These 5 technical features will help you break down ACs into categories, making it easier to decide which one is ideal for you.

Air Conditioner Size

Van air conditioners come in a wide range of sizes, from compact and portable, to 16”x16” roof-mounted powerful coolers. The size of the AC directly correlates with its cooling output, so keep in mind how much cooling you need when deciding on this.

Price

If an AC is a long-term investment for you, then it’s definitely worth paying a little more. Higher-quality air conditioners provide faster cooling while using less power, so they’ll pay for themselves in the long run. If you want to save a few hundred dollars on your AC, sign up for our newsletter and keep an eye out for deals and discounts on our air conditioners!

Cooler Capacity

Arguably the most important aspect of your air conditioner is its cooling capacity. This is the measure of an air conditioning system's ability to remove heat from a room, thus making the room 'cooler'. As a rule of thumb, to calculate how much cooling you need, take the area of your cabin (width x height) and multiply that by 25 BTU.

Don’t forget that the bigger the cooling capacity of an AC, the higher its energy consumption. That’s why it’s always worth getting either exactly the cooling you need or a bit less. Otherwise, you may have to deal with an unexpected electricity bill.

Maintenance

A high-quality AC rooftop unit can serve you for several years, but only with proper servicing. Modern rooftop air conditioners filter your air as well as cool and dehumidify it, which means you’ll need to clean the filter from time to time.

Air conditioner maintenance is usually minimal and takes just a few minutes, but it’ll greatly improve the overall efficiency and longevity of your cooling system. Having a technician check out your rooftop AC once a year to refill the refrigerant, as well as clean the evaporator and condenser coils is highly recommended.

Power Consumption

Unless you’re running on solar panels, the electricity consumption of the AC in your van conversion adds to your monthly energy bill. So of course you’ll want to go for the option that draws the least power while having enough cooling capacity to reliably chill your cabin.

If you’re running a portable AC, having a separate battery bank is a great idea, and allows you to run your AC anywhere in the van from battery power. A portable power station like the EcoFlow Delta Max can easily power a portable AC for 3-4 hours, more than enough to cool the cabin down.

USING A PORTABLE CONDITIONER FOR CAMPER VANS

A portable air conditioner like the Autoclima U-GO! 12V AC is a great choice for van life. It’s easy to transport and set up wherever you want, can be powered from your van battery, and provides ample cold air for small rooms.

Keep in mind though that such portable units are not as powerful as roof-mounted ACs like the Indel B OFF Plein-Aircon 12V. For now, there is still a trade-off between power and portability.

Autoclima U-GO! 12V AC

$1,699.99

B OFF Plein-Aircon 12V

$2,699.00

EcoFlow Delta Max

$1,899.00

CONCLUSION

We’ve covered everything you need to make an informed decision next time you’ll be preparing your motorhome for the summer. If you have any questions about air conditioning, or anything else van related, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]!

SUMMARY

This guide has covered a lot of ground and we hope it has provided you with some general guidance and a direction to think in. Nonetheless, it’s worth keeping in mind that every road trip is unique and there will be items that you might need that we haven’t included in our campervan packing list. When planning your next trip, try going through each category and see if there’s anything you’d like to add, or perhaps leave out something unnecessary. And most importantly, enjoy the adventure!

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