Air Conditioners Explained

Author: Paul Napthali   Date Posted:10 February 2016 

What’s the difference between a normal household and a Caravan or RV Air Conditioner? Both types do the same job - cool or heat, both are designed for different applications, both are very different in price..

Caravan & RV Air Conditioners Explained

 

What’s the difference between a normal household and a Caravan or RV Air Conditioner?

Both types do the same job - cool or heat, both are designed for different applications, both are very different in price! 

The Positives:

  • Durability?  Caravan and RV Air Conditioners are designed to cope with the normal operating conditions of your caravan or RV while on the move.  They are made to withstand vibration, lumps and bumps on the road, as well being wind, bug, water and generally weather proof all round.  

  • Fit for Purpose? A Caravan or RV air conditioner will have a considerably longer lifespan than a normal household air conditioner when being used in a mobile home application, it will not literally ‘rattle to bits’ or allow ‘water ingress’ due to its mobile friendly design.  

     

The Negatives:

  • Price?  Because of the extra engineering that goes into a caravan and RV air conditioner, it is generally a little more expensive than its comparable household counterparts.

     

What are the different types of Caravan and RV air conditioners?

Roof Top - These can be mounted on the roof which is practical for few reasons.

The Positives:

  • Cool air will naturally sink to the floor allowing you to cool your entire van quicker and more efficiently.

  • Having it mounted on the roof means you don’t have to take up valuable real-estate along the walls of your caravan or RV. This can allow you more cupboard, bench or other valuable space needed in your living area.

  • Easy to place in a central location.

  • Suitable for most Caravan and RV’s.  

     

The Negatives:

  • Pop-Tops and smaller Camper Vans may have a roof not designed to carry the weight of an RV air conditioner. Roof modification and support may have to be installed which can be costly.  A built in style or box type air conditioner may be a cheaper alternative in this case.

Built-in Style - From the inside of your Caravan or RV, these air conditioners look like your traditional Box type, but in fact they have the compressor remotely mounted (usually under the floor and vented to the outside) effectively making them a split system air conditioning system.  The box type head unit can be mounted under a bench, on top of a cupboard or anywhere space permits along the wall of your caravan or RV.  The compressor is mounted down below the caravan floor being connected via the refrigerant gas lines and vented to the outside.

The Positives:

  • If you own Pop-Top, Camper Trailer or Camper Van where a roof mounted air conditioner is not practical, a built in type may be preferable and often cheaper solution than modifying your roof to suit.

     

The Negatives:

  • Can take up extra room inside your Caravan or RV that could be used for other living comforts compared to a roof mounted air conditioner. For Example: more bench space or a cupboard 

 

What’s the difference between a reverse cycle heating and an air conditioner with a heating element for caravan and RV’s?

It’s mainly all to do with outside or ‘ambient’ temperatures and energy efficiency, both types of systems have their advantages and disadvantages.

Reverse Cycle Air-conditioning (Heating)

The Positives:

  • Efficiency - Reverse cycle air conditioning essentially uses a closed refrigerant system to transfer heat, which means no power hungry heating elements are used.  Whether you’re wanting your room cooler or warmer, a reverse cycle air conditioner is a very efficient way of transferring heat inside to outside, or outside to inside. This is important if you’re running off a generator.

  • Ventilation - No need to worry about depleting oxygen levels in small spaces as with gas heating.  

  • Ambient Temperatures - Certain ambient temperatures can drastically affect the performance of your air conditioner - check the manufacturer’s specifications regarding ambient temperatures. (air conditioning manufacturers will be quick to point out if their air conditioners work effectively at sub zero outside temperatures).  

     

The Negatives:

  • Ambient temperatures - Unfortunately when the outside temperature approaches freezing point, it is possible that freezing (or partial freezing) of some of the air conditioner components will result in little to no heating at all which makes for an unpleasant situation.  Manufacturers are always improving the technology to control the negative effects of ambient temperature, BUT always make sure to check the specifications of your Air conditioner before purchasing to make sure the heating will work effectively in the temperatures that you’re travelling in.

Heating element type air conditioner

The Positives:

  • Ambient temperatures – will not affect the operation of heating element type air conditioners

     

The Negatives:

  • Efficiency - The power required to run any sort of heating element can be costly if other heating methods are suitable.  Make sure your power generating system is capable if not using mains power.

How effective is Caravan or RV air-conditioning?

Providing you stick to within the manufacturer’s size and insulation specifications, caravan and RV air conditioning is just as effective as your normal household air conditioning.  Just be sure you make generous allowances for caravans, camper trailers and camper vans without insulated roof or wall panels – a larger air conditioning unit will be required. 

 

What size Air Conditioner do I need?

For the caravan industry, generally 2 to 2.5 kW will be suitable for caravans up to 16’ and 3+ kW is suitable for caravans up to 24’  

In a nutshell, air conditioners are rated by their effective cooling/heating produced in 1 hour, this is called capacity.  The power that an air conditioner motor/compressor and fan require can differ to achieve the same capacity, so it is therefore common to rate an air conditioner performance by its capacity and not by its power consumption.

Capacity

This is generally measured in Kilo watts (kW) or BTU’s (British Thermal Units).  For Example, A 3 kW cooling capacity air conditioner refers to the amount of actual heat removed from your room in 1 hour.  The manufacturer’s specifications will tell you what size area a 3 kW rated air conditioner can effectively cool. (Manufacturers performance specifications will always be based on fully insulated fixed roof Caravans and RV’s, otherwise a larger unit will be required to compensate for uninsulated or thin skinned pop-tops and campers etc.)

Power

The power required to run the air conditioner can be an important consideration, especially if you plan to run off a generator.  If this is the case, then efficiency is calculated by selecting the cooling/heating capacity you require and finding the lowest amp/power draw for that size, basically more bang for your buck.  Generally your power draw is displayed in voltage and amps, but just to confuse you it can also be measured in Kilo watts (kW), though typically not rated by this as the power required to run the motor is not always a direct correlation with the cooling/heat capacity output.

Why are air conditioners supplied with 360mm or 400mm opening kits?

This refers to the existing square opening in your caravan or RV.  Chances are if your caravan was built in America you will have an existing 360mm or 14’ square opening, if it was built in Europe or anywhere else, 400mm is standard.  Knowing this could come in handy when selecting a new air conditioner as modifying your roof could be an avoidable costly expense.