Buyer’s Guide To Caravan Air Conditioners

Buyer’s Guide To Caravan Air Conditioners
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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.

Caravan Air Conditioners

Caravan Air Conditioners have become a popular appliance for people travelling in an RV around Australia.

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. The benefit is they are generally quieter than roof-mounted units and some say that built-in units can cool quicker because they are installed lower, where the air is already cooler.

Caravan Air Conditioners

Built-in caravan air conditioners include under bunk style units that are fitted under a bed or cupboard with a vent to the outside and air is circulated within your vehicle via ducting.

Reverse cycle or heating elements?

Another major factor when looking at caravan air conditioners for sale is how the heating/cooling works. Some air conditioners use heat exchange to cool and an electrical heat element to warm. It’s not the most efficient heating method, but it works no matter how cold it is outside.

Reverse cycle units are the more common type and they use a compressor whether heating or cooling. This is more efficient method but for some models can be an issue when there’s ice in the outside air.

If you will be travelling into particularly cold temperatures, then a heating element system could be best for you. Otherwise, a reverse cycle air conditioner is very effective, and are the most popular type of RV air conditioner.

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.
Caravan Air Conditioners

2 to 2.5kW  Caravan Air Conditioners: Suitable for vehicles up to 5 metres. 3 kW plus Caravan Air Conditioners:  Suitable for vehicles up to 7 metres

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
  • 3 kW 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.
  • Thick Roof Adapter: If your roof is greater than 85mm thick you will need an adapter which can accommodate roof thickness up to 135mm.
  • Adaptor for 400mm Roof Opening: this frame allows 360 x 360mm caravan air conditioner models to be installed in a 400mm x 400mm roof opening.

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.

Note that for some split system models, making refrigerant lines is required and therefore a licensed air conditioning technician is required for the installation.

Caravan Air Conditioners

It is advised a qualified installer (electrical contractor) undertakes the installation for your Caravan Air Conditioner.

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 Harier 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.

Caravan Air Conditioners

The new Dometic Harrier Inverter raises the bar in efficient and powerful RV roof top air conditioners. Featuring the first use of an inverter compressor in an RV application.

Air Command: An Australian brand, with headquarters in Adelaide, these guys make tough caravan air conditioners with the harsh Australian environment in mind. Their model, the Air Command Ibis Mark 3 is the most popular caravan air conditioner in the country – the latest model has 10% greater capacity, is now even quieter and comes with lower profile and four-way independently closing ducts.

For more info on caravan air conditioners, check out our full range HERE.

S Reynolds
Steve Reynolds, Power Product Expert at mygenerator.com.au is a small engine specialist with particular expertise in Generators, Water Pumps, Pressure Washers and other Outdoor Power Equipment products. Outside of work; an avid caravan enthusiast who enjoys time on the road and has gained years of familiarity with Caravan & Camping products also. A passion for power products used for work, home and leisure!
S Reynolds

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Comments

  • Mohammad alroumi January 6, 2017, 10:10 am

    Hi sir,
    I have a room in my caravan with a dimension of 5×3 meter and I want to fix an air conditioner with it’s own generator in it. I was wondering if your product is suitable for such requirements, put on your consideration, that we are living in Kuwait and the temperature goes to 55 degrees Celsius in summer. Please, inform me with the price of your item, the shipping rate and the duration that will take to reach Kuwait as soon as possible.

    Thanks,

    • L Adams January 8, 2017, 9:59 pm

      Hi Mohammad, unfortunately we do not ship to Kuwait. We are an Australian based power products retailer. You would need to source your air conditioner and generator requirement from a Middle Eastern based retailer. Good luck, thank you.

  • Simon Keane February 5, 2017, 12:49 pm

    Hi there, I am looking to purchase and self install air con for my Jayco Hawk. I like the look of the rooftop mounted systems but am also looking to put a roof mounted boat rack for my tinny up there. Any alternative suggestions?
    Cheers, Simon

  • charlie March 29, 2017, 8:56 am

    Hi I live in south australia,
    I have a hi-ace camper and want to buy a roof top air con ,just for the cab but if it will do the whole van even better looking for one on a budget of 1000 dollars, quiet and not bulky.
    What do you recommend? thanks.

    • L Adams March 29, 2017, 10:53 pm

      Hi Charlie, thanks for your inquiry. Our range of Caravan/RV Air Conditioners includes both rooftop and under-bunk (built-in) models and are from premium brands like Dometic, Air Command and Truma. Their prices start at around $1,400 and are designed for RV vehicles from around 5 metres to 8 metres in length. Popular smaller models are the Air Command Sparrow (rooftop) and Air Command Sandpiper (under-bunk). All models require 240V power, so you’ll either need a mains power source or an inverter generator of around 2kVA to 3kVA in size. Also note that Fitting and Install instructions come with the unit, but it is advised a qualified installer (electrical contractor) undertakes the installation. Thanks

  • Anthony Johnson April 30, 2017, 10:55 pm

    After a replacement for my old Ibis rooftop unit as it too noisy. Which would be the quietest: the ibis3 or the Dometic with the inverter compressor? Neither unit gives a decibel rating. Regards, Anthony

    • L Adams April 30, 2017, 11:38 pm

      Hi Anthony, great question. Unfortunately caravan air conditioner manufacturers don’t provide dBA ratings with their unit specifications, which is a pity because it is a hot topic among caravan enthusiasts. However, relating to your question about the two specific models; both the Dometic Harrier Inverter Rooftop Air Conditioner and the Air Command Ibis MK3 Reverse Cycle Roof Top Air Conditioner are considered very quiet models. The Harrier has a variable speed inverter compressor, making its operation very quiet for its size (its designed for vehicles up 7.5 metres in length). The Air Command Ibis Mk 3 model (designed for vehicles up to 6.5 metres in length) has improved its high speed fan operation from previous models, also making it a very quiet roof top caravan air conditioner.
      Overall, from our testing the Ibis 3 would be only slightly quieter, but this is not surprising given it has slightly smaller cooling/heating capacity than the Harrier. Thanks.

  • Derek May 1, 2017, 12:38 pm

    I have a Hino 145 I’d like to put a split roof system in which would you recommend
    I have a 4.6 kva gen so which is best and is there anywhere in Tassie I can get it fitted
    Cheers

    • L Adams May 2, 2017, 2:07 am

      Hi Derek, your Hino cabin would likely have a smaller space to cool than a standard size Caravan/Motorhome. Therefore I would suggest you consider a smaller rooftop model such as the Air Command Sparrow Reverse Cycle Roof Top Air Conditioner – it is a small and sleek unit, but still powerful and efficient. Your 4.6kVA generator would be more than enough to run this RV Air Conditioner – just note that the manufacturer (and us) recommend an inverter generator to run RV Air Conditioners as inverters provide safe, clean power.
      If you would like to browse other RV Air Consditioner Rooftop models, you can visit our range here: Caravan Air Conditioners
      We would ship the complete Air Con unit kit directly to you in Tasmania. For fitting and installation, you would need to engage a qualified electrical contractor. Many thanks

  • Poppy May 9, 2017, 2:59 am

    Hi,
    I am looking to purchase a secondhand Ibis for my LWB VW T4 van, which I am converting to a camper. The fella who is selling it to me is saying I can run it off my cranking battery whilst I’m driving, and then at a caravan park whilst I’m still. I cannot find any information about it running off the cranking battery, will the alternator be able to charge it up? Any information about this would be greatly appreciated,

    Many thanks,
    Poppy

    • L Adams May 10, 2017, 6:29 am

      Hi Poppy, The roof top Air Conditioner runs from 240V AC, which means it would need to be powered through an AC Inverter. I do not know whether you can generate enough amperage from the specific cranking battery. This could be a question for an electrician or the vehicle manufacturer. You need to be careful when designing a system that can use mains power, Battery and Generator. An electrician would likely need to sign off on such an installation. Many thanks

  • Moira Graham June 28, 2017, 3:13 am

    Hi, we have not had a caravan for about 30 years and are buying one with an ibis3 aircon fitted. When we are plugged in at a caravan park and want to use it, are we still able to ‘boil the jug’ etc or will that be an overload on the power?

    • L Adams June 28, 2017, 3:44 am

      Hi Moira, when you are ‘plugged in’ at a caravan park, you would be using mains power and would not have any power overload issues.

      If you intend to run your caravan from a generator, this is when you need to be a little bit conscious of power consumption. To run an Air Command Ibis Mk 3 Air Conditioner, we would recommend an inverter generator with around 2.4 to 3kVA maximum power capacity, including models such as:

      Yamaha 2400w Inverter Generator
      Yamaha 2800w Inverter Generator
      Briggs & Stratton 3000w Inverter Generator
      Yamaha 3000w Inverter Generator with Elec Start

      Each of these generator models have the capacity to handle the Caravan Air Conditioner power surge requirement – especially when the ambient temperatures are hot, which is often when you need your Caravan A/C the most. You will be able to also run a few appliances at the same time, but just be conscious of any appliance’s max power draw and be aware of an appliance like a household kettle, which will typically draw over 2000 watts – so upon other appliances surging at the same time (such as your Air Conditioner), you could experience overload issues. Often the best way to approach this is to stagger the use of your appliances, so they are not all starting at the same time. Hope that helps, many thanks.

  • Glenn Evans July 11, 2017, 7:24 am

    Hi there I have a 21 Ft Caravan and use it in the Pilbara, very, very hot in sumer, presently i have a colman mach, which is useless in the summer, i want to upgrade, I have two in mind:

    1. Dometic Harrier or
    2. Cormorant MK2 , this was suggested at the RV service center.

    Please note, i am not concerned with price or heating, its the cooling thats important.

    • L Adams July 12, 2017, 12:02 am

      Hi Glenn,
      Great question. Both of those Rooftop RV Air Conditioners are appropriate for your sized Caravan. Both also have impressive cooling capacity and are backed by Dometic’s 3 year warranty and national service agent network (Dometic now own the Air Command brand). So overall, we would comfortably recommend either unit for your RV. However, since you are choosing between the two models, I would opt for the Dometic Harrier model as it is rated to work in up to 52°C and has as a slightly higher cooling capacity.
      Hope that helps – thanks again for your question.

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