Which RV Air Conditioner is Best?
RV air conditioners have changed over the years and it may be time for an upgrade. Big brand names like Dometic, Airxcel/Coleman, and Advent have been making better more efficient and in some cases slimmer AC units for RVs.
Did you know that you can install an RV air conditioner in a normal vent cover with no ducts necessary? You can have an extra AC in the bedroom of your travel trailer or easily install one in your van or newly converted bus.
I’ve researched and reviewed the best RV AC units for ducted and non-ducted RVs, trailers, vans, buses, and even horse trailers. There are 15,000 and 13,500 BTU RV air conditioners, low profile, and standard. Whatever your AC need is, I’ve got you covered.
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RV Air Conditioner Reviews and Info
Dometic is one of the biggest names when it comes to RV and travel trailer appliances. There’s a good chance that the air conditioner on your RV is a Dometic. The Brisk II is Dometics standard air conditioner for RVs, travel trailers, 5th-wheels, buses, and even vans.
If you’re replacing an older AC the Brisk II is going to be a huge upgrade. Dometic spent 2 years redesigning their classic air conditioner and ended up making a more durable, lighter, quieter, smaller, and more environmentally friendly camper air conditioner. It has 15% more airflow than the Brisk I and is 19% lighter.
Both the 13,500 btu and the 15,000 btu versions of the Brisk II have an electrical rating of 115 V AC and are compatible with ducted or non-ducted systems. On the high setting, they have a 350 CFM airflow which is higher than most.
They both use the universal 14″x14″ roof fit. Almost all the vents in your RV or trailer use a 14″x14″ hole as well so if you want an extra RV AC for your bedroom Dometic Brisk II will most likely work.
There is even a black version available. Both sizes of units are 27.23″ long, 29.18″ wide, and 12.7″ tall.
If you installing this camper air conditioner into a ducted system use the Dometic Quick-Cool Return Air Package to replace the vent cover on the inside.
If you are installing a Brisk II in a non-ducted system like in a van, bus, small trailer, or a small RV you are going to need the compatible Dometic Non-Ducted Control Panel.
This ceiling panel is both a duct to blow out the cold air from the Dometic AC unit and also the control panel where you adjust the temperature and turn it on and off. It is also compatible with the Dometic Brisk II with Heat if you want the AC+Heat combo. Note that the Brisk II with heat weights significantly more than the standard Brisk II at 82 lbs.
Now let’s talk about the differences between the 13,500 btu and the 15,000 btu Brisk II. The 13,500 btu Brisk II which is the smaller version weighs 72 lbs, uses 3,953 initial start-up watts and uses 1,670 watts when running. If you are going to run this with a generator I would suggest getting one that is at least 5,000 running watts.
The Brisk II 15,000 btu weighs 75 lbs, uses 4,392 initial start-up watts and 1,725 watts when running. The 15,000 btu RV AC unit is 11% more powerful than the 13,500 btu unit. It can run on the same size of generator and doesn’t take that much more power or weigh much more. If you are buying an AC for a bus, RV, travel trailer, or 5th-wheel I would suggest going with the 15,000 btu because you get more bang for your buck and it puts out more cold air.
The Dometic Brisk II RV Air Conditioner is a true classic when it comes to RV air conditioners. Dometic makes high-quality RV accessories and their Brisk II AC unit is affordable and works just like it should. It’s perfect if you already have a Dometic unit and need a perfect replacement that will be an upgrade.
- Both 13,500 & 15,000 versions are duct/non-duct compatible
- Fairly Lightweight
The Dometic Penguin II is a lot like the Brisk II just a much more low profile version. This is a fantastic option if you have a large RV or trailer with multiple AC units or you travel a lot and want to cut down on fuel costs with a more aerodynamic RV air conditioner.
This unit has all the benefits of the Dometic Brisk II like the lower vibrations, quieter running, and high cold air output but with half the height. There is a polar white and a black version available.
Now for the differences. The Penguin II is short measuring only 10″ tall once installed but it is longer than your average RV AC unit measuring 40 inches long and 29 inches wide.
The 13,5000 version weighs 99 lbs and is non-ducted only. You need the Dometic Penguin Control Assembly to run it. The electrical rating is 115V AC. The initial start up watts is 3,953 with 1,731 running watts. The airflow on high is 320 CFM.
The “High Capacity” or 15,000 btu Penguin II weighs 110 lbs and is both duct and non-duct compatible. The electrical rating is 120V AC. The initial start up watts is 4,392 with 1,762 running watts. When using it in the ducted application it can be controlled using the Dometic Comfort Control 2. The airflow on high is 310 CFM.
Both of these versions of the Penguin II can be run with at 5,000 or higher watt generator and have the universal 14″x14″ opening for almost any RV or trailer vents.
The Dometic Penguin II Low Profile RV AC has all the things you love about Dometic RV air conditioners but with a very slim aerodynamic body that will save on gas mileage, especially if you have more than one. Some people even use these on small trailers or vans because luggage racks fit over them. The only downside is how heavy they are.
- Only 10″ tall.
- Duct & Non-Duct Compatible
Airxcel makes the Coleman Mach RV air conditioners which are also very popular in the world of camping. Their AC units are a lot like the Dometic Brisk II is power usage and style but they have a few additions in quality and craftsmanship that make their RV AC units some of the best around.
I’m going to talk about the Coleman Mach 3 Plus which is the 13,500 btu version. It’s strong enough to work as a ducted and non-ducted unit. If you are going to use it as a non-ducted AC make sure you buy the compatible Coleman Mach Non-Duct Ceiling Assembly.
The Mach 3 Plus has a heating element that runs on 5,600 btu and weighs 90 lbs. It has a 115V AC electrical rating, uses 3,500 initial start up watts and runs on 1,695 watts. It produces a 320 CFM airflow and has all copper tubing and gas-flux brazed joints for durability when driving down the road.
The Coleman Mach 15 comes in white or black and also weighs 90 lbs. It has an electrical rating of 115V AC, the initial start up watts are 3,900, and runs on 1,800 watts. The airflow on high is 320 CFM and all the tubing is gas-flux brazed copper. The heating element is optional on this RV AC, the version I’m reviewing doesn’t have it. You can find the version with heating and cooling capabilities here.
It’s also duct and non-duct compatible for a variety of uses such as vans, buses, and small RVs. If you are replacing an existing ducted RV AC with a Colman Mach you can use the existing thermostat already on your RV or trailer. If you are installing a brand new system you can buy the Coleman Mach 15 with the compatible thermostat.
All of the Coleman Mach camper air conditioners on this list fit in the universal 14″x14″ hole and are 42″ long, 28″ wide, and 16″ tall. Both versions need to be run with at least a 5,000 watt generator.
The Airxcel Coleman Mach RV Air Conditioners are made with high-quality materials and put together the right way so they will be able to withstand the constant bumps of long dirt roads and freeways. If you spend most of your time boondocking and driving on rough roads the Coleman brand may stay in better shape than other RV AC brands.
- Duct & Non-Duct Compatible
- Uses the lowest amount of watts for initial start up.
Advent is another large camper air conditioner brand and their 13,500 btu AC is one of the only ones you can run with a 3,500 watt generator without using a soft start kit. They are also one of the most affordable RV AC brands on the market today.
Both sizes of the Advent rooftop RV air conditioners are made with metal base pans, non-ozone depleting coolants, and silicone coated cooling fins to reduce freeze-ups. They have a 320 cfm airflow and both are duct and non-duct compatible. You need the ASA non-ducted ceiling assembly for non-duct installation.
They run off of 115V AC power and fit 14.25″x14.25″ holes.
Advent’s 13,500 btu Rv air conditioner weighs 69 lbs and measures 35″ long, 30″ wide, and 13.2″ tall. It uses 3,000 initial watts and runs on 1,450 watts. You can run it with a 3,500 watt generator.
The Advent 15,000 btu unit weighs 69 lbs and measures 33.5″ long, 25.6″ wide, and 15″ tall. It uses 4,500 initial watts and runs on 1,800 watts. You need a 5,000 watt generator to run this RV AC.
The Advent Air RV ACs are the more affordable camper air conditioners but when you need a way to keep your RV, trailer, van, or bus cool they will do the job. They could be a better option for van owners because they are lighter than the other brands and the 13,500 version uses the least amount of initial start up watts.
- 13,500 btu version uses the least amount of watts.
- Duct & Non-Duct Compatible
My RV Air Conditioner Recommendation
I have to go with the Dometic Brisk II as the best RV air conditioner.
The reason it beat out the slimmer Penguin II is it weighs significantly less and therefore is better for a wider variety of applications. If your RV can hold a lot of weight the Penguin II is a fantastic option but even saving 30 lbs can make all the difference when it comes to small travel trailers and vans.
Another reason it’s my pick is it has the highest airflow output on the list. Airflow is important when it comes to cooling down RVs because they don’t normally have great insulation like a house does.
Another thing I like about Dometic is the availability of their parts. They have excellent customer service and because of how used their brand is you can find a lot of their parts at local dealers and RV stores. The unit is compact and has a sleek aerodynamic design that will reduce wind drag and hold up against all kinds of weather and the sun.
The Dometic Brisk II has everything you want in a lightweight RV air conditioner but if you are good with something much heavier the Dometic Penguin II is also a fantastic option.
Frequently Asked Questions About RV Air Conditioners
Why is the initial start up wattage higher than the running wattage on an RV AC?
Camper air conditioners use compressors to cool down air and when a compressor starts up it draws a lot of power to get going. Once it’s started it drops back down to what is called the running wattage. Some people are fooled when they see the wattage of an AC and think they can use a small generator to run it but in most cases, they will need a generator that can output almost double the number of running watts to start the RV AC’s compressor.
How to run an RV AC with a small generator.
Now you know what initial start up watts are and why you need a large generator to run an RV air condition. But there is a way to cheat the system and run an RV AC on a smaller generator by using a soft start.
A soft start lowers the power needed to start an ac which means you can use a 2000 watt honda generator or a 3,000 watt generator of any other brand that uses at least a 121cc engine to run most 13,500 and 15,000 btu RV air conditioners. You can also use the soft start to run 2 RV AC units on a 30 amp power source.
The best soft start is the Hutch Mountain Micro-Air Easy Start. It works by using a microprocessor to deliver the perfect amount of power at a certain time to start up the air compressor. In other words, it tricks the compressor into starting even though the initial watts are lower than it normally needs.
The soft start connects directly to your AC roof unit and is an easy installation. For detailed instructions check out this video by the RVgeeks.
Can RV air conditioners be recharged?
RV air conditioners are not made to be recharged. If your AC system is leaking the refrigerant there may be something that needs fixing or the unit will need to be replaced.
Does an RV air conditioner run on propane?
No, RV air conditioners run on electricity only, even the ones with heating elements.
What causes RV air conditioners to freeze up?
A common problem with the ac units on RVs is the coils or cooling fins freezing up. If your AC is starting to get noisy or the fan isn’t blowing out the normal amount of cold air you may have a frozen unit. You can check this by taking off the shroud on your RV’s AC and looking for visible ice.
If your AC is frozen turn it off immediately because further freezing can damage it.
There are a few reasons an AC freezes: the coils are dirty, there is a lot of moisture in the air, the thermostat isn’t working correctly, the refrigerant levels are low, the air filter is clogged, or the condenser coils are dirty.
I would suggest checking the air filter first because that’s the most common problem. Once you’ve cleaned the air filter run the fan part of the AC for a few hours. This will defrost the coils. If the coils look dirty you may want to clean them before turning your AC back on.
How to clean an RV air conditioner filter.
A dirty RV air conditioner filter is the most common reason for an RV AC to not be putting out enough air. If you use your RV AC regularly you need to check the filter at least once a month. A dirty AC filter can damage the AC or cause it to freeze up.
You can clean an RV AC filter a few times with water or even with a vacuum. Eventually, the filter will need to be replaced because even cleaning it with water and a vacuum will not be enough. The good news is RV AC filters are easy to find and inexpensive.
Have any more questions about RV air conditioners? Leave a comment below.