Best Portable Air Conditioners for RV: Top Picks and Buying Guide
If you’re planning to spend more time on the road in your RV, you’re likely to face conditions where you need more heating or cooling power.
Your requirements during a two week vacation can be a bit simpler, but if you’re taking your rig out for longer stretches or in more intense climates, you’re going to need easy and quick access to portable air conditioning for your RV in the summer or heat in the winter.
Your decisions for air conditioning will be limited by your ability to generate or hook up to power, your square footage and your ventilation capacity.
Best Portable Air Conditioners for RV
Black + Decker BPACT10WT Portable RV Air Conditioner
The Black + Decker is a terrific choice for someone who has limited square footage and floor space. The footprint of this unit is only 11 inches deep and 16.5 inches wide. It is 26 inches high, but should easily fit under a table or counter. This unit has a drain hose portal and a vent for the release of hot air.
To set up this unit in your RV, you’ll want to watch out for
- air release: the vent hose has to be directed out somewhere. With care, you can cut the plastic window insert with a fine-bladed saw
- draining: these units will pull moisture out of the air, but you’ll need to drain the moisture out of the pan in the bottom or it will overflow
- rolling risk: this unit has casters, so make sure you secure your AC unit before you drive off
- tipping risk: if your unit does tip over at any point in your travels, it will need to sit upright for 24 hours before you power it up
The exhaust hose on this unit is 5 feet long and the cord is 20 inches longer than that. Once it’s hooked up, you can easily move it around your rig.
The window exhaust tool is designed to sit in the bottom of a double hung window, more commonly found in a stick and bricks home than an RV. You may need to do some customizations to the window insert to get it to vent properly out of your RV.
Amazon Basics Portable Air Conditioner 14000 BTU
The additional 4000 BTU in this unit translates to a slightly bigger footprint. Your Amazon Basics 14000 BTU is nearly 19 inches wide and just under 16 inches deep. Be aware that this unit is just over 30 inches tall, so make sure the spot you plan to store it has enough clearance to secure the unit when you drive away.
Additionally, it’s very good idea to secure this unit at several points. It weighs nearly 75 pounds. You do not want that unit banging around loose while you’re traveling. Consider creating a permanent storage spot where you can lock it in place.
While 14,000 BTU is quite a lot of cooling power for an RV, it will make it much easier to get your rig down to your desired temperature and hold it there. This unit comes with an air vent line that has an adapter for double hung windows.
In addition, the window adapter has extra panels and is adjustable so you can open your RV slider, fit in your adapter, and vent the hot air out of your rig easily, or at least you will not need to cut the adapter.
Homelabs 14,000 BTU Dehumidifier Function AC For RV
This 14000 BTU portable AC unit has many features that will work well for RVers. While it’s nearly 31 inches tall, the top is flat, so don’t be surprised if it turns into a workspace when not in use! Like all portable AC units, it has a filter that can easily be removed and cleaned. This AC unit is flat and smooth on the front so it looks nice and clean.
However, the back is fully vented. There’s plenty of movement for air flow in and out, so you can be sure that your AC unit will stay healthy and work for you from year to year.
A good look at the back of this unit makes the maintenance needs pretty obvious and simple. You will want to clean the filter every two weeks; you can simply spray it out and let it dry.
The drain port is right at the bottom of the machine, and since it’s on rollers, you can just roll it to the door, undo the drain plug, and hook up the hose to drain the reservoir. One of the nicest features of this unit is that it’s very quiet.
SereneLife SLPAC12.5 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
This unit offers a lot of flexibility. You can use it just for humidity reduction, just as a fan, or for the full cooling effect. At more than 32 inches tall, this is one of the larger portable AC units you can take with you to stay comfortable on your travels.
The footprint of this unit is also as big as a 14000 BTU. It’s nearly 18 inches wide and almost 14 inches deep. It’s also just over 70 pounds, so again, make sure you have a spot where you can secure this AC unit before you move on to your next adventure.
The adapter plate on the air vent hose is a single slab piece with one slider. If your windows are smaller than 36″, be prepared to do some cutting. However, the plastic panel is quite sturdy and tolerates some chatter so it can be custom cut with ease.
JHS 8,000 BTU Small Portable Air Conditioner
This little AC unit is an excellent option for smaller rigs, or for those who don’t need terribly intense cooling. There are three different options to choose from; you can use it for dehumidifying a damp rig, for cooling on a hot day, and just as a fan when you need air movement.
This unit comes with a stout hose and multiple adapter panels to seal up the remainder of the window. Because this panel can go as wide as 57 inches or as small as 9 inches, you can put this little AC unit to work in nearly any RV window or opening. It comes with a 5 foot power cord and weighs just 44 pounds.
The JHS Portable Air Conditioner has wheels for convenience. If your rig is small, you’ll love the fact that the cube is just over 1 foot square in either direction. Vent it, plug it in, and put the battery in the remote so you can quickly cool off your RV!
Whynter ARC-14S 14,000 BTU Dual Hose Portable AC
If your rig is large and your need for cooling is extreme, the Whynter ARC-14S is a great option. It’s important to take a good look at the dimensions of this unit if you’re planning to use it in an RV, where every square foot counts. This unit is 19 inches wide, 16 inches deep and nearly 36 inches tall.
Unless you have some custom counters, you may struggle to find a spot to stash this when it’s time to travel, and at 80 pounds, you don’t want to have to set this unit back up after a tip.
However, this unit offers a dual hose air release system, which bumps up the efficiency and gives you some options. For example, if you’ve got a bus and have windows side by side, you could create a ventilation setup that would allow you to create a permanent spot for your Whynter AC unit. It also comes with a vent kit and multiple plastic panels for customization.
Your Whynter ARC-14S has an auto drain capability. This means that the mess of draining the unit is taken off you because it’s worked into the design of the AC unit.
Moisture that’s removed from the air is simply evaporated again until it’s gone and out of your rig forever. If you get the chance to invest in a Whynter, you’ve bought a great unit with a solid compressor that will last for years.
Portable Air Conditioner Buying Guide
For best use of your AC unit, part of your target goal will need to be using the unit before it gets terribly warm inside your rig. Hot air is problematic in anyone’s house, but it an RV you’re facing extra challenges.
Warm air holds more moisture than cool air. Foam in your cushions and fabrics will absorb moisture over time if your rig gets and stays hot. As air cools, water settles out.
In a small space such as an RV, the simple act of breathing will increase the humidity in your home. Even once you cool your space, the fabrics, linens and clothing in your rig may feel clammy. In the worst case, your cushions and curtains may get musty or develop an odor.
If you’re going to be in the heat, particularly in an area with high humidity, do your best to park in shade. Try to cool your rig down overnight. Cover south-facing windows and shield your home east and west as the day progresses.
One of the challenges you’ll face in an RV is that your rig will easily pick up dirt and dust. Keep an eye on that removable, washable vent, and do your best to wash it on a weekly basis. Allow it to dry completely before re-installing it in your AC unit for best efficiency.
Vent-Free vs Vented
All of the AC units listed above have vent pipes that will need to be attached and routed outside. While these lines can sometimes be problematic, they do offer RV travelers and dwellers the flexibility to cool different areas of the rig at different times.
Vent-free AC units are generally actually evaporative coolers. If your travels will only include trips in the desert southwest, then an ventless evaporative cooler may be a wonderful choice to help you stay comfortable as the temperatures soar.
However, if your travel plans will take you into the southeast or along the coast at any point, then evaporative cooling will just add to the misery. Again, humidity in an RV can be destructive to soft goods, cushions and mattresses. The risk of mildew and mold will be higher with a ventless evaporative cooler, and this can lead to serious damage over time if mold builds up in the ceiling and walls.
A vented AC unit with not need for a venting hose can be quite useful in a home, hotel or apartment, but they cause challenges in RVs in multiple ways. To skip dealing with the vent hose, your AC unit will need to be mounted directly to a wall with outside air flow available at any time.
If you’ve ever considered buying an older RV and noticed a musty smell or seen the signs of mold, it could have been because the old AC unit in the roof leaked, causing roof damage and moisture build-up.
AC units need to release water and have to expel hot air. A permanently installed AC unit on your RV might work well for years, but they can cause quite a bit of damage if allowed to leak into the walls and ceilings.
AC units are heavy. The driving process puts strain on your rig. As you move down the road with an AC unit either on the roof or in the wall, strain on the structure may cause flexing, which can cause seals to split and break away, leading to water leaks and long-term expensive damage.
If you removed a ceiling mounted AC unit and have had to make repairs, a portable unit may be just what you need to stay cool and comfortable no matter where your travels take you.
How Many BTUs Do You Need?
When figuring out the right AC unit, knowing the BTU or British Thermal Unit output of the unit you’re considering is critical. To start, consider the square footage. If your rig is 7 feet wide by 24 feet long, you will need approximate 7500 BTU to successfully keep the space cool.
Additionally, you’ll need to consider how many people live in your rig. If it’s just you, then 7500 BTU may be more than enough. If you travel with a partner who spends a lot of time in the rig, then you may need more cooling power.
Finally, it’s a good idea to consider whether or not your rig has an indoor kitchen that you plan to use a lot. If you like to get to your site, open up the rig and set up your outdoor kitchen, only cooking inside when it rains, then you may not need additional AC at all.
However, if your cooking style includes using all the kitchen tools in your RV, or if you have an oven or convection microwave, then consider upping the BTUs to 10000.
Every traveler is different. Your travel goals and destination goals will likely be different from many other RVers, their mates or their travel partners. Additionally, your heating and cooling needs are likely unique. If you make an error in your BTU size choice, try to overbuy.
Running your portable AC until it’s overtaxed because you underbought is a terrible waste. If you overbuy and stay in campgrounds that offer great hookups, you can power down the unit if it gets too cool in your rig.
No matter your travel goals, it’s important to note that to run AC you either will need a generator or to hook up. If you plan to boondock and will be using AC, make sure that your generator can tolerate the required electrical load before you get off the beaten path or into a rough campground.
To that end, make sure that your travels use the heat of the sun logically. If it’s going to be warm, park in the shade. If it’s going to be cool at night, let the rig cool down as low as you can tolerate, then warm it up while you cook breakfast in a sweatshirt and good slippers.
Always wear something on your feet in the cool part of the day to stay a bit warmer as mother nature warms up your rig. If you love a daily shower, try to take it during the hottest part of the day and let the water evaporate off of your skin instead of toweling off.
As things warm up, strive to leave pulse points, such as at your wrists, elbows, ankles and the backs of your knees, open to the air so cool air can reach them.
As the day warms up, move to your outdoor kitchen or cook over the nearest firepit. Get the kids involved in meal planning and work out foods everyone can cook on a stick. Grill hot dog buns on a portable gas grill and get out the long forks for sausages and franks.
Of course, if you’re cooking over a firepit, check the local fire rules and always keep water and sand nearby so you can manage sparks.