Replacing an RV Air Conditioner - Everything You Need to Know
Since most RVs come with an air conditioner installed from the factory, there are only a few reasons that you might need to buy a new AC unit. First, if the factory installed unit stops working and needs to be replaced. Second, you may want to upgrade your existing AC unit if it underperforms or wasn’t really designed for your specific RV lifestyle. Since replacing an RV air conditioner is not a commonly reoccurring need in an RVer’s life, if you find yourself in the position that you’re replacing your AC unit it very well could be the first time you’re doing it. So, we asked the AC experts at Coleman-Mach to answer common questions about replacing an RV air conditioner and give their tips to be sure the unit you select is the right one to keep you cool on your unique RV adventure.
What are the signs that my AC unit will need to be replaced soon?
There are lots of signs that your current AC may be on the way out. If you notice any of the following symptoms address them immediately with an RV service tech to see if it’s a fixable problem or if you need to start looking into replacing your RV air conditioner.
- Your AC is extremely slow to start
- There is a lack of air flow coming from the unit
- The AC only works in low-stress settings
- The AC is blowing warm air
- The unit is unusually noisy when starting up, running, or powering down
- The unit seems to be drawing more energy than normal
What if I like my AC and want to replace it with the same model?
There are two steps to replace a factory installed air conditioner for aftermarket customers. First, you want to find the model number on your existing unit. Coleman-Mach provides an easy-to-follow video on Finding Essential Parts Numbers on YouTube. Then, once you have the model number you can order a replacement unit. If, however, the model number for your factory unit doesn’t translate into an available aftermarket unit, you can use a tool like the Model Number Replacement Tool from Coleman-Mach to find up-to-date product information for corresponding AC replacement units that are available for RV owners to purchase.
How many BTUs do I need?
When it comes to BTUs, the higher the rating the more cooling power the AC unit has. The most common sizes for RV air conditioners are 13,500 BTUs and 15,000 BTUs but there are smaller units for more compact vehicles. Choosing the right size of AC for your RV and working out how many BTUs your rig will need depends on several key factors starting with but not limited to coach size.
The first thing to consider of course is the size of your RV with bigger coaches needing more powerful units to cool their more spacious interiors. Second, take into account the number of AC units in your RV model as well as other environmentally stabilizing factors that may help to keep rigs organically cooler like reflective roofing. Third, you need to be cognizant of the power system on-board your rig whether that be solar, shore power, or generators because different systems have technical limitations to what they can support. Fourth, does your vehicle or your plans on where you’re traveling in that vehicle have rooftop restrictions, like height restrictions for example, that would help define the different options for the best rooftop RV air conditioner? Lastly, take into consideration your destination preferences as frequent travel to hot and humid climates necessitates a stronger air conditioner to account for the larger gap between exterior temperatures and your interior comfort level.
Can I install my new air conditioner myself?
Coleman-Mach recommends a licensed, trained technician completes the installation of any RV air conditioner. Find the closest service location or retail outlet through the Airxcel Dealer & Service Locator.
What’s the difference between ducted and non-ducted AC models?
Just like you may see different types of air conditioner units for brick-and-mortar homes, there are multiple designs for RVs as well. Ducted RV air conditioners have a rooftop unit that distributes cool air to multiple points in the coach through a series of ceiling ducts. Ducted units are controlled through a remote or wall thermostat. Non-ducted units, on the other hand, are like the smaller residential AC units that sit in a window in that they pull hot air in and blow cold air out directly into the interior space; there is no built-in duct work to distribute the cooled air to other parts of the home or RV.
Why is there the option for heat in an air conditioner?
In many RVs the primary source of heat comes from a propane furnace. However, there are other warming options that can be utilized including a heat pump in an air conditioner. Think of a heat pump as an AC operating in reverse. Instead of pulling unwanted heat from inside the RV then expelling it outside like an AC does in the summer, a heat pump pulls ambient heat from outside the RV and routes it into the coach’s interior essentially warming through heat transfer. While a heat pump is not as powerful as a furnace, and likely not a viable choice for freezing weather, it’s a great option during chillier parts of spring and fall travel.
There is also the option of retrofitting existing ACs with an electric heat element. Though not ideal for extreme cold, this heating element can be used to chase the chill away for more comfortable interiors that don’t drain your propane. You can buy an Electric Heating Kit where Coleman-Mach products are sold; find your nearest location on the Dealer & Service Center Locator.
What new technology or upgrades are most worthwhile for RV air conditioners?
The answer to this question heavily depends on your RV lifestyle and what you prioritize on the road. And while there are many options, two that improve both performance and experience are an air purifier and a soft start.
- Air Purifier – Air purifiers can play a number of roles in vehicles and thus be useful to a range of RVers. First and foremost, an air purifier cleans the air; Coleman-Mach’s iWave-M Air Purifier removes bacteria, virus spores, airborne mold, and other pathogens. Air purifiers also remove odors from RV interiors so those that love to cook, those travelling with pets, or those that smoke in their RV can keep their home on wheels smelling fresh.
- Soft Start – A soft start protects your AC by reducing inrush amperage up to 75% and lowering the overall power consumption without sacrificing the unit’s cooling ability. This upgrade is useful for not only extending the life of your AC, but also for vehicles with multiple units. You will see soft starts built into new units now and also soft start kits that can be retrofitted into existing units.
Besides getting a bigger AC, what else can I do to help keep my coach cool?
The effectiveness of any RV air conditioner to cool a space is affected by the overall energy efficiency of the coach. Therefore, looking for ways to elevate your RV’s overall efficiency can go a long way towards creating a comfortable interior environment and easing the strain on AC units so they do not become overused.
Starting at the top and working down, reflective roofing like Tufflex™ from Dicor deflects solar heat keeping interior temperatures cooler. Likewise, exterior awnings, fan/vent shades, and interior window shades that block or absorb sunlight preventing it from entering the RV in its full, temperature raising force are another way to keep interior temperatures naturally cooler.
Another key way that your air conditioner affects the energy efficiency of your RV is through aerodynamics. Low-profile rooftop units are more streamlined which creates less drag for better fuel efficiency. And currently, the Coleman-Mach Mach 8 Plus has the lowest profile on the market.
What are the different kinds of thermostats for RV air conditioners?
We can put thermostats into three general groups: Bluetooth thermostats, digital thermostats, and analog thermostats. Starting with the most cost-friendly are the analog single stage thermostats offering environmental control through manual operation. Next are digital thermostats advancing precise temperature control through a digital display with single stage thermostats. And finally, Bluetooth thermostats that allow for control of the AC wirelessly through the use of Bluetooth and a digital app.
There are also ways that RVers can use the same smart residential thermostats in their RV as they do in their brick-and-mortar home. The Smart Control Center from Colman-Mach has bridging technology that allows residential smart thermostats to work in RVs including their compatible devices like Google Assistant or Alexa.
Where is the best place to buy an RV air conditioner?
Airxcel provides a free Dealer & Service Center Locator for its family of brands including Coleman-Mach with hundreds of dealers and service centers coast to coast in both the U.S. and Canada. Easily find the nearest dealer to your location simply by inputting your zip code.
Have additional questions about buying a new AC or your existing Coleman-Mach unit? Our experts are here for you! Join our private Adventure Club for ongoing access to Airxcel product experts and industry insights to elevate your RV experience. Or submit your question below for a chance to have it answered by our professionals in our next how-to blog on RV air conditioners.