With the higher summer temperatures we are now experiencing in the UK I have discussed air conditioner setups with our caravan/motorhome guests more in recent years. Having air conditioning in your caravan or motorhome is possible via a number of different solutions. However, there are several compromises and obstacles to consider, beyond simply the cost. For instance, there is a portable air conditioner set up to consider which is a cheaper solution. However, its less practical and takes up living space. The built-in air conditioning systems are more expensive but provide more useable living space.
We have a few guests who are repeat visitors to Horton Common every year who have air conditioning installed. And while yes it can get pretty warm here at Horton Common in the middle of summer, that’s not why they had air conditioning installed. Commonly, the reason someone will opt for an air conditioner is if they also like to go touring around the European continent.
While in the UK summer months we may have short periods over 30 degrees Celcius (currently), in central/southern Europe that’s far more common. Therefore, until climate change takes more of hold on the UK climate and our summers are commonly above 30 degrees Celcius you may want to carefully consider if you actually want/need air conditioning. Because there are cons to go along with the pros of a cooler living environment.
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Introduction to Air Conditioning for Caravans and Motorhomes
When it comes to professional/built-in air conditioners for caravans or motorhomes the two main brands involved are Dometic and Truma. However, as you may have predicted, these built-in solutions are quite expensive. What do I mean by expensive?
Well, depending on the specific model you could be looking at a total install cost of between £1,500 to £3,000. Hence, a lot of money. Now, I know many guests who have spent between £1,000 and £2,000 on a motor mover. However, you will typically use a motor mover on every trip and many people now view motor movers as essential accessories.
However, with air conditioning, you may only use it occasionally. You may therefore still reasonably consider air conditioning optional instead of essential. Though, if you have the resources available and you can afford built-in air conditioning it does create a very comfortable living/sleeping environment in the hot summer months.
There are also portable air conditioning setups that you may feel best suits your budget. To start off the discussion on what might be the best air conditioning setup for your caravan or motorhome is a video from Practical Motorhome.
The above video does a good job of providing a brief overview of the different cooling options for a caravan/motorhome. Below, I now want to discuss each option in a bit more detail and with a few more examples/videos.
As you can see from the video above, both portable and built-in air conditioning options are quite large/bulky and will impact your leisure vehicles payload. Therefore, the first question you really need to ask yourself is, do you really need air conditioning?
Turbo Vents in Caravans and Motorhomes
On average UK warm spring days and potentially even summer days the temperature inside the caravan/motorhome may be just a few degrees above a temperature you would be comfortable with. Therefore, instead of going for a portable or built-in air conditioner, you may want to consider a turbo vent.
A typical example of a Fiamma turbo vent (40cmx40cm) which are available in a range of different sizes: Image – Amazon.co.uk
Now, a turbo vent doesnt feature any sort of heat exchanger/condenser which you find in a proper air conditioner. However, the fan is reasonably powerful and will dramatically increase the ventilation through your caravan or motorhome. Hence, it will pull out the hottest air hanging around the ceiling and in turn draw into the vehicle cooler air from ground level through the floor vents etc.
So the idea with a turbo vent is not to introduce a new cut out into the roof of your caravan or motorhome. The turbo vent is intended as a replacement to your existing Heki roof light etc. Hence why the range of turbo vents on offer matches the sizes of common roof lights/vents found in caravans and motorhomes.
Another advantage of the Fiamma turbo vent besides just keeping cool is the benefit of rapid ventilation. Say you burnt some toast and the fire detector is going off. Just quickly turn the turbo vent to max speed. Shortly after, presuming the toast isn’t still burning the smoke detector alarm should turn off.
A rotating control dial adjusts the fan speed on the Turbo Vent: Image – Amazon.co.uk
Advantages of Turbo Vents
With a cost of a few hundred pounds per turbo vent, they are amongst one of the cheapest options for reducing the interior temperature in a caravan or motorhome. Furthermore, they run on 12V power therefore you can run turbo vents just from the leisure battery. With a maxium power draw of 3 amps at 12V, that’s just 36W of power at maxium fan speed.
With a weight of just over 5kg, you could add multiple turbo vents if you had multiple roof lights without a significant impact on payload. Yes, the noise from the fans is a consideration. However, both portable and built-in air conditioning setups produce fan noise. If you only currently use your caravan within the UK. Replacing your existing roof light with a turbo vent may be the best option for you and your wallet.
Portable Air Conditioning Setups for Caravans and Motorhomes
If you believe that adding one or more turbo vents to your caravan or motorhome is just not going to provide you with the cooling performance your after, the next step up is a portable air conditioning unit.
The only portable air conditioning unit specifically for caravans and motorhomes that I’m currently aware of is produced by a company called Eurom. As seen in the video above, this portable air conditioner has two boxes linked together by what can really only be described as an umbilical cord.
With this portable air conditioner, one box sits inside the caravan/motorhome and the second box hangs on the window frame outside: Image – Amazon.co.uk
For a true air conditioner with a condenser/heat exchanger, the heat from inside the caravan/motorhome has to be exchanged to the outside environment. Hence, why there are two boxes, one which sits inside and one which hangs on the outside of the vehicle. If you have a 3-way fridge in your caravan or motorhome, it works on the same principle. However, in that scenario, you have fridge vents to transfer the heat into the outside environment.
This image shows how the portable air conditioner hangs on the window frame outside: Image – Amazon.co.uk
As I’m sure you would expect, this portable air conditioner is a more significant investment than a turbo fan upgrade. However, this is a true ‘cooling’ solution that can reduce the interior temperature below that of the outdoor environment.
As of yet, I’ve not actually seen any of our guests arrive and set up a portable air conditioning unit. So I had a search to see if I could find any applicable videos. It just so happens that the Caravan Vlogger aka Graham owns such a unit which he takes on trips to the south of France. In the video below Graham provides a good detailed account on the pros and cons of using this portable air conditioning unit.
Graham provides some really good feedback on the performance of the portable air conditioner. For instance, even running at full ‘cooling power’ the unit will not able to get the interior temperature to any figure you choose. It will typically be able to reduce the interior temperature to 6-7 degrees Celcius below the outdoor temperature.
While that may not seem sufficient to some people, I believe that can make a big difference to a comfortable internal environment. But it is important to recognise the limitations of this portable air conditioner and any air conditioner for that matter.
Secondly, Graham brings up the point about condensation. Through the principle of a condensing heat exchanger humidity from the warm air will condense on cool surfaces. Therefore, the connecting pipes/cables will likely have condensation on the surface during operation.
Furthermore, both the boxes of the portable air conditioner have condensation (condensate) traps. The outside box will just drip onto the ground. However, with the interior box, you will need to remember to empty the condensate container.
Portable Air Conditioner Advantages/Disadvantages
The portable nature of this air conditioning setup obviously in and of its self has advantages. Hence, you only have to take the air conditioner with you when you will need it. Therefore, in the winter, spring or autumn you won’t be carrying around that weight (20kg).
You will, therefore, have more payload capacity for other personal items. Secondly, as its portable, you could easily sell it on separately. The current price of around £750 is obviously a big benefit over a roof-mounted/built-in air conditioner which will cost into the thousands.
There are however some obvious downsides to this portable air conditioner. First, the window when the air conditioner is fitted will always be slightly open. Hence a security risk when you’re not in the vehicle. Therefore, check with your insurance company on their thoughts before you opt for a portable air conditioner. Also, the fan noise from the unit outside hanging from the window may annoy your pitch neighbours.
Finally, you are going to lose some interior space. In Grahams set up, the interior box sat on the kitchen worktop. Therefore, the portable air conditioner limits your use of the cooker etc. So while this solution appears to be the best option for Graham, it may not be the best option for you depending on your individual circumstances/needs.
Built-In/Roof-Mounted Air Conditioning
So the last option you could consider which maybe your best option depending on your budget and circumstances is a built-in/roof-mounted air conditioner. Now, while you may be familiar with roof-mounted air conditioners for caravans and motorhomes as you will see below they are not the only option. There are now internal air conditioning units which can fit under the seating area or fixed bed. The best location will depend on your caravan’s layout. As I stated at the top of this post when it comes to this category of air conditioner for caravans and motorhomes, your best options are really from Dometic and Truma.
The obvious benefit of opting for a built-in air conditioner for your caravan or motorhome is the minimal impact if any on the use/function of the living space. Now, it does need to be acknowledged with the Truma Saphir units which sit under a fixed bed/seating area you are going to lose some storage space. However, there are potential issues with the roof-mount units as well which I’ll discuss below.
Replacing a Roof Light with an Air Conditioner
I remember having a conversation with one guest to Horton Common in the past who was considering a roof-mounted air conditioner. They were fully aware of all the pros and cons, power consumption, impact on payload etc. The main issue they were wrestling with in their mind was the loss of the roof light.
In some instances, as discussed in the video below, a new hole can be made into the roof to accommodate the air conditioner. However, for this particular guest that was not an option they wanted to take. The reason they were concerned with swapping the roof light with an air conditioner was the loss of natural light during the day. They were concerned with the air-conditioner fitted, inside their caravan would feel very dark.
Now, up until the point when I started to do my additional research for this post, I also believed that was the trade-off, natural light or an air conditioner. However, there is now another option from Dometic. They offer the FreshLight which is an air conditioner that comes with an integrated roof light.
The Dometic roof-mounted air conditioner FreshLight range features an integrated roof-light: Image – Amazon.co.uk
While this is an option you could consider, whether its your best option will depend on your budget. The Dometic FreshLight is the most expensive roof-mounted air conditioner I’ve come across in the range of £2,500-£3,000. This is quite a bit more than their Fresh Jet 1700 above which is typically found for around £1,700.
Now, its likely the FreshLight is more expensive due to more expensive components. Dometic has managed to achieve better cooling performance in a smaller unit and accommodated a roof light.
Truma Built-in/Roof-Mounted Air Conditioners
Truma is another brand you will likely be familiar with when it comes to caravan and motorhome accessories. Many caravans and motorhomes have truma hot air heating. Truma also produces water pumps and other accessories. In terms of Tuma’s air conditioning offerings, they are very similar to that of Dometic. Below is a video from the YouTuber Dan Trudgian and an interview he conducted with a Truma representative on air conditioners.
Within the video above Dan learns that due to the construction of his particular Bailey caravan a roof-mounted Truma air conditioner is not possible by replacing his existing roof light. There is an issue with a seal that runs across the caravan roof, but also a potential issue with the air conditioner and Dan’s existing solar panel.
Therefore the Truma representative discuses with Dan the option of the Saphir air conditioning unit which can installed under the seating area, with ventilation pipes running along/within the caravan cupboards/lockers.
Truma Roof-Mounted Air Conditioner Installation
If you don’t want to lose the existing roof lights/vents on your caravan or motorhome the Truma Saphir or Dometic Freshwell may be your best option. However, you will lose quite a bit of internal storage space. Not only from the air conditioning unit itself but also from all the ventilation pipes running inside the wardrobe/cupboards.
Therefore, this is an option Dan didn’t decide to take. He later produced a video on the option he did choose. Dan had another hole cut into the roof of his caravan and a Truma Aventa Compact roof-mounted air conditioner installed.
Now, many new caravans and motorhomes come with a ‘water ingress warranty’. Hence for a period of time, typically 8-10 years the manufacturer will cover the costs to repair any damage to the vehicle from water ingress/damp. However, as you would expect there are conditions. First, it will be conditional on an annual professional caravan service or motorhome habitation check.
Furthermore, as Dan states in the video above, the water ingress warranty will not cover any additional holes in the bodywork. However, as Dan had the installation carried out at his local dealership, they have provided a warranty for this work. The point being, while a technically competent individual along with a registered electrician could install a roof-mounted air conditioner such as this, you would be pretty ‘brave’ to do so should a leak develop.
Roof-Mounted Air Conditioner Advantages/Disadvantages
First, let’s discuss the benefits/advantages of roof-mounted air conditioners. Well, there is obviously no large boxes hanging on the outside of your van or your kitchen worktop in the case of a portable air conditioner. If you already have a Truma caravan heating system and the latest control panel the air conditioner can be integrated into that same control panel.
Furthermore, as Dan shows in the video above its iNet compatible. That, therefore, provides the option of remote monitoring and control with the Truma app. However, even if you have Alde central heating, the remote control with either the Dometic or Truma air conditioners is easy and convenient to use.
In terms of disadvantages, there is obviously the cost. Where a portable air conditioner is in the hundreds of pounds a permanent built-in air conditioner is easily into the thousands of pounds. You do also have to consider the impacts on payload and other issues such as weight distribution and caravan noseweights. While I’m categorising these issues as disadvantages/cons that will depend on the specific caravan or motorhome.
For instance, on a small single axle caravan, the impact could be significant. On a large twin axle caravan, the impact of the air conditioner on payload/noseweight may be insignificant. Even less so for some large motorhomes and motorhomes with high payloads such as van conversions. The point remains though, the impact on the vehicles total weight and weight distribution does need to be considered.
Cooling Power and Electrical Consumption
So the last thing I want to discuss in this post is the topic of power consumption with regards to portable and built-in air conditioning units for caravans and motorhomes. As stated above, while a Turbo Vent will consume just 36W at 12V and can run from the leisure battery, that’s not the case with an air conditioning unit.
While yes, technically with a 12V to 230V inverter you could power these air conditioners from your leisure battery it wouldn’t last long. You would need a bank of solar panels on a very sunny day to provide enough power. Below is the power requirements of some of the air conditioners discussed above.
- Eurom Portable Air Conditioner
- 700 Watts cooling capacity
- Power use: 450 Watts (1.88A)
- Dometic Freshlight 2200 (Roof-Mounted)
- 2200 Watts cooling capacity
- Power use: 950 Watts (4.1A)
- Truma Aventa Compact (Roof-Mounted)
- 1700 Watts cooling capacity
- Power use: 644 Watts (2.8A)
- Truma Aventa Compact Plus (Roof-Mounted)
- 2200 Watts cooling capacity
- Power use: 1012 Watts (4.4A)
- Truma Aventa Comfort (Roof-Mounted)
- 2400 Watts cooling capacity
- Power use: 966 Watts (4.2A)
- Truma Saphir Compact (Under Seat/Fixed Bed)
- 1800 Watts cooling capacity
- Power use: 644 Watts (2.8A)
- Truma Saphir Comfort (Under Seat/Fixed Bed)
- 2400 Watts cooling capacity
- Power use: 966 Watts (4.2A)
So what does the above tell us? First, the portable air conditioner is not able to produce the equivalent cooling power of the built-in units from Truma and Dometic. Secondly, the portable air conditioner is not as efficient when you look at the ratio of cooling capacity to power use.
What is also interesting to note is that the Dometic Freshlight has the same cooling performance as the Truma Aventa Compact Plus. However, the Freshlight (950W) consumes less power than the Compact Plus (1012W).
Even if you can afford these more expensive and more efficient built-in air conditioning units, please note their electrical consumption. While here at Horton Common I provide 16A per pitch, that’s not the case on all sites and its especially not true on the continent. I discuss this same issue in my posts on kettles and microwaves.
My point is, don’t presume your pitch power supply on all campsites is the same, as that’s often not true. You may not be able to run some air conditioners along with certain kettles, microwaves etc at the same time without tripping the supply.
Conclusions on The Best Air Conditioners for Caravans and Motorhomes
In terms of pure cooling capacity/performance and efficiency, the most expensive built-in air conditioners from Truma and Dometic come out on top, as you would and should expect. However, their cost is not insignificant at £2K+. Therefore, if the cost is a consideration, as it is for most people, they may just simply not be a viable option.
If you are using your caravan in hot climates on the continent in the summer months one of the lower-spec built-in or portable air conditioners may be worth considering. Otherwise, you may just want to try increasing the ventilation in your caravan or motorhome with a Turbo Vent and see how you get on.
Many thanks for reading, this was a long post, so I’m impressed you stuck with it until the end. I hope you found it useful and I also hope at some point in the near future you will consider coming to visit us here at Horton Common. 🙂