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How to Choose an RV Rooftop Air Conditioner

kids playing around RV

For countless adventurers, an RV air conditioner is far more than a mere luxury; it becomes an essential companion while embarking on summer adventures. Picture this: the thrill of racing down rugged mountain trails, catching the perfect wave, or peacefully paddling through pristine waters. These memorable moments often unfold in scorching hot locales.

Imagine finding yourself amidst a blazing 102-degree heat, with the sun's intensity unyielding and not a speck of shade in sight. In that moment, the true value of having an air conditioner in your RV or camper becomes clear. It's the key to unlocking comfort, providing respite, and rejuvenating your spirit as you rest within your mobile sanctuary.

There are so many options out there - how do you know which one is right for you?

child sleeping in air conditioned RV
children sitting on couch inside air conditioned RV

Types of RV Air Conditioners

When you begin your search, you will find the following categories of RV AC units:  


  • Non-Ducted air conditioning units blow air directly out of the ceiling through a large vent, or distribution box, that sits directly below the AC unit on your roof that is pulling air from outside. This is very similar to a window AC unit you may have at home.
  • Because they don't require complicated ventilation set-up, they avoid a lot of airflow issues.
  • These AC units are more common, and may have even come standard in your RV or camper. They are also on the more affordable side in comparison to ducted systems.
  • If your RV is big or has many rooms, this AC may not be enough. You might need a secondary unit to cool the whole space.

Ducted AC

  • A ducted RV air conditioner distributes air through vents placed in various areas throughout your RV using installed ducts to carry the air from the main unit. These work similar to a central AC system you may have at home.
  • Ducted RV air conditioner installation is more complex, so it is more expensive than a non-ducted unit. 
  • These are usually more common in class A or higher-end, larger fifth wheel campers, as they do a better job of cooling a larger area since the AC can travel through the vents.  
  • Because the air is traveling further, you can sometimes have issues with even distribution, but rarely will have issues with cold spots like you might with a non-ducted unit.

Rooftop Air Conditioner

  • Rooftop RV air conditioner units are positioned over the window in your vehicle’s roof.
  • If you have a smaller camper or RV, these are great because they don’t take up valuable storage space inside. 
  • Because they are on top of the vehicle, they add to your overall height and clearance. However, many low profile options exist now, making this less of an issue.
  • Usually with rooftop units, you can choose between a non-ducted or ducted air conditioning unit. 


  • An under bench air conditioner is located inside the vehicle – under a bench or in a compartment. It is ideal if your vehicle’s roof is curved or crowded with other devices.
  • These systems are always ducted, allowing a wide distribution of cool air to multiple rooms of your choice. 

Portable AC Unit

  • Portable RV Air conditioners do not have to be installed, making them easy when you're on a tight budget or don't have high AC needs.
  • Most of these work by using evaporated water to cool the air down, while ventilating out old stale air. Some require pulling air from a window, while others do not.
  • Can be a great supplement to a rooftop AC unit if you want to further cool down a concentrated area.
Air conditioned RV in desert

What are BTUs and How Much Power Do You Need?

  • BTU stands for British Thermal Units and refers to the overall cooling capacity of an air conditioner, or the speed in which it is able to cool down your space.
  • If you want to feel a drop in temperature as quickly as possible, then choose an air conditioner with a high cooling capacity (15,000 BTU or more).
  • If you have a smaller rig or won’t be in extreme heat, you can save money and power by opting for a model with fewer BTUs (10,000 BTU or fewer).
  • It is also important to consider how much power your particular RV or camper is able to generate. This will also determine whether or not your rig can handle multiple RV AC units.
  • Additionally, think about how “off grid” you like to be. If you're unable to connect to an external power source, it's necessary to have a generator available to power your unit.

What About a Heater?

Some RV AC units will also come with the capacity for heating with an integrated heat pump. This can be awesome if you camp year-round or spend time living and working remote in your rig through different seasons. If you really only camp in the warmer months, this may not be a necessary addition.

Other Considerations


Let’s face it, sometimes a rooftop RV air conditioner can be noisy. If you are a light sleeper, or need a quiet space to take those remote work meetings, then when selecting your air conditioner you may want to look for options that claim to be quieter.

Ease of Use

Modern technology allows for many units to be controlled with a thermostat instead of having to manually reach your air conditioner to adjust the temperature.


Regular wear and tear is to be expected with long-term use. However, choosing an air conditioner that is durable and can withstand the hardcore, epic trips you want to embark on is one of the most important factors of this decision. With careful maintenance, even with occasional air conditioner repairs needed, your AC unit should power through many adventures to come.


In conclusion, selecting the right air conditioning system for your RV or camper is a vital decision that directly impacts your comfort and enjoyment during your outdoor adventures. By assessing your specific needs, understanding the different types of AC units available, and considering factors like size, power efficiency, and installation requirements, you can make an informed choice that suits your lifestyle and preferences. Whether you're embarking on a cross-country road trip or planning a relaxing weekend getaway, a well-chosen AC system will undoubtedly enhance your travel experience. So, take the time to research and evaluate your options, and soon enough, you'll be ready to hit the road in cool comfort, ready to create lasting memories on your journey.

dometic air conditioner on airstream in desert

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