Most RVs today are equipped with a 120V AC air conditioner that requires shore power, a generator or an inverter if running on batteries. However, it’s possible to reduce the power consumption by switching to a 12V RV air conditioner.
In this article, we’ll be looking at some of the things you need to know about running a 12V air conditioner in your RV and a few of the options. Let’s dig a little deeper.
Table of contents
- Why RVers Want a 12V RV Air Conditioner
- Do They Make 12V RV Air Conditioners?
- What Is a Swamp Cooler?
- Swamp Cooler vs. Air Conditioner
- 4 Best 12V RV Air Conditioners
- 12V RV Air Coolers (Evaporative or Swamp Cooler)
- Are 12V RV Air Conditioners The Future?
Why RVers Want a 12V RV Air Conditioner
A typical RV air conditioner runs on a 120V AC power socket. The hiccup is you’ll need an inverter to turn the 12V DC electric charge from your RV battery into 120V AC power to run the air conditioner. Doing so will incur extra electrical losses and even generate more heat, the very thing you are probably trying to avoid.
But if you’re not using an inverter, you’ll require a generator to power the 120V AC air conditioner in your RV. Sure, a generator is a convenient backup option, but it could be a nuisance because of the noise, especially if you’re boondocking at night.
On the other hand, you can power a 12V RV air conditioner directly off your battery without relying on an inverter. Besides that, a 12V DC RV air conditioner tend to be more energy-efficient, especially when operating on a battery since you don’t have to worry about losing a fraction of the converted power through the RV inverter.
Battery-Operated Air Conditioner
Here’s the thing; it’s challenging to run a 120V AC air conditioner consistently while the engine/generator is off unless it’s hooked to a generator or solar system. However, a battery-operated 12V RV air conditioner consumes less power, and it can run longer than a 120V AC air conditioner while the engine is off.
That means you can go outside for a few hours and come back to a cool RV. Not to mention, if you’re on a public campground, you won’t upset your neighbors with a loud generator all night long.
Drawbacks to 12V Air Conditioners
The biggest drawback to a 12V air conditioner is the current draw. We dont use 12V in our homes because the wires would need to be huge. For an RV air conditioner operating on 12V the wires will need to be larger and the electronics need to handle higher currents which can cause voltage drops and efficiency losses.
Because of these high currents you will also need lots of battery capacity. This means to run them overnight on batteries you will most likely need to make the investment in lithium batteries.
Once again the high current draw comes back to bite when thinking about powering 12V air conditioners from shore power. To do so you need a high current converter or inverter charger. This also means that your batteries will charge slow when running the air conditioner hard.
Because of this 12V air conditioners are mainly suited for smaller RV’s that require a-lot less cooling. On a larger RV, 24, 48 or higher voltage units will most likely still be the best option.
Do They Make 12V RV Air Conditioners?
Even though battery-powered RV air conditioners are not yet mainstream, a couple of manufacturers such as Dometic, Nomadic Cooling, Indel B, and Rigid have introduced them in the market.
Most of these models had their start and inspiration in the trucking market. Truckers who want to shut their vehicles down overnight instead of letting them idle to remain powered frequently install 24V air conditioners. Slowly, these technologies and models have been converted from 24V to 12V to fit campers and motorhomes as well.
Some of the biggest 12V RV air conditioners can produce up to 12,000 BTU, which is enough to cool most average-sized RVs. On the flip side, you’d have to dig deeper into your pockets to purchase a powerful battery-operated air conditioner.
Then again, if you want a budget-friendly option and you’re mainly traveling to dry climates, you could choose a 12V RV swamp cooler.
What Is a Swamp Cooler?
A swamp cooler, otherwise known as an evaporative cooler, uses a technique that blows hot, dry air through a moistened cooling pad. The wet pad absorbs the heat causing the water to evaporate and cool your RV. These coolers can often run of 12V power as well.
Since a swamp cooler increases the humidity level in the air, it’s better suited for dry, arid climates. Of course, if you’re living in a humid environment, a swamp cooler wouldn’t be effective.
Swamp Cooler vs. Air Conditioner
Unlike a swamp cooler that needs water in the reservoir, an air conditioner uses chemical refrigerants to cool a room. Sure, air conditioners are better at controlling temperature than evaporative coolers, but the latter consumes a lot less energy.
Also, swamp coolers are usually cheaper and easier to install than air conditioners.
4 Best 12V RV Air Conditioners
Let’s have a look at some of the best 12V RV air conditioners (the ones that use compressors and run off 12V power) on the market.
Dometic RTX 2000
This Dometic RTX 2000 was designed for truck drivers, having been adapted from a 24V unit available in Europe. As a relatively new product on the US market, we’re very excited to see a bigger RV parts manufacturer offer a solution for 12V air conditioning.
This 12V air conditioner can keep your RV cool for 12 hours and draw just 19 amps on eco mode. But if you want to control the temperature quickly, you can switch on the turbo cooling operating mode and pump it up to 6,824 BTU or 2000W.
When installed, it has a slim and sleek profile that sits just 6 inches above your RV roof.
It’ll cost you about $2700.
If you’re interested, also check out the Dometic RTX 2000 Installation Video!
Nomadic Cooling 2000 12V RV Air Conditioner
The Nomadic Cooling 2000 12V RV air conditioner was created by Nomadic Cooling, pioneers of the 12V cooling realm for vans and campers. This RV AC unit has a 75 Amp compressor that runs about 35-40 amps on Eco mode. It has a cooling capacity of 9830 BTU.
The slightly bigger Nomadic Cooling 3000 12V air conditioner can deliver up to 11,830 BTU while drawing 100 amps.
What’s more, it doesn’t vibrate, and the noise level is below 60dBA, so the sound probably won’t distract you.
Fortunately, it comes with everything you need to install it on the roof. The 2000 model runs at $3,890 and the 3000 model is $4,290 – which is pretty high for an air conditioner and is more than the Dometic RTX. However, these models have significantly higher BTU capacities, so would likely work better for larger rigs.
If you’re not feeling up to doing the installation yourself, you can visit these guys in Arizona and for a $750 installation fee they’ll get you all taken care of.
Sleeping Well 12V Air Conditioners – Oblo, Aircon, & Cube
These units all use the highly efficient 12V Direct Current Secop (formerly Danfoss) compressor to deliver safe and quiet cooling. The AC units have 2 settings, Turbo and Eco modes. Cooling capacities are at 3250 BTU.
Unfortunately, these models are not intuitively available in the North American market with a major distributor. You will likely need to figure out a way to ship/import from a European distributor if this is the way you’d like to go, and here is one in the UK you could look into.
Rigid 12V Cooling System
The Rigid 12V Cooling System is a bit more of a DIY solution for your 12V air conditioning needs. This kit has a driver board, condenser, capillary mini rotary compressor, and evaporator.
Even though its maximum power input is 150W, it has a cooling capacity of 1535 BTU. This means that it is definitely more suited to very small, compact campers, like off-road campers and vans. It may also work for cooling a single room in a medium-large RV.
The price is about $770.
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12V RV Air Coolers (Evaporative or Swamp Cooler)
There are a few benefits to having a swamp cooler if you live in arid regions. If you want 12V RV swamp coolers, consider the following options.
Turbokool 2B-0001 White 12 Volt Evaporative Swamp Air Cooler
The Turbokool 2B-0001 12 Volt Evaporative Swamp Air Cooler is designed to be roof-mounted over an existing 14″ x 14″ roof vent or can replace an existing RV air conditioner with purchase of a metal vent frame.
The makers of Turbokool say it will cool air by 20 to 30 degrees while only drawing on 4.6 amps of 12v power. It is not recommended to be used in places where the average relative humidity exceeds 75 percent, and you might want to expect degradation in performance the closer to that 75 percent threshold you get.
Price tag comes in around $600, and you can get a better idea of its operation in the video below:
MightyKool Swamp Cooler
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This MightyKool Swamp Cooler is a 12v swamp cooler that makes no claims of being an air conditioner. In fact, the manufacturer won’t even send it to you unless they verify that you understand what you’re buying!
Be sure to read the reviews and not expect it to do what it can’t. Again, swamp coolers work best in dry climates.
This model features two cool air vents that can blow humidified air at 25 mph. It uses water (any temperature) and not ice to evaporatively cool people and pets in non-moving small enclosures like RV campers.
Are 12V RV Air Conditioners The Future?
The currently available 12V RV air conditioners may not pack the same power as a traditional 120V unit, but it’s a good solution for a small RV. These units can be pricey, so weigh the pros and cons before buying.
In general, 12V air conditioners are gaining some popularity with the growing interest in boondocking off-grid and the availability of lithium RV batteries. We fully expect to see more companies and models pop up on the market in the coming years to meet the demand to have more efficient air conditioning capabilities.
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