October 26, 2021

How Much Power Do RV Air Conditioners Use, and Which RV Air Conditioners Are Most Efficient?

How Much Power Does RV Air Conditioner Use

RV air conditioners are notorious for being the largest power consumers in modern RVs. When running they can draw between 700 watts (for a 10,000 BTU unit) all the way up to 1,500 watts (for a 15,000 BTU unit). In fact, at startup they can draw more than double that amount of power.

If you’re in the market for a new RV air conditioner, consider one of the high-efficiency models discussed here. There are several benefits of doing so. 

Benefits of Using an Efficient RV Rooftop Air Conditioner

Power More Appliances when Plugged In

You’ll use less energy when plugged in at a campground leaving a surplus to run other appliances.

Use a Smaller Generator

A small generator can run your air conditioner and use less fuel when muggy, stifling heat makes you reach for the nearest neck cooling pad. 

Run an Air Conditioner on Solar Power and Lithium Batteries

Yes. It’s possible with the right off-grid setup. This used to be a crazy thought in the past. Now it’s more common than you think. An RV equipped with a properly sized battery bank, power inverter, and solar array can run a high efficiency air conditioner for several hours.

You’re Saving the World

Think green! Using less power means you’re helping to save the world, one watt at a time.

Are Energy Ratings Required for RV Air Conditioners?

No. There is no such mandate for RV rooftop air conditioners. There isn’t even a standard industry test. This makes comparing efficiency a real challenge.

Unlike RV air conditioners, standard window mounted air conditioners by law must have an Energy Guide label with a SEER or EER number. The higher the EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio), the more efficient it is.  

Only a few manufacturers publish their EER ratings. 

  • General Electric 13.5k Rooftop A/C: EER = 5.9
  • Furrion Chill 14.5k BTU Rooftop A/C: EER = 7.97

I put on my Sherlock Holmes monocle and trudged through the technical manuals of a dozen popular RV air conditioners, sleuthing for efficiency data.

After comparing the power draw from the top 12 RV air conditioners, I concluded that the average EER rating was roughly 6.0. That ain’t great. It’s half the legal minimum for a residential A/C system.

Thankfully, the major manufacturers all offer “high-performance” or “high-efficiency” AC models. Smaller industry competitors, like Advent Air and General Electric, do not. 

Best Energy-Efficient RV Air Conditioners

These models boast 25-40% better efficiency – but what does that mean?

  • Will your rig get 25% colder?
  • Will it cool down to the same temperature 25% faster?
  • Will cooling performance stay exactly the same but use 25% less power?

That depends. It’s likely to be a combination of these factors.

Let’s take a look at my top picks. 

Atwood Air Command

The Atwood Air Command (according to Atwood) is reported to be equivalent to a regular 16k BTU air conditioner due to its upgraded compressor and dual-fan design. If you want to freeze out the family, you might purchase one of these. 

The Air Command is also super quiet.

Coleman-Mach 3 Power Saver

The Coleman-Mach 3 Power Saver provides cooling performance similar to the Atwood Air Command but with less power draw. It’s also a whopping 55 percent more efficient than Coleman’s Mach 3 Plus Signature Series model.

Furrion Chill

The Furion Chill claims to be 25% more efficient than competing single-fan models. It falls somewhere in the middle, offering both increased cooling performance and less power draw.

Dometic Penguin II High Efficiency (Low Profile)

The Dometic Penguin II High Efficiency is an ultra-low profile air conditioner. It’s not the most efficient unit on this list, but your choices are limited in the high-efficiency/low-profile category. 

How To Make Your RV Air Conditioner More Energy Efficient

Clean Your Air Filter Regularly

Cleaning your intake air filter regularly will help ensure airflow is not blocked by dust and grime.

Install a Soft Start Device in Your Air Conditioner

Air conditioners draw a huge amount of energy at startup before settling down to a normal operating mode. This initial surge can be twice the amount of power than during normal operation.

A soft start device can easily be installed to eliminate that initial surge. The MicroAir EasyStart and RV Soft Start are two popular soft start devices available for a DIY install. The improvement is significant.

Eliminate that initial surge and you’ll only need a small 1800 Watt portable generator or 2000 Watt power inverter to power your air conditioner.

Insulate Your Windows

The windows in your RV let in a lot of heat especially when the sun is shining on them. Attaching some Reflectix Insulation with a little Velcro inside your windows will help keep the heat out. You’re air conditioner won’t need to work so hard to maintain the temperature.

Position Your RV Away From The Sun

If possible, position your RV so the hot sun passes overhead and not directly into your side windows. Extend your awning as needed to shade your windows as well.

What About a Mini-Split Air Conditioner?

Lastly I leave you with a brilliant DIY hack. Install a mini-split instead. Mini split air conditioners are nearly silent and three times as efficient as any rooftop RV unit

Unlike standard RV air conditioners, a mini-split separates the air conditioner into two components. The condenser unit is mounted outside and the evaporator component is mounted inside the space to be cooled. Refrigerant and electrical lines run between the two components. 

Mini splits have become very popular in tiny homes and in apartments. Some RV owners are even ditching their rooftop unit and installing a mini-split. Why? They are quiet and require less power to operate. Just do a quick search on YouTube and you’ll find several real-world examples of this.

How You Might Install a Mini-Split Air Conditioner in an RV

  • First: Mount the interior handler (evaporator) on a sturdy cabinet or on the wall
  • Second: Install the condenser unit in the RV basement or other location with adequate air flow
  • Third: Connect the two units with a refrigerant line system.
  • Fourth: Open the basement for airflow when parked, turn on the A/C, and enjoy nearly silent cooling!
  • Finally, get rid of your old A/C or use it as a boat anchor

What do you think? Will mini-splits become standard in luxury RVs, or will manufacturers stick with tried n’ true rooftop air conditioners?

Conclusion

Using less energy is always a good thing, especially for air-conditioning. But it’s more than just doing your part for the environment and leaving a smaller carbon footprint. 

Let’s face it, air-conditioning your RV while off-grid is no longer a pipe dream. Large solar arrays, lithium batteries, and high-efficiency air conditioners have made powering an air conditioner without a generator possible. In fact, many RV owners are doing it.

If you’re in the market for a more efficient replacement A/C unit, then I hope this article helped you understand your options.


Author: Ross (The RV Engineer) – As an RV Engineer and blogger Ross helps demystify the inner workings of modern RVs and campers. Visit AskTheRVEngineer.com for analysis, RV tech talk, DIY mods and more from Ross. 

REFERENCES

Get Discounts on Equipment

X