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The Ultimate Guide to 12V Air Conditioners for Campervans (2024)

Picture this: it's a sweltering summer day. The kind where the sun beats down mercilessly. You're in your campervan, parked under the blazing sun with not a speck of shade in sight. 🌞


Inside, it feels like you've accidentally parked in an oven rather than a picturesque spot by the lake. The heat is overwhelming. The fridge runs at full power, yet your favourite cheese is melted. You’re covered in sweat craving some cool breeze…


Ultimate Guide to 12v Air Conditioners (DC) for Campervans Installation, Tips, and Best AC Units for RVs

Here's where the hero of our story comes in – the mighty 12V air conditioner. These compact lifesavers are the perfect addition to any campervan or RV, turning your mobile abode from a sauna into a serene retreat.


I'm Shane, I've been teaching people to convert campervans for years; I'm the author of Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan, writer of The Van Conversion Newsletter, instructor of The Van Conversion Course over at Udemy. And full-time vanlifer for 4 years!


Imagine flipping a switch and transforming that unbearable heat into a comfortable, chill oasis. That's the magic of 12V air conditioners. Whether you're a weekend warrior or a full-time van lifer, the right DC air conditioner can make all the difference.


In this article, we'll guide you to select the perfect 12V A/C unit for your needs and compare the best brands. You’ll also understand how DC air conditioners work, how to install them and how to ensure their longevity through proper care and maintenance.

 

TL;DR: If you are in a rush and are looking for the Best 12V Air Conditioner Overall, our top pick is Nomadic Cooling X2. However, we recommend you read the whole section “Best 12V Air Conditioner Units” as each rig’s setup and requirements are different.



Let's dive into how these nifty gadgets can upgrade your motorhome experience, keeping you cool no matter how hot it gets outside!


This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a product link and buy anything from the merchant (Amazon, eBay, etc.) we will receive a commission fee. The price you pay remains the same, affiliate link or not. By using these links, you are helping me to continue writing free educational content!

 

Index


Note: Did you know that you can get a free electrical wiring diagram by signing up to The Van Conversion Newsletter?

 
Roaming Home: Learn how to build your dream campervan

Why Choose a 12V Air Conditioner?

When outfitting your campervan for the perfect road trip, one of the key decisions you'll face is choosing between a 12V and a 110/220V air conditioning unit. So, why opt for a 12V model?


Why Choose a 12V Air Conditioner?

The answer lies in the DC air con’s higher compatibility with an RV electric system and its affinity with a campervan lifestyle. It's all about balancing efficiency, convenience, and the specific needs of your home-on-wheels.


By the way, if you’re confused about AC vs DC electrical systems, check out our post Campervan Electrics Explained. Also, don’t be misled by similar acronyms: AC means both Alternate Current (found in homes and provided by power inverters) and Air Conditioner (often spelt as A/C). Just mind the context!


As for the difference between 110V and 220V, for the purposes of this post, it will suffice to say that it depends on the country. Both are considered standard home voltages in different parts of the world.


Map of the world coloured by 110V and 220V countries

Comparing 12V A/C (DC) vs. 110V-220V A/C (AC) Units on a Campervan


Comparing 12V A/C (DC) vs. 110V-220V A/C (AC) Units on a Campervan

Tailor-made for the nomadic lifestyle, in a 12V air conditioner, DC (Direct Current) operates the unit seamlessly with your van's 12V electrical system. This synergy is what makes them ideal for keeping you and your van cool on the road.


Unlike household 110/220V units, which require a constant high-power source (in an RV, that’s provided by an inverter, but for an air conditioner you’re going to need a big one!) 12V cooling systems can run efficiently on your van’s leisure batteries.


This means that you can keep your RV cool even in remote locations without access to shore power. Additionally, 12V and portable AC units are typically more compact and easier to install, making them suitable for the limited space in a motorhome.


They're also generally quieter, ensuring a peaceful environment. While 110/220V AC units might offer more cooling power, they are less practical for the often off-grid, space-conscious nature of van life.


In essence, a 12V air conditioner aligns perfectly with the ethos of freedom and self-sufficiency that many van lifers and RV’ers cherish.


Here’s a useful feature table comparing 12V Air Conditioners with 110V-220V Air Conditioners:

Feature

12V Air Conditioners (DC)

110/220V Air Conditioners (AC)

Power Source

Run on the van's leisure batteries

​Require constant high-power external source

Energy Efficiency

More energy-efficient for off-grid use

Less energy-efficient (need an inverter); ideal for grid use

Size and Portability

Compact and lightweight; easy to install

Often larger and bulkier

Noise Level

Generally quieter

Can be louder

Cooling Capacity

Suitable for smaller spaces; moderate cooling

Higher cooling capacity; better for large areas

Installation

Easier to install; less technical know-how

May require professional installation

Cost

Usually more affordable

Typically more expensive

Suitability for Van Life

Ideal for mobile, off-grid living

Better suited for stationary or grid-tied vans


Understanding 12V Air Conditioning Systems

Venturing into the world of 12V cooling systems brings its own set of challenges and choices. When you're outfitting your campervan for those dreamy road trips it’s useful to understand their functioning. When you know how something works, it’s easier to install, maintain and fix it.


How 12V Air Conditioners Work

DC air conditioners are marvels of engineering, designed to bring the comfort of a cool breeze to the compact space of a motorhome. But how do they work their magic?


In a 12V air conditioner, DC from your van's batteries powers the unit. Because DC air con systems operate with a lower voltage than their AC counterparts, they consume less energy. This is crucial in a motorhome setting where power resources are limited.


The technical magic lies in their ability to efficiently convert the 12V power into a cooling force, using compressors and refrigerant gases. In this, they mirror the basic principles of traditional air conditioning.


The compressor circulates the refrigerant through a closed loop which goes through 4 stages.


How 12V Air Conditioners Work

Air Purification and Water Generation Using a Compression Refrigeration System – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate.


  1. Absorption: The refrigerant, initially in a low-pressure gaseous state, absorbs heat from the van's interior as it passes through the evaporator coils. This process effectively removes heat from the air, thereby cooling it.

  2. Compression: The now-heated refrigerant gas is then compressed. This action increases the refrigerant's temperature and pressure, preparing it for the next crucial step – condensation.

  3. Condensation: In the condenser coils, usually located outside the van (except in portable systems), the hot, pressurised refrigerant releases its absorbed heat to the outside air. This causes the refrigerant to cool down and condense into a liquid form, completing the cycle.

  4. Return: Finally, the refrigerant, now cooled and in a high-pressure liquid state, returns to the evaporator where the cycle begins anew.


Types of DC Air Conditioners Available

The world of DC air conditioners for RVs offers a variety of options to cater to the diverse needs of vanlife enthusiasts. Each type boasts unique features and benefits, making it important to understand your specific requirements before making a choice.


Here's a brief overview of the most common types:


  • Rooftop A/C Units: These are the most popular choice for full-time vanlifers. Mounted on the roof, they save precious interior space. They're ideal for larger campervans and motorhomes. However, they require you to carry out some metalwork.


12V Rooftop Air Conditioners

  • Portable A/C Units: For those who seek flexibility, portable air conditioners are a great choice. They can be moved around easily and used outside the van as well. They're perfect for those who only occasionally need air conditioning and are becoming increasingly popular.


12v Portable Air Conditioners

  • Window A/C Units: Similar to traditional home air conditioners, these can be fitted into a window space of the van. While they can be more affordable, they require a suitable window and can take up more interior space.


12V Window Air Conditioners

  • Split A/C Units: These systems have separate indoor and outdoor components, connected by a hose, similar to household ones. They offer efficient cooling and are quieter inside the van, but require a more complex installation.


12V Air Conditioning Split Systems

  • Under-bench A/C Units: These are compact and installed under a bench or bed. They're a discreet option that doesn't alter the van's exterior, making them ideal for stealth camping.


12V Underbench Air Conditioners

  • Undermount A/C Units: Perfect for stealth camping, this type of air conditioner is installed under the chassis of your campervan. This also saves roof space for your solar panels.


12V Underbench Air Conditioners

Note: some models may come in 24V versions too. To use them, your battery array must be set up in series to deliver higher voltages. Check out our post Campervan Electrics Explained for more details.


Each type of 12V air conditioner has its pros and cons, so it's important to consider factors like your van's size, your travel habits, and your budget. Whether you prioritise efficiency, space, flexibility, or stealth, there's a 12V cooling solution out there to meet your needs.


Heating Capabilities in Winter

When considering a 12V air conditioner for your campervan, it's worth exploring models that offer heating capabilities, too. This is especially true if you plan to travel in cooler climates or during the winter months and you don’t have other heating systems.


Some modern 12V air con units come with built-in heating abilities, providing a dual function that makes them a versatile choice for year-round comfort.


12v air conditioners with heating function

Even in relatively cold temperatures, a 12V air conditioner with heating capabilities can effectively warm your space, making your van a cosy refuge against the chill. Imagine enjoying the beauty of frosty mornings and snowy landscapes from the comfort of your warm, snug van!


Investing in a 12V air conditioner with heating may eliminate the need for a separate heating system such as a diesel heater, saving space and simplifying your setup. However, you have to manage power consumption well – more about this below.


Price Range and Budgeting for Your DC Air Conditioner

It goes without saying that when planning to add a DC air conditioner to your mobile home, it's crucial to consider the financial aspect. The price range for 12V A/C varies widely, depending on the type, brand, and features.


Basic models can cost around one thousand pounds/dollars/euro, while more sophisticated units with additional features like heating capabilities and advanced energy efficiency can cost a few thousand. They’re not cheap, but they’ll make a huge difference in your van life.


Price Range and Budgeting for Your DC Air Conditioner

Budgeting for your air conditioner involves more than just the purchase price. Consider accessories and installation costs, especially if you're not doing it yourself. Also, factor in potential upgrades to your van's electrical system, such as additional batteries or solar panels, to support the extra power load.


You can view the purchase of a DC air conditioner for your campervan as an investment in your comfort on the road. Even more so if you’re planning to permanently move into your motorhome or spend the summer months in it.


While it might be tempting to go for a cheaper model, investing in a reliable, efficient unit can save you money in the long run. Balance your immediate budget with your long-term needs to find the best option for you. Check our recommended models below.


When Is the Best Time to Buy an Air Conditioner?

The best time to buy an air conditioner – whether it’s 12V or 110/220V – typically aligns with the seasons when demand is lower. This means late winter to early spring is an ideal period.


Here is some Google Search data across the years. Unsurprisingly, the graph shows that demand for air conditioners is cyclical and follows the temperatures. A Forbes article confirms this trend.


When Is the Best Time to Buy a 12V Air Conditioner

During these months, retailers often clear out last year's models to make room for new inventory, leading to attractive discounts and promotions.


Waiting for seasonal sales events, like Black Friday, Cyber Monday or end-of-season clearances, can also yield significant savings.


However, it’s important to balance the timing with your personal needs. If you require an air conditioner due to immediate climatic changes or an unexpected trip, it might be prudent to purchase outside of these ideal windows.


Estimating Power Usage and Battery Requirements for a 12V A/C

One of the most critical aspects of integrating a 12V air conditioner into your RV is understanding and estimating its power usage and the corresponding battery requirements.


A much-needed premise here is to understand that air conditioning units are generally power-hungry devices. While the unbearable heat might tempt you to keep them running for many hours and at full power, you have to manage your expectations.


A general rule of thumb is to never set them to the lowest temperature, otherwise, the duty cycle will be very long. Only a few degrees lower than the inside temperature might be enough to cool you down for many hours without draining your batteries.


Now let’s get to the maths. Estimating the power usage is crucial to ensure your van’s electrical system can support the air conditioner without draining your battery. For your calculations, always keep in mind the basic formula Watts = Amps x Volts.


watts ampere volts formula

Here is a practical guide:


  1. First, consider the power consumption of the air conditioner, usually measured in watts. The more powerful the unit (in terms of BTUs), the higher the power consumption will be.

  2. Divide that time by 2. This is a rough estimate that factors in the duty cycle, that is, the time the compressor actually works*. This will give you an approximate consumption in watt-hours (Wh).

  3. Check your van's leisure battery capacity, which is measured in amp-hours (Ah).

  4. Divide the unit's adjusted wattage by 12 volts (or 24 volts if that’s your case) to find out how many ampere-hours (Ah) it consumes every hour.

  5. Divide the battery capacity by the air con power consumption in Ah and you’ll get the number of hours you can keep it on uninterruptedly.


*The duty cycle can vary significantly based on numerous factors, including the type of air conditioner, outside temperature, desired interior temperature, and efficiency of the unit. However, for many air conditioning systems, including those used in campervans, a rough estimate is that the compressor might be active for about 40% to 60% of the time under normal conditions. This is why we suggest dividing by 2.



For example, if your air conditioner is 1200 watts and your system is 12V, it would use 50 A per hour (1200W ÷ 2 = 600W; 600W ÷ 12V = 50Ah). If your battery’s capacity is, say, 200Ah, it can sustain the air conditioner for about 4 hours (200Ah ÷ 50A/hour). Remember, this is a rough estimate. And there’s one more thing to consider.


Factor in Your Solar Array Charging Power and Other Appliances

Now that you’ve calculated the power consumption of your 12V air conditioner and its battery requirements, it’s time to include your solar array in the equation.


Solar panels (and an optional DC-to-DC battery charger, if your engine is running) recharge the battery during daylight hours, extending usage time. The recharging speed depends on the size and efficiency of your solar setup.



If your panels, through the charge controller, can recharge your batteries at say, 40Ah, then, in our example, you would be using only 10Ah (50 - 40 = 10Ah). However, your batteries won’t be charging at all. Actually, they would be discharging, unless your charging power is greater than the air con consumption.


Also, keep in mind that we’ve theoretically considered the air conditioning unit as the sole appliance in use. More realistically, you have to factor in the other appliances’ consumption to find out the total power you will use.


These kinds of calculations tend to become inaccurate as it’s hard to estimate correctly your hourly or daily power requirements. Remember, it's always good to have a buffer in your calculations for efficiency losses and unforeseen power needs.


To make your (van)life easier, we have prepared a spreadsheet that can help you calculate your total power consumption, battery capacity and solar panel size. Just make a copy and modify it to your needs.


If your current battery setup isn't sufficient, you might need to consider upgrading to a higher-capacity battery or installing additional batteries. Our post A Complete Guide to Campervan Leisure Batteries will help you deal with that!


Note: Even though it’s safe to discharge lithium batteries completely and they don’t have a memory effect (the phenomenon where a battery seems to "remember" its previous level of charge if consistently recharged from a partial discharge, leading to reduced capacity over time), you don’t want to completely drain them or you won’t have any power left for your 12V appliances. This is even more true for AGM batteries or other kinds that might be damaged when drained. If your battery doesn’t have a built-in low-voltage alarm, you should get yourself a battery monitor with a sound alarm.



Another option to expand your setup is to increase your power supply with bigger or additional solar panels. This way, you can provide extra power to run your air conditioner during sunny days, thereby reducing the load on your batteries.


Wondering how to charge your batteries also on cloudy days? You can install a split charger (also known as DC-to-DC or B2B – battery to battery – chargers). In this way, your battery will charge while you’re driving. So that when you park, you can enjoy your air con!


Evaluating Effectiveness: BTUs vs. Van Size

When selecting a 12V A/C system for your campervan, one of the key factors to consider is the balance between the unit's cooling capacity, often measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs), and the size of your van.


12V Air Conditioner BTUs vs Van Size

The general rule of thumb is that a larger van will require an air conditioner with a higher BTU rating to cool the space effectively. However, choosing a unit with too high a BTU rating for your van's size can lead to unnecessary power consumption and inefficient operation.


On the other hand, a unit with too low a BTU rating might struggle to cool your space adequately, especially on particularly hot days. This can also result in the compressor running for longer times, increasing power consumption.


As a guide, a small van might only require an air conditioner with a BTU rating of around 4,000 to 7,000, while a large motorhome or one with a high roof and more internal volume might need a unit with 10,000 BTUs or more.


Here’s a useful table to estimate how many square metres or feet each BTU range can cover efficiently. Find your van's size in the orange (sq ft) or blue (sq m) bars and check below what BTU rating you need.


Estimate the correct 12V air conditioning BTU rating for your campervan size

As a convention, BTUs are measured against square metres or feet instead of their cubic counterparts because it's the most common form to measure interiors. Note: These values are estimated. The right BTU for your rig might vary depending on many factors.


For instance, if your campervan is 10 square metres (108 square feet), the recommended BTU rating for an air conditioner is 8,000, regardless if it's 12V or 110V-220V.


It's also important to consider factors such as insulation, window size, and the typical climate you'll be travelling in, as these can all impact the effectiveness of your air conditioning unit.


Selecting the right BTU rating for your van's size and travel needs will ensure that your DC air conditioner provides a comfortable environment, efficient and economical, no matter the weather outside.


Best 12V Air Conditioner Units

Selecting the best DC air conditioner for your RV can be a daunting task, given the myriad of options available. To help streamline your decision-making process, we've compiled a list of the top DC A/C units. This selection is based on a range of factors including efficiency, reliability, features, and user reviews.


Please note that the information and prices reported here are correct at the time of writing. However, they can change at any time, so we recommend you always click the links provided and check the shop page for the most up-to-date details.


Best Overall 12V Air Conditioner: Nomadic Cooling X2


Best Overall 12V Air Conditioner - Nomadic Cooling X2

When it comes to 12V air conditioners for campervans, the Nomadic Cooling X2 is the clear winner. This innovative, well-crafted product sets a new bar for van air conditioning, delivering exceptional cooling power and low energy consumption, all for a great value.


Despite its compact size – it’s 40% smaller than its competitors – the X2 is packed with 8,188 BTU of cooling power. That’s enough to significantly cool down medium-sized vans and RVs even in hot temperatures.


It also features a silent fan with an adjustable vent that ensures optimal air circulation. Its lightweight design and aerodynamic shroud mark it as one of the smallest air conditioners available. So you have more roof space for your solar array.


The X2 is quite straightforward to install, fitting an industry-standard 35.5 x 35.5 cm (14 x 14 in) opening. It comes with a modern control panel featuring five operation modes.


With its extraordinary blend of power, user-friendliness, and efficiency, the Nomadic Cooling X2 is set to turn summer vanlife into a chilled haven. Also comes in a 24V version.



Pros:

  • Powerful and fast cooling even in hot and humid climates.

  • High energy efficiency and low consumption.

  • Compact, lightweight and aerodynamic.

  • Relatively quiet operation.

  • Reliable brand: Nomadic Cooling is a specialised air con manufacturer.

  • Standard roof fan hole size.


Cons:

  • The initial investment is not cheap but it will pay off over the years.


Key Feature

Description

Price

Cooling Power

8,188 BTU

Energy Draw

720W; 27A in Eco mode; 55A in Max mode

Dimensions

71.1 x 57.1 x 17.5 cm (28.0 x 22.5 x 6.9 in)

Weight

20 kg (44 lbs)

Noise Emissions

< 55 dB

Mount Type

Rooftop


Best Value 12V Air Conditioner: Dometic RTX 2000


Best Value 12V Air Conditioner - Dometic RTX 2000

The Dometic RTX 2000 stands out among DC air conditioners for its great value and reliability. Dometic is the outdoor-focused branch of Electrolux, a world-recognised manufacturer of home appliances with decades of experience.


This self-contained marvel showcases a great blend of cooling power, energy conservation, ease of installation, and exceptional value for the money.


Equipped with 6,824 BTU – almost 3,000 more than its lower sibling RTX 1000 – it ensures a comfortable and cool environment inside small and medium-sized van​​s. It features both an Eco mode – so you can keep it running overnight – and a Boost mode that will cool down your RV in record time.


Its innovative speed-controlled inverter compressor reduces energy consumption while producing little vibration. Despite that, when running at full power it can be slightly loud. While Dometic RTX 2000 might be the perfect choice for campervans, big motorhomes might need more cooling power – read below.



Pros:

  • Dometic is a solid brand (owned by Electrolux) with over a decade of success and great reviews.t

  • Good cooling power thanks to a variable-speed inverter compressor.

  • Excellent value compared to its competitors.

  • Extended running time and reduced energy consumption.

  • Ease of installation.


Cons:

  • Might not suit the cooling needs of big vans and motorhomes.

  • Accessories and original mounting kit/wiring might be pricey.

  • The compressor is not very silent.


Key Feature

Description

Price

$2,399.99 $2279.99 Our readers get 5% off by applying the coupon THEVANCONVERSION at checkout!

Cooling Power

6,824 BTU

Energy Draw

2000W; 10-58 A; 19A in Eco Mode

Dimensions

64.5 × 30.8 × 86 cm (25.39 × 12.13 × 33.86 in)

Weight

33 kg (72.6 lbs)

Noise Emissions

< 70 dB

Mount Type

Rooftop


Best Powerful 12V Air Conditioner: Nomadic Cooling X3


Best Powerful 12V Air Conditioner: Nomadic Cooling X3

The Nomadic Cooling X3 has been meticulously engineered to cater to the needs of full-time Vanlifers, RV’ers, and those looking for ultimate off-the-grid comfort. Despite being compact, this air conditioner offers one of the highest cooling power on the market with a whopping 11,830 BTU rating.


Thanks to a long-lasting brushless internal fan and an intelligently redesigned LCD board, this unit offers a superior cooling experience. The compressor, mounted on spring bushings, ensures durability and resilience against road and operational vibrations.


This air con is the best choice for big vans and RVs. Or, for those who like their recreational vehicle super cool also in extremely hot temperatures. It’s worth noting that the noise emission is not so high, considering its impressive cooling power.


However, all this power comes at the expense of the final price and energy draw. So make sure your electrical system (and wallet) can support it. There’s also a 24V version with an even higher BTU rating (12,480) and smaller amperage.



Pros:

  • Very powerful. It can quickly cool down big volumes.

  • Compact and lightweight, despite its power.

  • Reliable and durable thanks to the spring bushings.

  • Clear visibility and user interface of the LCD control panel.


Cons:

  • A bit pricey (but you get what you pay for).

  • Requires big batteries and solar panels to run for long periods.


Key Feature

Description

Price

Cooling Power

11,830 BTU

Energy Draw

1,320W; 50A in Eco mode; 110A in Max mode

Dimensions

79.5 x 80 x 18.7 cm (31.33 × 31.5 × 7.36 in)

Weight

25.9kg (57.3 lbs)

Noise Emissions

< 60 dB

Mount Type

Rooftop


Best Quiet 12V Air Conditioner: B-Cool 12000RV


Best Quiet 12V Air Conditioner B-Cool 12000RV

The B-Cool 12000RV Air Conditioner is a state-of-the-art cooling solution for your RV and van. With an impressive cooling power of 11,253 BTU – one of the highest in its category – this unit guarantees a comfortable and cool environment for big motorhomes and RVs, even on the hottest days.


The main highlight is its extremely silent operation, compared to its competitors. As quiet as a whisper, the B-Cool 12000RV ensures you’ll have peaceful and quiet nights in your on-the-road adventures without compromising cooling capacity.


The unit fits perfectly into a standard 35.5 x 35.5 cm (14 x 14 in) install hole, making it an ideal replacement (or addition) for traditional ceiling fans in campervans.


Ready to go right out of the box, the B-Cool 12000RV includes an easy-to-install system, complete with a ready-to-connect wire harness, fuse block, and battery cables. Also comes in a 24V version.



Note: Noise can be louder in smaller, enclosed spaces, so the unit's placement can also affect the perceived noise level. Below is a table of common noise levels for reference:


noise emission levels for 12v air conditioners

Source: webmd.com


Pros:

  • Super quiet. Its noise emissions are the lowest in its category.

  • Very powerful. It can quickly cool down big volumes.

  • Easy to install; comes with an installation kit.

  • Standard roof fan hole size.


Cons:

  • A bit power-hungry: needs an adequate electrical system.

  • Heavier than its competitors.


Key Feature

Description

Price

$2,700.00 $2565.00 Our readers get 5% off by applying the coupon THEVANCONVERSION at checkout!

Cooling Power

11,253 BTU

Energy Draw

2000W; 10-58 A; 19A in Eco Mode

Dimensions

82.8 x 100.1 x 18.7 cm (32.6 x 39.4 x 7.4 in)

Weight

35kg (77 lbs)

Noise Emissions

< 28 dB

Mount Type

Rooftop


Best Portable 12V Air Conditioner: Zero Breeze Mark 2


Best Portable 12V Air Conditioner -  Zero Breeze Mark 2

The Zero Breeze Mark 2 battery-powered portable air conditioner has a revolutionary concept. Air conditioning on the go, wherever you are. This means, both indoors and outdoors. This compact powerhouse is a game-changer for those seeking relief from the sweltering heat.


While its 2300 BTU cooling capacity doesn’t match those of fixed models, this unit impresses with its flexibility. Small vans can still greatly benefit from its pioneering technology.


Whether you’re up for a picnic near the lake or a beach day, the Mark 2 can follow you and create a refreshing oasis for up to 5 hours thanks to its 24V battery.


The battery can be recharged by connecting the included power adapter to shore power or by using the dedicated 100W solar panels, for a full off-grid experience. If your electrical system is 24V, you can avoid buying the Zero Breeze battery and connect it directly to your van’s leisure batteries.


Got a 12V system? No problem, just buy the optional 12-to-24v converter. Needless to say, energy efficiency (only 240W) is a must for a high-power appliance that runs on batteries. The long list of accessories (a bit pricey though) tops off its ultra-portable character.


Also featuring a cool design, this little gem of technology is the perfect companion for all your outdoor activities.


Zero Breeze have given readers of TheVanConversion.com a special discount: get $100 OFF on Mark 2 AC or ElecHive with the code: 'TVC''



Pros:

  • High portability and versatility thanks to its battery and accessories.

  • Long battery life.

  • Installation free.

  • Beautiful design.

  • Durable construction materials.


Cons:

  • Pricey when including a battery and some accessories.

  • Some users find it a bit heavy when using the provided battery.

  • Can’t be charged directly with the 12V cigarette lighter plug (though you can purchase a 12V to 24V cigarette plug adapter to fix this!)


Key Feature

Description

Price

$1,499.00 (including one battery)

Cooling Power

2,300 BTU

Energy Draw

240W

Dimensions

50.8 × 25.4 × 27.9 cm (20 x 10 x 11 in)

Weight

7.5kg (16.5 lbs) without battery; 13kg (28.5 lbs) with battery

Noise Emissions

< 52 dB

Mount Type

Portable


Best 12V Air Conditioner with Heating: EcoFlow Wave 2


Best 12V Air Conditioner with Heating - EcoFlow Wave 2

There are not many 12V A/C units that offer both rapid cooling and heating. EcoFlow Wave 2 does. And at a great value. What’s more, it’s the world's first wireless portable AC with heating capabilities. It’s a dream come true!


Even though it’s a portable model, its impressive 5100 BTUs of cooling and 6100 BTUs of heating capacity are almost on par with fixed models. Plus, you don’t need any installation, not even for a cooling drainage pipe.


Imagine the convenience of using the same device both in your summer and winter adventures to get a comfortable temperature in your campervan. A dual-function air conditioner can save you the money and hassle of installing a separate diesel or LPG heater.


Moreover, EcoFlow Wave 2 stands out for its eco-friendliness, using R290 refrigerant for a greener, more sustainable operation. With an 8-hour running time in Eco mode using the provided battery pack, this air conditioner ensures comfortable nights in small and medium-sized vans (≤ 10 ㎡ / 107.6 ft²).


You can charge it using various methods, including AC, solar or the 12V cigarette lighter plug, offering unparalleled flexibility. Another amazing perk is its wireless connectivity: you can control it from your smartphone with a dedicated app. This is flexibility at its top.



Pros:

  • Effective cooling and heating in the same unit.

  • Impressive battery life.

  • Great value, especially considering the dual function.

  • Eco-friendly R290 refrigerant.

  • Can be charged from a 12V cigarette lighter plug.

  • No installation and no drainage pipe (in cooling mode).

  • 2.4G Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for smartphone control.


Cons:

  • The heating mode cannot be activated at temperatures lower than 5 °C / 41 °F.

  • Quite heavy.

  • Not super-quiet operation


Key Feature

Description

Price

$2,199 On sale at $1,399 (including one battery)

Cooling Power

5,100 BTU (Cooling), 6,100 BTU (Heating)

Energy Draw

550W (Cooling), 600W (Heating)

Dimensions

51.8 × 29.7 × 33.6 cm (20.4 × 11.7 × 13.2 in)

Weight

14.5kg (32 lbs) + 7.8 kg (17.2 lbs) battery

Noise Emissions

< 56dB

Mount Type

Portable


Best Stealth 12V Air Conditioner: Velit 2000U Under-Bench Air Conditioner



Meet the Velit 2000U, a compact DC-powered under-bench air conditioner. Hiding under your van’s furniture, this unit is the perfect option for stealth campers and anyone who wants to save roof space for their solar panels or storage racks.


Installing it is a breeze, and its versatile design fits snugly into the majority of floor plans. Powered by a twin-cylinder rotor compressor, this nifty appliance can keep you chill even in very hot climates without the need for a massive inverter, unlike traditional RV air conditioners.


Don't let its compact size fool you. The Velit 2000U packs a punch with a cooling capacity of 8,000 BTU, enough to cool down a medium-size van effectively. Featuring Eco and Boost modes, this air conditioner has a small energy footprint, with a maximum rated power of 700W, without compromising performance.


This model is also available in the 24V version.


Note: This model is only available as a pre-order with a refundable deposit of $500.


Pros:

  • Compact, stealth and space-saving design.

  • Easy installation and user-friendly controls.

  • Energy-efficient cooling performance.

  • Fast shipping thanks to warehouses both in the UK and the US.

Cons:

  • Pre-order only.

  • Slightly noisy compressor.


Key Feature

Description

Price

$1,499 (Pre-order deposit: $500)

Cooling Power

8,000 BTU

Energy Draw

240W - 700W; 20A-60A

Dimensions

46.23 × 60.45 × 30.48 cm (18.2 x 23.8 x 12 in)

Weight

16.5 kg (36.4 lbs)

Noise Emissions

< 60 dB

Mount Type

Under-Bench


Best Heavy Duty 12V Air Conditioner: Cruise N Comfort USA HD-12L


Best Heavy Duty 12V Air Conditioner - Cruise N Comfort USA HD-12L

Designed for use in challenging conditions, the Cruise N Comfort USA HD-12L is a 12V mini-split air conditioner. The remote condenser can strategically be placed outside your RV or campervan, keeping noise at a minimum and freeing up internal space.


Splitting the two main units of the AC – condenser and evaporator – also results in high energy efficiency and easier maintenance.


Need a recharge? No problem – R134a automotive-style service ports make maintenance a breeze. This cool-only powerhouse delivers 10,000 BTUs of cooling comfort with low power consumption.


Cruise N Comfort has been manufacturing the HD (Heavy Duty) series in-house since 2010. It's not just tough; it's built to last with its stainless steel construction and enamel-coated evaporator. The same materials they use to produce air conditioning units for the United States Navy and Army patrol boats.


Also available in a 24V version.





Pros:

  • Built tough: made with heavy-duty materials.

  • Installation flexibility: the two units can be placed in various positions.

  • Reduced noise thanks to the condenser unit mounted outside the living space.

  • High energy efficiency and cooling performance.


Cons:

  • Pricey. It's an investment, but you're paying for quality and durability.

  • Not as easy to install as other models. You might need a professional’s help.


Key Feature

Description

Price

Cooling Power

10,000 BTU

Energy Draw

38-55 A

Dimensions

Blower duct size: 10.16cm (4 in)

Evaporator Size: 55.88 × 30.48 × 26.67cm (22 x 12 x 10.5 in)

Condenser Size: 35.56 × 50.8 × 11.43cm (14 x 20 x 4-½ in)

Weight

31.3 kg (69 lbs)

Noise Emissions

< 65 dB

Mount Type

Split system


Best Budget 12V Air Conditioner: None.

Looking for a 12V air conditioner that keeps you cool and doesn’t break the bank? Totally understandable. But try to stay away from low-quality solutions that you can find on Alibaba, Amazon or eBay from some unknown brands. You get what you pay for.


We’ve searched far and wide but we don’t feel comfortable recommending products that have reviews of water leakage, broken compressors, blown motherboards and so on.


You could get lucky and find a product that works for some time. Or, be left with an unusable product right when you most need it and elusive customer support to deal with.


You might be tempted to go for $800-900 air conditioners and save some bucks but consider that if it breaks down quickly you’ll have wasted that money. Instead, go for a smaller unit from a reputable brand.


At the time of writing, the cheapest option is the EcoFlow Wave 2. Do yourself a favour and invest in a reliable product.


12V Cooling Alternatives to Traditional Air Conditioning


If installing a 12V air conditioner in your campervan doesn't align with your needs or budget, there are several alternative DC cooling options to consider. These alternatives can offer comfort during warmer weather without the complexity or cost of a full air conditioning system.



  • Evaporative Coolers: Also known as swamp coolers, these are particularly effective in dry climates. They work by passing air over or through water-saturated pads, causing the water to evaporate and cool the air. You can even get Make sure you turn them off before nightfall to get rid of excessive humidity. If you live or are travelling through a very humid area, these coolers might not be the best choice as they’ll increase the relative humidity inside your RV.


12V Air Conditioners Alternatives - How a swamp cooler works

  • Roof Vents: Installing a roof vent can help release hot air that naturally rises to the top of the van. Some roof vents come with built-in fans for improved air circulation. Find out more about roof vents. One of the best models on the market is the Maxxair Maxxfan Deluxe roof vent.




  • Shade and Insulation: Enhancing your van’s insulation can keep it cooler in summer and warmer in winter. If you haven’t done it yet, read our Complete Guide to Van Insulation. Additionally, using awnings or parking under trees for natural shade can significantly reduce internal temperatures.



  • Ventilation Strategies: Proper ventilation can greatly reduce heat buildup. This includes parking in the shade, using insulating window covers, T-vent windows and creating cross-ventilation by opening windows on opposite sides of the van. Floor vents help circulate air, too.


12V Air Conditioner Alternatives - Floor vents for Air circulation

Air circulation: @vandercamp_adventures


Each of these alternatives has its advantages and limitations. Your choice will depend on factors such as your typical travel climate, van size, and power availability. By combining several of these options, you can create a comfortable environment in your campervan without the need for an AC air conditioning unit.


Installation Guide for 12V Air Conditioning Units

Embarking on the journey of installing a DC air conditioning unit in your campervan or RV is both an exciting and technically demanding task. But if you’ve gone through other parts of your van build, it won’t be something out of your reach!


Before we dive into the technicalities of the installation, make sure you’re familiar with some metalwork and have acquired some electrical knowledge.


Tools and Materials Needed

Before starting, it's crucial to gather all the necessary tools and materials for this particular task. This preparation ensures a smooth and efficient installation process. Here's a basic list of what you'll need:



It's also advisable to have the air conditioner's installation manual at hand for specific instructions related to your model. For a more complete list of supplies you might need during the installation process, read our Supplies post.


Step-by-Step Installation Process with Electrical Diagram

Before we begin, it's important to note that this guide offers a generic overview. Given the wide array of models and designs available in the market, it's impossible to cover the specific intricacies of each one. But you’ll get a general idea of the process!


Before you begin, make sure you get your van wiring right! Here is a complete wiring guide and a useful PDF to download. If you just need to make this one connection, the quick 12V Air Conditioner wiring diagram below will get the job done.


12v Air conditioning wiring diagram (Dometic RTX2000)

Let’s look at the generic installation steps for a 12V Air Conditioning unit.


Step #1: Choose the location. Decide where to install the unit, considering factors like space, airflow, and accessibility. Make sure it’s a flat area. Normally, the best spot is in between roof rafters (NOT across them).


Step #2: Prepare the area. Clean the area and make any necessary cuts, levelling or adjustments for the unit to fit. If you install the A/C on the roof, the installation guide for a roof fan might come in handy.


Step #3: Mount the unit. Secure the air conditioner in place using the provided mounting kit and ensure it's level. Unless it’s a portable unit, you will likely need to cut a hole in the van body, either on the roof, the wall or the floor. Below is a quick guide that refers to rooftop mounts but the process can be similar for other locations too.


Step #3.1: Choose the location and measure the hole you’re going to cut. You can use masking tape or a marker to lay out the edges.


12V Air Conditioner Step-by-Step Installation Process - Choose the location and measure

Step #3.2: Drill four holes in the corners of your markings to let the jigsaw blade in.


12V Air Conditioner Step-by-Step Installation Process 2, Drill four holes in the corners of your markings to let the jigsaw blade in

Step #3.3: Make sure to add a few drops of tapping and cutting fluid when using the jigsaw, then proceed to cut.


12V Air Conditioner Step-by-Step Installation Process - Use jigsaw to cut the hole

Step #3.4: File any sharp edges.