Caravan Air Conditioner Buying Guide

Australia is an ideal place to own a campervan. Beautiful summer days parked up by the beach with a cold one in hand, nothing beats it. Unless you are forced back into a caravan that is hotter inside than it is outside. No amount of fans will cool it down, and sleeping is near impossible. Let’s face it, air conditioning is mandatory. However, they do come at a significant price point. For that reason we made this guide to ensure your money is spent wisely.


Wouldn’t it be cheaper to install a home air conditioner?

If you are installing an air conditioner into an onsite caravan or a caravan that almost never moves, then it may be a good idea to look into home air conditioners.

For a caravan that you plan to take on the road, a specialist air conditioner is the only way. Caravan air conditioners are designed to handle the vibrations that occur when travelling and even more importantly, to ensure water stays out of your cabin.


Rooftop or Built in Air Conditioners?

Rooftop Air Conditioners should be your first choice, if your van allows it. Rooftop models are mounted on the roof which allows for the cool air to drop, making them more efficient. Because they are mounted on the roof they do not take up valuable square footage within your van.

Built in caravan air conditioners are more suited if you have a pop-top, camper trailer or a camper van with a single skin roof. The weight of a rooftop would affect the lifting mechanism on these models. Modifications would have to be made if you are dead set on a rooftop air conditioner. Built in units are generally installed under a bench or bunk and there are some positives. They tend to be quieter and seem to cool the van quicker because they are low where the air is cooler.


What size air conditioner do I need?

Simply put, air conditioners are rated by their effective cooling/heating produced in one hour, called capacity.  The power consumption that is required by an air conditioner to achieve a certain capacity can differ, which is why you should never base an air conditioners performance on its power consumption. Keep in mind, manufacturers will quote an area size that a certain capacity can effectively cool. This quote is based on a fully insulated fixed roof caravan or RV; therefore you will need a larger unit for uninsulated or thin skinned pop tops etc.

There are two measurements for capacity, kilo watts (kW) or BTUs (British Thermal Units).

1kW = 3412 BTU

Make sure to check the suitable area size quoted by manufacturers however a general rule of thumb for sizing is:

  • 2 to 2.5kW capacity is suitable for up to 5 meters
  • 3kW plus capacity is suitable for up to 7.5 meters


360mm or 400mm opening?

This refers to the size of square opening the rooftop air conditioner is designed to fit. 360mm generally applies to American caravans and 400mm generally applies to European caravans. There are some models that provide adapters for both sizes, so be sure to check product descriptions. When it comes to opening sizes, don’t make things hard on yourself. Simply purchase the right size based on your existing requirements.

Ceiling thickness is the other consideration however most of the modern models allow for a significant range in thickness. This is another thing to keep an eye out for in product descriptions.


Reverse cycle or heating element?

This is an important consideration which is often overlooked by salesmen when describing the benefits of their brand.

Reverse cycle air conditioners are the most efficient on the market. The downside of a reverse cycle is their performance in very cold conditions. Because of the way they generate heat, the exchange fins can ice up when outside temperatures drop towards zero. This means poor results when outside temperatures drop below five degrees.

Heating element units even though less efficient are still in the market because of the reverse cycles poor results in cold conditions. Heating elements can produce heat in even the coldest of temperatures.

If you plan on spending time in particularly cold areas then a heating element unit is probably the right choice. For everyone else, reverse cycles are the clear winners and the most popular in the market.    


Is power consumption an important factor?

Power consumption is important when it comes to running your air conditioner off of a generator. The generator you purchase should be able to match continuous power consumption AND starting power consumption. This is important because starting power consumption is much higher than continuous. There have been a lot of improvements to the air conditioning technology with soft start options which lower starting power consumption playing an important role with generators.

Also be aware that budget generators often overstate their rated output. It is generally best to stick with well known generator brands if you plan on using it to power your air conditioner.


How about installation?

Most quality air conditioners come with complete instructions to complete the install. With that said, we recommend a qualified electrical contractor completes the installation.

Some split system models require refrigerant lines, in this case an electrical contractor is required to complete the work.


Brand Recommendations?

As an independent retailer we are more than happy to share our experience.


They are a large European company with a reputation for quality and reliability. Their warranty support is second to none, with an extensive service network throughout Australia.

Air Command:

Previously an Australian company, they were bought out by Dometic in 2015. They have been producing quality products for many years. Their features and durability in Australian conditions was their key to success. Flagship models such as the Ibis now fall under Dometic branding.


Houghton offers air conditioners that work efficiently at very high and very low temperatures. They also offer solid warranty support for Australia.


Gree Air Conditioners are made by Zhuhai, the largest manufacturer of residential air conditioners in the world. They come at a great price point and have decent warranty support in Australia.


No longer imported by major wholesalers.


No longer imported by major wholesalers.


If you have any questions feel free to comment below or contact us on 1300 873 588 or


Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published