Episode 127

Can you use a portable air conditioner in a camper van?


September 10th, 2021

10 mins 47 secs

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About this Episode

πŸ‘‰ Be Ready: FREE Checklist for Campervan Essentials Packing & Outfitting

πŸ‘‰ Product: Black and Decker Portable 5000 BTU Free Standing AC

πŸ‘‰ Article: Campervan Air Conditioners: Staying Cool for Vanlife

πŸ‘‰ Podcast Episode: Are there any portable air conditioners that don’t need to be vented?

Hey, thanks for tuning in to the camper van podcast. Once again, I'm glad you're listening. Another question about air conditioning. Can you use a portable air conditioner in a camper van?

So can you use a portable air conditioner and camper van? You, you absolutely can. There are advantages and disadvantages.

The biggest advantage is that there's no installation. You simply go buy aΒ  110 or 240 volt portable air conditioner, the freestanding kind that you see in people's homes and offices and shops, et cetera.

And you stand it up in the van, you plug it in, you run the vent hose that comes with your freestanding, portable air conditioner out through a window or a hole cut in the side of the van. And now you're cooling down at 5,000 BTU's or 7,500 or 10,000 BTUs, depending on how powerful your portable AC unit is.

Another advantage of using a portable air conditioner in a camper van or RV is they're reasonably priced.

There are also several disadvantages. The number one disadvantage is the power consumption. They're not built to be as efficient as the RV , camper and campervan specific AC units that are available such as the ones that Mount to your roof, or the Marine style that mount in cabinets and are vented through the hull or side of your van.

What I mean by that is, the fans and the motors in the RV and Camper van specific air conditioning systems are balanced, lighter weight, they tend to be better insulated and they're designed to withstand the vibration of a motor vehicle such as an RV or Campervan.

RV air conditioners are built to be more quiet and run more efficiently because the manufacturers know that you have less power at your disposal because oftentimes if you're running off battery and solar,

Also, you need the thing to be quiet because it's right above your head in the camper or RV when you're sleeping. So there's another disadvantage of DC powered portable air conditioners. they're going to be louder.

Another disadvantage aside from the power consumption and the noise is that they take up more space. They stand in the middle of the room and, and I don't know about you, but I don't have room for one of those.

That's why so often air conditioning systems are mounted to the roof of campervans because they need to be up and out of the way.

That also solves the venting issue because it's not even in the van. It's outside of the van. So the venting takes care of itself with a camper van air conditioner.

Another issue with regard to portable air conditioners is that they are not durable since they're made for homes, they aren't made to be joggled around In the rolling earthquake that is the back of your camper van.

So aside from the fact that they take up a ton of space, the thing's going to fall apart over time or quickly.

Now, granted, you could set it up on the mattress every time you're driving and make sure that it doesn't get moved around too much. But now you've got the tank that has to be emptied before you do that...

But, you know what, here's something that I understand very clearly:

And that is that not all of us have the cash right now in the moment to go have the best possible camper van air conditioner installed in the roof of our van to solve our cooling problem.

So, you know what, if you need to go grab one of these things off the shelf at Costco or Walmart, or home Depot and stick it in your van and go plug in somewhere. That's great.

And it will keep you alive and cool and allow you to sleep at night, if you can stand the noise. I'm not saying it's a terrible idea.

I'm just here to tell you what the pros and cons are. Moving on...

Would I use one and when would I use it?

In order for me personally to use a portable air conditioner in a camper van I'd have to have lots of room, first of all.

Second of all, I'd have to have a 110 hookup all the time, every night, to plug the DC portable air conditioner in.

Now you can solve that with a portable generator, but that's more noise and more expense.

By the time you buy a portable air conditioner and a portable generator, well, now you can just about a roof top AC unit installed and buy a few hundred amp hours batteries.

There are two categories of portable air conditioner: Free standing and "window shaker", or window mounted.

Free standing are the easiest; just stand it up and run a vent hose out and plug it in and away you go. You're cooling down with a coolant and compressor unit and it's beautiful. Everything's getting cool

But another kind of portable air conditioner is the window shaker or window mounted.

These mount in windows or a hole cut in the wall. yes, I've seen them mounted in vans as well.

I would not do that, for a number of reasons, some of which I've already mentioned: Power consumption. not durable, not power efficient. Uh, so, so if you're trying to use batteries, forget it, those things will eat your battery power very quickly.

You have to cut a massive hole in the side of the van in order for it to and work properly.

Maybe your van already has a great big window that you can prop a window mounted portable air conditioner up in or build a wood-frame to hold one in place.

If you, if you spend a lot of time parked with DC 110/240 and you don't have to cut a massive hole in the side of your van, you can make one work, I suppose.

The way it's designed, the outside perimeter of a window shaker, that, that kind of portable air conditioning unit, it needs to be sealed against itself or around the wall.

And by sealed, I don't mean with caulk, I just mean that you need to have less than a half an inch of gap around the unit.

And they all come with little wings that you can expand. So that it will fit in an up-sliding window and they come with various accessories to make them fit house windows, this window shaker style.

You can't just set a portable air conditioner in the open doorway of the van.

If you don't seal off the vent, it won't work. So you can have a couple of windows cracked, but otherwise the doors have to be closed. so that the only air entering the van is the air that's been processed by the air conditioner and therefore cooled down.

And what that air conditioner is doing is it's actually pulling warm air out of the van and converting it into cool air.

It's also pushing warm air created by the fan motor and compressor outside, and that's why the unit needs to sealed off.

So if you just set the thing in the open doorway, nothing will happen. You might get a cool breeze for a couple of feet in front of the air conditioner, but otherwise your van won't cool down. Whereas if it were in a window and that was sealed, as I said, loosely sealed around it, then. your van would get cool

Even a full-size sprinter with a 5,000 BTU window shaker is going to get cool. Trust me, because that space is very small. That portable window mounted or free standing AC unit is made to cool, at least twice that much space.

So it'll work just fine, but it's not efficient, It's not durable. It won't last and I would never permanently mount one and I would never cut a hole for one.

I would save my pennies and buy a rooftop mounted unit and go that route. I'd get an RV/camper van designed air conditioning unit.

Thanks for listening to the Campervan Podcast.