Caravan air-con explained
Air-conditioning has been keeping us cool since the dawn of the twentieth century, with units gradually being installed in buildings, modes of transport and, of course, leisure vehicles. Caravans are surprisingly efficient at dealing with day-to-day temperatures thanks to white sides and insulated walls but, with summer finally here, how can you keep your ’van cool as the mercury continues to climb?
Caravan-friendly air-con systems come in many shapes and sizes, although a decade of caravanning trips passed by before we decided to take the plunge and have such a unit fitted. We used to travel the UK and Europe armed with ice cube trays and 9in desk fans, jostling for position as the fan swivelled ever closer, delivering the briefest puff of cool air. Having finally taken that air-conditioned step almost three years ago, dealing with temperatures up to 45 degrees centigrade during subsequent trips, I will explain the pros and cons of caravan air-cond and, importantly, discuss whether it is worth the investment.
Which type of unit?
In this feature, we will look at the two main types of air-con unit – roof-mounted and storage compartment systems; plus, I will explain a little about the portable systems that are available.
These are arguably the most common type of air-con systems with units from Truma, Dometic, SR Mecatronic, Sinclair, etc.
As hot air rises and cold air falls, vents at roof level create an even spread of chilled air, especially if time has been taken to set the vents correctly. Also, roof-mounted units are relatively easy to swap from caravan to caravan, meaning your unit can come with you should you purchase a new ’van. At approximately 30kg (check the make and model for exact weights), your roof must be strong enough to support this additional weight.
✔ Pro: Always ready at the flick of a switch. Relatively easy to swap from caravan to caravan.
✘ Con: This additional weight eats into your payload.
Systems such as Truma’s Saphir occupy space under bunks, beds, or seats and direct airflow with a series of ducting tubes. Installation is more involved than a roof-mounted unit due to the main ‘box’ drawing air through a hole in the floor before blowing chilled air through a series of pipes that weave their way around the caravan. Not all caravans can support an additional 30kg on the roof and this system alleviates that problem.
✔ Pro: Delivers air-con for caravans that can’t support additional weight on the roof.
✘ Con: Longer installation time. Can be difficult to remove when buying another caravan.
Not a unit I’ve tried, but one I am aware of. Companies such as Cool My Camper supply units that are split into two parts – one unit hangs from a window bracket (or sits on the A-frame), with the second unit delivering cool air. Scrolling through Cool My Camper’s FAQ section, the system works best in smaller areas, partitioning larger caravans with doors and concertina blinds whenever possible.
As the manufacturer explains, these units work well but do not match the performance of larger rooftop air-con units.
✔ Pro: Cheaper than some units. Can be stored in the car when not in use or only used when needed.
✘ Con: Requires setting up for each use. Lower cooling performance compared to larger roof-mounted units.
When we changed our Bailey Phoenix 760 for a Phoenix+ 650, I spent the day with Truma’s tech team, getting hands-on during the workshop phase whenever my limited skills matched the task ahead. We have a Truma Aventa compact, which is a roof-mounted unit that fits through a standard 400mm by 400mm roof light aperture.
The installation is simple and, even when swapping to a new caravan, the same steps are followed. When you buy a new caravan, you simply disconnect the existing wiring and then the unit is unbolted and lifted from the old caravan and the rooflight is refitted. Then, to install in the new caravan, remove the rooflight. Then the wiring (230V plus the data cable) is passed through a channel in the roof void before being connected to a neighbouring Truma system (control panel or Combi boiler) and wired into the caravan’s 230V electrics. Importantly, the installation has a factory-finish feel with part of the planning phase thinking ahead to possible removal at a later stage. This allows the caravan to return to standard spec without traces of air-con installation.
One of the most common questions is about how noisy these systems are. The Aventa compact has two functions: fan or cool. Switching to fan (vent), there’s extraordinarily little noise – inside or out – with lower fan speeds producing little more than a hum. When the unit is cooling the air before blowing it into the caravan, the compressor makes a little more noise and I’m always mindful of fellow campers. Following a storm, one evening was incredibly still, so much so we only used the fan. However, row after row of caravans on an Italian site were gently humming away while cooling their occupants. As for sleeping, the white noise of a fan or compressor sends me off, plus, it can help mask site noise.
Regardless of which type of unit you choose, the weight will need to be subtracted from your caravan’s payload, even portable units if you plan to transport them inside your caravan. It’s also worth talking through the installation beforehand to ensure good towing manners remain. As a guide, our unit is 27kg.
A fellow caravanner described his new air-con unit as an investment – and it certainly is. Prices can top £2,000, which could be 7% to 10% of the purchase price of a new caravan. However, a unit that can be removed from your old caravan and fitted to a new one means it can accompany you on many a holiday. What’s more, if removal and installation is carried out by an approved installer, your warranty remains intact.
Using the Aventa compact as a guide, it has 1,700W of cooling power and consumes 2.8A while cooling. Pre-Covid, we did a 10-country tour and didn’t have any problems at European sites that only have 6A hook-up, although we were mindful not to overload the bollard by switching on the kettle, hot water, etc. However, friends at a German site tripped the electric and had to resort to damp flannels across the neck. As these air-con units only use 230V electricity, pitches without electric hook-up remain free from air-con use.
Once fitted, our air-con unit soon ranked as one of our favourite bits of kit. As with motor movers, it’s difficult to realise how handy they are until you try one, and Max – our large, slobbery dog – is a big fan during the warmer months.
Be sure to choose a unit that’s right for you and your caravan, with weight and placement being as important as your air-conditioning budget. However, once fitted, this invention will keep you cool during those long, hot summer trips.