If your RV air conditioner is not keeping the interior as cool as it was before, there's a good chance you will have to replace the unit. A camper A/C replacement is not difficult if you are just a little bit handy. You can save big money on installation if you don't have to hire an RV technician or RV dealership to replace the AC unit for you.
Do I Need to do a Complete RV A/C Installation?
Some issues can be fixed by replacing only parts of the air conditioner. If you just need a fan blade or motor, ceiling controls or other minor parts, it's probably wise to replace just those parts. However, if the air conditioner is old, you are probably just as far ahead to replace the whole unit. If one component is bad, there is a high likelihood others will fail as well.
The investment for a new RV air conditioner installation might be steep. You might have to weight this investment against the cost of a relatively small number of parts, which can add up quickly.
What are the Parts Needed for a Camper Air Conditioner Replacement?
First of all, a complete motorhome or travel trailer a/c replacement means you will have to purchase two main parts:
- The Rooftop Unit
- The Inside vent and controls, referred to as the "Ceiling Assembly"
Ceiling assemblies come in two types specifically designed for ducted or non-ducted systems. You can identify which you have by determining where the cold air comes from in your coach. If all the cold air comes from the vent louvers around the air conditioner ceiling assembly, you will have a non-ducted air conditioner system. Ducted systems will have multiple vents along the length of your coach for the cold air to be distributed.
In many instances where a motorhome or travel trailer air conditioner replacement is needed, the issue is in the rooftop unit. There is a possibility that your old ceiling assembly can be re-used if it is compatible with the rooftop air conditioner unit.
Some ceiling assemblies have the controls installed right in them. In other cases, the air conditioning temperature is controlled by a wall thermostat. It is more common for ducted systems to have wall thermostat control and non-ducted installations to have ceiling controls, but there are exceptions to this rule.
Consult with your RV Part Shop professional to help you determine which RV A/C replacement package is best for your application. Factors they will help you consider are:
- the required cooling capacity
- whether you need the unit to be energy efficient
- whether you want to have a heat pump-assisted rooftop unit or alternatively if you want to install an RV AC heat strip.
A heat strip is an electric element that you can use to get electric heat from an RV air conditioner unit. You can use it in the shoulder seasons to take off the chill when you are connected to shore power or have a generator running.
What are the Steps to Complete a Camper Air Conditioner Installation?
Someone with minimal technical skills can easily complete a camper a/c installation. You might need some help getting the rooftop unit up to the roof, but that's the only part of the installation that can't be done alone.
How to Remove the Old AC Unit
- Summary of Steps required when removing the old RV Air Conditioner:
- On the Roof, remove the air conditioner shroud
- Remove the ceiling assembly inside your coach
- Disconnect the electrical wiring and remove the retaining flange bolts
- Carefully separate the foam gasket from the roofing surface
- Remove any old sealants or excess roof coating
First Steps on the Roof
1. First, if there is a chance the roof will not support your weight, put some wood sheets or planks on the roof going up. It's a good idea to have old blankets available to set the old (and new) units on so you don't damage the roofing membrane.
2. Remove the shroud (plastic cover) on both the old and new AC units by unscrewing the bolts on the bottom on each side. You will normally find 2 screws on each side that secure the shroud in place, Remove with a scraper any sealants or adhesives around the bottom of the RV. Use a plastic putty knife and take care not to damage the roof..
Removing the Two Components
3. The rooftop unit is held down by bolts that come up from an anchor frame in the ceiling assembly. Take the cover off of the ceiling assembly and remove the four long bolts running up to the rooftop unit with a wrench or screwdriver as applicable.
4. When the bolts are removed, it will also release the ceiling assembly flange on the inside. To fully remove the ceiling assembly you may have to adjust and loosen any ducting that is present. If necessary head to the roof again and use a putty knife to loosen the AC from the rooftop.
5. Head up to the roof now and carefully use a plastic putty knife to disengage the AC unit from the roof membrane. You can then lift the old AC unit off the roof and carefully lower it down to the ground. Next, remove any remaining putty, sealant or residue from the original foam gasket, then clean the area fully around the roof opening. Make sure this is fully completed before you place the new air conditioner over the opening.
Correctly Placing the New Air Conditioner
6. Remove the external plastic shroud from the new unit, then place the new air conditioner rooftop unit where the old air conditioner was. If you have someone inside the RV, they will be able to guide you so that you can position the unit squarely on the 14" X14" square ceiling opening. Align the foam gasket on the bottom of the rooftop unit directly on this opening.
7. Go inside to complete the ceiling assembly installation. Your AC manual will tell you how to orient the ceiling assembly inside the coach. Once you have it in place correctly, insert the bolts up through the ceiling assembly and screw them into the receiving holes on the bottom of the rooftop unit. Again, consult your owner's manual for the exact process to do this, as different models may have slightly different requirements.
Connecting the Ducts and Electrical
For this step:
- Correctly configure any ducting
- Connect the ceiling assembly (or thermostat) control wires to the rooftop unit connections
- Connect the main power to the rooftop unit (per your manual)
- Re-install the shroud on the new air conditioner
- Re-install the inside vent/shroud on the ceiling assembly.
8. There will be a junction box in the ceiling assembly for you to connecting all of the main power wires. The wires will be the same colors coming from the RV and the air conditioner, so you should be able to determine the correct wiring configuration pretty easily.
9. First, for safety, make sure that there is no live AC power present at the AC unit by turning off the AC breaker in your breaker panel. Also, fully disconnect any power inverters that may be generating 110V power from your 12V batteries. To be completely sure, unplug the entire RV from any shore power connection.
Once you've done those safety steps, Secure the wire connections with wire nuts (usually provided in your kit. Ensure there is no exposed wiring that causes a short circuit. You can even use electrical tape to further isolate any wires coming in contact with other wires or the surrounding components.
If you're not comfortable around high voltage power, consider hiring an electrician for the job. This part will be a very short job.
10. Connect the control cable between the ceiling assembly and rooftop unit (or wire the thermostat in the same manner as the old one was.) Replace the inside ceiling assembly louver and re-install the outside shroud on the rooftop unit. Now you're done installing, so do a full test of all the air conditioner operations to make sure it is working correctly.
More Good Advice for RV Air Conditioners
- Keep the foam air filter in the ceiling assembly (and in the cold air return, if it is in a separate location) clean for the best performance.
- Make sure to take care bringing the new unit up to the rooftop and removing the old one. These units are heavy and can cause serious damage if you drop them or bang them on the side of your coach.
- Make sure you only operate your new AC unit if the voltage is 115V or more. Many RV park electrical systems can drop below that level on hot days when a lot of people are running their RVs on the same line. If that situation happens to you a lot, consider a Hughes Autoformer Voltage Regulator to ensure your air conditioner works best.
- Parking in a shaded area and covering your windows can help reduce the work your AC unit has to do and it will keep your RV interior cooler.
It's not difficult to install an RV air conditioning unit in your rig. Follow our procedure and consult your dealer manual, and you'll be cool in no time, enjoying your RV Life to the fullest.