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One of the best feelings I can think of is waking up really early on a cool day, watching the fog and mist roll through a field down into the treeline, knowing that the day will slowly warm and life will appear in abundance after a long cold snap.
One of the worst feelings I can think of is coming back to consciousness, covered in sweat in a hot sticky bed and looking out the window, knowing it’s worse out there and the day will only get hotter from here.
Hot weather is wonderful. It can make a long drive to a beach worthwhile, it can also make sitting inside your home completely unbearable. For people who live in vans, this problem becomes an actual burden, with many just choosing to suffer through the heat rather than go through the hassle of dealing with it.
You may wonder why this is, as it can also be a hassle in a traditional home, but people still sort it.
Well, in a more traditional home, you have some advantages: there is more space to use for air conditioning, one side of a large house may be cooler, you are connected to a state-wide or national grid of some kind, and repairs or installations of cooling systems are often done by others and designed to last years.
This is not the case with a van, and you must consider how it will affect the van and yourself, before making big changes.
With that said, there are ways to beat the heat, while still keeping your van in tiptop condition. There are even cooling systems you can install if you are so inclined. In this article, we will look at the best ways to stay cool while living in a van.
Tips and Methods To Stay Cool
Before moving on to blasting your entire van with freezing winds from powerful A/C units, we will look at some easier methods. Although flicking a switch and watching your van turn into an arctic tundra may seem like the best way to stay cool, not everyone can afford an A/C, fit one to the van or they may even just not want one.
For these people, we have some tricks that may help on those sweltering, sweaty days.
Keep Air Moving
This sounds like an obvious point and in many ways, it is: open your doors and windows and get all the stuffy air out, nice and easy. You’re right, but there are other ways of doing this, that could improve a sweaty shelter situation much more:
I am sure most of us have seen these, although not necessarily on a van. Vent fans are often used in bath or shower rooms to pull the moist air out, stopping the build-up of mold. However, you can also get versions specifically for vans and van conversions, with the most common being a roof fan, which pulls air into your van.
This allows for a constant cycle of flowing air, keeping you reasonably cool through hot days. If you are having real problems with heat or have the cash to burn, you can always have two fans that have dual exhaust/intake capabilities.
That way, you can have one pull stale air out and the other pushing fresh air in. Although this option seems quite difficult, it is quite easy to do with many of those with van conversions installing a roof or vent fan themselves, instead of paying others to do it.
For those that are wary of installing equipment on the van (this includes me) or don’t have the cash to install a high quality piece of equipment, don't worry. Although they won’t be as powerful or effective as vent fans, regular fans will definitely be a big help when the heat is bearing down.
They are simple and easily replaced if lost or broken, making them ideal for a life on the road. The easiest to store and use would be a USB desk fan, as they don’t drain too much power and, with a USB adapter, they are much more likely to be able to connect to a van than a fan with an A/C power plug.
Windows, Doors, And The Outdoors
The last point on keeping the air moving is the simplest. Open all your windows and doors and allow the air to freshen up the inside of the van. This may not be the most effective method, as if your van is hot, it is likely very hot outside as well, but it is the easiest.
Another is to leave the van for an extended period, our bodies are warm and will heat up the van if we are inside them. So, if you have no other way to cool your home down, leave for a couple of hours and see how things are when you get back.
Make The Outside Work For You
This may seem like a strange title, but it is the outside that causes the most problems for those suffering from the heat. If you can manage to avoid hot areas or keep it off your van, the heat might subside, at least for a while.
Perhaps the most obvious point yet, but on bad days we may forget about this one: park smart. Try and find areas where the sun won’t affect you or that will be in the shade for long periods.
A tree, a shaded car park, or even at the foot of a hill or mountain, anywhere that is cooler than your surroundings. You can also angle your van, so direct sunlight does not penetrate as easily through your windows, keeping the heat out for at least a bit longer.
Reflective Window Coverings
A lot of heat in a van can actually come from the front in the cab. The sun comes through the windows and heats the drivers and passenger’s seats, before seeping into the back. A good way to counter this is to place reflective window coverings, which repel sunlight and a lot of the heat that comes with it from your van.
Not only this, but these reflective window coverings can be used in cold weather as well, this time trapping heat in, making them an essential purchase for any considering the van life.
Awnings are overhanging secondary coverings that are attached to buildings or camper vans. They are used to provide a little bit of shade from the sun and can be quite useful on vans.
It allows you to extend your van’s interior to the outside, while keeping you in the shade. There are lots of options for different awnings, with very little difficulty regarding installation either, making them perfect on a getaway.
We have looked at a multitude of different ways to keep you cool in your van throughout this article, however we have thus far avoided the most obvious and, probably, the most thought of method: an Air conditioner.
Often, we view air conditioners as huge, intrusive objects kept on roofs, in ceilings, or hanging out windows, but over the years they have become smaller and more accessible, making them perfect for life inside a van.
Portable Air Conditioners
In this section, we will look at portable air conditioners, which are usable in most vehicles and will be usable by those who have small van conversions or little camper vans.
The Zero Breeze Mark 1 and 2 are portable, battery powered, air conditioners that, once fully charged, give you 5 hours of fully air-conditioned space, and give life on the road that little bit of added comfort.
When I said the Mark 1 and 2 were portable, I meant fully portable in that they have a handle. You can pick them up and place them where you need them, and at 45Ibs this is much easier than you would expect from an A/C unit. They also come with an AC adapter and an inverter with cigarette style plug, meaning that anywhere with an outlet can be used to change this A/C unit.
Since these are portable A/C units, we need to talk about how they are going to be charged. The Mark 1 and 2 can be hooked up to your van and charged as your driving or in any wall outlet, with the adapters given no source of power will be unavailable to you.
Depending on your choice of the Mark 1 or 2, Zero Breeze even give you a suitable adapter: 12v for the Mark 1 or 24v for the Mark 2, meaning that you will be able to make sure you picked the right way to avoid draining your battery, but for the Mark 2 you may need an external battery source to keep it powered due to its higher voltage.
The Mark 1 and 2 are considered to be very effective units. They cool down a closed off area very efficiently and have four different modes to choose from: Cool, Fan (4 levels), Sleep, and Super Cold, that can be used at opportune moments.
The problem lies in their size, as they are perfect for smaller vans that have been converted, however for bigger RVs or Motorhomes this is not recommended, as they will struggle to cool the whole of your vehicle.
- Fully portable.
- Chargeable from home or away.
- Very effective in small areas.
- Charging restricted by battery size.
- Restricted to smaller vehicles.
Fixed Air Conditioners
The fixed air conditioners are really only for larger vehicles, unfortunately, as smaller vehicles tend to have power supply issues with these units. However, if you are an experienced mechanic, have upgraded your van to accommodate, or are looking for a summer project, it may be worth your time to explore these options, just in case.
Next on our look of A/C units for vans, we come across our first fixed unit: The Dometic Brisk II. A product not designed for looks, but for functionality and practicality, which appeals particularly to those of a nomadic persuasion.
First, let’s look at the power consumption of the Brisk. Since most larger Air Conditioners will be powered by an RV or motorhome generator, it’s important to know how much is being taken. In A/C units, an efficient unit is considered to have a power consumption of 1600W and the higher you go the more inefficient it is – with 3000W generally being near the maximum.
For the Brisk, it takes around 1670W, which is a very efficient A/C unit and not liable to drain your generator, meaning you can relax in a cool vehicle without the worry of losing power.
The effectiveness of an air conditioner is one of the most important aspects of the equipment, if it doesn’t cool you down then what is the point of it. In this, the Brisk delivers with it being able to cool down the entirety of your vehicle within an hour, with many happy customers reporting that it keeps their vehicle ‘ice cold’.
Although it may struggle with very large vehicles, for anything smaller than a bus, it’ll be fully capable of delivering a chilly breeze in the highest of temperatures.
For such large units being installed in your vehicle, you want to know that they are durable. Unfortunately, this is where the Brisk falls down slightly. Although it is a fantastic unit while it is working and can be installed easily, when it is not working it is little better than a brick, and occasionally the Brisk does stop working.
However, with a 2 year warranty, this problem should be easily rectified by Dometic themselves rather than leaving you sweltering in the sun.
- Power efficient.
- Incredibly effective.
- Easy installation.
- Known to break on occasion.
Airxcel has been a known brand to RV enthusiasts for a while. Having been around since 1997 and having branched into almost every aspect of the RV industry, they have been turning their attention to more sophisticated air conditioners to provide their customers more comfort.
The Mach 15 is a powerful air conditioner model, which often means that its power consumption is going to be through the roof. Not so with this unit, using only 1800W to reach full power, the Mach 15 is surprisingly economical with its needs and easy to install as well. This makes the Mach 15 a perfect companion for any large mobile home user.
With its lower power consumption, it would be safe to assume that the Mach 15 does not have the largest output either. But the Mach 15 surprises yet again, with an incredible output of 15000 BTU. For those unfamiliar, BTU is a unit used to measure how quickly something heats or cools a pint of water.
For smaller units, like the Zero Freeze models, they only reach about 2 to 3 thousand BTU, the Brisk sits at about 13 thousand, while the Mach 15 reaches 15 thousand! This number is reaching about as high as a lot of air conditioners can go, with only ones installed in buildings being higher. This gives the Mach 15 an incredible output that cools your vehicle quickly.
The durability of the unit is on par with the rest of its performance as well, being able to be installed easily, while maintaining functionality for an extended period of time. It has been noted to maintain an even temperature in the baking sun of an Arizona summer or provide electric heat in a moderately cold winter, showing that it has a universal appeal to those who take trips no matter the time of year.
- Economical with power.
- High rate of cooling.
- Adaptable to climate.
- Very durable.
RecPro sits in the heart of Bristol, Indiana, home of the largest producer of RV’s in the USA. With so much of its own industry surrounding it, RecPro has taken the opportunity to introduce a line of air conditioners fit for purpose.
The 15K is a relatively new air conditioning unit that has so far made quite a splash on the market. With its low power maintenance, it’s not hard to see why. Using only 1300W, it is not a drain on the generator or battery you plug it in to. Not only that but coming with a remote control you can easily adjust the temperature, no matter where you are in or out of the van.
At 15000 BTU as well, this A/C unit is not slouch, quickly cooling your van in even the most unbearable heat or heating it in snowstorms. The best part about the power on the 15K though, is that you don’t hear it. Most of the time when you start up an A/C unit, you can hear it and you continue to hear it no matter where you go in a house or in your van.
The 15K has been designed to be quieter, being around 60 decibels on the highest setting – which is just a bit louder than a fridge or an electric toothbrush. Meaning that you can enjoy yourself in relative peace and quiet, while remaining at your preferred temperature.
Thanks in part to its weight (80 pounds) and the well-designed nature of the unit, the 15K is quite tough, able to go for long periods without stopping. It can also be adjusted in the settings to make it a more comfortable experience for you, without worrying about pushing the unit too far.
- Low power supply.
- High output.
- Quieter unit.
- Quite durable.
The final entrant for air conditioners in today’s article comes from Asa Electronics, who have been manufacturing products for various vehicular industries since 1977. Marine, RV, Powersports, Agricultural, Construction, and Commercial, Asa have had a hand in each of these industries and with that experience comes quality, as we can see in the Advent Air.
The main problem for this unit comes right off the bat with its power consumption. Being 3000W is on the higher end for energy consumption and will put a bit of pressure on a battery or generator, even in a custom-made RV.
The upside to this is that the higher electrical output is put into the heating element of the vehicle using electric heat strips. This means that this A/C unit has more control over the heating element than the other air conditioners we’ve seen do, while sacrificing efficiency.
However, the Advent Air is able to make use of more electronics, having three speed fans and a thermostat as well.
The output of this unit is 13500 BTU, which puts it higher than the Dometic Brisk II and means you can fully heat or cool a large vehicle with ease. With the higher electrical output as well, you should experience a quicker heating or cooling of your vehicle than you would with ordinary units. However, for the output the BTU is a little disappointing, as it feels like you are sacrificing a lot for little gain.
Finally, we reach durability, and this is where the Advent Air seems to struggle the most. There have been many claims of this unit suffering in the extreme heat of some climates and outright stopping in others.
It seems this unit does well in moderately hot and cold areas, but above this it seems to struggle. However, if you are not going to the desert or a polar ice cap, this may be a perfect little buy, as it is apparently very easy to install on your van.
- Very effective cooling and heating.
- Useful electronic parts.
- Good in moderate climates.
- High energy consumption for little gain.
- Not durable, can’t take it to extreme weather zones.
The difficulty in finding air conditioners for vans or other vehicle conversions is that air conditioners are most commonly made for one fixed area that is attached to a power grid. This is because they often have to be big and they need a lot of power to function properly.
In motor vehicles, this can be quite hard to find, as many vehicles are built to the proportion of roads and they are designed for travel, with most having a reservoir for fuel and charging the battery as they go.
As such, an air conditioner needs to be adapted for these purposes in order for it to work. With that in mind, I chose two categories to judge all van air conditioners with, and a further one each for portable air conditioners and fixed air conditioners because of the difference in circumstances and application.
All Van Air Conditioners
This is probably the most trouble if it is gotten wrong. Van air conditioners need to use less power, due to the limited power available to the vehicle’s owner. A van air conditioner would be powered by the vehicle’s battery, which is charged by the engine when it is running.
However, should the air conditioner draw too much power from the battery, then the car would struggle to start and potentially leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. In RVs and motorhomes, there may be a generator, making it less of an issue, but if it draws too much from there, problems will also arise.
There is little point in owning an air conditioner if it doesn’t work. It takes time and effort to install a unit on a van and, if it doesn’t heat or cool you properly, it will leave you uncomfortable and annoyed for all those wasted hours. It may also leave you in danger if you were relying on it in extreme temperatures, making effectiveness very important.
Portable Air Conditioners Only
If you are buying a portable air conditioner, you want to be as portable as possible without it losing effectiveness. It should be light, for movement, adjustable, to find the perfect position to maintain the temperature of a room, and chargeable, to allow for movement and to not drain a van’s battery over time.
Since a portable air conditioner sacrifices a lot in power, it needs to have at least these components otherwise it is not worth the effort of abandoning traditional air conditioners.
Fixed Air Conditioners Only
It may seem odd to include this here and not along with portable air conditioners, however I believe it makes more of an impact with fixed air conditioners. With portable ones, you can easily transport them to get fixed or send them back for a warranty check, this is not so easy with fixed air conditioners.
For starters, once installed they are now attached to the van, making it incredibly difficult – and annoying – to repair, replace, or inspect them. You would have to take apart the unit and van or have someone come out to look at it, which can take time. As such, fixed air conditioners need to have as few faults to start with as possible and to last for as long as you need them.
When people first started living in vans, RV’s, or motorhomes, it was probably hard to imagine climate control at your fingertips in a house, let alone a van. The world, however, has come a long way and there are now so many options to choose from when looking for the perfect air conditioning unit in your van conversion, even having a portable A/C unit or a fixed one.
No matter which you can choose, comfort is not out of the realm of possibility, and, with the right choice, you could go the whole year without worrying about the weather.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do portable A/C units work in a van?
Yes, they do. The main problem with portable air conditioner units is that they don’t have the power that fixed ones do. However, depending on the size of your van they could work just as well and be better fit for your van life. For example, a 4-to-12-foot van would be perfectly suited for a portable air conditioner, anything bigger and it might struggle to maintain the temperature of that space.
How Can I Cool My Van Without An Air Conditioner?
There are many different ways, some require equipment, others require just simple action. The easiest is to open the doors and windows in your van, so the stagnant air can leave and be replaced with fresh air.
Another is to employ window screens and parking in the shade, the shade keeps the van at a lower temperature and the screens prevent direct sunlight superheating your van. A final way you could cool your van down is with fans, either installed into the van itself or as a plug in.
The installed fans tend to work very well in keeping air circulating and generating a breeze. The plug-in fans are easier to install and, so long as you have an adapter, easier to use and to maintain as well.
I’m sure there are many other ways to cool a van not included in this article, but the best way to find out is to experiment. Try out different methods and see which one works for you. You might even find your own!
Can You Have Air Conditioning In A Van?
Yes, you can. However, you need to make sure of a few things before you install. First, check that your van can handle the air conditionings power output, if it can’t then it might not just be the air conditioning that no longer works. Second, check that the unit is powerful enough to maintain the temperature of the entire van.
Finally, check the specifics of that A/C unit, you don’t want to get an A/C unit only to use at night and find out it is the loudest one on the market.
Discover How To Use The Power of Authority Marketing To Make You Money While You Adventure!
No Experience, Existing Product Or Technical Skills Are Required
DO YOU BELIEVE ADVENTURES ARE WORTH CHASING?