Yes, you can install a ductless mini-split in a Recreational Vehicle (RV). You can even have more than one ductless mini-split in your RV.
However, a few rules apply. First off, you must find the right mini-split for your RV. This means choosing the suitable capacity (in BTUs), physical size, and design. Additionally, although DIY installation is possible, it’s best to consider professional installation by a licensed professional. The rest of this guide discusses the above issues in greater detail.
Benefits of a Mini-Split AC for RVs
Let’s begin by answering the big question – what makes a ductless mini-split AC system a good fit for Recreational Vehicles (RVs)?
- Ease of installation
Installation is often the biggest obstacle to having a supplementary air conditioner in an RV. This is especially true when dealing with ducted AC systems. It can be a tedious and expensive undertaking. Ductless mini-split systems don’t require ducting, thus significantly minimizing the labor and associated costs.
- Serve multiple zones at a go
For the larger RVs, another challenge often presents itself in the form of irregular air conditioning. Even if you have a powerful air conditioner, the airflow might not reach some areas. You can opt for multi-split ductless systems to serve multiple areas simultaneously for even cooling (and heating) throughout the RV.
- Quiet operation
What makes ductless mini-split systems some of the quietest AC systems is the split design. Mini-splits comprise two distinct components – the outdoor compressor and indoor air handler(s). This way, the often noisy compressor stays outside the RV, effectively reducing noise inside the RV. This is different from other AC types in a single package containing both the compressor and air handler.
- Exceptional energy efficiency
Ductless mini-split systems are also extremely energy-efficient, thanks chiefly to the absence of ductwork. Studies show that ductwork accounts for more than 50% of energy losses in HVAC systems. The more extensive the duct system, the worse the problem. Mini-split systems eliminate the need for ductwork.
Considerations When Choosing a Ductless Mini Split for Your RV
Most RV owners go for the lowest capacity ductless mini-split system they can find and assume it’s the best solution to their RV air conditioning needs. While the smaller ACs tend to work better in RVs, BTU capacity isn’t the only factor you need to consider.
- Size of the RV
The size of the RV is just as important a consideration as the mini split’s BTU capacity. A bigger AC requires a bigger mini-split. But, how many BTUs do you need? Ideally, you want 20 BTUs per square foot. Therefore, you need a 10,000 BTU mini-split for a 500 square-foot RV. However, the actual amount of BTUs you need may vary depending on whether it’s a supplementary AC or the main AC.
- Mounting options
The installation procedure for outdoor condensers is standard. However, RV owners have multiple options when it comes to indoor air handlers. We usually recommend wall-mounted handlers or ceiling cassettes. Wall-mounted air handlers are the best choice because they offer the most flexibility. Moreover, they are easier to install. However, ceiling cassettes are the least obstructive. Whereas a wall-mounted air handler can block the windows and other areas of the RV, ceiling cassettes are completely out of the way.
- Do you need heating?
Most mini-split air conditioning systems today double as heat pumps. During the cold/winter season, they operate in reverse, extracting heat from outdoor air and dumping it inside the RV. The only downside is that heat pumps are more expensive than AC-only mini-split systems. If you tend to go on camping trips in the colder weather, it’s worth considering a heat pump.
- Energy efficiency
This is a major consideration given that energy efficiency directly impacts your comfort and power bills. Ductless mini-split air conditioner efficiency is measured in SEER and EER ratings. Generally, any SEER rating above 16.0 is considered good enough, though you should aim for 20.0+ SEER. As for EER ratings, strive for ratings above 9.0.
- Ease of installation
The reason installation becomes a critical consideration is that many RV owners are excited by DIY installation. Often, we think that if you can change the RV oil, then installing an AC shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s strongly recommended that you consider professional installation before attempting DIY. Also, if you must Do It Yourself, pick a DIY-friendly mini split with pre-flared copper lines, a base mount pad for the outdoor compressor, and wall brackets for the indoor unit.
- Extra features
Other important features to consider are remote/app control, voice control, louver position memory, and operating modes. The good news is that remote control is standard on most ductless mini-split systems. However, the other features such as voice control via Alexa or Google Assistant are only found on the latest models.
How to Install a Mini-Split AC in your RV
This is the hard part. Assuming you’ve purchased the right mini-split system, the following are a few things you may need;
- A line set: The majority of mini-split manufacturers supply their units with a pre-charged line set. However, some don’t, in which case you need to buy the required line set separately. You may need up to 30 feet of line set and control wire.
- Vacuum pump and gauge: Vacuum pumps are used to evacuate condenser lines, while vacuum gauges measure and test for leaks. Ideally, you should only buy the two if you’re installing the RV mini-split for long-term use. If it’s a one-off thing, it’s better to hire a tech who’ll bring with them the pump and gauge.
- A circuit breaker: Nearly all mini-split installations require a circuit breaker to protect the AC in case of a power surge. You’ll also need a power line to run from the breaker to the condenser outside the RV.
- Wall brackets: Here, too, some manufacturers provide the necessary accessories. However, not all do. Very few manufactures include brackets for the outdoor condenser in particular. Make sure to purchase these accessories before you begin the installation process. More importantly, ensure to buy the correct brackets as recommended by the manufacturer.
After acquiring the above materials and accessories, the next step is to begin installing your mini-split. However, you’ll need to make three important decisions before you get going;
- Where does the outside condenser go? On most RVs, the only real option is at the back of the van. It protects that AC from wind wear and tear and road debris. However, if you have space on the sides, go ahead and install it there.
- Where does the indoor condenser go? This will depend on several factors, including the size of the air handler, how much space you have inside the RV, and aesthetic considerations. Remember that you must also choose an unobstructed location for maximum airflow.
- How do you run the refrigerant lines? The refrigerant lines need to run from the condenser mounted outside the RV to the air handler inside. Do you run them on the roof from outside or along the roof but inside the RV? Remember, the shorter the distance, the greater the energy efficiency.
Now you’re ready to begin the installation. Proceed as follows;
- Remove the old AC: Of course, this only applies if you’re replacing an old air conditioner. Remove the outer housing to expose the screws. Then unscrew the metal bracket and take out the AC.
- Install the indoor air handler: Position the wall bracket on the location you identified earlier. Then screw it tightly to the RV using a screwdriver and slide the air handler into the brackets. Make sure it fits snugly.
- Mount the condenser bracket: This should be easy if you’ve already picked the installation location. Assemble the stainless steel mounting bracket and screw it to the RV wall from outside the RV.
- Attach the condenser to the bracket: This should also be a straightforward process. Make sure the condenser attaches firmly to the bracket.
- Drill holes for the refrigerant lines: The size of the hole will depend on the diameter of your refrigerant lines. However, keep in mind that if the hole is too big, then you’ll need to insulate the area around it. The same hole also serves as the entry point for connecting wire.
- Run the refrigerant lines: The biggest issue here is potentially crimping the copper lines. So, you must be extremely careful. Once you’ve run the refrigerant lines, run the AC power from the breaker box to the condenser unit outside the RV through the same hole.
- Connect the refrigerant lines/control wire: Begin by making the connections inside the RV. Once done, move outside and connect the same lines to the outdoor condenser. You’ll need to be very careful. This is also the time to create a drain hole and fit the drain +pipe.
- Finish up and test the system: We recommend vacuuming the line set before running the refrigerant. Also, make sure to check for leaks. Once you’re done, release refrigerant into the system and test the mini-split.
Yes, you can put a mini-split in an RV. But, it must be the right mini-split system. The capacity (in BTUs) and the RV size (in square feet) are particularly important, as are convenience features/controls, such as timers and remote control. Above all, make sure to install the mini-split properly. Happy camping!