I really need help deciding A/C

Hello from a oldish newbie! I purchased my van back in February of this year. I wasn’t too worried about air conditioning because my plan was to follow the weather as many do.

However, I am currently living in Southwest Central Florida. The day after I got home with the van, we went to Home Depot and purchased a 5000 BTU window unit. My husband took out one of the back windows and installed it right away. What a blessing that has been! I could not stand it if I did not have it. I do not handle the heat well at all.

I still plan to follow the weather as much as possible, but there are going to be those times when I will need dependable air. I’ve got the heating for winter under control; that’s not a big deal.

But as far as AC, I have re-searched the Internet, asked friends, watched YouTube videos, but I still am in limbo.

Initially I wanted to put a roof unit in. Then I saw how much they cost. But more than that, the top of my van conversion is fiberglass and I don’t know if a roof unit would be compatible with fiberglass.

Then, I was looking at mini splits. They seem to be ideal. Much less in cost and much quieter, from what I hear (actually, no pun intended.)

But there again, the problem was the fiberglass topper. I could see a decent place to put the inside part, but I would not want to put the condenser part on the back (metal). It would be low enough that somebody could steal it (for the copper). The other option again would be putting the condenser on the fiberglass part of the top, even if it was on the side. As I said, I’m just not sure how well fiberglass would hold up to cutting and also the weight.

I would also be concerned about anything on the outside jostling around and perhaps tubing breaking or something equally disastrous. I love my van, but she is not exactly a smooth ride.

OK so now I’ve been considering portable ACs. I have looked at many. If I got one I would be willing to spend up to five to $700 at the very most. There is a place in the side of the van where a vent hole could be drilled.

We have discussed that we would like to have one with a single hose going out the vent. I have seen some that supposedly turns the water into a mist and goes out along with the heat. I’ve even seen a couple where there is a tube within a tube. In other words, there is a drain tube inside the heat exhaust tube.

I’ve even thought about just using the window unit that we have in it now. The problem with that, other than it being outside is that I really need the storage space in the back of the van. I am planning on raising the bed quite a bit and that would not work with the air conditioner as it is.

I never thought that I would consider a swamp cooler, but I have read some pretty good reviews right on this thread.

So there you have it. All my concerns about each type of cooler. I’m sorry that this is so long. I tend to write long posts and be very detailed and I’m sorry if that gets on anyone’s nerves.

If you made it this far, thank you so much. Any and all suggestions are very very welcome and appreciated.

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Hi guys! So my two cents are probably not worth much since I happily do without AC and seldom find myself camped anywhere that gets over 75-80 degrees (and not the humidity of Florida). Even 85-90 is no prob if 1) you’re parked in the shade, and 2) you’re using a high volume roof fan (I use a dual direction Fantastic Fan but have met several ppl using MaxAir and happy). I did meet a nice young woman a few years ago who travels with a few dogs and worked as a casino dealer into the summer in Vegas and she used a portable AC unit very successfully with the only downside being it takes up prescious space. Of course I’d hate to see what the RV park was charging her for electricity. Also, if you plan on staying at RV parks out west here (I usually just boondock) be aware that many of them will not allow any van with a window unit AC installed, and many parks have an age limit of how old your vehicle can be in order to stay there (usually 10 to 15 yrs old max). Hope this helps!

I’m North of you in NCFL. My friend (a FloGrown local) also pulled a rear window and inserted a small AC unit. Apparently, it is the answer. When in Rome…(?)


Thanks for your reply! I do appreciate your input even if you don’t use an AC!
It’s good to know about the trailer parks out west who don’t allow window units or older models of RVs. I had heard “rumors”.

My tiny home-on-wheels is a kind of cobbled together 2003 Ford E250 - cargo van to which former owners had added a high top. I bought it partially built out and am trying to get it finished in record time. -slowest in history- lol The point being I doubt it would meet the aesthetic standards of some of those campgrounds.

Anyway, it would be wonderful to travel continually and follow the cooler weather. But with my very small monthly check and the cost of gas, I doubt if I’ll be able to do that as much as I’d like. I will certainly do it as much as I can.

Another issue is that my husband loves it here in Florida and is adamant about not moving or probably even going anywhere (for any length of time) where the temperature is less than 80°. Plus, he is still working so he can’t pick up and leave.

We’ve lived down here about 30 years, and I have done my best to get used to it. But seriously, I’ve finally realized if haven’t adjusted by now, I’m not going to. So a large part of the plan of me getting a camper van was so that I could get away and have some comfort during the hottest part of the year, i.e., April to mid-November.

The heat indices here (real-feel) have been over 100 now for days on end. I know it’s bad everywhere, so I shouldn’t complain, but I have some health issues that make it almost unbearable.

The camper did come with a Maxx Fan, but it hasn’t been effective in this climate at all.

I’m still sorting through the options, and haven’t come up with a great one yet. The most practical in my situation seems to be a portable AC, but like the lady in Las Vegas, my space is very limited & precious. I also have two cats that will be co-piloting with me.

Enough of my rambling on. . . Stay happy and free!

@Gardner Hello Gardner! — fellow Floridian

Are you a native or transplant like me?

Yes, I agree, the window unit has been the best as far as making it endurable, but. . . apparently some of the “Romans” in certain areas (to which I may want to travel) don’t appreciate the fun kitschy, low-rent trailer park look, which may include more than just the AC hanging out the window in my case. To which I say, “Ask me if I care? But, please, step inside and see my beautiful knotty pine, tongue-and-groove ceiling with the recessed solar puck lights.” LOL

Seriously, I would leave as is if it wasn’t for two things:
1.) I’ve heard that all the jostling down the road may be a little too hard on the copper tubing in the unit. Still, I might attempt that if I could only find a good place to mount it because…

2.) I desperately need storage space. My plan was/still is to have a high bed in the back and use the space under that for storage.

Do you know an idea came to me just now while typing that? Eureka! If the bed were raised just above the AC unit, why couldn’t I make a couple of holes, attach a couple of 5” or 6” diameter plastic tubing, run it under or beside the bed and, Voila - custom ductwork?

I would need to build a rectangular box to cover the top area of the AC, where the airflow comes out into the room, and then make the holes for the ductwork in the front of that box (probably no more than two).

As for my fears about two much bouncing around and broken copper tubing, I did read where one person had really made the mounting of the window unit super secure, so not much bouncing took place. She said she used it that way for years only taking it down to clean it.

Now I have to remember where I read that post, Because she told exactly how she mounted it.

Just curious, Gardner, does your friend that has the back windows mounted AC travel with it in place?

I am so excited because I think this is an idea that just may work! Maybe it’s a Godsend!!

Yes, transpant as yourself. And ‘yes’ he does drive with the AC unit installed.
Tbh, he redacted the left rear window , made a cutout of that window and inserted the AC Unit with 220 AC into it. Granted, it is requiring the grid to feed it but it’s as stable as Hogan’s Goat.
Regarding the ‘sweat joints’ and an AC series that you’re contemplating; those joints aren’t going to rattle loose if you sweat them correctly. But most of the runs you’ll need can be done w/o sweating.

Living in Fl. an AC unit if a must for comfortable camping. I removed my drivers side rear window, using it for a template for making a fiberglass blank. Inside and out side temps are usually over 100 degrees. When choosing BTU/size go up to the next larger size. Being in the tropics I went with A 5500 BTU Samsung. Note: Some of the smaller cheaper units have a plastic frame which will break from road stress. I disassembled the unit and bolted a 1”x1” piece of steel angle across the steel base and replace all the accessible screws with stainless and thru bolted where possible. Went to a Marine Canvas Shop and had a black Sunbrella cover made.The fiberglass blank came out so good it looks like black glass. Where I used to work customers would constantly come in and ask where I got the glass cut, then I would explain it was fiberglass. A real pro look. I was even approached by an owner of a van conversion co. with an offer……sorry one and done. Vibration dosent seem to be an issue, been running great for over 10 years.

That looks beautiful! So professional looking. I can’t even imagine the snooty “no window AC” parks not allowing that. Just tell them it’s a new space-age kind of A/C. LOL.

Well I got to do a trial run in the Indigo Van before I was really ready to. When we saw a Hurricane Ian headed our way, we decided to go the opposite direction. Went down to Clewiston, where it wasn’t so bad and we’re just now able to get back into our own area because of major flooding. With the AC in the window it held up really well! Of course, on the trip part we didn’t have any electric.

But the max fan works on solar and it was fairly cool with all the rain thank goodness. We’ve been in an RV park for the last four days and the AC seems to be working just fine!

We are headed home today to a lot debris and minor damage. I hope everyone on here from Florida is OK. My heart goes out to those that were hit so hard, Naples, Fort Myers, Sanibel, and many more.

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There’s 2 big problems with traditional air conditioning:

A) They’re energy hogs.
B) There are better choices available.

I’ve been a nomad for over 50 years, and for most of that time, energy efficient 12v swamp coolers have kept me comfortable. At under 2 amps @ 12vdc they are an excellent choice, and with the various options available, they can even work in high humidity areas. The only downside is the need to refill them with water regularly, but that’s much easier & cheaper than running a generator or seeking out shore power.

More recently I have acquired a Peltier powered heat pump. It heats or cools the liquid flowing through heat exchanger using a Peltier chip instead of cooling the water via evaporation like a swamp cooler. It’s not quite as energy efficient as a swamp cooler, but at ~5 amps @ 12vdc, it still uses only a tiny fraction of the power required for a traditional air conditioner, while delivering equal or better cooling power. Unlike a swamp cooler, it’s a sealed system, so you never have to add water.

In the real world, for most nomads, we don’t have the room or the budget to support enough solar panels or batteries to power a traditional air conditioner. Short of a very large bus or RV, we don’t have enough roof space for enough solar, and even if we did it would require a fortune in batteries. To make a long story short, without a generator or shore power, it just isn’t practical to try to run a traditional air conditioner that’s actually big enough to work.

For nomads, energy efficiency is much easier and cheaper than generating more power. Batteries are great, but they only store power, they don’t generate it, and the more batteries you have, the more power you need to recharge them. We can live comfortably anywhere, anytime, but our energy usage needs to be more in line with a small boat in the middle of a lake, than a traditional house or apartment connected to electricity.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

Thank you! I’m interested to know more. I’ve never heard of a parking a/c.

Thank you for the advice. I’m sure having done this for so long, you have a wealth of knowledge. I’ve been afraid of the swamp coolers creating a problem with mildew dampness or mold. I will look into the one that you mentioned.

I advise you to consider a parking air conditioner for your van. A truck parking air conditioner guarantees 100% comfort and salvation for the driver on a long journey

That sure is a creepy profile pic you got there!! (But that’s okay)
Can I pick your brain a little more about the truck a/c? Like how much are they? Where’s the best place to get one? Is there a brand you’d recommend? Can I replace my Maxx Fan with it? Like, can I put it HERE —> (please see picture).

A portable air conditioner — depending on the size — can be a great way to make your interior space in your RV more comfortable. And some models can include nice additional features like a dehumidifier. This can be ideal if you’re going to be in your RV in more humid climates.

What type of custom shop would make a fiberglass blank from your glass window shape? Then, cut a hole in it to fit your window air-conditioner? Would love to take my rear window glass out bring it to a shop and say make this and cut a hole in it so I can fit a particular air conditioner in it. I’m just at the point considering AC for a Chevy 3500 extended wheel base passenger van standard roof height.
There are plenty of steel and aluminum fabrication shops here in New York so my first thought was to have it made of steel or aluminum, contoured to match the existing window and then either hinge it or install some compression clamps to press it into the original window gaskets.
I didn’t plan to drive with a window air conditioner sticking out of my rear window but if I can make the insert strong enough that custom Sunbrella AC cover idea really looks great with a very acceptable appearance.
How I intend to power the AC is another separate post.

The issue with an aluminum or other metal blank is the curve in the back window. The glass is not “flat” it has a pretty good degree bend from top to bottom and has a very small curve from side to side. Finding a metal fab shop to do this would be very expensive and good luck trying to get the correct degree of bend.
Working with fiberglass is pretty easy, I’ll get into that later. 1st I pulled the rear window and seal. Used the window to draw a template on a piece of poster board, still have it. Cut a piece of 1/8” plywood to match template. Got 2 saw horses and put the blanks top edge and bottom edge on the saw horses. I hung 2 one gal cans of paint with coat hangers in the middle of the blank creating a bend in the wood. I used the window I took out to put up against the edge of the blank to match the degree of bend. Next I rolled fiberglass matting on the top side of the blank. Once this dried the bend stayed in the blank then flipped it over and glassed the other side with 3 layers of cloth which would be the outside of the window blank once installed.
Mounted the AC then cut out the blank to match that. MAKE SURE TO GLASS THE EDGES OF THE BLANK SO NO WATER INTRUSION OR IT WILL ROT FROM THE INSIDE OUT. Sanded the outside of the blank then painted with a procedure called roll and tipping, you can see how to do that on you tube. If done correctly it will come out looking just like glass.
All the mounting screws for the blank and AC unit are under where the window seal used to be so if I want to take the unit out all the holes will be covered up by reinstalling the original seal. Ran a bead of silicone where the original seal was and screwed the blank in with stainless screws. When I painted the inside I didn’t sand it smooth I left it so you could see the grain of the matte for a textured look.
Securely mounting the AC was very important, thats why I thru bolted as much as possible. The last thing I want in case of a accident is to have this thing flying up thru the interior and out the front window.
A good Marine Canvas Shop will be able to make the Sunbrella cover which snaps on at 6 points. The last thing I wanted was the Beverly Hillbilly look.
On a quick note on mounting and water draining. When mounting the AC unit I tilted the back down a few degrees so the condensation water dosent run into the van. It’s amazing how much water this thing drips, so much that I put a small hose fitting on the drain pan of the AC. It can be connected to my fresh water tank with a very small hose/tubbing. I can retrieve over a 1/2 gal of water/day.
Anyone needing more specifics on fiberglassing and the install just give me a shout.

Thank you for your explanation of the fiberglass window blank process for the AC install. Tremendously valuable exchange with craftsmen who can post a solution.
Back in the day of my youth I worked for a Steinway piano restoration company. We had to curve the spruce soundboard by wedging bamboo poles between the ceiling and a table template until the glue dried. Your description of the paint buckets curving the plywood brought me back in time to that procedure.
As good as I can make this AC installation look, I definitely do not want to drive with it installed in the rear window of my van for the reasons you stated.
Easy AC removal is a design requirement for me. Working with fiberglass is not in my wheel house however I will not rule it out. I did meet with my metal fabricator today and he mentioned he can cut and roll the window shape in 1/8" sheet stock which is about the thickness of the original glass. We did not get into metal type or cost as he was currently welding a rocker panel on my van. After I finish my hot shower delivery system (in the van) I will take on air cond. and ventilation in about 2-3 weeks.
When I decide and I build a successful AC mounting assembly I will definitely post the results.
Thanks again.

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It sounds like you’ve done extensive research on your AC options. Given your concerns with the fiberglass and potential theft, a portable AC might be your best bet, especially since you have a possible venting spot already. They are less invasive to install and can be secured more easily inside the van. Since you’re willing to invest a decent amount, you should find a reliable model within your budget that meets your cooling needs without sacrificing space or security. Good luck, and stay cool!