If the ducted air conditioner unit in your RV is no longer up to par, unable to keep the vehicle nice and cool, it’s time to swap it out. Once you’ve decided to make the change, picked out the new unit, and either picked it up or had it delivered, it’s time to get it in place. You could hire someone to set everything up for you, but DIY savvy RV owners might see this as a great project opportunity.
Installing a new AC in an RV might seem like a difficult task. In actuality, it’s a very doable project that requires just the right tools, know-how, and time. Buying a ducted AC is a costly affair, but if you know how to install it, you’ll better know how to repair it down the line. This will ultimately save you a little bit of money; money you can spend enjoying your time on the road.
To install a ducted air conditioner on your RV, you’ll need to follow a few basic steps, starting with either removing the shroud or removing the inside panel. Then, remove the ceiling assembly on your air conditioner. Disconnect the wiring, remove the retaining flange bolts, and use a putty knife to separate the gasket.
RV Ducted Air Conditioner Installation
When you go about your RV ducted air conditioner installation, it might be in your best interest to have a friend help out. Having another hand on deck to help out will not just make it go faster, but it will also keep you safe while you’re on the roof of the RV.
Just as with any RV installation, do not attempt some aspects of this that you’re not completely confident with. If you think you might hurt yourself, or potentially damage the unit or your RV, call a technician. They’ll have the skills and training to do it correctly.
That said, it is not too hard to install a ducted AC in your RV. The installation will have two parts: the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ components.
It might seem obvious, but if you find that your AC unit isn’t cooling down the inside of the RV, check the filter. A dirty filter could be what is keeping it from working at top performance. Try your AC again after replacing the filter to see if this is what is causing the malfunction.
It’s best to replace the filter every two months. This will keep the AC working the best it can, ensuring maximum longevity.
Another thing that could be causing the ducted AC to not work correctly is a dirty cold air return. The cold air return is responsible for rerouting air through the vents so that it can escape. When this gets filled with dust, lint, or debris, your ACs performance will weaken.
If you notice the air inside your RV is dusty or dirty, check the cold air return. Cleaning this out is easier and cheaper than replacing the entire unit.
How Does A Ducted RV AC Work?
The two types of RV air conditioners are non-ducted and ducted. Non-ducted models pump air out of the bottom section of the unit. They use a lower vent system to achieve this. The ducted styles are what you’d see in a motorhome, something with multiple ducts in the ceiling. If your RV has multiple rooms with vents, it has a ducted system.
A ducted RV AC works by distributing the air through all of the ducts that are connected to it. This allows the entirety of the cabin to be cooled down at once. Non-ducted will cool one area, but in a strong enough way that it might be felt in other rooms.
Step One: Prepare
Before you begin, you’ll need to get everything ready. Set aside a few hours to work on this, so you don’t have to leave the project half done. Make sure you start early in the day so that you
have plenty of daylight to work with, but keep aside time to head inside if it gets hot.
As a part of the process, you’re going to be removing and replacing the shroud. If you’re replacing the ducted air conditioner with one of a different make or model, be sure to measure. You’ll need to be sure that the old shroud will fit on the new unit.
Do not begin this project if you’re still hooked up to shore power. If you have an inverter, turn the breaker off. You don’t want any power flowing through to the AC.
To undergo a ducted air conditioner installation, you will also need to gather up a few essential tools. Most of these tools are something you might already have in any standard tool kit.
- Putty knife
- Electrical tape
It will also help to have a blanket, tarp, or drop cloth to put down while you’re working. To protect your hands, gloves that will keep them safe while still allowing your hands to move detrously are your best bet.
If you’re starting inside, you can move on to step two.
If you’re starting outside, head up to the roof of your RV. Lay your drop cloth or tarp down around the area where the new ducted AC is going to be installed. If you’re unsure if the roof of the vehicle will be able to support your weight, surround the frame with plywood or planks to supply additional support. Then, go to step three.
Step Two: Remove Inside Components
Inside the RV you’ll find the panel where your AC vents come from the roof of your RV. You’ll want to remove the four screws that hold that panel into place, revealing the internal components.
Your ducted AC is more or less comprised of two major parts: the interior part that you’ll see within the cabin of the RV, and the exterior. The exterior is going to be on the roof, which you’ll have either already removed or will be removing next.
Remove the four flange bolts that are on the metal base of the interior component. There should be one in each corner. Their function is to hold on to the inside of the ceiling, and to pull the AC down. This creates a sort of ‘clamp’ to keep everything in place.
Disconnect the 120 volt wire that comes out of the side of the frame of the RV. It will be a bundle of three wires combined into one tubing in most models. Use a pair of heavy rubber gloves and work carefully to disconnect these wires, making sure to not lose track of them.
Step Three: Remove The Shroud Outside
A ducted RV air conditioning unit will have a shroud around it. The shroud is a sort of ‘shell’ that goes around the actual AC unit that will protect it from external damage. It’s made of extra durable plastic, fiberglas, or ABS plastic. It will cover the entirety of the AC itself.
There are a lot of things that your AC’s shroud is protecting it from, but it takes a beating while it does so. It is exposed to elements like rain, tree branches, hail, and sun damage. While it’s meant to be durable, it will eventually wear down.
If you’re replacing a ducted air conditioner, you might want to consider replacing the shroud. You can just use the same one that was present on the old unit, but take a look at it before you decide to. Check it for any potential damages. Sun damage in particular could have caused the shroud to become brittle.
If you need to replace the shroud, now is a good time to get it done. Make sure that your new shroud is going to be completely compatible with the new ducted air conditioner. It’s best to find one that is from the same manufacturer.
To remove the shroud, use a wrench or screwdriver to loosen and remove the bolts. There are usually going to be about four screws on the shroud holding it down. If you find any bits of putty or adhesive around the edges, use your putty knife to scrape it away.
Step Four: Unbolt
There are going to be bolts directly on the air conditioner that are directly holding it down. They’ll likely be set into a bracket that is threaded into the rooftop of the RV itself. Specifically, you’ll find a rubber seal that is securing the bolts to the roof.
When you remove the bolts, you’ll release the ceiling flange. Loosen up the ducting and then use your putty knife once more to loosen the AC entirely from the rooftop. If you want to clean off any dirt or debris that might have slipped under the unit or the shroud, now is the perfect time to do so.
Warm water and soap rubbed on with a coarse rag should loosen up any dirt, assuming you were able to remove all of the putty. You can also use a cleaning sponge, such as a Magic Eraser, to brighten up dingy spots.
Now is a good time to check for any additional cracks or damages that might lead to leaks in the future. Use a spackle or sealant putty to seal them back up.
Step Five: Place The AC
Now you need to hoist your new unit up to the roof if you have not done so already. It’s best to have someone help you with this, as it will undoubtedly be large and heavy. You’re going to be setting the AC right into the place where the old one went. Position it above the duct hole, ensuring that it will line up perfectly.
The roof will have an opening, usually 14 x 14 or 16 x 16 for the ducted AC to go. The gasket needs to be perfectly aligned here to ensure that everything will be able to screw into place correctly. If possible, have one person go inside while the other stays on the roof. This will help you ensure that everything is lining up right.
When you purchased the new ducted AC unit, you’ll have seen an instruction or owner’s manual packaged with it. Follow the instructions detailed out in the manual for how to turn the ceiling assembly flange. This varies from model to model.
Secure the bolts to the rooftop and make sure they’re tightly in place.Like with the assembly flange, this is going to depend on the model you’re using, with different brands having their own specifics about the process.
If need be, use a bit of putty or adhesive to get the bolts and screws tightly in place.
Step Six: Connect Electrical Components
Head down from the roof and back into the RV. Connect the wire and the line inside the ceiling assembly junction box. They’re usually color coded, which will make it much easier to match them to the correct connectors.
The new AC will include wire nuts that will also assist in finalizing the connections between each component.
You shouldn’t have any exposed wiring when you’re finished, as everything should have been matched accordingly. If you do find that you have straggling wires, disconnect and start again, ensuring that you’re meeting each piece appropriately.
To further fortify these connections, use a few rounds of electrical tape to hold everything together.
As this is a step that uses electrical wiring, you might need to get the help of an electrician instead.
Step Seven: Replace The Filter
Now you can replace the filter cover. You can also attach the shroud back on the roof again to protect and guard the newly installed unit from debris. Fasten the shroud with screws, working in the reverse order that you started in.
With that, once you’ve cleaned everything up and ensured that everything is back in place, you are done with your RV ducted air conditioner installation.
Depending on if you own, lease, or rent your RV, you might need to consult your warranty first before you take part in such a detailed installation. Replacing the ducted AC in an RV could potentially void your warranty.
Keeping Your RV Ducted Air Conditioner Working Smoothly
After the installation of your RV air conditioner, you’ll want to make sure you give it the best chance to work well for as long as possible. After you spend so long toiling away to get it installed, the last thing you’ll want to do is install it again in two years.
Thankfully, there are a few ways you can keep your AC running in top condition for years to come. Above, it was mentioned that you should always check the filter and the air return on a ducted AC model. There are a few more things you should keep in mind to preserve your unit.
Mind The Condenser Coil
One thing you can do to make sure your AC runs perfectly is to keep an eye on the condenser coil. If they’re pinched or blocked, they’ll fail to properly pump cold air into the cabin. The fans, ideally, should work to drive hot air out of the vehicle, not into it.
If you need to clean the condenser coils, it’s a fairly worthwhile thing you can do to keep the AC cooling your ride for many sweltering summers to come.
To Clean Your RV AC Condenser Coil
- Disconnect from shore power or flip any breakers to ensure that 120 volt power is not connected to the unit at all. Kill the battery switch on it as well, if there is one. Basically, you want to completely power everything down.
- Climb to the roof and remove the shroud, just as you did in the installation.
- Remove the top condenser coil sheet metal support that’s at the top of the unit to get to the coils. Depending on your unit, you might need to move or unscrew other pieces until you get to where you can clean the coils.
- Use a dry bristle brush and a shop vac to do a ‘dry’ cleaning first. This will loosen and remove any bigger bits of dust and debris.
- Add a cleaning solution to the condenser coils and let it soak for a bit. Lay a towel or tarp down under it to catch any extra liquids. Make sure you keep water or liquid from entering the evaporator air intake hole. You’ll also want to make sure the water collection pan below the evaporator is clean.
- Lower the tongue jack down and tilt the whole RV downhill. This is going to help the water run away from the air conditioner, instead of toward it and into the more sensitive parts.
- Spray the coils with a water hose and let the water run away. It will clear out any extra dirt and all of the remaining soap.
- Use an air compressor to blow out and dry the extra water. Give the compressor time to thoroughly dry before you put it back together again and finish up.
A lot of RV owners don’t pay as much attention to the condenser cables as they should. It might have been a very long time since they last saw a bit of cleaning, but it’s important that they get this attention. You don’t have to do this super frequently. Once or twice a year will have a noticeable impact on how well the AC works.
It’s best to do this when the weather is still cool, as you’ll be able to keep the AC off without getting too uncomfortably warm in its absence. Plan to do this in the late winter or spring, before it gets warm enough to crank up the air conditioning. You’ll be sure that the unit will keep working just as it should through the hottest months of the year.
Keep It Cool
Something else you can do to keep your RV AC in the best condition is to park in the shade. When the interior of the RV gets hotter, you’ll be reaching for the thermostat or AC controls more often to keep yourself cool. This leads to a harder working air conditioner unit- one that is going to break down much faster.
When it gets hotter, the AC is exerting as much effort as it can. Keeping the temperature low help the interior cool down faster when you turn the unit on. Having it on for shorter periods of time is a lifesaver in terms of keeping up longevity.
Another way to keep the inside cool is to use the windows to your advantage. In some places, a cool breeze coming in from an open window will help the room feel nice and cool without the need to run the AC.
On the other hand, when the AC is running, be sure to keep the windows tightly closed. You don’t want to allow any of the cool air to escape. Instead, you want it to trap and build within the space of your AC so that it stays completely comfortable. This maximizes the cooling prowess of your ductwork air conditioning unit. It will keep working better for you longer.
An unusual trick, but LED lights will have a small but worthy impact on how cool or hot your space gets. Fluorescent bulbs will heat the area up more, making the AC work a bit harder. In contrast, LED bulbs keep it just a few degrees cooler.
When you go through an RV ducted air conditioner installation, you’ll need to remove the outer shroud and the interior panel. That will give you access to more or less the central system. Once you’ve replaced the unit by lining it up with the previous hole, you’ll connect the wiring and re-seal everything.
It’s a relatively simple process, one that you can get done in the better part of a day if you’ve set your mind to it. As long as you’re thorough and careful with everything, the ducted AC installation should go smoothly.