Mini split air conditioners and heat pumps are efficient and effective systems.
RVs are a great way to get away, relax and see the sites with family and friends.
But do the two mix? Is putting a mini split in an RV a good idea?
Yes, it can be. There are many benefits to enjoy by installing a ductless AC or heat pump in your recreational vehicle. But there are some downsides you should consider before you tackle what can be an expensive upgrade – and a challenging one if you plan to DIY.
This post is mainly about the pros and cons of installing a mini split AC in your RV. But costs and system options are included for you to think about, so you can make an informed decision.
RV Mini Split Pros and Cons
There are definite advantages of using a mini split AC in an RV plus a few disadvantages to consider. Rather than giving a short, bullet-point list, more explanation is provided to give you a complete picture of both sides.
Is a mini split in RV a good idea?
Yes, for these reasons.
Cost: Many 9,000 to 12,000 BTU mini split AC systems cost less than RV ACs from Dometic, Mach or Furion – something to consider if this is an RV AC replacement.
Complete mini split systems up to 12,000 BTU start at about $900. A replacement RV AC costs between $1,000 and $1,200 for most options.
Higher efficiency: Mini split air conditioners have efficiency ratings from 20 to 35 SEER2 (the new Energy Efficiency Rating designation, replacing SEER). In other words, they use far less energy than standard rooftop RV ACs, which average about 10 EER (8-9 EER2). Many mini split ACs are Energy Star certified. If you’re paying for power, this adds up to several $dollars a day. However, if you’re plugged in at a campground, and electricity is included in the cost, lower efficiency doesn’t matter in that sense.
Run longer on battery: Because a mini split is more efficient, you’ll get more cooling from standard battery or solar power battery systems. If you’re off the grid and relying on battery power, expect 2-6 additional hours of AC with a mini split vs RV AC depending on the amount of battery power you have.
Power options: Mini splits in RVs can use electricity from an outlet on the grid (shore power), a generator, standard batteries or a solar power system.
Noise level: Most ductless ACs run in the low/mid-40s in decibels compared to mid-50 decibels for most RV ACs. However, replacing a working RV AC with a mini split is a lot of expense for a relatively small payoff in noise reduction.
Placement options: You can put the indoor unit wherever it makes the most sense for your RV’s floor plan.
Remotes: Almost all mini split systems come with a remote. So you can control the mini split from anywhere without getting up.
There are significant concerns to keep in mind as you weigh your decision to put a mini split in an RV.
Power Needs: 15,000 BTU units and larger require 220V electrical. That takes the installation challenge to the next level plus it means you’ll need significantly more battery power. If you’re using a solar energy system, you might need to increase its size to get the power needed for running the AC for an extended period.
Cost: If your current RV has an AC that works, buying the ductless equipment is an added expense (and yes, that’s obvious) rather than the necessary cost of a replacement AC for one that isn’t working.
Pro Installation Cost: Expect estimates of $1,000 to $1,800 (or more!) to have an RV dealer’s service department install the mini split.
Availability & Wait Time: Most RV service departments that we have talked with do not install mini splits. And if they do, some are scheduling 2-6 months out, especially during peak season. Additionally, many of the mini split contractors we got in touch with do not install mini splits in RVs. You’re left with the DIY option in many areas or waiting for a pro to install the system at a pretty high cost.
DIY Installation is Challenging: This isn’t a beginner-level project. Key tasks along the way include sizing the system correctly, so you’re not too hot and not too cold. Cutting a hole in the RV’s wall (better) or roof (not a great idea) to run the refrigerant line, drain and power – and then sealing the hole to keep out pests and moisture. Mounting the outdoor unit and indoor unit on the 1×2 RV framing so that it is completely secure and won’t come loose when pulling your AC over rough terrain.
Space: Wall-mounted indoor units are the most affordable and common. And they’re pretty large, even for a 9,000 or 12,000 BTU indoor unit. They take up valuable room where space is limited. While a flush-mount ceiling indoor unit takes up little space, installation might not be possible given the framing of your camper, fifth wheel, motorhome, etc.
They’re ductless: You know that, of course. But beware that if the unit isn’t centrally located, you might find that treated (cooled or heated) air doesn’t make it to the areas furthest from the indoor unit. And those close to it might be too cool during AC mode.
DIY Mini Split or Pro-install Option
If you’re going to do it yourself, you need a mini split designed for DIY installation.
What’s a DIY mini split?
It is one that is precharged with refrigerant. This includes the refrigerant lines. Typically, the lines are connected to the outdoor unit and indoor unit. Then valves are opened to allow the refrigerant to flow through the system.
Most mini splits are not DIY. Instead, you have to hire a licensed HVAC technician who has a refrigerant card – a license that allows the technician to purchase refrigerant and charge an AC system with it.
Note: If you choose a DIY mini split, you cannot cut the refrigerant lines to size. Instead, you have to loop or coil the excess line and tuck it away somewhere. There might be room behind the indoor unit.
Buying Tip: A few 12-volt RV mini split ACs are available that eliminate the need to install a power inverter. An inverter allows you to use 12V battery power to power a 120V AC like most mini splits.
They are sold at RV dealers and online at a range of sites including Amazon.
Gouku, for example, makes an affordable 6800 BTU air conditioner designed for RVs and trucks, etc.
ACDC manufactures a 12V 6,000 BTU heat pump that is very efficient and can be battery powered using a standard battery or solar energy system. The unit has been available longer and has more ratings for consumers to consider before buying.
Cost to install Mini Split in RV Units
Here are average costs for both the equipment and labor. These are all single zone mini split systems.
RV Mini Split Price List – Equipment and Installed Cost
|Standard Mini Splits||Equipment Cost||Installation Labor||Total Cost|
|6,000 BTU (110V)||$800 – $1,700||$750 – $2,000||$1,550 – $3,700|
|9,000 BTU (110V)||$850 – $1,850||$750 – $2,000||$1,600 – $3,850|
|12,000 BTU (110V)||$900 – $1,950||$750 – $2,000||$1,650 – $3,950|
|15,000 BTU (220V)||$1,050 – $2,200||$925 – $2,250||$1,975 – $4,450|
|12 Volt Mini Splits||Equipment Cost||Installation Labor||Total Cost|
|6000 – 7000 BTU (12V)||$700 – $2,100||DIY or $900 – $1,750||$1,600 – $3,850|
The RV mini split price list includes both AC-only mini split systems and heat pump systems. Most of the brands suitable for installation in a recreational vehicle or trailer are heat pumps. They deliver both air conditioning and heating.
Pro-installed and DIY systems: The mini split for RV cost table also covers models that must be professionally installed – units made by top names like LG, Gree, Pioneer, Mitsubishi and Fujitsu. DIY brands MrCool and Klimaire were also considered when pricing systems. MrCool especially tends to be a little more expensive than some because it comes precharged with refrigerant and is designed to be easier to install.
The 12 volt mini splits are those discussed above from ACDC, Gouku and other 12V mini split manufacturers.
Where do you put a mini split in an RV?
The most common locations for a mini split indoor unit in an RV are over a bed, alongside cabinets high on a wall or over a couch or seating area.
Can you install a dual zone mini split in an RV?
Yes. It is rarely done. But in a large travel trailer, 5th wheel or Class A motorhome, you might want two separate indoor units.