The 3 Best Rooftop Air Conditioners For Vans

by Vera Lawrence | LAST UPDATED August 12, 2020

Best Rooftop Air Conditioners for Vans
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Rooftop air conditioners for vans are a pricey, but often essential van life addition. Ask any seasoned van dweller what the worst part about #vanlife is, and I bet you'll hear some complaints about the heat. Sleeping in a van is great during shoulder seasons, but if you're living in your van in the summer or winter, you need to figure out a cooling and heating solution.

If you've ever tried to sleep outside (or in a van) when it's 90 degrees at 1:00 in the morning, you know what I'm talking about.

If you live near the mountains, a ton of van lifers choose to park their homes at higher elevations to cool down. But what if you're in the deserts of Arizona or Moab?

Rooftop airconditioner graphic

One solution is some sort of vent fan. But a fan can only get you so far. They work great if it's only 70 or 80 degrees, but once you hit the mid-80s, you'll be begging for some good ole' fashion air conditioning.

I'm sure you've seen old-school vans with window air conditioning units sticking out the back, but that's not a great solution. Besides the obvious aesthetic downsides, window units are heavy, loud, and suck up a lot of power, meaning they don't really make sense if you are using a solar setup.

If you're looking for something a little sleeker, we suggest looking at rooftop air conditioners. Rooftop air conditioners are more lightweight than their window unit counterparts and are specifically designed for use on RVs. And if an RV can use it, why can't a van!? And as an added bonus, most rooftop AC units can also heat your van in the winter!


The Best Rooftop Air Conditioners for Vans Winner: Dometic Brisk II Rooftop Air Conditioner

The best roof top air conditioners for vans

Dometic makes some of the best appliances for van life (including one of our favorite 12v refrigerators), and the Dometic Brisk II Rooftop Air Conditioner is no exception. Since this is designed for much larger RVs (think 30-40 ft), it has absolutely no problem keeping a van cool. In fact, this is probably overkill for most people outside of the Southwest (like Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah).

Our biggest gripe about the Dometic Brisk II Rooftop Air Conditioner is the price. Right now it is selling for around $700. According to Amazon price trackers, you can get it for closer to $400 if you wait until winter.

Important Notes:


The Runner-Up: Furrion CHILL Rooftop Air Conditioner

Honestly, if it wasn't for the name brand and customer service of Dometic, the Furrion CHILL Rooftop Air Conditioner might be our top pick simply because it comes with a control unit. This 14,500 BTU rooftop air conditioning unit is also a little cheaper than the Dometic (right now, at least) even before you factor in the additional control unit you have to buy with the Dometic.

Almost every reviewer says that the Furrion unit is extremely quiet and can keep RVs up to 35ft long cold even when temperatures reach the triple digits. The most common complaint is that installation can be complicated and the instructions are unclear. On top of that, Furrion's customer service has left some purchasers with a bad taste in their mouths.

But if you consider yourself handy and are looking to save a couple of hundred dollars, this is the unit for you.


The Final Pick: Dometic Penguin II

If you're looking for a more aerodynamic option, check out the Dometic Penguin II. This 13,500 BTU unit is less than 10 inches tall, which is excellent if your van is already on the taller side or if you spend a lot of time in low-clearance areas.

Keep in mind, just like the Dometic Brisk II, this unit DOES NOT come with a control panel, so you'll have to purchase that separately. This unit is also a little more expensive, but it's worth it if you need it very cold at night to get some shut-eye.

When researching the best rooftop air conditioners for vans, we came across this unit a ton. The main reason that it's not at the top of the list is because of the price - its almost double the price of the Brisk II.


Benefits of Rooftop Air Conditioners for Vans

  • Keep you cool (duh).
  • No need to turn the vehicle AC on in the middle of the night.
  • Much sleeker than DIY window units.

Downsides of Rooftop Air Conditioners for Vans

  • Not compatible with pop-tops.
  • Installation is a lot of work.
  • Expensive (especially if you need to buy the roof gasket and control unit separately).
  • Add to the height of your van (watch out for low branches)!
  • If you are installing on a van, you might not meet the warranty requirements since most are technically designed for RVs.
Vera Lawrence
Vera is a part-time van lifer after spending nearly four years in her 1990 Ford E350 (named Fred). She currently lives in Utah and takes extended weekend trips into the desert with her two dogs. She is an ice cream fanatic and avid runner.
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