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It can be very difficult to keep an RV cool in hot weather. The camper's windows amplify the sun's rays, creating a greenhouse effect that quickly raises the indoor temperature, making it difficult to keep cool even with an RV air conditioner.
If you're camping with no AC, whether because you're boondocking or because your RV doesn't have one, staying cool becomes even more challenging. After all, a camper is a vehicle, and if you think about how hot a car can get in the summer, you'll understand how difficult it can be to sleep without air conditioning in an RV or camper van.
In this article, I'll share some tips for keeping your trailer or motorhome as cool as possible without having to use air conditioning. I'll also provide some links to where to buy RV air conditioners, and some alternatives to air conditioning. Finally, I'll give you some ideas for keeping cool when escaping the heat isn't an option.
Tip #1: Reduce sunlight entering the RV.
Sunlight coming through RV windows causes indoor temperatures to rise due to the greenhouse effect.
To combat this, many RVers keep their shades closed and put Reflectix (a silver material similar to bubble wrap which can be purchased Lowe's or Home Depot) between the window shade and the glass.
When I was at an RV park in Texas in the middle of the summer, I closed the blinds and put a sheet of Reflectix in my south-facing window during the hottest part of the day, but normally I prefer methods of keeping out the sun that don't make my RV dark inside or prevent me from seeing out the window, which is why I looked for other ways to cut down on the sun's rays entering my RV.
Reflective window film
One way to reduce the amount of sunlight that enters your camper yet still be able to enjoy the view out your windows as well as the natural daylight they provide is to add reflective window film to your RV windows.
This static-cling film, which is applied on the inside of the glass, creates a two-way mirror effect where the windows appear slightly tinted from the inside and look like a mirror from the outside. You can purchase it in the size that you need on Amazon. An added benefit is that once the film has been applied, you don't have the hassle of having to regularly add and remove Reflectix to your windows.
I added reflective window film to the windows in my hallway, which was often warmer than the rest of the RV, and it made a big difference.
I also put some of the film on the window next to my husband's side of the bed to keep the sun from waking him up in the morning, which had previously been happening even with the window shades closed. In the picture below you can see the difference it made.
A word of caution: The sun's glare on reflective RV windows can be dangerous to other cars when you're driving down the highway, so you might want to use highly reflective window film sparingly and avoid putting it on the back of your RV (like in the picture above).
You also won't want to put window tinting on a motorhome windshield, since that could affect your own vision.
RV Windshield Sun Shades
The big front windshield of a motorhome is one of the worst culprits when it comes to heating up an RV, but there are several products on the market designed specifically to help combat this problem.
Many RVers use Reflectix for this purpose, but you can also buy reflective RV windshield sun shades that are designed for the purpose and easy to store:
This one has the added benefit of providing extra insulation in cold weather as well as keeping out the sun in hot weather:
RV Windshield Sun Screens That You Can See Through
If you're looking to reduce the heat in your Class C motorhome and have more privacy during the day but don't want the inside of your RV to feel like you're living in a cave or lose the view out the front window, I would recommend getting a sun shade for your front window that still allows some light to pass through, like this motorhome sun shade from ShadePro. This high-quality windshield cover comes in several different colors and easily attaches to your RV with magnets.
ShadePro also sells a very nice see-through windshield cover for Class A motorhomes that covers not only the front window but also the driver's and passenger side windows and comes with wiper blade covers to keep the rubber of your wiper blades from deteriorating in the sun.
Exterior RV Window Covers
You can also get RV window coverings that go on the outside of RV windows and block up to 94% of the light coming in yet still allow you to see out, much like a window screen. These exterior window shades come in multiple colors to match the look of your RV.
RV Window Awnings
In addition to filtering the light coming through your windows, adding RV window awnings can make a big difference as well by shading your windows during the hottest part of the day. ShadePro carries RV window awnings in multiple colors, and also sells replacement fabric for worn-out RV window awnings, including one type of fabric that you can still see through.
Door Window Cover
If you have a lot of heat coming through the window on the door of your RV, Camco brand makes a reflective door window cover that fastens over the window with Velcro. (If you already have some Reflectix and some Velcro, you can just make your own, but if you have to buy the materials, it might be cheaper to get the one that's already made.)
You could hang some curtains over it with an adhesive curtain rod to make it look prettier.
Covers for Skylights and Roof Vents
Another thing that can help lower the temperature inside your RV when you're running the AC is to prevent sunlight coming through skylights and roof vents. You can get a plush square pillow that fits perfectly inside the roof vent that not only blocks and reflects sun in the summer but also reduces heat loss in cold weather.
Reflectix can be put over skylights and vents as well. An RVer named Bob Lochridge shared with me this clever tip for holding Reflectix in place by fastening string to the slightly loosened the screws of a plastic skylight frame.
As a fancier option, you can purchase reflective RV skylight covers on Amazon that use magnets to hold them in place.
Personally I enjoy natural daylight in my shower, and I also like to keep plants in my shower that need light, so to prevent my RV bathroom from getting quite so hot while still letting some light through, I cut a piece of white coroplast (corrugated plastic “cardboard” – I used a blank yard sale sign from Lowe's) to fit over my skylight and attached it with acrylic mounting tape. (I initially tried Velcro but the adhesive did not hold due to steam from the shower.)
Here's a quick video showing how I put the skylight cover in place:
Tip #2: Cool the air surrounding the RV.
Park in the shade.
This one is obvious and not an option for everyone, but if you can choose a shady spot, it makes a BIG difference.
Create your own shade.
If you can't park in the shade, using your awning will not only provide you with a shady place to sit, but will also prevent the sun's rays from beating against the side of your RV and into the windows located under it. You can even add a screen to your awning to increase the number of shady hours.
If your RV doesn't have an awning, you can add one! Click here to shop RV awnings for campers and motorhomes of all sizes and types.
Use RV skirting to your advantage.
If you have already purchased or made your own RV skirting for winter, using it in the summer as well can keep the space under your RV cool. Since heat rises, the difference probably isn't worth investing in RV skirting for cooling purposes alone, but if you have it anyway, every little bit you can do to cool the air that's in contact with your RV helps. Just be sure to check the rules of your RV park as some places prohibit skirting from being used in summer, and other places prohibit it altogether.
Tip #3: Increase Air Circulation
Adding fans throughout your RV will help the air temperature feel a couple of degrees cooler, even if you're not using an air conditioner. Purchasing fans that can be mounted on the wall or ceiling will be one less item to have to secure when your camper is in motion.
If you just need a way to stay a little cooler while boondocking overnight, one or two of these rechargeable battery-powered camping fans might be the perfect solution. They even have a built-in LED light as an added bonus.
Use your roof vents.
If you're trying to keep cool in an RV without AC, for example while parking overnight without electrical hookups, you'll definitely want to open your roof vents to allow hot air to escape. Additionally, if your roof vents have an electric fan, they will pull out the hot air that has risen to the ceiling and draw cooler air in to replace it through any open windows.
If your RV doesn't have air conditioning or you do a lot of boondocking, you might want to invest in a more efficient and high-powered roof vent fan. Two models I've seen other RV owners recommend are the Fan-tastic Vent and the Maxx Fan from Maxx Air.
Tip #4: Don't heat up the kitchen
As much as possible, avoid cooking inside your RV. Cook outside on a grill or over a campfire, or eat cold foods such as sandwiches, wraps, and salads.
Personally, I find that my body stays cooler when I eat cold foods during the hottest part of the day. I especially enjoy pasta salads, as a snack I love watermelon. 🙂
Tip #5: Cool the air inside your RV
The most effective way to cool down a camper is with one or more air conditioners. If your RV doesn't have one, or if you would like to add a second one, Camping World sells a wide variety of brands and models on their website.
When we were in Texas in the middle of the summer, we had a hard time keeping our 38-foot fifth wheel RV cool even with both our air conditioners running, so we finally broke down and purchased a third free-standing air conditioner. After that, we had no trouble keeping our RV as cold as we wanted it, even in the hottest part of the day.
I also believe that a portable air conditioner like the one we bought, which is vented out a window and has a built-in dehumidifier, would do just fine on its own cooling a small RV in moderate heat.
I have actually seen RV's with window unit air conditioners propped up on a stand built from 2'x4′ lumber, so that's always an option as well.
You'll just need to make sure that your RV's electrical system is capable of handling any air conditioners you add, or you can do what we did and run an extension cord out the window of the RV to plug the extra unit directly into the your campsite's power pedestal.
If you do much camping off grid, or often stay overnight at places that don't have electrical hookups, you may need to supplement your power with an RV generator.
Evaporative Coolers: An Alternative to AC
An evaporative cooling system (also known as a “swamp cooler”) is a cheaper alternative to air conditioning that also requires less electricity. There's just one big caveat: They don't work in humid climates. But if you do most of your RVing in a dry climate, they are a great option.
You can find a variety of portable swamp coolers for sale on Amazon at different price ranges to cool different sizes of space.
One that's a little bit different is the TurboKool 12-volt evaporative cooler that is installed on the roof of an RV in place of a regular RV air conditioner.
If electrical hookups and generators are absolutely not an option for you and you're just dying in the heat and looking for some relief in your truck, camper van, or very small motorhome, you might take a look at the 12v-powered MightyKool. The manufacturer is adamant about letting people know that it is NOT an air conditioner and won't cool an entire vehicle, but if you read the reviews you'll find several people who enjoy using them while sleeping in a vehicle.
Another cheap, off-grid option is to build your own battery-powered swamp cooler. This article by Popular Mechanics links to several tutorials.
Bonus: 3 Tips for Keeping YOURSELF Cool
1. Stay hydrated.
Drinking plenty of fluids is important when you're sweating a lot, and cold beverages are especially refreshing!
2. Create a misting system.
You know those oscillating fans that spray a cool mist on you while you're in line for rides at amusement parks? You can turn any outdoor fan into one by hooking it up to a garden hose with this fan mist kit:
You could also skip the fan and just hang one of these misting hoses from your RV awning or somewhere else in your campsite:
This misting fan requires no assembly; it has reservoir that you fill with water so you can just plug it in and start cooling down:
And finally, this misting fan is powered by a RECHARGEABLE BATTERY, so it works even when you're off grid!
3. Get an outdoor air conditioner.
The BougeRV portable air conditioner is designed for use while camping. You can easily carry it around and aim it at you wherever you're sitting.
4. Cool off with an inflatable pool.
Sometimes the only way to stay cool is to get in the water! If you don't have access to a beach, lake, river, or pool nearby, you might consider getting a small wading pool for your feet, or even a lounge pool that you can fully immerse yourself in! (If you live in your RV full time and have been missing having a bathtub, you'll especially enjoy this idea!)
If space in your RV is limited, you might consider one of these inflatable pools:
Hopefully one or more of the ideas I've shared in this article will help you stay cooler while you're RVing! If you have any suggestions I've missed, please leave a comment below!
For more tips and ideas related to RVing, check out my Resource Library!