How to Install a New Airstream Rooftop Air Conditioner AC Unit
Why Buy a New Airstream Rooftop AC?
Your Airstream rooftop AC has seen its best days, and you are ready to replace it with a new unit. The newer rooftop units are more efficient and do a better job of cooling your Airstream than the older models ever did. This article is intended to help you replace the old rooftop cooling unit yourself with very little effort on your part.
The Airstream travel trailer in this article is a 1986 Airstream Sovereign with an old Coleman Mach rooftop air conditioner. The air conditioner had given good service over the years, but the fan motor was giving problems. We decided replacing the fan motor would cost too much money when we could buy a new unit for a little over twice the price of that work.
Even if we replaced the fan motor, the AC compressor was old and could malfunction at any time, and if it did, we would have to spend more money on repairs than a new rooftop unit would cost. So the obvious solution was to install a new cooling unit on the Airstream Sovereign travel trailer.
Choosing and Buying a New Airstream AC
We chose to go back with a Coleman 13,500-BTU rooftop AC because it had the same overhead clearance as the previous Coleman unit. Also, it came complete with the ceiling assembly and didn't require any other parts, unlike some of the other units made by Carrier and Dometic. It was the best rooftop air conditioner for the money among those we researched, and since it was similar to the unit we already had, we figured replacement would be easier.
Other fine units are made by Carrier and Dometic, also well known for their efficiency and reliability. The choice of make and model is yours. As they are all installed similarly, this article will work just as well for all of them.
Removing the Old AC
Because of the shiny aluminum skin covering most Airstream travel trailers, it is very important to use proper support and padding while replacing the rooftop unit, to prevent damage to the roof covering. This includes removing the old unit carefully and cleaning the roof thoroughly before installing the new one in your Airstream.
Be sure to disconnect the electrical power from the trailer before removing the old unit. Remove the old ceiling assembly and disconnect the main electrical line from the AC unit. If you are hesitant about doing the electrical connections yourself, have someone experienced do this for you.
There are only three wires to disconnect and removing them should pose no problems for you at this time. Remove the four bolts used for attaching the old rooftop unit to the ceiling assembly. After you remove the AC shroud by loosening the four nuts holding it in place, the old rooftop unit can be carefully removed and lowered to the ground.
Rooftop Cleaning and Preparation
In some cases the Airstream AC gasket has been treated with a sealant, perhaps several times over the many camping seasons. These sealants usually cause the old rooftop AC units to be stuck in place which requires using a thin putty knife to separate the old gasket from the Airstream roof. Carefully slide the putty knife beneath the old gasket until the unit can be easily removed.
Remove any lingering roof coating adhesive with a strong solvent, being careful not to let it discolor the area outside of the new gasket contact area. Check for any jagged edges or rough spots which could cause the gasket to allow moisture to seep through. This is a very important step to prevent leaks around the new rooftop AC unit.
Installing the New Air Conditioner
You are now ready to transport the new unit to the rooftop of your Airstream travel trailer. Remove the new protective shroud first, to make the unit easier to handle.
Unless you are very strong, you will need some help getting the unit up to the roof. Be very careful if using ladders, as it is easy to lose your balance while lifting the new air conditioner.
Situating the new unit correctly requires some help so that you don't have to go up and down the ladder several times to check both the inside and the rooftop while you are aligning the new unit. If you loosely connect the four retaining bolts through the ceiling flange, you can move the new rooftop unit around until it is evenly spaced in the 14-inch-square duct hole in the Airstream roof.
Once you have the new unit in the right spot you can tighten the bolts, which compresses the new gasket and insures a watertight seal.
If you purchased the optional heating element for your rooftop AC, proceed to install it according to the enclosed directions. This is a simple plug-in assembly for electrical connections.
Connect the Airstream line electrical wires to the new AC unit by using wire nuts and replacing the cover of the junction box. The ceiling assembly is usually attached by four screws to the ceiling flange. Install the new rooftop AC shroud with the four retaining nuts. Reconnect the power supply to the Airstream, and the job is finished.
Using and Maintaining Your New Airstream AC
Test the new unit to ensure everything is working correctly with no circuit breakers kicking off. Now you are ready to stay cool for many seasons to come while enjoying your classic Airstream travel trailer. Good luck with the installation and congratulations on the money you will save by installing the rooftop unit on your Airstream yourself.
If you do annual maintenance, such as cleaning the coils and oiling the AC fan motor, your unit will efficiently cool your Airstream travel trailer for many years of camping enjoyment for you and your future grandchildren.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2010 Randy Godwin