How to Stay Cool in Your RV, Camper, or Motorhome

Updated on February 5, 2018
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don is a retired engineer and long-time motorhome owner who enjoys helping readers deal with the increasingly complex technology of RVs.

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During the summertime, your camper can get as hot as a tin can sitting in the sun. But with a little planning, you can set up your camper to maximize cool air flow, keeping the temperature inside the cabin comfortable.

It doesn't matter if you have a simple pop-up camper or a massive motor coach loaded with personal luxuries, with the right tools and tips, you can prevent your living space from getting hotter than necessary.

In this article, I'll outline a number of common sense tips to help you stay cool in the hottest of weather.

The Basics

There are some basic rules of nature you need to recognize before attempting to keep cool in your motorhome. Once you familiarize yourself with these simple facts, you can use them to your advantage:

  1. It will be cooler at night than during the day.
  2. The sun always rises in the east and sets in the west.
  3. It is cooler in the shade than in direct sunlight.
  4. Moving air will cool your body, while still air will seem hot and sticky.
  5. Hot air rises. Cold air drops.

1. Utilize Shade

Often, the temperature in the shade can be five or more degrees cooler than in direct sunlight. When you pull into a campground in the summer, always ask the check-in staff if they have a shady campsite available. An ideal campsite will have a shady tree or two to pull your vehicle under. If your camper is a dark color, it will absorb a lot more heat, so pay special attention to finding shady locations. Below are some other ways to create shade so you can stay cool.

Windows and Main Awnings

When you set up your motorhome, open all of your window awnings. These awnings provide a blanket of shade over your windows, cooling the air around the exterior of the vehicle.

Also, try to pick a campsite that allows your largest awning to be either on the east or west side of your motorhome, depending on when you plan to spend the most time outside. If you intend to be mostly outside in the morning, situate your motorhome with the awning facing east. If you intend to be mostly outside in the evening, situate your motorhome with the awning facing west.

Many campers with built-in awnings have sunscreens attached to the outer edges. These sunscreens can be lifesavers if your camper is sitting in the afternoon sun. Be sure to utilize them.

Tarps

Don't be afraid to stretch a tarp over your campground for added shade. Tarps are cheap, easy to store, and can cool down your campsite dramatically.

Umbrellas

If you have a big beach umbrella, use it! Even if you're not near the beach, stick your umbrella in the ground, open it up, and enjoy the extra little area of shade it provides.

A shady spot in Sedona, Arizona.
A shady spot in Sedona, Arizona. | Source

2. Create Air Circulation

If your A/C can't handle the job of cooling your motorhome, open the windows on the shady side of the vehicle and keep the windows in the direct sunlight closed. This will create natural air circulation.

Another way to maintain good air circulation is to set up the vehicle in a position where your ceiling fans are pulling in cool air and not hot air. One common mistake motorhome owners make is situating their van in a hot place and then funneling hot air into the cabin by turning on the fans.

Also, be sure to close the shades on the sunny side of your RV to keep sunlight out. Many people will even place a sun reflector in the windows which are receiving the most sunlight.

Ceiling Fans

Once your camper is set up as described above, you can utilize your ceiling fan to suck the hot air out of your RV and pull cooler air in. This is especially important if you are cooking inside your RV. You want to get that hot air outside immediately.

3. Use Your Air Conditioning

Most motorhomes today have at least one roof A/C unit. When used with a little forethought, you can maximize its effectiveness while minimizing power consumption.

For the most part, the A/C should be unnecessary, provided you are utilizing shade, window screens, and awnings as described above. Sometimes, though, these power-saving tricks aren't enough to cool the cabin of the vehicle. Once the temperature inside the motorhome approaches 75° F or so, turn the A/C on, close all of the windows, and leave your ceiling fan on. This will allow the fan to pull out the hot air near the ceiling, and reduce the load on the A/C unit somewhat.

If the temperature inside the motorhome has reached 85° F or higher and your A/C is not bringing the temperature down, you should consider turning it off and opening your motorhome up for more air circulation.

Save Energy by Turning Off Your A/C During the Early Evening

Before dusk, you will notice the outside air temperature is dropping. It may still be hot, but it will be noticeably cooler than it was during the midday hours.

At this point, turn off your A/C, open all of your windows, turn the ceiling fan on high, and get that cool evening air flowing into the cabin.

Once your inside temperature has dropped enough, you can turn your A/C back on if needed. This process will minimize your electricity usage.

4. Cook Outside

If you plan properly, you can do a lot of your cooking outside, thus reducing the temperature inside the cabin. Here are a few tips:

  1. Use a grill, electric frying pan, electric broiler, crock pot, or something similar.
  2. Plan your meals and buy groceries accordingly. You should be able to prepare everything outside.
  3. Make cooking an outdoor social event by setting up chairs and tables nearby.

Make Leftovers

Another great time and electricity saver is to cook enough for the next day(s). It takes a lot less time and energy to warm up leftovers than to cook one meal at a time.

Eat Chilled Foods

Save energy and stay cool by adding fresh vegetables and fruits to the menu. Your family or guests will love a dish of refreshing foods on a blistering hot day.

Cook meals outside to keep the interior of the RV cool.
Cook meals outside to keep the interior of the RV cool. | Source

5. Plan Your Day to Stay Away

What most people call the heat of the day is usually considered to be from 11am to one hour before sunset. One smart way to stay cool is to plan your day so that you are out of the motorhome during these hours. For example, you could:

  • Shop for groceries
  • See sites
  • Go fishing
  • Go boating
  • Go swimming
  • Go on a hike

The main point is to stay out of your camper during these extremely hot hours. This shouldn't be too difficult, though. Just enjoy the outdoors!

How to Operate an RV Awning (Video)

Questions & Answers

    © 2010 Don Bobbitt

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      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        3 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

        Crystal - Do not use BLACK. BLACK colored items absorb heat. If you want to reflect the exterior sun's heat, use metallic reflectors such as aluminum foil or even the reflectors people buy and put in the windshield of their cars. They do not absorb heat and they will make a difference in the heat inside your trailer.

        DON

      • profile image

        crystal 

        3 weeks ago

        hello I live in florida and it gets super hot here during the summer months.. I live in a trailer and have put black trashbags over my windows to keep the heat out of the trailer to try and lower my electric bill also.. I also have 2 cats and a dog inside the trailer.. is it safe to put black trash bags over my windows? I need to know before I go back to work tomorrow. thanks

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        6 weeks ago from Ruskin Florida

        Sandra - I would recommend that you always disconnect the input power whenever you're going to be away from your camper. Why tempt fate and electrical storms???

        Good Luck,

        DON

      • profile image

        Sandra 

        6 weeks ago

        Hi. I have a fifth wheel that I stay only part time in, mostly a weekend get away. Is it best to keep the AC on when I'm not there or is turning it off the right choice?

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        2 months ago from Ruskin Florida

        Char Baby - First of all NEVER impede the flow of air to and from your roof AC. That tarp idea could be dangerous.

        If you really are there permanently, then you should consider having one of those portable or permanent "carports" over your RV. And, I have see some permanent camping families place a small supplemental window AC in one of their camper windows to help cool things during peak heat conditions. Then when they are ready to leave, they just pull the small AC, replace the window and go on their way.

        Good Luck,

        DON

      • profile image

        CharBaby 

        2 months ago

        Hi so I had no choice and had to put my travel trailer in full sun and we plan to live here permanently and now that its getting hot I turned the ac on and it won’t shut off till I turn it off. So I thought it was broke had it checked and everything is fine. So now I am thinking that its because its in full sun and I have to admit it is very hot in here. I have all the window blinds closed what else would you recommend and do you think that the ac is running all the time cause of the full sun also? I thought about putting a tarp over the roof and ac for a temporary fix let me know your thoughts please and thanks

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        2 months ago from Ruskin Florida

        Ronald. The exact temperature reduction is impossible to predict without a lot more information, but there will be significant savings operating your AC. And if your shed roof is high enough a n breeze will help even more.

        I know a number of RV owners who will place theirs under a shed on a lot they own and they then have a second vacation home.

        In fact, several years ago, I had some physical problems and couldn't drive my motorhome very far.

        So, I purchased a fifth-wheel and set it up on a lot in my Moose Club in Virginia, near where my kids lived. We would either drive a car up or fly there, and stay for weeks at a time.

        It was a great solution for me, and I didn't need a shed because my campsite had several large Oak trees that shaded my RV.

        So, Good Luck with your project.

        DON

      • profile image

        Ronald 

        2 months ago

        I live in my RV fulltime. I am going to put a metal shed over it. What would be the difference in degrees under the metal awning versus exposed to direct sunlight? Thanks.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        15 months ago from Ruskin Florida

        Tammy - Remember the basic rule that; Cool Air cannot get into a home if the Hot Air cannot get out. Use this basic fact to plan which doors and windows to open.

        DON

      • profile image

        Tammy 

        15 months ago

        Have u ever known anyone to board up all windows other than the kitchen ones. The person I no thinks it will stay cooler. Is that true if u only open the top 3 squares and door

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        17 months ago from Ruskin Florida

        Lauren in South Texas - Wow! 100-pounds!

        OK, I'm no expert, but here's what I would do;

        1- Buy that screen room. a nice large one (12x12 or larger?).

        2- Place it where it will be in any air flow you can find, do not place it right up next to your camper.

        3- Make sure the "sunny side" and roof have shade without impeding the air flow.

        4- make sure there is a large water supply there every day for your dog. One that cannot be turned over.

        5- Talk to one of your fellow long term campers and ask them to drop by during the "heat of the day" and checks on your dog and refills the water supply if necessary. Many fellow campers, especially other dog owners might be willing to do this for you.

        I don't know of what else you can do, other than maybe placing a temperature gauge inside the tent and make sure the daytime temp is not at a dangerous level.

        Good Luck,

        DON

      • profile image

        Lauren 

        17 months ago

        Hi :)

        I loved your article, but I was hoping I could pick your brain. I live by a river in South Texas- hot, humid, and muggy. I'm graduating college in December and to help save up I'm planning to live in a pop-up from when my lease expires in may- until December when I move back to my hometown. That on its own seems crazy, but it gets crazier. I will have a job, an internship, and be in school that entire summer and fall. Thats the easy part, hard part is I have a 100 pound dog. He is extremely well behaved but spoiled rotten (as the best ones are). I want to be sure to do everything possible to keep my Popup in comfy temps for when it's just him. I am planning to stay at one park, not move around. I was thinking of investing in a canopy and installing one of those four wall tent screens as a cooking/entry/kennel area. Do you have any suggestions? I already know im crazy, my mom (3/4 year RVer) tells me so. I just want to make sure my pup has the best of the best.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        2 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Colleen - Good trick with the foil on the windows. I see a lot of people doing this in some of the campsites I visit.

        As to your black fiver? Is the roof black also? If so, keeping it clean and a reflective as possible will help the interior temps a little cooler. The more reflective the surfaces of your RV, the less solar is absorbed.

        Also, your RV has ceiling vents. If you open them just a little, this will let some of the heated air escape without forcing your RV AC units to cool ALL of that hot air inside.

        Good Luck, DON

      • profile image

        Colleen 

        2 years ago

        We have a very dark fifthwheel, black, oh my does it absorb heat!!! So this summer I've gone and bought silver foil insulation that comes in a roll at your local hardware store, and cut it to fit inside all my Trailer Windows, and then roll down all the shades over them. What a big difference it made, the AC didn't have to work as hard and it cooled our trailer down much quicker.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        2 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        David - 70F in 110F temps? WOW!

        Honestly, the only way I know of to come close to this is to use the geo-thermal temperatures under your feet. But, I am assuming you are talking about the RV world where you and your RV are traveling every few days. So this makes geothermal cooling impossible.

        The next, most effective way to cool your RV is to utilize shade. You can camp under a shade tree, of course to get a nit-unusual 10-degree differential, or come up with some kind of tent-like device to provide shade.

        Good Luck with your quest.

        DON

      • profile image

        David 

        2 years ago

        Thanks, as I care very little (not at all) about using electricity. What I would like is for the inside of the camper to be 70 F when it is 110 F outside.

        The culprit seems to be the sun shining on the windows. Solar shades help a lot but something else is needed. It's too windy for awnings sometimes.

        I was thinking about plexiglass on the inside attached with magnetic strips with solar shade material on the outside.

        What do you think? I don't really want to add another air conditioner.

      • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

        Don Bobbitt 

        2 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Brandon, Well, honestly, people today are so used to being sealed in their air-conditioned cocoons that the thought of sitting in the shade and enjoying a breeze is literally unacceptable.

        Personally, running your RV roof AC unit, but set at a higher temperature such as 75-78 will not only save you money on your electrical costs, but when you transition from this temperature inside and an even warmer temperature outside is much less of a shock.

        Thanks for the comment,

        DON

      • profile image

        Brandon Prazak 

        2 years ago

        Hi. I was wondering if it is cheaper to cool your rv using the head unit or portably? Thanks

      • profile image

        Keyaan 

        3 years ago

        Good to find an expert who knows what he's taniklg about!

      • freecampingaussie profile image

        freecampingaussie 

        4 years ago from Southern Spain

        Some great advice. We always try camp under a tree for shade. Up the top of Australia in 45 deg heat we had the air conditioner + 2 fans on to keep cool. We cooked outside 7 also spent a lot of time in the pool !

      • velzipmur profile image

        Shelly Wyatt 

        4 years ago from Maryland

        great advice!

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