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My life savings for an air conditioner

July 17th, 2007

So, I’m taking a break from hardcore RV shopping and letting Jenn try to find the dream machine for a day or two. In the meantime, I’m figuring out how to put enough gadgets in the box on wheels to double the start up cost.

We’re trying to avoid longterm costs like running a generator and camp ground fees as much as we can. We figure that a solar installation should pay for itself pretty quickly with campground fees of $30/night in many places. Also, we’d really rather not run a generator constantly both because of the noise and the gasoline costs.

Now, with solar power, we’re going to have a relatively limited amount of power to work with every day. One of the biggest concerns is staying cool. Once we get out of the Florida summers, I think fans will work a lot of places. However, we expect that we’ll probably want air conditioning if we can possibly manage it. I really thought it would be a simple thing to find a low amperage air conditioning unit. Let’s just say I now understand why our power bill was halved after an A/C upgrade.

So far I’ve only been able to find two different units that I think we can manage on a mid-range solar install. And they’re both pretty damn pricey.

There’s a native 12V roof unit from DC Airco (who’s website looks like it had a stroke in 1995) it claims a peak draw of 300 watts and 4400 btu. The unit plus mounting kit runs about $4k – installation not included.

The other unit is the SolCool Millenia from SolCool. It runs on 110V and claims ‘less than 400 watts’. It has an impressive 16k btu which is way more than we need. I think about 7k btu would probably be a little on the high side. It’s a ‘portable’ style air conditioner, so it would be taking up space somewhere inside the RV. However, it does have some handy accessories available. Apparently it can be converted to a heater and the dehumidifying effect can be harnessed to produce purified water (supported by the manufacturer!). This guy runs ‘about 3k’ according to the sales rep.

I’m leaning towards the SolCool unit a bit because it would be a lot simpler to remove the unit later and sell it separate than to try and convince the next owner of the RV that he should pay me an extra 4k for the after market AC. So far though, the SolCool folks don’t have the latest design specs up on their website and the sales rep that promised to send me a pdf still hasn’t done so.

There is at least one other option that is pretty cheap in both energy and dollars. Evaporative cooling would work pretty easily if we weren’t starting out in Florida where its usually hot AND humid.

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