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Keep Your RV Cool This Summer: 15 Easy And Affordable Tricks!

PublishedApril 5, 2021

No, sir, this isn't a run-of-the-mill post about keeping your RV cool in the summer.

Instead, these are tangible, actionable steps you can take to get cooler when it's hot outside (and inside).

15 tips to keep cooler this summer

Some of these are more affordable than others, but they are all pretty cheap outside of adding a second (or third) AC unit to your camper.

Without further ado, let's dive into how to keep an RV cool in the heat!

Use Reflectix In Your Windows And Cabinets

RV trailer window with reflectix inside

We're starting with the extremely obvious and probably most well-known solution. Reflectix is one of the most commonly used tools for keeping your RV from turning into an oven.

Reflectix is a double-sided reflective film with air bubbles in the middle (similar to a car shade).

It can be cut and placed in all windows that face the sun. Putting some in the back and tops of your upper cabinets can be a touch helpful as well.

You could also tape the Reflectix to the outside of your windows.

The stuff is easy to cut, easy to store, and easy to place in windows.

It's a very cheap fix! You can find rolls of Reflectix in big-box hardware stores. They also sell on Amazon.

Shade Keeps Your RV Cool

Travel trailer boondocking being shaded by tree in Arizona

Hopefully, you just rolled your eyes. As in, I hope you thought this one up on your own. Still, it's often overlooked.

This is the #1 best way to keep your camper cool on a hot day aside from chasing elevation. Chasing elevation costs more in gas money and time.

If you can park in the shade for even half of the day, that's better than nothing.

See what you can do.

Smart Window Orientation

Airstream travel trailer rear window view

Photo by Greg Graham

There's one huge window in my RV. I usually avoid parking where it faces south or southeast.

If you have a big window or a side with more windows than the other, don't let the big or most windows get hit with the sun for most of the day. Try to park with your windows on the shaded side.

But there are other helpful ways to orient your RV, depending on your situation and just how hot it is outside. See next tip:

Use Your RV As A Shade

Ketchum Idaho dispersed camping

In the afternoons, the sun is shaded by the RV itself, creating a nice 'front porch' environment.

First, decide if you want to spend time outside when it's hot in your RV.

If this is the case, it might be best to park your exit door (aka your 'porch' area) so it faces the north to northeast.

Why?

Because then that side will be shaded by the camper during the hottest part of the day.

Sure, you COULD use the other side as your porch, but it may be awkward with the door being on the other side of your RV.

Now, the bad news of this one is that your awning won't be of any help providing shade to the RV.

So, this scenario is best if it's so hot out that you can't be inside the RV in the afternoon no matter what kind of shading you have.

(Like when it's so hot out that even if you're parked so your awning shades afternoon sun, it's still in the '90s in your RV.)

Awning Facing South/Southeast

travel trailer with awning out boondocking in Valley of the Gods, Utah

This scenario is best if it's not extremely hot/above the high 80s. You can partially shade your RV from the brutal afternoon heat this way.

Then use your vent fans and interior fans to keep the air moving.

Of course, if you're in a campground, you may have zero orientation options to keep your RV cool at all.

Also, keep in mind that you may not ALWAYS be able to use your awning. If it's windy, it must come in. Then it does you no good whatsoever.

Use A Tarp or Canopy To Shade

Fifth wheel trailer using shade cloth on large window

A little bit is better than nothing at all! They did this just to shade their big living room window.

This is a good solution, and it is a cheap and easy solution.

Attach a large tarp to the top of the south side of your RV and secure it down at the ground using stakes or another attachment method.

If you create air space in between the RV and the tarp, that's even better.

If you chose to park with your door facing north, this is your best option to help shade the sunny side of your RV without using the awning (assuming you have an awning on the side getting the southern sun).

Maximize Vent Fan Effectiveness To Keep Your RV Cool

Fantastic RV Vent Fan

Let's say you can't use your AC. In this case, your vent fans are your next best friend in keeping your RV cool.

When it's not excessively hot out, and you only have one vent fan and a small RV, I'd advise you only to open one window.

Because if you are hanging out in between the open window and the vent fan, you'll get a nice cross breeze.

If you have TWO fans, set one to pull air in and the other to push air out. This should also help with a cross breeze.

If you have a stock fan that is NOT a Fantastic Fan or a MaxxAir fan, replacing it with one would do you a world of good.

Typically the stock fans have a teeny-tiny fan that barely pulls air in or out. Very lame.

RV Vent Fan Insulator

insulating cushion for RV vent fan opening

If you use your AC, close the cover and insert a foam insulator into your vent fan area to help keep the heat out.

Some people put a bit of Reflectix up there, too. I find the foam does an adequate job- no heat gets through mine sans Reflectix.

They are super cheap yet effective.

Find these in any camping store, on Amazon, or even at Walmart.

Minimize Your Stove Usage

Stoves are hot when on, dur. The less you use yours in high temperatures, the better.

Try using a microwave instead. Or cook with an outdoor grill, sun oven, or your fire pit. Or just have some cheese and crackers.

However, if you DO have to use your stove, once done with the pot or skillet, put it outside right away.

No sense in letting it cool off inside your RV, warming your camper or motorhome even further.

Use An Awning Shade Cloth

RV awning shade

Once the sun gets low enough, your awning won't provide much shade any longer.

Putting up a shade cloth that hangs from the end of your awning can serve two purposes:

  1. Create a more private (and cooler) outdoor space
  2. Keep more shade on the side of your RV

You can buy them pre-made, or you can rig up one yourself.

Keep in mind, just like the awning, this type of shade won't fair well in windy conditions.

Switch From Incandescent Lights to LED Lights

RV light fixture painted gold with LED lights

If you haven't already done this, you're probably never off-grid. LED lights will save your battery juice- it's one of the first mods people make who want to boondock or dry camp.

But more importantly, they put out way less heat than incandescent lights do.

This solution doesn't seem like it would make much difference, but it does.

Use Stand-Alone Fans

12 volt box fan

It seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes relying only on ceiling vent fans (or just ceiling fans, such as in fifth-wheels) is not enough.

The truth is, the more air movement you have, the better.

So, buy yourself some stand-alone fans.

You can do either 120-volt or 12-volt fans, depending on how often you are off-grid, if you have an inverter.

120-volt will likely be more powerful. But 12-volt fans will also help.

Make Your AC Vents More Efficient

RV trailer air conditioner outlet vent

FYI- If you have this style vent on your ceiling, you can probably rotate it to make it push air where you want it.

Ok, so it's hot enough out that you're using your AC?

AC is usually effective, but when it's so hot that your AC can hardly keep up, try these two tips:

  • If you have a bigger RV with multiple 'rooms,' close the vents in the rooms you aren't using (and close the doors).
  • If possible, point the vents towards where you are sitting or standing in your RV for maximum cooling effect.

Chase High Elevation

Denali National Park river meadow mountains

The hotter it gets (and the more you love mountains), the higher you'll want to be in elevation.

Of course, this only applies if you are location-independent and are willing to move.

No, it's not the most cost-effective solution.

But chasing elevation is one of the most effective (and adventurous!) solutions to the heat when living in an RV full-time.

For every 1000 feet you climb, it gets about 3.5 degrees cooler. It will cool even more than that if it's not humid or raining/snowing.

Where's Your Water Hose?

Camco Taste Pure drinking hose

Ok, so this one doesn't do anything to keep your camper cool. But it's something to think about to make your hot days a little less icky.

If your water hose is sitting outside in the sun, expect the water inside to get hot. (Yuck!)

Get your hose under shade if possible. For sure, don't let it be sitting outside on the hot pavement. That will heat it even worse.

If you keep it under your RV or cover it with something, the water coming through your faucets won't be sickeningly warm.

Build or Buy A Swamp Cooler

These can be pretty effective, but ONLY in low-humidity environments. And a homemade swamp cooler is VERY cost-effective!

You can buy a pre-made one, or you can build one yourself for pennies on the dollar.

Pre-Made Swamp Cooler To Keep Your RV Cool

These exist, even ready-made ones that fit the hole in your ceiling for your vent fan (Turbo Kool).

You can buy a Turbo Kool in-ceiling swamp cooler for your RV, but it will set you back.

Screenshot of Turbokool RV swamp cooler product listing

Just take out your existing vent fan and replace it with the Turbo Kool.

This makes it the easiest swamp cooler to use of all. It's up high, easy to use, and out of the way.

However, it comes at a high cost. It runs $599 on their website and currently $725 on Amazon.

There are also 120-volt stand-alone swamp coolers you can also use if you have access to 120-volt power.

Homemade Swamp Cooler To Keep Your RV Cool

Search on the Internet 'Homemade swamp cooler,' and you'll find a wide array of ways to build one.

They are pretty simple, easy to make, and all have the same premise.

The unit cools the air using a fan to move air over either falling water or ice. The evaporation of the water cools the air, as does the ice.

Often a swamp cooler for RVs is made out of a cooler or a bucket. Minimal parts are needed.

A fan, a water pump, a container, a little tubing, and water. Cheap and easy!

For maximum cooling effectiveness, the homemade swamp cooler should remain outside of your RV (or vent to the outside).

Conclusion On Keeping Your RV Cool

There are many ways you can keep your RV cool without AC or with AC.

However, even with the best of these ideas, unless you're using your air conditioning, it may be pretty miserable if you are in temps above about 85 degrees and you aren't in the shade.

Woman leaning out RV door

You might even benefit from lining the underside of your RV as some people do in the winter. 

It's said also to work well to keep the RV cooler in the summer, though I have never tried it.

To recap, your best lines of defense are:

  • Chase elevation
  • Park in the shade
  • Use your RV as shade
  • Use your roof vent fans
  • Focus your air conditioning vents
  • Angle your RV so windows don't get maximum sun
  • Utilize your awning and/or shade cloth
  • Minimize stove usage
  • Use a stand-alone fan
  • Get a swamp cooler
  • Cover vent fans if using AC
  • Reflectix your windows and possibly cabinets
  • Angle park for maximum shading where you need it
  • Use LED lights

Good luck out there. There will be some days that you cannot keep your RV in a comfortable temperature zone.

But you can do many of these things to keep it a little cooler than it would be otherwise.

Do you have any suggestions not listed here? Mention your idea in the comments!

Kelly Headshot

He-llllo. I'm the co-founder of Camp Addict, which my biz partner and I launched in 2017. I frigging love the RVing lifestyle but in December of 2020, I converted to part-time RV life. Heck, I lived in my travel trailer for over 5.5 years, STRICTLY boondocking for pretty much all of it. Boondocking is a GREAT way to live, but it's not easy. Anyway, I'm passionate about animals, can't stand campgrounds, I hardly ever cook, and I love a good dance party. Currently, I can be found plotting and scheming whether or not to start collecting farm animals (or plotting my next RV trip!) at my beautiful new 'ranch' named 'Hotel Kellyfornia', in Southern Arizona. 

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  • Kelly, nice article!! RV orientation not always possible but something to consider when it is!! And the water hose was news to me too! I was surprised at no mention of “misters” or other water related cooling other than the swamp cooler. We are only part timers now (until retirement this month!) and only have a few nights boondocking so far… not even sure if Cracker Barrel parking lot qualifies for boondocking but we were off-grid.
    I am a big proponent of box fans but I will have to install either an inverter or go to 12VDC and install 12VDC outlets. My unit is shockingly unequipped with 12 volt outlets; none outside the Ford cab. Several USBs though, but USB fans are quite small. I guess they expect the onboard generator as the fix all for current.
    Best regards, Bill

    • Hi Bill!

      CONGRATULATIONS on your retirement!! That’s incredible and should be such a fun venture for you guys! Kudos.

      Well, not sure how well a mister would work in such a small space without it getting the floor all wet. I tried using a fan mister on my back porch in Arizona, and all it did was, well, wet the deck, LOL! (Boo!!) I was bummed. But I HAVE used a spray bottle to mist myself on the worst of days. It gave a little relief but made me all wet and literally took up time.

      There are some decent (I think) small fans that run off of USB. I have a Road Pro model with two speeds. It keeps me cooler when I have it pointed right on me, even from about 12′ away. But an inverter should work for you for a box fan.

      And yeah, I don’t have an onboard genny. Which is a real bummer. Life in here would be SO much nicer if I had an onboard I could turn on with the flip of a switch!

      My portable one needs:
      1. Get it out of the 4Runner (about 48lbs, Kills my back)
      2. Put gas in. (Also, go GET gas if I forgot it was empty)
      3. Place it where the exhaust doesn’t come into my RV.
      4. Pull starter string and hope it works.
      5. Pull starter string for the 11th time and it finally starts.
      6. Connect power cord to it.
      7. Move it once it gets too hot in the sun and it shuts itself off.
      8. Go out and re-gas it when it runs out of gas.
      9. Move it again when the shade moved and now it is in the sun and I have to go move it again….

      Not so easy/convenient, lol!!!

      Anyway, glad you liked the article, and enjoy your camping adventures!

  • Hi Kelly, I am reading this as I sit in our house with a fan blowing on me. It is 32 C (90 F) outside with 54% humidity so it feels like 37 C (97 F) out there. A rare day here in the Great White North.

    Great information as we await our new RV and the travels that it will bring. Can’t wait to experience these situations in person and put your tips into practice. Why suffer through things when we can learn so much and take advantage of other peoples experience and knowledge. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hey Dan,

      On behalf of Kelly, you are most welcome!

      We are huddled inside our Arizona residence where it is triple digits outside. The only saving grace is that it’s dry, dry, dry outside. Though that doesn’t really help at these temps.

      We’ll be hitting the road soon until it cools off. One can only handle so much hot weather, even if the house has a great air conditioning system! 🙂

  • Kelly, thanks so much for your tips. I’m in NZ and we are only on the road in School holidays starting three years ago. Towing my caravan is a steep learning curve and at times and a massive stress. However, I’m getting used to it more and more – and feeling more freedom than I’ve ever experienced. – Thanks Mark

    • Hi Mark,

      I went to NZ in 2001 and absolutely loved it! RVing was nowhere on my radar back then. Glad to hear there’s some caravanning available down there! Very happy to hear this article helped you out. Keep cool and keep enjoying the freedom your caravan gives you!

      Cheers!

      • Thanks for the reply. Wish we could do this full time, however my wife loves her job and my daughter loves her school and local friends – so I’m planning trips when we all have time – that’s every few weeks and all our holidays. I could easily be on the road full time, but having a base property is good sometimes to take time out. We recently went down the South Island of NZ – and that was fantastic – so many places to stay – and scenery out of this world. We usually have tourists from around the world down there, but now it’s NZars hittting the road in large numbers seeing their own country. Where are you now in the US? I was a student over there many years ago on a scholarship and wish we could go back and travel there again.

        • Yeah, full-time RVing with no home base poses a whole string of problems on its own. I’m (so far) finding it nice to have a home base. I’d like to have a plot of land in Colorado to go to in the summer if I don’t feel like moving every two weeks.

          I’m now in Southern Arizona. I’ve been all over the west. All over the southeast. The NW is where I want to explore next, but in a van. Haven’t seen much of it. Just a bit of New England.

          There’s so much to see in the west. I’d recommend Utah and Colorado if you do get over here!

          • Hi you mentioned NH, and many years ago I studied at Pierce Law School in Concord NH [so my home for a few years] and worked after for short time in Boston. Anyway the capital Concord in the Autumn or Fall is great, and all the towns along the coast going through the State of Maine a short distance away. Towns like Portsmith and Kennebunkport are beautiful. If you get the chance you must see these places, but not in the Winter.

            Yes, I’ll stary my reasearch on Utah and Colorado – and hope the covid travel restrictions lift so we can eventually skip over there for a trip.

            Best Regards – Mark

          • Yeah, I definitely saw Portsmouth- very cool little town! I was actually visiting a friend in Rye, NY. So, it wasn’t far. Gorgeous in the fall! Colorado and Utah won’t disappoint! Enjoy!

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