Off-Grid | 10 comments | Author:

Our ultimate goal is to make the Airstream Off-Grid not relying on gas, propane or electrical hookups to meet our needs. During the warmer summer months the Airstream can get pretty warm inside – especially when in full sun! (Aluminum is a VERY good conductor!) With the weather heating up we began to look at different cooling options. Is it feasible to cool our trailer with an electric AC powered by the sun? What other cooling options are there? Read on for the answers to these questions.

The Land Yacht was originally outfitted with a AC-powered roof-top air conditioner. It seemed to function well but it was large, heavy and in my opinion made the exterior look like dump. (Especially after gale-force winds across the Montana plains stole the plastic shroud.) Given these facts plus wanting an off-grid solution I decided to remove the roof top air conditioner.

airstream airconditioner
Old Roof Top AC


I added a roof vent to the opening where the old AC was installed so if we decided to upgrade to a newer, slimmer, unit we could easily remove the vent and install the new one. Plus the vent adds some nice light and additional ventilation.

Airstream Vent
Vent Under Old AC


I originally thought we would forgo an air conditioner altogether…the northwest summers are mild (with only a few short weeks of mildly uncomfortable heat) and the time we would spend in hotter zones would only be during mild winters. I installed two Fantastic-Fans (one in the front and the other in the rear) which can really move some air. I thought this would suffice…


I quickly changed my mind as summer set in! Aluminum is a fairly good conductor of heat and when the Land Yacht is exposed to long periods of hot sun the interior is like an oven. Our dual set of fantastic-fans was no match for the sun radiating through the aluminum! Trying to have a toddler nap in an aluminum can in the sun is not a good idea.


With this shift of thinking I began looking into various cooling options…


I had seen on the Air-forums people tactfully installing window air conditioners. I liked this option given the Northwest summer climate…we could install / use the air conditioner in hot weather then remove it altogether when not needed.


My next question was, “Is there a good DC solar powered off-grid solution?”


While there appears to be decent DC powered air conditioner technology it is expensive and I haven’t found a suitable non-permanent window solution. Until I find a fitting and affordable solution I purchased a small 6500btu window unit and I am going to run some tests to see if it would be feasible to power the air conditioner through an inverter with our future solar array.

Update: After doing some math its not feasible to consistently cool the Airstream with our window unit. See the usage data below.



We purchased a fairly cheap 6500 btu air conditioner for about $150 from Costco. If I was a little more patient I could have purchased a AC off of craigslist for about $75-$100 but we were going on a road trip and the weather was going to be HOT.


I wanted our window air conditioner to be easy to install and easily stored when not in use. The brackets I made to hold the compressor are pretty basic…a piece of wood that that has notches router’d out to fit on the bottom of the window, a little support from the propane tanks via a threaded piece of steel plus a little foam and we are in business.


Airstream Window AC Installation
AC Installation


Can’t be more pleased with the setup! When we need the AC we simply throw it in the window, no bulky box on the roof and it does a good job cooling the trailer!



Time 1:00pm 2:00pm 3:00pm 7:00pm
Outside Temp 87f 88f 90f 89f
Inside Temp 75f 75f 78f 72f
Watts 556w 568w 570w 546w
Amps 4.89a 4.93a 4.92a 4.78a
Total Run Time 5:27 hrs 6:28 hrs 7:30 hrs 11:30 hrs
KWH 2.04kwh 2.61kwh 3.19kwh 5.44kwh


The AC uses almost 5amps AC. Convert this to DC Amps and you get 45amps. This means the AC would draw 270ah to run 6hrs per day. To only run the AC for 6hrs per day you would need over 500 Watts of Solar Panels + 540ah of battery capacity. For our setup this isn’t feasible.


In the future when we have more of a permanent setup an electric AC may be feasible with a larger solar setup. Meanwhile here’s our plan to cool the Airstream Off-Grid.



When we purchased the Land Yacht it had a large Coleman AC unit on the roof that worked fairly well. But this unit was big, bulky and the plastic shroud that covers it blew off in HIGH Montana’s winds as we drove it across country. So the fact that the AC is big, ugly and to replace the AC shroud would not be cheap ($200+) we decided to remove it. Here is our plan to keep cool during the summers:



We installed 2 Fantastic fans (one at the front and one at the rear) in the trailer. These fans can be powered by our solar battery bank and can really move some air which will help us stay cool(er) and comfortable during the warmer months. (We plan to spend our summers in the NW which is very mild during the summers but the Aluminum can get pretty hot.) When off-grid we will likely be parked in the shade which can keep the inside temp 8-10 degrees less.



For those times we have access to grid power and want to keep cooler we have a hand-me-down window AC unit that we will mount in the front window. This will take a bit of creativity and fabricating but I have seen other Airstream owners use this same solution. If we end up using our AC enough we may eventually get a newer roof-top unit with a built in heat-pump.


Meanwhile do you have any off-grid cooling solutions/ideas for a house on wheels? Would love to hear your ideas!


POWER: DIY Portable Solar System

WASTE: Composting Toilet

SHOWER: Off-Grid Pressurized Shower

LIGHTING: Simple LED Hack for RV’s

HEAT: Small Wood Burning Stoves


  • Cindy Riley August 10, 2013 at 4:36 am | Reply

    I wanted to comment on your site. We are looking at buying at 1967 Airstream Overlander Land Yacht. We have only looked at it once and it is full of stuff and hard to tell it’s condition. The owner still isn’t sure if he wants to part with it. My husband found it parked on some land while he was delivering the owners tractor. We had a nice dinner with he and his wife and the “deal” is still up in the air as to if we will be the new proud owners.
    Anyway, we are Christians and live in Western South Dakota. We are in our early 50s and thinking about what the next 30 years will bring and possibly live in our old Airstream!!! LOL
    I have enjoyed watching your journey! Thanks for sharing!
    Cindy Riley

    1. Nick August 10, 2013 at 6:56 am | Reply

      Hey Cindy,

      Your welcome & thanks for the note!

      Let me know what becomes of the deal…

      If you are not keen on spending alot of time or money restoring a vintage trailer be very careful & thorough in your inspection. From our experience (and what I have read on the airforums) the majority of this era of trailer will have repair needs to some extent. (i.e. Leaks, rear-end separation, floor rot, frame rot among many other things…)

      If you want specific things to look for or ask let me know – I would be happy to chat with you and give you some tips.



  • Michael King August 28, 2013 at 1:16 am | Reply

    So, Friday I purchase an 1973 Argosy 26′. I am interested in your air conditioning setup on solar. Any progress? I like the boon docking thread! Keep it ip!

    1. Nick August 28, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Reply

      Awesome! That will be a great trailer for you!

      I have collected some power usage data and need to do a little math…Ill do an update soon.

      Stay tuned…


  • Natalie December 27, 2013 at 3:03 am | Reply

    Genius! I am looking into getting one of those GoalZero Yeti solar generators….I wonder if one of those bad boys could handle an air conditioning unit like this? Hmmmmmm….

    1. Nick December 27, 2013 at 3:27 am | Reply

      So after doing a bit more research you need a pretty serious solar array and battery bank to make electric AC feasible. We have decided a better route is to make our living space more efficient. A big improvement would be to simply park in the shade!

  • Brian January 7, 2014 at 9:16 am | Reply

    Nick, haven’t read enough to know where you base yourselves, but have you investigated swamp coolers? They’ll certainly run off your solar setup… Check this link since it’s all about temperature and humidity…

    1. Nick January 8, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Reply

      Thanks Brian!

      Ill checkout the link. That’s a great idea!

  • Rachael May 24, 2015 at 3:30 am | Reply

    Brilliant solution! Does it take a while to set up/tear down? How does it do off-grid? I’m assuming you run it off a generator? I didn’t see an update, but I’d LOVE to read it!

    1. Nick August 14, 2015 at 3:14 pm | Reply

      Thanks! Just updated. The window unit has worked well when we needed it. We’d much prefer to park in the shade and just use the fans. After doing some math running the AC of solar isn’t feasible.