7 Benefits of an RV Residential Refrigerator
Keeping perishable foods at safe temperatures is incredibly important to all RVers. For this reason, most RVs have a fully-functioning refrigerator, whether it’s a 12V fridge, a 2-way (propane or electric) or 3-way (propane, V AC, or 12V DC) unit, or an RV residential refrigerator.
A working fridge keeps foods, beverages, and even medications safe. It provides that extra convenience that’s a step above “camping”. An RV refrigerator means there’s no need for constant ice replenishment and no risk of soggy, spoiled foods as can be the case with old-style camping coolers.
But some RV fridges come with drawbacks and frustrations. They can be temperamental and usually require the RV to be very close to level in order to function properly. They also tend to be very small (which limits contents) and often don’t maintain their temperature all that well, both of which can require many more trips to the market to replenish perishable foods (or foods that perished).
These are some of the reasons why RV residential refrigerators are becoming more widely available in RVs.
What is an RV Residential Refrigerator?
An RV residential refrigerator operates in the same way as a residential refrigerator in a sticks-and-bricks home… because it IS a residential refrigerator. It’s just installed in your RV.
A residential-style refrigerator uses a compressor to keep contents cold and uses AC power to run. That means the same is true of an RV residential refrigerator. Unlike other types of RV refrigerators that use propane either full-time or part-time, a residential fridge in an RV uses AC power all the time.
So, RV residential refrigerators need a constant power supply. That power can come from a power pedestal (in a campground, RV park, or home), from a generator, or from a battery bank (using an inverter). When boondocking and replenishing your power using solar energy, an RV residential fridge requires a significant battery bank and a significant solar array to feed it.
RV Residential Refrigerators vs. 2-Way and 3-Way RV Refrigerators
Now that we know what an RV residential refrigerator is, let’s compare it to 2-way and 3-way RV refrigerators.
2-way RV refrigerators use AC power or LP gas depending on what’s available and the user’s preference. A 3-way RV refrigerator can run on AC power, LP gas, or DC power, running off the house batteries.
7 Benefits of RV Residential Refrigerators
Because RVs have used 2-way and 3-way refrigerators for decades, it’s easy to assume that these are the only available options for RV refrigeration. But as technology progresses, additional options become available that can work better in certain situations.
So while a small camping fridge may work very well for a weekend camping trip, folks who travel long-term or full-timers like us may be better served with a larger, more efficient refrigerator. Let’s have a look at the benefits of making the switch to an RV residential refrigerator.
1. More Room for Food and Drinks
Typical 2-way and 3-way RV refrigerators are almost always smaller than residential fridges. They also have significant bulk behind them due to how they function. With working components taking up so much of their cubic footage there’s less space for food. Less refrigerator storage space means more trips to the store.
Because residential refrigerators don’t require those same bulky components, you have more usable space. And of course, residential refrigerators are larger than a typical RV fridge in general.
For us, a well-stocked refrigerator/freezer means we don’t have to leave a fabulous, remote boondocking spot to replenish food for a long time.
2. Consistently Cold Temperatures
Traditional RV refrigerators can be temperamental. One day your food is kept at your desired temperature, and the next day due to a change in ambient temps or some other factor, you find yourself with frozen produce despite using the same settings on the fridge.
RV residential refrigerators are better able to regulate temperatures, relieving us of the frustration of frequently adjusting the temperature based on ambient temperature.
Speaking of temperature, typical RV fridges are notorious for letting ice cream get soft, whereas the freezer in a residential fridge stays properly cold all the time.
3. Less Expensive to Purchase
Residential refrigerators have less complicated components than traditional RV fridges. For this reason and because residential fridges are more readily available, they’re more budget-friendly.
4. Cools Down Faster When Turned on for Travel
An RV residential refrigerator cools quickly as the compressor kicks on and cold air circulates inside. With a standard RV refrigerator, the unit may need to be running for at least 24 hours before use to ensure it’s adequately, and consistently, cold.
5. More Energy Efficient on AC Power
A residential refrigerator with a bottom freezer running on AC power uses around 1 amp/hour, which is a whole lot less than the 6 amps required to run a large standard RV refrigerator on V AC.
If you’re using your generator to provide power to your RV, the efficiency of the residential fridge will reduce strain on your generator. And if you’re paying for your electricity consumption at a power pedestal, which is common with monthly stays, a residential fridge will be easier on the pocketbook.
A caveat, though… when running an RV residential refrigerator using your battery bank, your inverter will be running most, or all, of the time, and an inverter requires additional battery power. This is where the larger battery bank and solar array mentioned earlier come into play.
6. Longer Lifespan than a Traditional RV Fridge
In a best-case scenario, traditional RV refrigerators have an average lifespan of about years. The lifespan varies considerably based on usage and how well the unit is maintained. Residential refrigerators tend to function reliably for closer to years or more. Additionally, residential refrigerator repairs are less costly, and parts are more readily available.
There is a caveat here though as well. Residential refrigerators weren’t designed with travel in mind. That may shorten their lifespan in comparison to what you might expect when using one in a sticks & bricks house. Because they haven’t been used in RVs until relatively recently, there’s not enough data about their longevity when used in RVs.
7. Less Maintenance
RV residential refrigerators are virtually maintenance-free, requiring little more than keeping them clean. As long as you have power going to it, it’s likely to function properly.
A typical RV refrigerator requires frequent defrosting to ensure proper cooling. It’s also important that they have adequate airflow to keep cool, so some require the use of a small fan in the refrigerator compartment.
Another potential issue with some RV refrigerators involves safety. Because they use a propane burner to stay cool (seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?!), there can be a fire hazard. This may not be a problem with some RV refrigerators, but it’s a known issue with others. Just search YouTube for RV fires and you’ll see that many of them start at the fridge.
Are There Any Downsides to RV Residential Fridges?
While the benefits of RV residential refrigerators are numerous, there are some downsides. Perhaps the most obvious downside is that you can’t run it on propane. This makes boondocking a bit more complicated, but doable.
Boondocking requires a bit more preparation with a residential refrigerator and depending on your current off-grid capabilities, you might need to upgrade your solar system and your battery bank to accommodate a residential-style RV fridge off-grid. Or, you need to be prepared to run your generator more often, as the residential refrigerator will drain your battery bank pretty quickly.
Another downside to making the switch to a residential fridge is the fact that it might not be possible to get the fridge through your RV’s doorway! Some RV owners have had to temporarily remove a slide to get a large fridge into their RV. We’ve had to remove a windshield to install a new fridge in our RV!
And we also had to have an old fridge cut in half for removal from our RV!
Another consideration is that residential refrigerators are not typically designed with significant movement in mind. During travel, an RV experiences substantial shaking, which can sometimes lead to failures.
Although there are pros and cons to every situation, for us the pros of having a residential fridge outweigh the cons. That said, knowing what the cons are ahead of time can help you to make an informed decision and prepare you for any issues that may occur down the road.
Is Switching to an RV Residential Refrigerator Worth It?
Each RVer’s travel style is different. A residential fridge may work best for some travelers, while a traditional RV fridge will work best for others. Your travel style and your RV’s power setup will be factors in your choice.
If you boondock frequently, as we do, but your RV doesn’t have a generator or significant solar and battery banks, an RV residential refrigerator may not be the best choice for you. Without the ability to power a residential fridge with relative ease, the traditional RV fridge becomes the better choice.
If you have frequent access to shore power or a sufficient solar array and battery bank, you may consider the switch to a residential refrigerator, particularly if you find yourself wanting more cold and frozen food storage space or more reliable performance.
In the end, we all just want our food to remain at a safe temperature with as little effort as possible.
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Deciding between a Residential Refrigerator or an RV “2-Way or 3-Way” Fridge in a motorhome is a no brainer…at first glance. But if you plan on doing any off the grid boondocking, battery power will be a concern.
You open those big residential fridge doors and there is no comparison! Who doesn’t want more efficient cooling and all that space for fresh and frozen foods!?! In fact, most new RVs are coming directly from the factory with a residential fridge installed, so it must be goodright?
We were so excited when we got the Excursion and it came equipped with a shiny new stainless steel residential refrigerator. However, our minds changed a bit when we hit that first wild camping spot and we decided to park under a canopy of trees. With no power coming in from our flexible solar panels mounted on the roof we were forced to…gasp…run the generator! We began to second guess if a residential fridge was really a good option for an RV or not.
When the time came to build our custom designed Bounder we had the choice again. After deciding to install lithium batteries and the solar AE kit we felt we’d have no problem running that power hog residential fridge in our RV. Sadly, even with all this technology on board we’ve still had to run the generator a couple of times after too many cloudy days in a row.
For the past two years we’ve known the Residential Fridge in our RV uses a lot of power, but we’ve never really monitored the numbers. Today we decided it was time to run the test and educate ourselves so we could better understand our personal power needs.
To be perfectly honest, we also did this test as a way to help us decide how much power well need for our big switch to the sailboat later this year. So, lets dive in to the results.
How Much Power Does a Residential Fridge Use?
Equipment were working with:
Here are the numbers from our test:
- BMK Reading: amp hours in 11 hours
- Kill-A-Watt Reading: kwh in 11 hours
If you do the math of converting kilowatts into 12v amp hours youll see our fridge only used about amp hours of battery. My answer to this discrepancy: Power is always lost when using an inverter and there are parasitic draws from our battery we cannot control (such as vent fans, LED lights, radio, etc).
I did run a separate test while plugged into shore power with the A/C set to 74° and the fridge pulled kwh in 24 hours ( kwh in 11 hours). This tells me when temperatures are a little cooler the fridge doesn’t have to work quite as hard.
I personally think the conditions were perfect for our off the grid RV Fridge Test as it wasn’t too hot and we were in shade (or it was night) for half of the testing hours. The temperature was a mild 80 degrees and there was a slight breeze to keep the air moving inside the motorhome.
It’s also good to note we spent the entire day outside of the RV as we wanted to test only the refrigerator power usage. Our TVs were still plugged in but they were off and the only other thing using electricity was the overhead LED lights for the few minutes while filming inside the coach. We did open the fridge a few times to get stuff for lunch and the occasional beverage, but thats real-life use.
Factory Installed Batteries Won’t Cut It
When installing a residential refrigerator most RV manufacturers will come stock with four 6-volt batteries with amp hours and “usable” amp hours (because you should only drain standard lead acid batteries to 50%). Dealers and salespeople have told us “you can run that fridge for days on these batteries”. Baloney! On our Excursion, before adding solar, we were required to run the generator for a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the evening to keep our batteries from dipping below the 50% mark.
Our Real World RV Battery Power Experience
While living full time in an RV you will burn through power more quickly than you ever expect. We’re pretty used to managing our power even though we use more than the average camper! Even though were accustomed to balancing our power use, sometimes we get caught off guard when a storm rolls in, or the smog cuts the amount of solar power we’re bringing in.
If we have one day of bad weather, we know to be more conscious of our power usage and monitor it more closely. If the sun sets and we’re at 80% battery, we know we’ll wake up to 65% battery power in the morning. If we get a second day of thick clouds, then we know we’ll be forced to run the generator at night for a couple hours to keep the fridge from bringing the batteries down too low.
You can’t stop the residential fridge, it’s like a freight train thats always using your power. When Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with sunny skies we really wish we could turn this power hog off, but we cant.
Pros and Cons of the RV & Residential Refrigerators
You’ll find your own pros and cons but from our experience with both the two-way RV fridge and the residential fridge here’s our personal opinions:
- Pros: Way more capacity. More efficient at maintaining temperature and staying cool under any conditions. Generally, less expensive. Better built in ice makers. No propane flame to worry about catching fire. No drip tray to worry about freezing and clogging. No vent cut-out on the RV exterior sidewall. Less humidity inside the fridge. No pesky “fridge aerator” needed.
- Cons: Most refrigerator manufacturers require a pure sine wave inverter. Inverter must always be left “on” to supply power. Inverters are not % efficient, so there will be some lost power when inverting the power from 12v to v. Needs a lot of battery and solar power to compensate for the power draw.
- Pros: Technology in conventional RV LP/Electric refrigerators allows you more flexibility because you can switch them to “propane” mode to drastically reduce the power consumption.
- Cons: Not as efficient in higher elevation, humid or hot climates. Takes longer to get cool again once doors have been opened. You have to defrost both the fridge and freezer once every month or two. Have to fill up the RV propane tank more often. Propane flame can be dangerous when the RV is not parked level. Need to regulate internal air flow to ensure the gravity-fed system can keep things cold.
Minimum Power Needed for a Residential Fridge
Again, this is just my opinion based on our experience. When people ask me “How much power do I need to run a residential refrigerator in my RV?” My go to answer is this:
The minimum power for running solely the residential fridge for 24 hours is six AGM batteries totaling amp hours ( ah usable). PLUS you need watts of solar power on the roof to replenish the batteries during the daylight hours. Remember that is just for the fridge and it doesn’t include other devices you may use in your RV such as kitchen appliances, computers, TVs, Radio, Lights, etc.
Best Power Setup for Off The Grid RV living with a Residential Fridge
If you don’t want to be forced to run a generator I’d say go for amp hours of lithium, or amp hours of AGM and a solar array like our watt All Electric kit from GoPower!. This should provide enough power to make it through 3 days of “normal” living (6 days if we are conservative) during cloudy weather without being forced to run the generator. Of course if there is full sun then we would be able to run almost anything as if we were plugged into the grid (we could even run our rooftop Air Conditioner for a couple of hours).
Here’s the gear we recommend:
Our Verdict Residential Fridge vs. RV Fridge
Residential fridge all the way with one big ol caveat! Upgrade your batteries! If you are adding solar and a beefier battery bank you shouldnt have much issue keeping up with the power hog that is the residential refrigerator.
I hope us tracking the numbers (and sharing our experiences) is helpful with your decision on whether or not to outfit your rig with a residential fridge or a propane powered RV fridge. If you have any questions, concerns or you want to share your RV fridge (or Tiny House, Sailboat, etc) tips and experiences please do in the comments below, we’d love to hear your thoughts!
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Upgrade To a Residential Fridge in Your RV
Enjoy expanded capacity at a surprisingly affordable price by swapping out your current RV refrigerator for a new residential model
Let’s face it, the heart of the kitchen — especially in an RV — is the refrigerator. It keeps all the refreshments cold and has the added benefit of working while the vehicle is on the road. RV absorption refrigerators are great for what they are, but absorption technology can be fickle, and repair and replacement of the larger models can exceed $5,
The Norcold in our Tiffin Phaeton could operate on volt AC or propane.
If your motorhome is equipped with an RV-type refrigerator, you may be wishing for something with more residential features that’s less expensive to replace. The Tiffin Phaeton in this article originally came with a Norcold Series four-door refrigerator that could be operated on propane or volt AC power. Many newer motorhomes are equipped with full-size residential, all-electric refrigerators. If your coach still has the old propane/AC power unit and you are seeking to upgrade to a larger and more modern fridge, this information may be important to you.
The old Norcold only had a cubic-foot capacity.
From –, Norcold refrigerators (models , , and ) were installed in countless RVs. Most of them performed without any issues, but they were recalled several times due to thermal problems that led to fires in some situations. Although we never had any problems, the refrigerator was not able to consistently hold subfreezing temperatures in the freezer and ice cream was usually soft when camping in hot weather. Even the refrigerator section struggled to keep its contents below 45 degrees Fahrenheit in hot weather. For these reasons, we decided it was finally time to upgrade to a full electric residential unit.
The Norcold was removed from the cabinet; a job requiring several people.
This is not a simple project, and unless you are a very advanced DIY person with skills in cabinetmaking and wiring, and have several strong friends to help, this is likely a job best left for the pros. One of the biggest challenges in this upgrade is getting the old refrigerator out and getting the new one in. In our case, we took our Tiffin to Red Bay, Alabama (home of Tiffin Motorhomes). This small town in Alabama has a long list of companies known for providing reasonably priced repairs for all motorhome brands. After looking online, we found Custom RV (), and we spoke to Brannon (the owner), who has performed countless refrigerator upgrades just like we wanted.
The old unit ran on propane, so it required a vent pipe to exhaust hot gasses.
For the fridge swap, Custom RV selected a Whirlpool (model WRSNHM) counter-depth unit that boasts 22 cubic feet of interior space. The counter-depth unit means that it is only 33 5⁄8 inches deep. This particular model does not have an in-door ice and water dispenser, but there are other models that do if that is important to you. If you want a finish other than stainless-steel, that is available, too. We also opted for an optional in-freezer icemaker.
There are many advantages to the all-electric approach, but it also has a few disadvantages. Look carefully and make sure you can do without a propane-powered refrigerator before you make the jump. A big part of the decision to go with an all-electric refrigerator is knowing what inverter you currently have and how many house batteries are in your coach. In order to run a refrigerator off the inverter using the coach batteries, you will most likely need a pure sine wave inverter because the artifact caused by a modified sine wave can cause electronics and some of the newer compressor systems to fail. Most residential refrigerators can run on a dedicated 1,watt inverter, but you need to make sure that the battery bank and recharging system are up to the around-the-clock task of running the inverter and refrigerator if you plan to dry camp a lot.
The rooftop vent cover is no longer needed to exhaust propane fumes. Seal it off to prevent water and detritus intrusion.
When we discussed our upgrade with Brannon, he asked us if we frequently dry camped and if we needed to run the new refrigerator off the inverter. We said no to both. We have found that we rarely camp anywhere without electricity other than a few nights a year boondocking in a Wal-Mart parking lot. For those rare occasions when we don’t need electricity for the air conditioners, we either run the generator, or we run it all the way to bedtime, then turn the generator off and don’t open the refrigerator all night to keep it cool while we sleep. The next morning, we restart the generator. So, when wiring our refrigerator, he set it up so that it only operates if we are plugged into shorepower or have the generator running. This saved us several thousand dollars on this project, and we can use that to run the generator many, many hours.
The new stainless Whirlpool unit looks great, but it required electrical wiring changes and cabinet modifications. This new model is 66 5⁄8 tall and the old Norcold was only 63¼ so the floor had to be lowered to accept the new one.
We’ve talked to countless owners who have made the transition from an RV unit to an all-electric refrigerator, and so far, we haven’t heard of one person who regretted it, and we fall into that category as well. We can literally pack enough food for a week or two and not worry about running out of anything. Also, the food stays cold, no matter the outside temperature. If you are considering this upgrade and plan on hiring a professional to do the work, expect to pay at least $3, and up to $6, (or more), including the refrigerator, depending on the unit you select and the modifications needed for installation.
The original vent cover had slots for airflow to feed the burner and help cool the propane-powered compressor. Those vents are now covered on the inside to prevent water intrusion into the new electric refrigerator.
Here’s the back of the new unit as seen through the outside vent cover. It is a much cleaner and simpler setup. The water line for the built-in icemaker is easily accessible for winterizing and now we don’t have the worries of fire or excessive heat from the old propane unit. An optional solid vent door is available as an upgrade if desired, or the vents on the door can be sealed off to prevent water entry.
Although we selected a model without an in-door ice and water dispenser, it can be equipped with an automatic icemaker like this. It works great and provides plenty of ice.
Once you open the side-by-side doors on this cavernous Whirlpool, you’ll know that you made the right decision. It has adjustable shelves and the LED lights make finding your items easy. Plus, it stays cold even when the weather is very warm outside.
Should You Make the Switch?
Earlier, we mentioned some considerations before making the move to an all-electric refrigerator, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons to help you decide if this project is right for you.
The most obvious benefit of upgrading to a residential refrigerator is size. The new unit that we installed has a total of 22 cubic feet of interior space, while the Norcold we removed only featured 12 cubic feet. The ability to keep ice cream frozen and the refrigerator contents cold is much better in the residential unit and is not dependent on lower outside temperatures as in the old dual-fuel unit. The residential unit also cools down much more quickly than an RV unit and is far less expensive than buying a new dual-fuel RV-specific refrigerator. Also, residential refrigerators don’t suffer from the potential fire-hazard issues of the ammonia-based cooling units in RV-specific refrigerators.
Themost obvious disadvantage of a residential refrigerator is that it always needs electricity to run. That means you have to run the generator, connect to shorepower, or have an inverter of the correct type and size — and enough batteries to power it. All of that can be expensive, but if your existing fridge has failed, you can likely upgrade the inverter, add batteries and install a residential unit for about the same cost as a new dual-fuel RV refrigerator. Another issue is that the residential fridge is typically much larger, so the cabinetry usually needs to be modified to accommodate the larger size. We had to lower the floor and make a few other modifications to the motorhome in order to accept and then secure the larger, taller Whirlpool.
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As you shop for the right RV, one of the decisions youll need to make is what kind of refrigerator is best for your camping needs. There are many options out there, and its easy to feel overwhelmed. Whether you should get a traditional RV fridge or a residential refrigerator is the question were going to help you answer here.
In this article well discuss the major differences between RV fridges and residential fridges then list the pros and cons in the following areas:
- How it works
- Power source
- Storage space
- Energy use & efficiency
- Safety concerns
- Suitability for camping styles
Our goal is to help you determine which type of refrigerator is the best for you and give you the confidence to move ahead with purchasing your RV.
Update: Bonus section for propane fridge safety by RV expert Gary Brinck
The RV Fridge
The RV refrigerator was the only kind of refrigerator you could get when you purchased a new RV until about a decade ago. Although you can buy brand new RVs now with a residential refrigerator installed, many will still come with an RV Fridge.
One example of an RV refrigerator is the Norcold cu. RV Refrigerator
Click to see this model on Amazon
How an RV Fridge Works
The RV fridge uses absorption to cool the inside. There are no moving parts (like a compressor) to operate the RV fridge. It uses heat, and a combination of ammonia, hydrogen gas, and water to move through tubes that cool the fridge down. The heat to power these cooling gases can be provided by two or three different power sources in an RV fridge.
2-way RV fridges use either AC power or LP gas to heat up the gases inside the tubes to cool your fridge. 2-way fridges are the most popular types of refrigerators sold in an RV today.
3-way fridges can run on AC power, DC power or LP gas. The 3-way fridge has the added ability to run off of a volt battery, but are not as popular as the 2-way fridges.
Traditional RV fridges offer cubic feet of storage. Travel trailers, Class B, and Class C RVs are usually sold with smaller fridges. Today, larger 5th wheels and motorhomes boast larger and larger capacity in their RV fridges. Newer models have french doors and up to even 18 cubic feet of storage space. Check on manufacturer websites for their refrigerator specs. Ask dealers if there are any options to upgrade to a larger fridge if you feel you need the extra space.
RV fridges are designed to use A/C power and if not connected to a power source, they use propane gas to keep the inside cool. On a mild day, RV fridges maintain a temperature just fine. On warmer days, the internal temperature of the fridge tends to creep up. However, there are some tricks to keeping the temperature down by packing the RV fridge correctly.
Durability on the road
RV fridges are made of very heavy materials and are specifically designed to move around. They dont have compressors, so there are less moving parts to get loosened while in transit. Many RV owners report their RV fridges lasting them 10, 15 and even 20 years.
Some RV owners worry about the risk of running their refrigerator off of propane gas, as an accident could cause a gas leak or a fire to start. Most experts say that the risk is minimal, especially if your propane system is maintained regularly. However, you can further mitigate the risk by using something called the ARP Fridge Defend system.
See the appendix to this post, where RV expert Gary Brinck explains more about the risks of RV propane fridge and how the ARP system can help.
The RV fridge is almost always going to come installed in your RV and will be included in the purchase price. However, if you want to buy a new RV fridge to install in an RV, they are not cheap. Norcold and Dometic brands are the leading RV fridge brands. Their refrigerator units start near $ and can go all the way up to $ depending on storage capacity and style.
What type of camper is the RV fridge suited for?
The RV fridge is good for families who plan to spend nights at a campground with electric hookups most of the time. Or, for campers who would occasionally like to dry camp, without investing in solar panels or a generator.
RV fridges are also suited for people who do not need a large refrigerator capacity. Newer RV fridge models, however, are setting the bar higher and higher for storage capacity. Generally speaking, RV fridges are great for RVers who are using their RV for shorter periods of time, not living fulltime in their rig.
Over the past years, RV companies have started selling RVs that have residential fridges already installed and ready to go. Here are some things to consider with a residential fridge inside an RV. A great example of a domestic refrigerator that can be used inside of an RV is the GE cubic ft. with french doors.
Click to see more on Amazon
Domestic fridges use a compressor to cool down the insides and keep the temperatures low. The compressor requires a constant volt AC power source.
As mentioned above, a residential fridge needs volt electricity. This is not a problem at campgrounds with a 50 Amp electric hookup. If campers with a residential fridge want to dry camp aka boondock for any length of time, an alternate power source is essential.
New RVs that come with a residential fridge should also have an extra battery pack and an inverter installed. The inverter changes the volt battery charge into volt power that the refrigerator uses when the rig is unplugged. This allows for food to be kept cold while youre driving down the road.
Solar panels or generators are also power sources for a residential fridge when its unplugged. Owners will need to do their math and calculate exactly how much energy they need to produce to keep their refrigerator running. Then they need to purchase the energy source(s) that will meet their needs best.
The options are going to be almost limitless as you can find domestic fridges in any number of storage capacities. Youll find more storage capacity in a residential refrigerator than a RV fridge. In fact, more space is the main reason why most RV users choose a domestic fridge. You can choose t
Residential fridges keep food consistently cool. The freezer also keeps frozen food solidly frozen. When not connected to a power source, it takes longer for residential fridges to warm up. They maintain their temperatures well. Generally speaking, they are much more efficient than the RV fridge.
Durability on the road
Residential fridges are not typically designed to withstand life on the road. All the bumping and jostling around will eventually take a toll on the residential fridge. There are more parts inside which increase the chance of malfunction. A residential fridge is made of less sturdy materials for long-term travel. The average lifespan of a residential refrigerator is between years in a home. In an RV, it could be even less with all the moving around.
The main concern with a residential refrigerator is that it is safely installed. Again, with a new RV, we assume that it has met safety requirements. If you are installing your own residential refrigerator be sure to take all safety precautions in securing it in its space.
The second concern is that the doors are weighted so that they stay closed while the RV is moving. They should latch tightly and require a certain amount of force to open. You can purchase devices to fit onto the doors to keep them closed while in transit.
If you are installing a residential fridge into your RV, the cost will depend on the size and style that you buy. Shoulder to shoulder with the RV fridge, the residential will likely cost you less. There is simply more inventory for residential fridges and you can shop around for the price you want.
Who is the residential fridge suited for?
RV users who want to live in their RV for longer periods of time will want to consider a residential fridge. Campers who dont mind putting in the initial investment of extra power sources (batteries, an inverter, a generator or solar panels) may also want a residential fridge. Finally, a residential fridge may be good for a large family who needs the extra space but is planning only to camp at places where they have full electrical hookups.
Read more: 17 RV Boondocking tips How to properly pack an RV fridge How to keep an RV fridge cool while on the road
In Summary: The Pros and Cons
Based on what weve shared so far, here is a summary of the pros and cons of both the RV fridge and the residential fridge.
- Option to run on electricity or propane gas
- Flexible for dry camping
- High durability, can handle being on the road
- Low cost: comes with the RV and no extra accessories needed to keep it going
- Usually has a smaller capacity
- Less efficiency at keeping food cold
- Higher cost if buying brand new
- Plenty of space
- More efficient at keeping food cold
- Lower cost to buy brand new
- Less durable for travel
- Not flexible for dry camping a constant source of electricity needed
- More effort and up-front expense to maintain
Your options when buying new
If youre shopping for a new RV, and you know that you want a domestic fridge in your RV, then dont buy a rig with an RV fridge. Instead, buy one that offers a residential fridge. There are increasingly more options at dealerships to drive off the lot with a residential fridge already built-in. This will save you time and effort down the road trying to replace a refrigerator. Youll also have the peace of mind knowing that the manufacturer has installed the extra battery, inverter and any other accessories needed to support the constant electricity for your fridge.
If youve been using an RV fridge that isnt meeting your needs anymore, it might be time to change to a residential fridge. Do your research well and decide if its a job you can handle on your own. There might be a professional who can help you with the process.
It is a long process too. You may have to take apart or rebuild cabinetry around the fridge space. The old propane line will need to be removed. Youll also need to install extra battery packs and an inverter to keep your new fridge running. Then youll have to purchase the new refrigerator and get it inside your RV to install it.
There are many tutorials and guides available online that can help you through the process if you are confident in your skills. Consult others who have installed domestic fridges in their RVs and learn from them. Only you can decide if the benefit of having a residential fridge will outweigh the costs.
RV Fridge Safety Concerns & ARP Fridge Defend
This section was written by RV Expert, Gary Brinck
In recent years the RV absorption refrigerator has fallen out of favor because of numerous reports of poor cooling performance, cooling unit failures and even fires resulting from refrigerant leaks. Norcold and Dometic have recalled well over a million fridges for the fire safety issue alone. The absorption refrigeration industry has responded slowly to these issues and some owners feel the fire safety fixes they have offered are inadequate.
Residential-style refrigerators have become popular among RV owners, but the absorption unit remains the refrigerator of choice for those who routinely camp without shore power. Furthermore, for those whose RV fridge is working adequately, spending for an expensive fridge remodeling job is a difficult choice. So, what can be done to make these refrigerators last longer and operate more safely? Install ARP Fridge Defend, the Absorption Refrigerator Protection module.
Your RV refrigerators boiler operates at about degrees all the time, but even a brief time off-level can cause the temperature to sky-rocket to as much as F. It doesn’t take much driving up a hill, or a short stop on an off-level spot for lunch. I’ve even experienced a boiler overheat while checking into the RV park, where the parking area was tilted down and back to one side. This can produce a lot of thermal stress in the fridge boiler, causing the metal to fatigue and the anti-corrosion chemicals in the coolant to deteriorate, leading to fridge failure and perhaps even causing a fire.
The damage doesn’t happen all at once – it accumulates over time so the eventual failure may occur months or years down the road. Some owners begin to notice warmer temperatures in the fridge or freezer, while others may find that their fridge works fine one day and quits the next. Shutting the fridge off, then having it fail during restart is another common complaint. That is likely a result of the cooling and reheating stress causing a crack in the metal.
The fridge controllers supplied by Dometic and Norcold allow the boiler to reach a temperature around degrees F. before doing an emergency shutdown. ARPFridge Defend uses a more proactive strategy, continuously monitoring boiler temperature and pausing the cycle whenever the temperature rises much above the optimum value. ARP automatically keeps the cooling unit boiler in a safe operating range while preventing food loss or requiring a manual reset of the controller, which for many owners would mean a trip to the RV dealer.
ARP Kit Components
In addition to the safety and enhanced life cycle benefits, the ARP Fan Control model has an additional temperature sensor to turn air circulation fans On/Off. These fans can help cooling performance dramatically, as much as 25% in some installations. For fridges mounted in a slide-out, where the upper vent is on the sidewall instead of the roof, additional fans can compensate for the lack of natural convection cooling that is a common problem with slide mounted fridges. For those of you who enjoy “boondocking” off-grid, the temperature-controlled relay saves battery amp-hours so you can stay longer.
Adding the ARPRV to an RV refrigerator is simple enough that any competent do-it-yourselfer or RV technician can do it in an hour or two and it requires no skills beyond basic 12v wiring. The display can be mounted either inside the RV where the owner can see it, or tucked away under or behind the refrigerator and left to do its job alone.
For more information on an ARP for your RV, see the ARP Fridge Defend website at https://www.arprv.com/
Stay true to your RV goals
When choosing your refrigerator, remember why you want to RV in the first place. What kind of camping do you do most of the time?
Keep focused on your goals for owning an RV, and decide if having a residential fridge will help you accomplish those or not. Its important to know what kind of RVing you enjoy most and be true to that. This will make the decision easier, and help you get on the road to have more adventures.
Tags: Gear,RV Appliances & Interior
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Residential fridge rv
Residential RV Fridge vs Propane RV Fridge: Which is Right for You?
Generally speaking, motorhomes and trailers come equipped with 2-way RV fridges. These RV refrigerators can be run on propane, while also offering the option to use shore power. Sometimes an RV might even have a 3-way RV fridge, which can also be run on DC power directly from the house batteries.
These RV refrigerators are great for a variety of reasons. However, they do have their downfalls. Because of this, many people are making the decision to switch over to residential-style refrigerators in their rigs. In fact, some manufacturers are now offering this as an option from the factory.
Of course, residential fridges have their own set of pros and cons, meaning they aren’t necessarily ideal for every RVer out there. For this reason, we highly recommend reading this article before choosing one type of RV fridge or the other.
Here we will discuss the pros and cons of each type of fridge, as well as how you might overcome the downfalls of the residential fridge in order to take advantage of the benefits they offer.
RV Propane Fridge Pros and Cons
We’ll begin by discussing the more popular RV refrigerators out there: the 2-way and 3-way fridges. These propane-and-electric refrigerators are usually ideal for RV life, but they can also be frustrating and annoying.
The Benefit of a Propane Fridge
Obviously, the main thing these traditional RV refrigerators have going for them is the fact that they are versatile. You can plug in and take full advantage of the electricity that is provided at your campsite, or switch over to propane mode should you be boondocking or without power.
For those who camp off-grid often, this ability to cool food without the use of a power hookup is incredibly important.
Cons of a Propane Fridge
Besides the awesome benefit of versatility a propane fridge offers, it also has a few downfalls that can, in some cases, outweigh that major bonus.
These are as follows:
Poor Temperature Regulation
When the weather is hot, propane RV refrigerators can have a very hard time keeping up. This is especially true at higher altitudes, as well as if the unit is packed so full of food that air can’t circulate properly. On top of that, these refrigerators have a tendency to actually freeze foods kept on certain shelves if the outside temperature is cooler.
Some of these issues can be reduced by installing a small fan behind the unit to keep the air moving. Defrosting the fins at the back of the fridge can help as well, as can replacing the seal and door gaskets around the door. However, the fact remains that these appliances will never measure up to residential refrigerators in terms of temperature control.
Less Space for Food
Because of the way they work, propane refrigerators have a lot of bulk on their backsides. This results in a smaller food storage space. Considering how strapped for space RVs already are, this is a pretty annoying inconvenience, but not one that can’t be worked around with a few extra grocery shopping trips and some good old-fashioned “fridge Tetris”.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of the propane fridge is the cost of replacing one when your original finally gives out. These RV-specific appliances are incredibly expensive and can’t be picked up just anywhere, meaning you might be paying shipping on a very heavy item, if not installation fees as well.
For many people, this is the number one reason for making the switch to a residential refrigerator in their RV.
RV Residential Fridge Pros and Cons
So what should you know about a residential fridge before you make your decision? Honestly, the pros and cons are simply the reverse of what we’ve listed above. However, we’ve gone ahead and laid them all out below to help you envision what having this type of fridge might be like.
Knowing these things, you should be able to make the right decision for you, your family, and your RVing style.
Pros of a Residential Fridge
There are quite a few benefits of replacing your RV fridge with a residential-style unit. Below we’ve compiled a list of the top 3 pros for you to consider when making your decision.
Easily the best thing about replacing your broken RV fridge with a residential unit is cost. Residential-style appliances will be hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars cheaper than their RV-specific counterparts. Additionally, fixing a residential refrigerator is almost always less expensive than fixing an RV fridge.
Additional Food Storage
Another major bonus is the fact that residential refrigerators offer more storage space. This is because the inner workings of these units are much less bulky, allowing manufacturers to create larger food storage areas.
Better Temperature Regulation
Finally, there is temperature regulation to consider. Generally speaking, residential fridges are much better at controlling the temperature of your food. They cool more effectively, and rarely freeze items.
The Drawback of a Residential Fridge
While all of these benefits of residential-style refrigerators are great, there is one gigantic drawback to these types of units.
You guessed it, the big downfall of residential refrigerators in RVs is the fact that they cannot be used without a good amount of electricity. This makes boondocking more difficult for sure, meaning those who do wish to camp off-grid will need to do some careful consideration before making the switch.
Boondocking with a Residential Refrigerator
Want to go ahead and make the switch to a residential camper fridge despite the lack of a propane setting? While it certainly does make off-grid camping more difficult, making this switch does not have to mean giving up boondocking completely. It simply means you need to be willing to invest a good amount of money and effort into creating a setup that can support your fridge when shore power is unavailable.
Build a Battery Bank
How do you do this? Well, the first step is to create a battery bank that can hold enough power to run a refrigerator. Because electric refrigerators require quite a lot of electricity, you can expect to have to build a nice little bank of batteries. We recommend using lithium batteries for this purpose due to their ability to charge more quickly, hold a charge longer, and discharge further without damage.
Install an Inverter
In order to use the power stored in your batteries, you will need to couple them with a “pure sine” inverter. This will allow you to convert the electricity stored in your battery bank for use by the fridge. That said, this setup will really only keep you running for a few hours.
Find a Power Source
In order to keep your RV fridge up and running for longer than those few hours, you will need a way to recharge the battery bank you’ve built. This is where a solar system can come into play, giving you a nice stream charge as long as the sun is shining. Of course, the sun doesn’t shine all the time, so you will also want to have a generator on hand for charging purposes.
As you can probably tell, creating a setup that can run an all-electric RV fridge indefinitely is quite complicated and costly. In fact, you’ll spend more putting together a setup like this than you will investing in a new 2-way or 3-way fridge.
For this reason, unless money is no object and you had planned on putting together such a system anyway, you may want to stick to a traditional RV refrigerator if you plan on doing much dry camping at all.
All that said, if you don’t do much boondocking and you think you can get by with a cooler on the rare occasions when you do boondock, there certainly are reasons to go with the residential fridge option. In fact, we’d even say a residential refrigerator is the ideal option for those who stick to RV parks with electric hookups.
Either way you go, we are sure you’ll pick the best option for your family, meaning you can continue down the road with cold food, full bellies, and a happy family.
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