RV Refrigerator – Read This Before Buying Anything

RV Refrigerator: Read This Article Before Purchasing an RV Fridge

Before you replace your old RV refrigerator, or simply decide to install one in an RV you are remodeling yourself, will explain to you in this article how to decide which one is for you and all that you need to know before purchasing your RV fridge.

The most important concept I want to start with is the fact that an RV refrigerator is a completely different device from the fridge you have at home or in your apartment. It is not that it is just smaller.

Your residential refrigerator has a compressor and uses moving parts to operate. An RV refrigerator, instead, does not utilize moving parts to remain operative and does not have installed a compressor. These RV fridges are called absorption refrigerators.


How Does An RV Refrigerator Work? AC Power, Liquid Gas, and DC Power

Now let´s see how this entire system works, how an absorption RV refrigerator functions. It uses a combination of water, hydrogen gas and ammonia, all combined with heat. Chemical processes with the participation of a boiler, go along reacting through a pipeline. The evaporation process together with the condensation of these chemicals is what cools the refrigerator.

This heat is produced thanks to the energy produced by the generator or the shore power. In the cases where electricity is no available, so there is no shore power, the flame from the propane gas inside the RV refrigerator is utilized for the heating of the chemicals and executes the aforementioned process.

Current models of RV fridge devices enjoy the following feature: in the cases that there is not AC electricity available, for example, there is no generator power or shore power, the RV refrigerator will switch automatically over to using the liquid gas. As this feature is performed automatically in the background, you do not need to remember to execute yourself the switch and the temperature of the objects inside the RV refrigerator will remain cold.

See the picture below of my Norcold RV Refrigerator. This feature applies for other brands as well: you can set up this RV fridge to Auto mode, as in the picture where the green light indicates that the Auto mode is ON. This switching to Auto means that the RV refrigerator will run with electricity when available thanks to a generator or to shore power, and will switch to LP gas or liquid gas when those energy sources are not available.


The models of RV refrigerator are characterized in two different categories that are called “2-way energy” and “3-way energy”

  • The 2-way, which is the most popular type, functions with liquid gas and AC power
  • The 3 way, that functions with liquid gas, AC power, and also DC power what can be very convenient.

5 Features To Consider Before Buying an RV Refrigerator

1) Size of the RV Fridge

Before any purchase, it is required that you measure the space available so you can determine finally an RV refrigerator model that can fit in your available footprint

If you intend to replace an old Norcold RV refrigerator, we have a couple of conversion charts in this article. You just need to know the number of the model of the RV fridge you want to replace and you will see which of their models adapt to the footprint of your current and soon to be replaced RV refrigerator

2) Capacity Constraints: Consider Adding a Portable RV Refrigerator

As happens with residential refrigerators, there is a difference in capacity from one model to another, even if they occupy the same footprint in your RV layout

In the frequent situations when you require more space for the RV refrigerator; but it happens that simply there is no availability of space, you should be considering to add a portable fridge, a free-standing RV refrigerator. This option appears convenient when you need to store more groceries and your RV fridge is not enough and you do not have a large footprint available as in small RVs or class B RV models.

After their utilization, they can be easily confined below the table. These small portable RV refrigerator devices can run on DC power, so they can be used also outside the realms of the camper or motorhome

As you know that I had many years a class B RV when I was single, much better than having an ice chest, I had a portable refrigerator. While traveling, it can be stored inside the wet bath, so it allows the passengers to walk inside the camper.

Ideally, the best place to store one of these will be a toy hauler.

3) RV Refrigerator Brands

My recommended RV refrigerator brands are Norcold and Dometic. Norcold, this one I recommend it because it is the one that I have. Dometic is the other brand that I can also recommend because I have rented RVs that had Dometic models. Dometic has also heavy presence as a manufacturer of RV air conditioner devices and we studied their products in this article here.

4) Price Of The RV Fridge

An RV refrigerator represents a huge expense. Models start from nine hundred dollars ($ 900) and can reach quantities over $ 2900 for larger devices.

rv refrigerator

5) Installation of the RV Refrigerator

After the selection of the RV refrigerator, it is the turn of the process of installing it. My advice is that you request the dealer to perform the installation, which may come at a cost or not, depending on the dealer.

It is not just installing the purchased RV fridge, it is that you have to uninstall the old fridge, that is completely hardwired into your electrical installation and connected to the liquid gas.

Probably you have to modify your cabinet, rearrange the electricity internal network and handle the gas installation, which can be really difficult.

Using a Residential Refrigerator Instead Of An RV Refrigerator

All of us asked ourselves at some point: Can I utilize a normal small residential fridge instead of these RV refrigerator expensive units?

The answer is “generally, no”. Whereas there are notable exceptions to the rule as we see each time more hybrid devices that are manufactured, residential refrigerators would not last long in a recreational vehicle. The reason is that they are manufactured with aluminum, copper, brass, and in general soft metals, to be light. They were not at all manufactured to resist and withstand the numerous irregularities in the surface of the road pavement.

For this reason, you will see that RV refrigerators normally do not have a compressor. However, there are currently hybrid models in the market that will redefine how an RV fridge has to be.

Pro Tips To Efficiently Operate Your RV Fridge

Considering that you have spent not less than a thousand dollars in your new RV refrigerator, I am sure that you would like to operate it with efficiency, which means in part, to operate it in an economical way but also maximizing the performance of the fridge at the same time.

Here we have some good pro tips to help you achieve the aforementioned goal.

Avoid overloading the RV refrigerator: The air must flow through the shelves of the fridge so it can cool the contents thereof. Therefore, it cannot be overloaded: air must pass through the shelves.

Freeze before at home: Freeze the items in your residential fridge and introduce them in the freezer of the RV already frozen. Likewise, cool the goods in the refrigerator at home and store them in the RV refrigerator already cooled. Both of these recommendations will help greatly with the RV refrigerator efficiency. This is because the RV fridge will consume more energy in the process of cooling warm goods.

Turn the RV fridge on several hours before the regular utilization: Proceed to turn on your refrigerator at least six hours before departure. This behavior will allow the device to reach its standard temperature. During the night could be the best moment as the exterior temperatures tend to be lower taking less energy and time to reach this standard operating temperature to the RV refrigerator.

Hold items in place despite the RV movement: There are for sale in Amazon very cheap refrigerator bars that secure the items in place and are quite useful for RVs and boats where the objects introduced inside the RV fridge may fall as soon as you open the RV refrigerator due to the movement and displacement during the transportation process.

Regular defrosting: Freezers need to be defrosted according to the indications of the manufacturer as they are not frost-free. If you use your RV just a season per year, this will not be a problem. However, if you are a frequent user of the RV refrigerator, you cannot avoid performing the defrost process. Thew best solution would be to turn it off and allow the process to take place naturally. Unluckily, this is normally not possible. Introduce a pan or another device in the RV fridge with very hot water. In any case, never use any kind of ice picker, direct heat or a knife.

Opening of the doors: Open the doors only when needed, and not just to look inside, because this is inefficient for the usage of energy. RV refrigerators must be between thirty-three degrees and thirty-six degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature of more than thirty-nine could be problematic to handle, so keep it between range. The RV freezer must be between zero to ten degrees also in the Fahrenheit scale. With a thermometer, that you will introduce inside the RV fridge, you can monitor these temperatures and ensure you are within acceptable tolerance ranges.

RV refrigerator fan usage: To ensure that the temperature remains regular and gain consistency, you should purchase an RV refrigerator fan operated by batteries. These devices utilize two “D cell” batteries and may last for thirty days or even more. They represent long term efficient options at a very low cost.

Device operating hours: The RV refrigerator has to be always turned on and you should limit clearly the amount of time that the RV fridge is not functioning and turned off. The reason for this advice is that when the refrigerator is turned off, the sediments of the chemicals contained tend to go down by gravity and they are deposited at the bottom of the container. There is the risk of having clogs if the aforementioned sediments remain there for long. When the RV refrigerator is normally working, these natural forming sediments, remain floating.

Horizontal level positioning: The RV refrigerator has to be horizontally leveled, otherwise the unit may be damaged. Utilize a bubble level and ensure that the ball positions itself inside the inner circle of this calibration instrument. During the traveling, this should not be a concern because the liquids are constantly moving. It might be a problem if the RV fridge is not leveled when the vehicle is not moving and it remains too long in that unleveled and unbalanced position, as this may allow the sediments to deposit themselves at the bottom of the container of the chemical due to natural gravity.

Influence of outdoor temperatures: The temperature outdoor has a notable influence on the efficiency of the cooling of the RV fridge. It is recommended to lower the settings of the device in winter as the RV refrigerator is not required to function as in summer. Likewise, it is advised, of course, to raise considerably the settings in summer where the unit has to perform a huge effort to work according to its standard expectations. The installation if a small fan powered by 12 volts is also a good idea to facilitate the displacement of the hot stream of air as far as possible from the RV fridge.

Obstructions in the ventilation: Routinely, cast a glance checking the ventilation of the unit and discover if there are cobwebs, small things or tree leaves that may obstruct these ventilations impeding the RV fridge to work properly. This scrutiny for obstructions includes connectors as well.

Check the seals and the door: During normal operation of the RV refrigerator, you will discover if the door closes well and the seals are clean. The goal behind this simple routine check is that the air does not escape from the unit and you are able to keep the standard operation temperatures

Increasing environmental concern: Some of our readers from the European Union asked us about the coolant used when we published previous versions of this article. At this present moment, there is an increasingly important environmental-based concern, related to the disposal of the old refrigerators. The Freon coolant was known to have been damaging the ozone layer. When the older products start to wear off, the CFC bearing insulation and its destruction form another major concern too. Most of the modernized fridges use a refrigerant under the name of HFC 134a, which will not deplete ozone later like Freon. So, newer refrigerants are widely used nowadays, and taking over R 134a. The primary refrigerant widely used nowadays has to be the R 600a, which is also known as isobutane. It will have the same old effect on temperature.

There have been some reports of the fridges exploding in case the refrigerants leaks isobutene in presence of a spark. In case, coolant tens to leak the fridge, then the concentration of coolant in the air within the fridge can create to form a major explosive mixture. It can easily be ignited through a spark from a thermostat or whenever the light comes on as the door gets opened. It helps in resulting in documented cases of the serious form of property damage or injury, and can even lead to fatal causes. The reputed sources ensure to regulate the discarded refrigerator and their disposals.

Following all these pro tips and tricks above will surely help that your RV refrigerator runs very efficiently and saving energy and money.

RV Absorption Refrigerators

  • Compressor refrigerator: This one happens to be the most common type of option available in this regard, mostly residential refrigerators. These fridges are known to have noticeable noise, but will also ensure an efficient form of cooling effect for sure. There are some portable compressor fridges available designed for the recreational vehicle and also for camping use. The items are rather expensive, but reliable and effective at the same time.
  • Absorption refrigerators: This kind of product is used for those dwellers, where there is a lack of electricity and in recreational vehicles. These fridges are widely used in mobile homes. These fridges are mostly powered by a heat source like kerosene or gas. Some models are designed for RV or camping as the ones from Dometic and Norcold. It has a separate version under the name of thermal mass or solar refrigerators. These are widely designed for reducing the overall consumption of electricity. These fridges will have added advantages as they don’t have the liberty to use refrigerants, which might be inflammable or environmentally dangerous. Some of the typical solar ones are known to use ammonia as working gas and employ large mirrors for concentrating UV lights to reach the temperature at the destined level to free gaseous ammonia from solvent. Most of these items are designed for using electricity. These units happen to be insulated heavily. Therefore, the cooling load is said to be limited to heat introduced by newer products to be freeze. It gives rise to an ambient form of air transfer whenever the unit is opened up. It can be run using very little power.

Energy Efficiency Levels For An RV Fridge

Since the early stages of 1990s, there was a competition held among RV refrigerator manufacturers to check the energy efficiency level of their individual fridges. The current models in the United States under the category of Energy Star is known to use around 50% less energy than the rest and the average models of 1974. The most energy-efficient one lately is known to consume around half kilowatt on an hourly scale.

However, the ordinary models are also quite efficient and smaller units are known to use less than around 0.2 kWh on a daily basis. Some of the larger units, mostly with larger freezers and icemakers might use around 4 KW on an hourly scale, per day. The European Union is known to use the latest letter based energy efficient rating label and used on behalf of the Energy Star. The fridges over here are sold as per the energy efficiency level.

For the current US fridges, the CEE differentiates between the Energy Star qualified fridges. Tier 1 is those products, which are around 20% to 24.9% more effective when compared to the Federal standard as made by NAECA. On the other hand, Tier 2 is associated with 25% to 29.9% more efficient. Tier 3 happens to be the one with the highest qualification. These are refrigerators at least 30% more effective than the current Federal standards. Around 82% of the Energy Star qualified fridges are available under Tier 1, Tier 2 will be placed under 13% and Tier 3 with just 5%.

Anthony Foxx

I am Tony, an RV designer and RV developer. I create bill of materials for RV manufacturers for travel trailers and fifth wheels. I worked as a freelance transportation consultant for Lyft. As an RV development consultant, I create customization trees for RV manufacturers who want to offer a solution to prospective customers to design their custom RV with variant configuration. Apart from this, I sell in Indiana trailer hitches, hitch balls, goosenecks and weight distribution systems where I provide advice to customers who want to know which is their towing capacity, which hitch ball should they utilize and how to deploy a weight distribution system. I do my best to explain all these processes and their installation, here in RV Favorites.