I’m finding more and more RVs are coming with 12-volt refrigerators. These have a lot of promise, but do they deliver?
The advantages of a 12-volt refrigerator include the fact that they work like the one you likely have in your home. They use a compressor to circulate the coolant throughout the fridge. This has the advantage of cooling the box much faster than the typical RV fridge. A traditional RV fridge has a set of very cold coils in it where the cold is, with no provision to move it.
But anyone who has just put a block of ice in a cooler knows that a single cold point in a fridge means there are areas where the temperature is cooler and less cool. That is one of the disadvantages of the more traditional absorption fridges.
Plus, they take a very long time to cool—sometimes up to 12 hours. So are the 12-volt fridges all they’re cracked up to be? Sort of.
One of the things I found in the GE 12-volt fridge that came with our rig is that it absolutely has hot and cold spots. For example, I left a bottle of water in it on a travel day and that bottle rolled to the back of the fridge and froze solid.
In our old absorption fridge, I had a battery-powered cooling fan that I placed in it and I wondered if such a gadget would help solve the hot/cold circumstance of this fridge, as well—so I bought one.
The one I bought was a Beech Lane RV Fridge Fan, which claims to have a 3,000 RPM motor and is powered by two “D” cell batteries.
I’m sure each of you has your own experience with your own refrigerators.
Using a temperature gun, I measured the different spots in the fridge to see how much variation there is. I was shocked at the degree (hehe) of difference within the fridge.
Clearly, on this GE model, the cooling system is at the back of the fridge, which is pretty normal. So the back wall of the fridge measured 1°F with the gun. Further toward the front, it was at 52°. Having run a commercial kitchen at the bed and breakfast, I know that food-safe temperature is 42° F.
Does the Beech Lane RV Fridge Fan work?
I am still playing around with placement with this little fan. But I’ve found that, by placing the “bottom” against the back wall of the fridge, it seems to really make a difference. The hot spots don’t seem as hot, the cold spots seem to be closer to what I’d like.
I had incorrectly assumed that these newer 12-volt fridges were much better at evenly distributing the internal temperature than the old ones. However, at least with the GE box, I’m not convinced.
There are absolutely advantages to the 12-volt fridges:
- They don’t require holes to be cut into the exterior of the RV.
- They are safe to use when driving down the road. I know a lot of people will argue with me about this point, but friends who are firefighters and talk about RV fridge fires are who I am going to listen to, not people who post things on the Internet. Sorry.
- They do cool faster, so if your RV is one that gets occasional use, this might be a good choice.
- They don’t require that the RV be level. Gas absorption fridges perform ideally when the RV is within 3° of level.
They have disadvantages as well
- They are more power-hungry than I had assumed. I would recommend that you have at least two AGM batteries or at least a single lithium battery and some solar if you want to use a 12-volt fridge off the grid.
- There is less consistency inside the cabinet than I had hoped there would be.
I think we, as human beings, have figured out that the refrigerator portion of these devices should really be between 38°-41° F to maintain a food-safe temperature. The freezer should be around 0° F.
So why in the Wide, Wide, World of Sports isn’t there just a button that allows us to choose either 38° or 41°? What is the point of the stupid “cold, colder, coldest” control? You know what the temperature should be, put some tech in there to make it be that, already.
My inexpensive Alpicool cooler has exactly this on the outside of the unit. It does a far, far better job of maintaining temperature than this GE box. Perhaps others are different. I haven’t spent as much time with a bunch of RV fridges in the real world as I would like to.
However, I will say that if I were to build a new RV from scratch, I wouldn’t use this GE refrigerator.
I also know that RV companies may have called for one brand or model of a product and that no longer is available. RV companies are still scrambling to build units the way they want to. I honestly don’t know if this GE fridge was the RV company’s first choice or fifth, to be quite honest.
The Beech Lane RV Fridge Fan in summary
For about $24 (as of this writing) on Amazon, I think the Beech Lane Fridge Fan is a worthwhile device to have. It certainly keeps the beer colder without freezing the bacon—which should be criminal, if you ask me.
My pro tip with this is to buy rechargeable batteries to keep in the fan so you don’t have to keep purchasing new batteries. Also, so you keep batteries out of the landfill. In fact, I found a number of D cell batteries that can charge via USB on Amazon, which is really cool. This could be the perfect solution for us RVers. So, of course, I’m going to buy some and you’ll be reading about them here soon!
Learn more or order a Beech Lane RV Fridge Fan here.
I replaced the absorption fridge in my class c with a Everchill 12 v compressor 10.7 cu. ft. Followed the instructions ( few ) and had it up and running in short order.
Gets cold quick and is quiet.
complaint time: large temp swings from time to time, been trying to dial it in slowly as suggested by others. Sometimes it goes into a zombie state and temp setting light in fridge blinks ( forest river web site says this means fridge did not reach set point in 6 hour window time frame )
Worst part of ownership is that Way Industries does not provide detailed information about the self diagnostics information. Called them and the response about temp swings was “ normal “ … heard that before ! As mentioned by others digital temp control would work dramatically better.
We have that same little fan in our absorption fridge. Just got it for our latest months long trip. Worth every penny in helping our fridge stay cold throughout. And, the first set of batteries (Energizer) lasted a month of constant running.
I have 2007 120V/absorption frig in my unit. I’ve installed a 12-volt fan on the condenser side of the unit blowing air up through the frig roof vent. Unbelievable the difference especially on a warm to Hot day. Ran a wire up through the vent to a small solar panel with a fan at the bottom blowing air up. Keeps the inside temp of the frig much cooler.
make that a 5 volt solar panel and fan
Would love to see pics of this install. Wiring for it, etc.
I am not one to make recommendations, but when my absorption fridge quit the folks at JC refrigeration installed the AMISH 12v compressor unit on the back of my original Norcold 4 door unit. Will NEVER go back to gas absorption. This thing keeps my food cold and I always have ice in the ice maker. Very efficient too. Plus, they install a nifty interior fan kit that mounts right on the fins which really help circulate the air and keeps ice off the fins. (These can be bought direct). Wife likes this setup as it is safer than gas and we did not have to modify the woodwork or trim.
I will concur on the temperature settings.
Totally stupid to have to put a thermometer in your freezer and another in your fridge just to verify the safe temperatures are being kept.
No one would buy a home unit without digital controls.
Again, just the RV industry forcing the consumer to settle for what the builder chooses to cheap out on.
Unfortunately, Tony Barthel’s article is mistitled. He speaks of a 12V fridge when he should be saying a “12v compressor fridge” compared with a gas absorption fridge. The typical gas absorption fridge works on gas or 12v DC and even on gas requires the 12vdc to operate.
My absorption fridge use 12v only for control. It runs on propane and 120 volt AC.
Actually most absorption-style RV refrigerators operate on propane and 120vac. The amount of amperage in the 12 volt system isn’t sufficient to do an effective job at chilling the fridge, though it will maintain the temperature in fridges larger than a bar-sized unit.
There are all sorts of RV fridges and power sources including three-way, 12 volt compressor, 12 volt absorption and so many others. I could make the headline longer but that’s the point of the text in the article.
So, what size fridge is this?
What’s the power consumption? Compared to a similar size residential fridge?
Norcold Owner’s Manual of my 12v frig says to keep the frig within 10 degrees of level in all directions.
Thanks for this write up. As I RV shop, I really focus on units which have the larger, 4-door, propane fridge installed. However, after reading this and other material in the RVT Newsletter, going with a 12V seems a better and safer option. So, as I shop, I no longer automatically DQ units with a 12V system. Do you recommend one model over another?
Plus I have been told that the larger Furrion 12 volt compressor units are pretty darned nice and DO have digital control systems. This was specifically the GE 10 cubic foot model. I also understand that the Furrion units were designed from the ground-up to work in RVs.