By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Do you store your worms in your refrigerator? All kidding aside, but when RVers talk refrigerators it is like opening a can of worms. Who’d have thought that gas/electric refrigerators versus residential refrigerators could create worse rows than a Chevy versus Ford discussion?
We’re not here to light that fire all over again. For those whose minds aren’t already set in concrete and may be wondering about the potential of installing a residential fridge in an RV, here are a few thoughts.
Yes, residential refrigerators do require shore power, or a reasonable facsimile. For those who predominantly hang their hats in RV parks with shore power available, power isn’t a problem. We’ve heard the argument both ways on the boondocking side. Some tell us that a few hours of generator power keeps even the largest of residential fridges cool, calm and collected. “Purists” would certainly disagree with that approach, but there are plenty of boondocking RVers who tell us that with a sufficient solar panel array on the roof and an appropriately sized battery bank to store the juice, running a residential refrigerator quietly in the boonies is certainly doable.
The problem, it seems, is cracking the code as to just how much of a solar array is sufficient to handle the needs of the household, including the electric fridge. Few fridge manufacturers publish duty-cycle information, that is, how much time is the fridge compressor actually operating. And, of course, that will vary depending on the ambient temperature outside the fridge and how often you pop open the doors. No simple “rule of thumb” will ever apply with so many variables involved.
Warranty and service
If your standard gas/electric RV refrigerator develops a problem, help is usually available. There are scads of RV repair shops around the country, and the original fridge comes with some sort of warranty, so if it poops out during that time you’re theoretically covered. Yes, residential refrigerators also come with a warranty – or do they?
Here’s a comment from a reader who contemplated a change-out to a residential refrigerator in their rig. “Before I purchased my Samsung RF18, I spoke to Samsung customer service about my plans. The Samsung rep said they did not recommend usage in an RV and doing so would negate any warranty.”
Another reader who had a factory-installed residential refrigerator in his unit wrote, “My reefer warranty expired and they sent me an application for an extended one-year warranty for $38. When I got it, the fine print said VOID if used in a recreational vehicle.” If you’re considering going for a residential unit, by all means, READ THE FINE PRINT.
Regardless of your refrigerator type, your warranty will eventually expire. Even if the warranty is still good and the fridge flakes out, who will service your cooler? As we mentioned earlier, RV repair outfits are drooling to fix your Norcold or Dometic. But what about a residential refrigerator? Here’s one experience an RVer had with his RV-factory-equipped Whirlpool side-by-side residential refrigerator: “It failed last January, but we couldn’t get anyone to work on it. RV dealerships and repair services wouldn’t because it was a residential refrigerator. Appliance repair services wouldn’t touch it because it was in an RV.” The owner had to toss out the broken fridge and replace it anew.
If you plan on going the solar battery inverter route with a residential refrigerator, here’s an observation from RVtravel.com electrical guru Mike Sokol. Mike has heard from plenty of disgruntled RVers complaining of issues with power inverters operating residential coolers. He observes, “I have a theory about why there have been so many failures of inverters running residential refrigerators. More on this later, but I don’t think that modified sine wave inverters are appropriate for this application and can have failures of both the inverter and refrigerator compressor.” While he’s still cogitating this situation, if you’re planning a new install, consider going with the somewhat more expensive pure sine wave inverter – you may save yourself a lot of grief.
And consider logistics
We don’t know how many of you have rigs with small doors. Friends of ours with a spiffy Class A coach (equipped with an “old fashioned” gas/electric refrigerator) would have a world-of-hurt in swapping to a residential unit. Their coach entry door is big enough for people, but impossible to move a refrigerator in or out of. Their only hope should they need to replace or exchange their reefer will be to have the rig’s windshield removed, swap out the fridges, then have the windshield put back in. We’d hope it wouldn’t happen to you, but better get out the measuring tape before you order a new refrigerator.
One oft-reported reason for swapping out gas/electric refrigerators for residential units is out of concern for safety. Yes, many RV fires have been traced back to issues with standard RV refrigerators. Often the trouble is an overheated cooling unit that cascaded into a catastrophic fire. Some RVers have installed elaborate (and expensive) fire suppression systems in their refrigerator compartments. But why not stop the fire before it starts? It doesn’t require ditching the old reefer and putting in a residential unit.
As we mentioned in an earlier story, an aftermarket device called Fridge Defend can do just that. The device is wired into the back of a Norcold or Dometic refrigerator, and it monitors the refrigerator’s boiler temperature. If the temperature begins to rise beyond the safety limit, Fridge Defend shuts the refrigerator down. No excessive heat, no fire. “But where does that leave my fridge full of food?” you ask. The unit continuously monitors the temperature and when the boiler temperature drops back down into the safe area, it turns the unit back on and your refrigerator goes back to work cooling your food. We’ll be installing and testing a Fridge Defend very shortly, and will report back. Meantime, get more information by reading our earlier story here.
Mike Sokol (mentioned earlier in this story) is presently testing yet another alternative. His genius is a combination of solar panels, storage batteries, inverter, and not a residential refrigerator, but a high-efficiency refrigerator designed for the marine industry. Mike says it’s an “8-cubic-foot, marine-grade refrigerator from Vitrifrigo with a 12-volt Danfoss swing compressor. This technology is electrically way more efficient than a standard residential 120-volt rotary compressor. Plus this refrigerator is built for the marine industry and designed for vibration, something that might be a problem for a residential refrigerator compressor and copper coolant pipes designed to sit in your non-moving home.” Readers are already champing at the bit to hear his findings. Check out more information here.
Residential fridge? Gas/electric? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution; your lifestyle, finances and technical ability will all have a bearing on how you decide to keep your groceries cool.