Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Evaluating your best RV refrigerator options: gas-electric, 12-volt, or residential

By Cheri Sicard
Thinking of changing out your RV refrigerator? What kind of RV fridge is best? The video below from Big Truck Big RV will help you explore your options so you can evaluate which type of refrigerator will best meet your needs and match your particular RV lifestyle.

The video explores both the pros and the cons of the three options in RV refrigerators:

  • Gas-electric
  • 12-volt
  • Residential

Gas-electric refrigerators

Refrigerators that run on propane gas or on shore power electricity are the most common and most popular. Undoubtedly this style works best for those who travel frequently in their RVs, and especially for those who like boondock.

I definitely fit into this category. I am constantly amazed at how long my RV refrigerator can run on a tank of propane. It’s incredibly fuel efficient.

Gas-electric refrigerators use battery power to start, then run off of propane.

On the downside, they can take 3-6 hours to cool down once you start them. They must also be level in order for the fridge to work properly. Over-stuffing can reduce efficiency.  Also, these refrigerators overall can have trouble running as cold on propane as they do when plugged into electric. Anyone who has ever tried to keep ice cream in the freezer that is running on propane already knows this.

12-volt RV refrigerators

12-volt refrigerators run directly off your RV batteries.

One advantage is that they are more efficient, more so than even residential-style refrigerators.

On the downside, in order for them to be efficient, they need to be relatively small.

Then again, most RV refrigerators are small, and I did say relatively. The fact is that a large 12-volt fridge is larger than many gas-electric models. About a 10-cubic-foot refrigerator-freezer is about as large as you can expect to get and have it run well in your RV.

Another downside is that unless you have an enhanced RV battery system, a 12-volt refrigerator can drain your power rather quickly.

But if you have a solar system that is continually charging your house batteries, a 12-volt refrigerator might be an excellent choice for you.

Using a residential refrigerator in an RV

A lot of people have switched over to a full residential refrigerator in their RVs.

Of course, you can get these in larger sizes. They are inexpensive to operate and are less expensive to buy than gas-electric refrigerators, which are VERY expensive. And they work exceptionally well. They are potentially safer, too, as no fire or pilot lights are involved at all.

Things can get challenging if you have to remove a big refrigerator from an RV if it was built in.

It also requires a large inverter to operate. That’s an extra component that could potentially go out.

A residential refrigerator might be the best option for those who primarily stay parked in RV parks connected to 30- or 50-amp power … unless you have a SUPER-enhanced battery system. But even then, if you run into a string of cloudy days where the solar can’t charge much, a residential refrigerator is going to drain your house batteries fairly quickly.

The video offers some ideas on how to have enough power to keep your residential refrigerator running when off-grid. But they may not be practical for most people.

Check out this invaluable overview of the pros and cons of each type of RV refrigerator.  Which is best for you?




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Leonard Rempel (@guest_203223)
1 year ago

ZERO need to buy a new fridge if you want to convert to DC power. We converted our fridge in Shipshewana, In. and could not be happier! Did I mention that this was needed due to a propane fire at the back of the fridge? Lucky that we only lost the fridge due to the fire and not the entire RV.
Oh yeah, it does not use much power as DC is very efficient and we now can have ice cream anytime we want!

Tommy Molnar (@guest_203268)
1 year ago
Reply to  Leonard Rempel

I met somone who did this and I was all set to make the trip and have it done. I changed my mind when it was pointed out that I would still basically have the same size fridge but operating differently. When our fridge out and out died a couple months ago, we were unable to find any RV fridges to replace it. It was 106 degrees that day. I was in the hospital so wifey was on her own. She called our fave mobile RV repair guy and he suggested we get a 120v fridge from Lowe’s or Home Depot – and we would never regret it. So far we love the $150 fridge. We have 700 watts on the roof and two Lipo batteries. I’m hoping when we leave here (Houston) and head home (Reno) that we will have no problems. The big test will be when we spend a couple days in Quartzsite on that trip. No hookups there. I used to run our fridge on 120v when driving down the road and it worked fine.

Leonard Rempel (@guest_203274)
1 year ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Hi Tommy,
When our fridge fire happened, we did the same thing! Off to Lowe’s for a small 120v bar fridge, as we needed something! For us and short term, it was awesome!
Our fridge is perfectly sized for our needs, so we kept the fridge cabinet and simply converted the “guts” of it to a two compressor DC residential fridge.
The small bar fridge was great for the basics, but we don’t like getting groceries every day or two.
Good luck to you on your future trips!

Wayne C (@guest_203281)
1 year ago
Reply to  Leonard Rempel

Have you determined how many watt hours it uses per day? I like to boondock and can produce about 500 watt hours of solar power per day. I would like to have a refrigerator that I can use without running a generator.

Ed Fogle (@guest_203314)
1 year ago
Reply to  Leonard Rempel

I agree. I replaced my Nevercold 1200 with a 17cf residential and have been very happy with it. But, in hindsight, if I had it to do again I’d go with the JC Refrigeration(Shipshewana located) conversion. Very energy efficient.

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