Best Types Of RV RefrigeratorsAnthony Day
This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.
I always believe that having an excellent RV fridge allows you to stay on the road for more extended periods and pack a more comprehensive selection of items.
Coolers packed with ice don't always do the trick, and without a reliable fridge to keep things cool, I'm forced to make more stops and consume only non-perishable meals for the length of my journey. And to top that up, different types of RV fridges come with various pros and some pricey cons. That said, what are the best types of RV refrigerators available on the market today?
Various RV refrigerator types meet different needs. However, absorption RV refrigerators are the most well-known and are incredibly efficient on gas. They are also quiet, very resistant to wear and tear, and simple to maintain, owing to a design that eliminates the use of moving components.
The best type of RV refrigerator is the one most suited to your family's RVing lifestyle. RV owners who only camp in RV parks and campsites will have entirely different needs than those who mostly travel. However, refrigerator technology has an exciting way of improving our RV lifestyle, impacting today's RV refrigerators.
As a devoted camper, I have used and abused various RV refrigerators and models in my motorhome. And through my experience and research, I found two major industries specializing in RV refrigerators, Norcold and Dometic, and staying in touch with major suppliers such as Camping World, has kept me in the right loop. That said, here's what you should know.
Best Types Of RV Refrigerators
Refrigerators are either compressor-driven or absorption-driven in RVs. Of the two, absorption refrigerators are the most popular type of refrigerators used in RVs. And its main ingredient, LP gas, is used to power this type of refrigerator.
They're more adaptable than compressor-driven refrigerators because of this. In addition, you would also come across a "residential-style refrigerator." However, each of these refrigerator types has its unique role in an RV.
So, let's start by exploring the best type of RV refrigerator: the absorption refrigerator. We'll see how they work, the pros and cons of each type, and who they are best for in this RV journey.
Absorption RV Refrigerators
This type of refrigerator is the most well-known form of RV fridge, and it's what most people think of when they say "RV fridge." However, because it uses chemical methods to keep your food fresh, it's also known as an "absorption fridge."
In addition, absorption and a chemical process between ammonia, water, and hydrogen power this RV refrigerator. A refrigerator's chilling effect is the result of heating ammonia, followed by evaporation and condensation. Finally, a gas (propane) flame or an electric element is used to heat the ammonia.
Furthermore, the electronics that operate the "brains" of an RV fridge use 12V DC in either case. However, because the power need is so low, the "propane" mode is ideal for off-grid use.
Still, since absorption refrigerators employ liquid propane gas as one mode of cooling and provide either 12V AC (two-way) or 12V DC and 120V AC (three-way) power, they have a distinct advantage. That said, let's look at the two-way and three-way power options.
Absorption RV Refrigerator Power Options
Refrigerators in RVs may run on two – and in some cases three – distinct forms of power. For example, an absorption RV refrigerator that can run on AC power and LP gas is a "2-way fridge."
In addition, absorption RV refrigerators may also function on "three-way power," which means that in addition to 120V conventional electricity and LP gas, RV owners with three-way refrigerators can also run the unit on 12V power generated by the RV's batteries.
Although a 120V power source delivers more continuous cooling power than propane, the advantages of LP gas refrigerators allow your RV to be entirely self-sufficient and go anywhere.
However, when it comes to a three-way power option, these 12V three-way RV refrigerators have several benefits, including:
- Being small enough to fit into constricted spaces.
- Three-way RV fridges can run off the vehicle's battery, offering a safer power option while traveling.
- It can last more than 25 years due to the few parts that make up the entire fridge.
In addition, when there is always the potential of fire when using propane to power an RV refrigerator while traveling, many of us RV owners believe it is worth the risk to keep our food as cold as possible on lengthy drives. However, a three-way poses less of a threat and can function on uneven ground – up to a 30-degree slope.
Overall, absorption refrigerators provide more versatility since they may be converted to propane to save energy. Switching to propane allows you to remain out longer without shore power.
However, they don't cool as rapidly, uniformly, or effectively as other power options, and when running on LP gas, it would be best if you also parked the RV almost wholly level for the fridge to work correctly.
In addition, depending on the fridge, you should anticipate a regular 20-pound propane tank to last roughly 11 days (nonstop) before you need to replace or replenish it, which is plenty of time in-between to power it with other power options.
If you're thinking about getting an absorption fridge, I recommend checking out Camping World's high-performance RV propane tank refills.
Gas absorption RV refrigerators are available from manufacturers in various sizes, from portable coolers to apartment-sized capacities of 17 cubic feet.
Absorption RV Refrigerator Pros And Cons
Overall, families that plan to spend most of their time at a campsite with power hookups will benefit from absorption refrigerators. Or for campers who want to dry camp occasionally but don't want to invest in solar panels or a generator.
People who do not require a vast refrigerator capacity will benefit from absorption RV refrigerators. Newer RV fridge models, on the other hand, are raising the bar for storage capacity.
Lastly, these types of RV fridges are explicitly designed for RVers who do not live in their RV full-time and only use it for a few weeks at a time.
Residential RV Refrigerators
Next, we have another popular option. Some Class A motorhomes and big travel trailers include "residential-style" refrigerators. They're popular since they have a larger capacity and cool more evenly. They're also less costly than a refrigerator for an RV.
Residential refrigerators run on 120V AC electricity; thus, you'll utilize 12V DC power from your RV's house battery bank, which will be transformed to 120V AC power by an inverter while RVing with one.
When translated to English, a "residential-style" fridge is sometimes known as a "one-way fridge." It is because they are exclusively powered by shore electricity. Therefore, they can only work without plugging in if a generator or an inverter is used. An inverter transforms DC electricity from your batteries into AC power for your refrigerator.
In addition, residential refrigerators do not have the potential fire hazards of RV-specific refrigerators that use ammonia-based cooling units.
Be careful that certain RV manufacturers may use the phrase "residential-style" to describe the design, size, or the usage of a compressor for cooling. So an AC/DC compressor fridge, often known as a "residential-style" fridge, is different from the fridge in your home since it can take power from batteries.
Residential RV Refrigerator Power Options
Because a residential RV refrigerator requires 120-volt electricity, it may not be an issue at campgrounds with a 50-amp electric connection. However, if campers with a domestic fridge want to dry camp - or boondock - for any period, they'll need an alternative power supply.
An additional battery pack and an inverter should be fitted in new RVs with the installed residential fridge. When the rig is disconnected, the inverter converts the 12-volt battery charge into 120-volt electricity, which the refrigerator utilizes. It allows you to keep your goods cold while traveling along the road.
Solar panels or generators can provide electricity when a domestic fridge is unplugged. However, Motorhome or travel trailer owners will have to perform some arithmetic to figure out how much energy they'll need to keep their refrigerators operating and buy the energy options that will best fulfill their requirements.
Residential RV Refrigerator Pros And Cons
Overall, RV owners who want to stay in their RV for an extended amount of time should consider purchasing a residential refrigerator.
In addition, a domestic fridge may be desirable for campers who are willing to invest in additional power sources (batteries, an inverter, a generator, or solar panels).
Finally, a home refrigerator may be appropriate for a big family that needs additional storage but only plans to camp in locations with complete power hookups.
Compressor RV Refrigerators
The compressor-driven fridge is powered by AC/DC electricity in most RVs. If your RV is hooked in, you can operate it off of shore power; if it isn't, you can run it off of your coach batteries.
Like those seen in fixed houses, residential refrigerators are compressor refrigerators that can only be used when connected to electricity. As a result, this means they can only operate on AC power, necessitating the use of an inverter when the RV is not linked to shore power or a generator.
Again, similar to residential RV fridges, 120V AC compressor fridges are generally known to consume a lot of power. And as we all know, distribution of power and power management in our RVs can get challenging.
And while you're off the grid, you'll have to keep your inverter running - all the time - to keep your fridge cool.
That said, one of the more popular choices amongst compressor RV refrigerators is a 12V compressor fridge.
Your RV's house battery bank provides 12V DC power for a 12V compressor RV refrigerator. Therefore, it is an excellent option because it eliminates the requirement for both LP gas and 110V AC.
Compressor RV Refrigerator Power Options
The compressor-driven fridge is powered by AC/DC electricity in most RVs. If your RV is hooked in, you can operate it off of shore power; if it isn't, you can run it off your coach batteries.
One of the best features of a compressor RV fridge is that it draws less power than an absorption fridge since it often requires more energy to heat up.
On average, a 12V-50Ah battery can power a two cubic foot 12V fridge for 35 to 50 hours before recharging. On the other hand, a ten cubic foot RV refrigerator can only run for 10 to 15 hours on the same battery. However, it is crucial to remember that batteries should not be entirely depleted.
Furthermore, because 12V compressor fridges are lower in size and power requirement than residential fridges, they may be powered by solar energy.
That said, depending on the age of the compressor fridge, some RVers have been known to use solar power to support their batteries to power their compressor fridges, which can be a costly exercise.
Compressor RV Refrigerator Pros And Cons
Overall, this is an excellent alternative for travelers who prefer an all-electric fridge is a compressor RV refrigerator, which constantly operates on 12V DC.
Finally, even though compressor fridges are known to have a bit more space than an RV fridge, these refrigerators are appropriate for campers who do not require a lot of refrigerator space and do not typically camp for more than a week at a time.