Everything You Need to Know About RV Refrigerators

Everything You Need to Know About RV Refrigerators

  • The ability to easily keep food at safe temperatures is one of the biggest benefits of traveling in an RV with a refrigerator. There are three primary types of refrigerators found in luxury RVs – absorption, compressor, and residential – and it can be difficult to know which one is best. As with anything, what’s best for you will largely be determined by the way you travel. To help you understand the pros and cons of each, we’ve put together this handy guide for your kitchen’s primary appliance.

    AC vs DC Power
    Before we dive into the different types of refrigerators, let’s first talk briefly about the electrical systems in your RV. There are two primary forms of electricity – alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) – and your RV likely uses both. AC power is what you get out of any standard outlet, whether it be the electric post at your campsite, a generator, or an outlet in your home. In the RV world it’s also known as shore power, and it typically runs the large appliances in your RV.

    DC power works similarly to the electrical system in your car. This is the type of energy stored in your RV’s house batteries. It’s also the type of energy generated by your RV’s solar panels. If your RV isn’t connected to shore power, devices like the water pump can be run directly off the DC energy stored in your battery bank.

    If you’re not connected to shore power, you’ll still need a way to power the AC devices in your camper, including the wall outlets. To do this, you’ll need an inverter, which converts DC to AC. With an inverter, you can plug your devices into powered outlets and keep them charged, just like you would at home.

    Now that we’ve got the power basics down, let’s look at what that means for your RV refrigerator options.

    Absorption Refrigerators
    Absorption refrigerators are the most common models found in RVs today and they are the most flexible in terms of power source. You’ll find two-way models, which run on either LP gas (propane), or shore power (AC), or three-way models, which run on propane, shore power, or direct current. Some models from popular brands like Norcold or Dometic will automatically switch between power sources, others you’ll have to manually flip a switch – so be sure to check your owner’s manual.

    Absorption refrigerators take longer to cool down than compressor style RV fridges and they also need to work harder to keep food cool when it’s hot outside or if you’re camping in higher altitudes. Conversely, this type of fridge has a tendency to freeze foods on certain shelves of the refrigerator if it’s cooler outside. You may need to have a small refrigerator fan installed inside to keep the air circulating properly.

    You’ll also need to make sure your RV is perfectly level for an absorption fridge to work properly. If you plan to stay at campgrounds with level concrete pads, this isn’t an issue, but if you want to venture out into a state or national park, or go boondocking, level spaces are much harder to find.

    Also, because of the way they’re designed, absorption refrigerators have a lot of components on the back side (including the cooling unit), which reduces the amount of space to store food on the inside.

    Compressor Refrigerators
    Compressor refrigerators are also popular with RVers. This type of fridge cools down faster than absorption models when you first turn it on and it runs more efficiently. Compressor RV refrigerators can be designed to run on either alternating or direct current. If designed for AC, it’ll run off shore power or your inverter. If DC, it’ll run off your batteries.

    Every Bowlus is equipped with a 12 volt DC compressor refrigerator. We selected a model that is highly efficient and the perfect size for your adventures – on or off grid. The refrigerator in the Terra Firma or Endless Highways Edition is perfectly sized to fit your trip’s pre-prepped meals and snacks. The freezer is big enough for a pint of ice cream, a bottle of vodka to mix happy hour libations, and other frozen necessities.

    Unlike other RV refrigerators, your luxury travel trailer doesn’t have to be completely level for the compressor fridge to work properly. This is a huge benefit when you’re boondocking since mother nature rarely creates completely flat surfaces.

    The Bowlus refrigerator doesn’t run on propane, but rather draws power from your batteries. Not only is it safer to travel with the propane off, but it conserves the fuel for cooking and other critical systems. Plus, you can easily use the optional solar panels to recharge your batteries at your campsite for longer boondocking trips, rather than having to get your propane tank refilled.

    Residential Refrigerators
    Residential refrigerators are one of the big trends in the RV industry these days, especially shiny stainless steel models often found in large fifth wheels and Class A motorcoaches. These large compressor-driven units often have an ice maker, and they provide a lot of cubic feet of space (much of it probably unnecessary unless you’re a full time RVer), but they are not without their downsides.

    First, residential refrigerators are built to be used in a home, not an RV that bounces down the road at 60 miles per hour. All that jiggling, shaking, and rattling can take a toll on a residential fridge, shortening its life. Before you invest in an RV with one of these large refrigerators, also consider what you’d have to go through to replace it. Will it fit through the door? Or will you have to remove the windshield in your Class A motorhome or a slide in your 5th wheel?

    Another consideration is that a residential refrigerator can only run off alternating current (AC). That means if you’re not connected to shore power, you’ll power your fridge with a generator or your house batteries and inverter. These refrigerators aren’t really built for extended boondocking trips, in part because they’re not as efficient as the compressor model used in the Bowlus. You’ll be draining your batteries faster if you’re off grid, so make sure you have a way to either recharge the batteries, or you have a backup generator so that your food doesn’t spoil.

    RV Tips
    Here are a few RV refrigerator tips to follow:

  • Keep a small thermometer in the fridge to ensure that food safe temperatures are being maintained (40° F and below for the fridge, 0° F for the freezer).
  • Limit the amount of time the door is open.
  • Don’t overstuff it – when it’s too full, air can’t circulate properly, so it’s harder for the fridge to keep things cool.
  • Don’t pick your RV just because it has a big refrigerator.
  • Defrost your absorption fridge on a regular basis.
  • Turn your fridge on at least 6 hours before you want to start loading it with perishables, preferably the night before.
  • Check the exterior vent for any obstructions like leaves.