An RV owner reaches into an RV fridge in his unit

Among the several benefits of RV travel is having all the modern conveniences of home with you while you’re on the go. Keeping perishable food items cold and safe in an RV fridge is a real luxury while camping and traveling. 

Moreover, having an RV fridge also allows you to refrigerate necessary medicines. Plus, you don’t have to worry about soggy food when you have an RV fridge!

This post is intended for every RV user with a built-in refrigerator and for people who want to purchase the best RV fridge. 

To have a smooth trip, you need a reliable fridge. It’s essential to know your RV fridge’s wattage.

Regarding power consumption, RV fridges require as much as an air conditioner. However, in contrast to air conditioners, you cannot switch off the refrigerator if you have perishable food items inside. 

How Much Power Does an RV Fridge Use?

To calculate how much power an RV fridge uses, you must know the starting amp requirement of the model. A double door model typically uses 7-8 amps, or 900-1,000 watts per 120V. The amps used for operation are less than the starting amps drawn. Generally, after switching on, a fridge can operate on 2-4 amps.

If you have to defrost, you will need about 1.2-2 amps or approximately 80-90 watts per 120V. 

Where to Check an RV Fridge’s Power Consumption

You can find information regarding the power used by an RV fridge by going through the labels or stickers that come with the unit.

An RV owner searches for the power guidelines label on his RV fridge

If you cannot see them or if the information appears to have faded away, go through the refrigerator manual. You will get all the information you want regarding your RV fridge. 

If you are still unable to find the desired information in the manual, you can try going to the manufacturer’s website. If this doesn’t work out as well, you can get in touch with the company’s customer support via phone. 

Generally, refrigerator amp requirements are listed for their different operations. For example, you will get the rating for the idle, startup, defrosting, or running conditions. Nevertheless, the availability of the list depends on the model and the brand. 

Your RV fridge’s wattage will depend on its age, model, size, and supply mode or source of electricity. It will either be propane, 120 V, or DC battery. 

If the manufacturers have not mentioned the exact wattage in the manual, you can calculate the watts consumed by your fridge using the formula:

  • Watts = Volts x Amps

Why It’s Important to Know an RV Fridge’s Watt Consumption

Knowing your RV fridge’s wattage will enable you to plan for the power requirement of your generator. It will even help you predict the amount of propane you will need during your camping trip.

The starting watts of your RV fridge will generally be higher than the running watts, so make sure you consider this.

Currently, a refrigerator is a necessity for RV camping. Therefore, it is pretty normal to have one in your RV or camper.

As mentioned, the fridge might require close to the wattage of your air conditioner. But, in contrast, you cannot switch your fridge on or off as you like. Keep in mind the refrigerator is where you keep your food—it has to run constantly or your food will rot. 

You have nothing to worry about if you’re parked at a campsite with full hookups. However, it’s an entirely different story if you want to go dry camping. 

Knowing your RV fridge’s power consumption becomes imperative for an enjoyable and safe trip. It will enable you to work around your maximum power consumption based on your generator.

In addition, it will help you plan how to use your battery or generator for the consumption of your fridge and other appliances in your RV. 

Planning Your Power Consumption Around Your RV Fridge 

Due to the limited supply of power on the road, you really have to plan meticulously. Take full stock of all your appliances and plan their use around your refrigerator.

If you plan on dry camping, a refrigerator run by propane is perfect for you. Certain RV fridges can run on both electricity and propane, making it easy for you to switch between sources if need be. Just ensure you have a sufficient supply of propane in case you need to change. 

Closeup on a propane tank used for an RV fridge

If you are using an older fridge model, the power consumption might be higher than in modern refrigerators. Note all these details as you don’t want to blow a fuse that can ruin your camping trip. 

How Much Propane Does an RV Fridge Consume?

RV refrigerators are pretty efficient with their use of propane. Newer units tend to be more efficient too. 

An average-sized RV refrigerator is approximately six cubic feet, and it will probably consume around one pound of propane every day. For reference, a standard BBQ tank is nearly 20 pounds. 

Propane consumption will also vary from one model and brand to the next. The smaller the RV fridge, the less fuel it will consume. 

Does an RV Fridge Work Better on Electricity or Gas?

Once the cooling process has started, an RV fridge runs the same regardless of the heat source.

During regular operation, any of the three sources will run the fridge pretty much the same way. However, there’s a difference in the amount of heat a particular heat source can supply to start things off.

Undoubtedly, propane is the most efficient way to run an RV fridge. Once the propane is ignited, it delivers the highest amount of heat to the burner chamber, starting the cooling process quickly. 

Running on 120V AC power is the second-best choice, whereas the 12V DC heating element is the least powerful way to run. 

Consequently, if you have stored your RV and need to cool down a warm fridge the quickest, we recommend running it on propane ( at least to start). Propane will quickly cool down the freezer and fridge compartments, enabling you to stock the fridge up with food for your camping trip. 

No matter which power source you use, give the fridge sufficient time to cool down completely and stabilize before stocking it up. Otherwise, your food and trip could be ruined. 

What’s the Difference Between an RV and Residential Fridge?

The most significant difference between an RV fridge and the model you have in your home is that RV refrigerators use a different cooling process.

Unlike residential refrigerators, RV refrigerators don’t have a compressor. Instead, they use heat and a chemical reaction between hydrogen, water, and ammonia to cool the unit. This heat is generated by one of three power sources—propane, 120 V, or DC battery. 

Typical RV fridges are smaller in size than residential refrigerator models. They generally have a capacity of 6-14 cubic feet. However, the most recent high-end RVs have bigger and bigger fridges. Some units have double doors and up to 17 cubic feet of storage.

An RV owner peers into the freezer component of his RV fridge

Generally, a residential fridge is bigger than any regular RV refrigerator, with increased storage capacity in both the freezer and fridge.

It has a compressor, and so it needs a continuous source of 120-volt AC power, such as a campground power hookup or a large enough battery bank and an inverter to supply the 120-volt power when the RV isn’t plugged into shore power.

Nevertheless, a generator can even power a residential refrigerator in an RV. 

Moreover, residential refrigerators cannot withstand the bumps and turns and rough terrain over which RVs run, impacting the fridge’s lifespan. RV fridges don’t have any moving parts. Thus, they are less vulnerable to the damage of being on the road. 

In addition, residential refrigerators do not have latches to prevent the doors from opening while driving. Therefore, you will have to add a latching system to keep the doors in place. RV refrigerators come with doors that latch, making sure the contents stay put while traveling. 

How Much Do RV Fridges Cost?

High-quality RV fridges aren’t cheap. The basic models start at around $1,100, whereas the luxury can go up to $3,000 or more. The high cost is because RV fridges are manufactured using stainless steel compared to residential refrigerators made of plastic. This construction allows the fridges to deal with the constant rumble of the road without falling apart. 

If you want to save money, you can opt for a refurbished model. Just make sure to test it before purchasing. 

Is a Propane RV Fridge Cheaper Than an Electric RV Fridge?

The general rule is that propane refrigerators are more costlier than electric refrigerators. That said, propane RV fridges offer higher investment returns with lower maintenance costs, longer lifespan, and low fuel consumption. 

Propane RV fridges don’t have any compressors or moving parts. Thus, there are fewer chances of electrical or mechanical failure, allowing them to work perfectly for many years.

Moreover, technological advances have made propane RV fridges more efficient in fuel consumption. As a result, they have better fuel economy and lower emissions that help you save money in the long term. 

What Are Alternatives to an RV Fridge?

In case your RV does not have a refrigerator (or a working refrigerator for that matter) or if you want more storage capacity for your camping trip, here are some options you can consider. 

Mini-Fridges 

You can easily add a small mini-fridge to your RV. All you have to do is plug it in when you reach your destination. You can even run the fridge while traveling if you have solar power.

An RV fridge mini fridge with an open door displaying the contents inside

Even though mini-fridges use additional space in your vehicle, they are available in several sizes, have a low price point, and are easy to install. Make sure you plug it in a safe spot to avoid any accidents.

Portable Cooler or Fridge

Your second option for getting additional cooling space is a portable cooler/fridge.

You could go the conventional route of filling up a cooler with ice. However, even the best coolers have ice melt, and you could find your food floating in the water. If you opt for an electric cooler or portable fridge, you won’t need to worry about that!

Some models even have an optional freezer. Such units are also quite versatile in terms of their power source. 

For instance, Dometic CFX Coolers have advanced compressor electronics that allow for minimal power consumption using solar power, 12/24 V DC, or 120-240V DC. You can also digitally control the temperature to get the perfect cooling throughout the day. 

Residential Refrigerator

Some individuals choose to upgrade their RV fridges to residential-style refrigerators. The upgrade entails some work to fit in the larger size and weight. However, after it has been finished, you can enjoy the luxury for many years down the line. 

Wrapping Up

Planning is essential when you’re dry camping, and therefore, knowing how much power your RV fridge consumes can help significantly. Choosing the right power source for your fridge is also essential.

A propane-powered fridge can be a good option if you go dry camping frequently. Moreover, several RVs have the option of using both electricity and propane. This flexibility is an added benefit as you can switch the power sources per your needs. 

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