Generally speaking, motorhomes and trailers come equipped with 2-way RV fridges. These RV refrigerators can be run on propane, while also offering the option to use shore power. Sometimes an RV might even have a 3-way RV fridge, which can also be run on DC power directly from the house batteries.
These RV refrigerators are great for a variety of reasons. However, they do have their downfalls. Because of this, many people are making the decision to switch over to residential-style refrigerators in their rigs. In fact, some manufacturers are now offering this as an option from the factory.
Of course, residential fridges have their own set of pros and cons, meaning they aren’t necessarily ideal for every RVer out there. For this reason, we highly recommend reading this article before choosing one type of RV fridge or the other.
Here we will discuss the pros and cons of each type of fridge, as well as how you might overcome the downfalls of the residential fridge in order to take advantage of the benefits they offer.
RV Propane Fridge Pros and Cons
We’ll begin by discussing the more popular RV refrigerators out there: the 2-way and 3-way fridges. These propane-and-electric refrigerators are usually ideal for RV life, but they can also be frustrating and annoying.
The Benefit of a Propane Fridge
Obviously, the main thing these traditional RV refrigerators have going for them is the fact that they are versatile. You can plug in and take full advantage of the electricity that is provided at your campsite, or switch over to propane mode should you be boondocking or without power.
For those who camp off-grid often, this ability to cool food without the use of a power hookup is incredibly important.
Cons of a Propane Fridge
Besides the awesome benefit of versatility a propane fridge offers, it also has a few downfalls that can, in some cases, outweigh that major bonus.
These are as follows:
Poor Temperature Regulation
When the weather is hot, propane RV refrigerators can have a very hard time keeping up. This is especially true at higher altitudes, as well as if the unit is packed so full of food that air can’t circulate properly. On top of that, these refrigerators have a tendency to actually freeze foods kept on certain shelves if the outside temperature is cooler.
Some of these issues can be reduced by installing a small fan behind the unit to keep the air moving. Defrosting the fins at the back of the fridge can help as well, as can replacing the seal and door gaskets around the door. However, the fact remains that these appliances will never measure up to residential refrigerators in terms of temperature control.
Less Space for Food
Because of the way they work, propane refrigerators have a lot of bulk on their backsides. This results in a smaller food storage space. Considering how strapped for space RVs already are, this is a pretty annoying inconvenience, but not one that can’t be worked around with a few extra grocery shopping trips and some good old-fashioned “fridge Tetris”.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of the propane fridge is the cost of replacing one when your original finally gives out. These RV-specific appliances are incredibly expensive and can’t be picked up just anywhere, meaning you might be paying shipping on a very heavy item, if not installation fees as well.
For many people, this is the number one reason for making the switch to a residential refrigerator in their RV.
RV Residential Fridge Pros and Cons
So what should you know about a residential fridge before you make your decision? Honestly, the pros and cons are simply the reverse of what we’ve listed above. However, we’ve gone ahead and laid them all out below to help you envision what having this type of fridge might be like.
Knowing these things, you should be able to make the right decision for you, your family, and your RVing style.
Pros of a Residential Fridge
There are quite a few benefits of replacing your RV fridge with a residential-style unit. Below we’ve compiled a list of the top 3 pros for you to consider when making your decision.
Easily the best thing about replacing your broken RV fridge with a residential unit is cost. Residential-style appliances will be hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars cheaper than their RV-specific counterparts. Additionally, fixing a residential refrigerator is almost always less expensive than fixing an RV fridge.
Additional Food Storage
Another major bonus is the fact that residential refrigerators offer more storage space. This is because the inner workings of these units are much less bulky, allowing manufacturers to create larger food storage areas.
Better Temperature Regulation
Finally, there is temperature regulation to consider. Generally speaking, residential fridges are much better at controlling the temperature of your food. They cool more effectively, and rarely freeze items.
The Drawback of a Residential Fridge
While all of these benefits of residential-style refrigerators are great, there is one gigantic drawback to these types of units.
You guessed it, the big downfall of residential refrigerators in RVs is the fact that they cannot be used without a good amount of electricity. This makes boondocking more difficult for sure, meaning those who do wish to camp off-grid will need to do some careful consideration before making the switch.
Boondocking with a Residential Refrigerator
Want to go ahead and make the switch to a residential camper fridge despite the lack of a propane setting? While it certainly does make off-grid camping more difficult, making this switch does not have to mean giving up boondocking completely. It simply means you need to be willing to invest a good amount of money and effort into creating a setup that can support your fridge when shore power is unavailable.
Build a Battery Bank
How do you do this? Well, the first step is to create a battery bank that can hold enough power to run a refrigerator. Because electric refrigerators require quite a lot of electricity, you can expect to have to build a nice little bank of batteries. We recommend using lithium batteries for this purpose due to their ability to charge more quickly, hold a charge longer, and discharge further without damage.
Install an Inverter
In order to use the power stored in your batteries, you will need to couple them with a “pure sine” inverter. This will allow you to convert the electricity stored in your battery bank for use by the fridge. That said, this setup will really only keep you running for a few hours.
Find a Power Source
In order to keep your RV fridge up and running for longer than those few hours, you will need a way to recharge the battery bank you’ve built. This is where a solar system can come into play, giving you a nice stream charge as long as the sun is shining. Of course, the sun doesn’t shine all the time, so you will also want to have a generator on hand for charging purposes.
As you can probably tell, creating a setup that can run an all-electric RV fridge indefinitely is quite complicated and costly. In fact, you’ll spend more putting together a setup like this than you will investing in a new 2-way or 3-way fridge.
For this reason, unless money is no object and you had planned on putting together such a system anyway, you may want to stick to a traditional RV refrigerator if you plan on doing much dry camping at all.
All that said, if you don’t do much boondocking and you think you can get by with a cooler on the rare occasions when you do boondock, there certainly are reasons to go with the residential fridge option. In fact, we’d even say a residential refrigerator is the ideal option for those who stick to RV parks with electric hookups.
Either way you go, we are sure you’ll pick the best option for your family, meaning you can continue down the road with cold food, full bellies, and a happy family.
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