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Which Style RV Refrigerator Is Right For You?

Which style you choose depends on how you use your RV. We estimate that as many as 95% of all RV refrigerators sold are the propane style. Why? Most people prefer to go places where they won’t necessarily have a good power source.

Although you can keep your batteries charged with a good set of solar panels, you’ll want to have some propane as a backup to keep the refrigerator cool. And, an RV refrigerator uses very little propane compared to a water heater or furnace.

Here’s a little more detail on the different RV refrigerator types:

The Propane Style (also called an ammonia absorption refrigerator) generally includes the ability to run on 120 volt AC, or with some units, a 12 volt DC battery (these are called “three-way RV refrigerators”).

iconRV Refrigerator Styles.
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The 120 volt only draws 1 to 3 amps, but when running on the 12 volt, it draws between 3 and 8 amp (and sometimes more)! For this reason, you should only operate the refrigerator on the 12 volt batter when you’re simultaneously charging the batter (by running the vehicle or connected to solar power).

Having solar panels can help, but you still have to keep a watchful eye on the temperature within the refrigerator. An ammonia absorption refrigerator has to be level any time it is in operation and stationary. It also requires a fairly sophisticated ventilation system to expel heat from the cooling unit.

If either of these two conditions are not met, the cooling unit may become permanently damaged, and you certainly don’t want this to happen.

The AC/DC compressor refrigerator, on the other hand, can be run up to 30º out of level and requires only minimal ventilation. This style refrigerator uses a motor that can only be operated on electricity, not propane. It will barely last 24 hours with a standard battery. To be truly independent of outside power, you’ll need extra batteries and a some solar panels, or go with the three-way refrigerator.

So, if you’re on the move, in well-ventilated areas, and want the most versatility, the three-way refrigerators are your best bet. If, on the other hand, you know you’ll be near power, can keep the battery charged, or can’t handle the ventilation requirements of propane, then the compressor refrigerator may be your best choice. Oh, and make sure the alternator in your vehicle is strong enough to power your lights, charge the batteries and operate the refrigerator at the same time!

For the most simplicity, look into the two-way RV refrigerators. They’re simple and sturdy, running on either propane or 120 VAC. For many people this is a viable option.

One final thought – don’t ever consider using a household refrigerator in an RV. They’re energy efficient, but you’re stuck with 120VAC as your only option. Basically, this means you can’t use the refrigerator when you’re moving the vehicle. Kind of defeats the purpose of having an RV, doesn’t it?


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