Several years ago, while attending an RV show in Hershey Pennsylvania I ran into a friend who is an RV manufacturing representative. While touring one of their new higher-end RVs coming out that model year I noticed a large double-door residential style electric refrigerator. That was the first time I saw a new RV with an all-electric refrigerator rather than the typical absorption style refrigerator that operates on LP gas and/or 120-volt AC power. This model only works on 120-volt AC power. My friend explained that some RV manufacturers started installing residential style refrigerator in the more expensive RV models, and others were building all-electric model RVs, with no LP gas appliances. The LP gas range and oven commonly found in RVs are replaced with induction cook-tops and convection microwaves, and the refrigerator is all-electric as well.
When I left the display I thought how odd it was to see an all-electric RV, and I remember asking myself who would want one? These thoughts, I’m sure were based on being exposed to what I would refer to as conventional working RVs since I was 15 years old.
Fast forward to today and you see more and more RVs with the option for a residential electric refrigerator over conventional absorption type RV refrigerators. And if you go to some RV forums you will likely get an earful on the pros and cons for both types of refrigerators.
I think it is like anything else that creates change, some folks are skeptical while others invite change.
My goal with this article is to take an unbiased look at the all-electric residential refrigerators used in RVs. At the end of the article you can decide if it is right for you, or if you will stick with a conventional RV refrigerator.
I think the best place to start is to look at some comparisons:
- Starting with the obvious, conventional RV refrigerators operate on both LP gas and electricity, whereas all-electric models need a 120-volt source all the time. This could be problematic for those who boondock, but I will address that later in the article.
- Absorption RV refrigerators are more compact and limit the amount of food you can take; and keep in mind there needs to be space between the food for air circulation in an absorption refrigerator, further decreasing the amount of food. The much larger all-electric models allow you to take more food. This is true of the freezer too.
- Many would agree all-electric refrigerators not only control the refrigerator’s temperature more precisely, but they hold the temperature longer when the refrigerator is turned off. I would tend to agree with this.
- The freezer compartment is not only larger in an all-electric model, but it actually freezes the food solid, whereas I notice some food in our RV refrigerator’s freezer is seldom frozen solid. And for long term use an all-electric model freezer is frost-free, where conventional RV models are not.
- During travel a conventional model can operate on LP gas. Some folks would argue the refrigerator should be turned off during travel. If you opted to travel with an all-electric model turned off it would likely hold the temperature longer than a conventional model. But you have the option to operate an all-electric model, using a battery bank and inverter, while traveling. Speaking of travel, if you do decide to run your refrigerator on LP gas you need to stop and turn it off prior to re-fueling.
I could continue, but I think that demonstrates some of the pros and cons between the two models. Now I want to drill down into a couple topics concerning camping in an RV with an all-electric refrigerator. Again, I will look at this from an unbiased point of view.
I briefly mentioned an all-electric refrigerator has batteries and an inverter so you can operate the refrigerator when you do not have a 120-volt AC source. I have seen RV’s with a dedicated deep-cycle battery and inverter just for the residential style refrigerator, and I have seen RVs that have large battery banks and a large inverter to assist in operating the residential style refrigerator.
Tip: Inverters change 12-volt DC power to 120-volt AC power to operate 120-volt electronics and appliances in the RV.
I did not do the math, but I feel safe in saying you could travel for several hours a day (5-6) with little or no concern about depleting the batteries while the refrigerator is running. But there are variables, like what size and how many deep-cycle batteries are used, what size inverter is it, and how many hours a day are you driving?
That somewhat addresses using a residential refrigerator during travel, but what about camping where you don’t have utility connections, better known as boondocking. This is where deciding between an RV with a conventional absorption refrigerator and an all-electric model really starts to matter. One might say most people who select the residential refrigerator option are not the boondocking type of campers. Or one might say a savvy boondocker who wants to take more food for a longer duration would be well equipped in advance to boondock with a residential style refrigerator.
I mentioned a moment ago about not doing the math. People who understand the true meaning of going off the grid are well prepared for it. They do the math. Chances are they can tell you how many amp-hours they will consume for how many hours per day, and then compare it to the total amp-hour capacity of their battery bank. They even know at what point to stop depleting the batteries, before risking possible damage to the batteries. These folks have properly sized solar panels, inverters, and battery banks to stay off the grid until they are forced to re-supply water or other supplies being consumed and depleted.
My point is, if the concern is boondocking, a residential refrigerator would simply need to be figured into the calculations. How many amps does it use, and how many hours will it be on? Most folks who boondock have a generator too. They use the generator to re-charge batteries when the weather does not cooperate with using solar panels, and they use it to run the appliances a couple hours during the day. If you have a large enough battery bank and inverter I am quite sure the refrigerator could run 24/7.
Now, what about the RV owner who is not equipped for long term boondocking, but enjoys an occasional day or two off the grid? You would need to be able to run the refrigerator, and whatever other 12-volt devices you need during the day and possibly turn the refrigerator off while you are sleeping. This would require a properly sized battery bank and inverter too, and some way to put back into the batteries what you are taking out. In other words, you need solar or a generator to use during the daytime so the batteries are topped off for the 12-volt devices you use at night.
Would it be easier to boondock with a conventional refrigerator on LP gas? Probably. It really comes down to what type of camping you like to do and then selecting options on the RV that are best suited for you. This is why there are so many different types of RVs, different price ranges, and different optional equipment.
My days of boondocking pretty much ended when I retired from the Army, but I do enjoy an occasional trip off the grid. We have plenty of water, plenty of 12-volt DC power, two average size solar panels and a generator. This equates to a few days of boondocking, and for me personally I enjoy having the LP gas feature on the refrigerator for times like this.
Hopefully this gives you more perspective on all-electric RV refrigerators so you can decide what works best for you.
Mark J. Polk
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11 thoughts on “Understanding All-Electric RV Residential Refrigerators”
I have a Residential Fridge in my 5th Wheel with a 1000 watt inverter. The biggest problem is to ensure your batteries are in Top Shape and Fully Charged. By that I mean you have done proper maintenance on your batteries. I had a Set of batteries that were basically SHOT, thanks to the dealer I purchased the unit from. The Inverter was unable to keep them charged. I have since replaced them and I can now travel a good 7 hours without worrying about it. Now, I do from time to time, while driving stop at Rest Areas and make sure the Fridge is still working. So Far So Good!
You said the residential fridge would maybe run ok for 5 or 6 hrs iff of the RV batteries
while “traveling”.. but.. wouldn’t the tow vehicle keep recharging your RV batteries as you go down the road?
Great article. I have a Kitchen Aide residential refrigerator. I rarely boondock so that is not a problem. Then only problem I have is with the Kitchen Aide icemaker. The fill switch does not close properly and the icemaker overflows into the ice bin. All I have read is that this behavior is secondary to inadequate inlow. I suspect this is because of the small water lines throughout the coach. Otherwise I am very happy with the refrigerator as compared to my old absorption unit. I have 6 6volt house batteries so it will drive the refrigerator for the better part of the day
Thanks for a well balanced unbiased article. I have a 3 way RV fridge in an older RV that doesn’t have a lot of room for extra coach batteries, so I think I’ll keep it going as long as possible.
We may be approaching the point of replaced our fridge, it won’t restart on gas unless we turn it off and on again; runs fine on AC. A household fridge is a whole lot cheaper purchase than a smaller RV fridge. Absorption fridge doesn’t run well in the AZ heat either. Coach has large 6V battery bank (don’t remember the size-replaced batteries last year), 1000 W inverter. We boondock in parking lots while traveling, spend most of the time driving between destinations and seeing the sights along the way. Any lessons learned that I should be aware of other than a bit of cabinet work to reshape the space and seal up the outside wall that is now part of the condenser chimney?
Any tips on securing a household fridge?
How do you secure the doors on a household fridge so they don’t swing open when you go around a corner?
We use a Velcro strap tied around the two handles of the two door fridge.
I would search the web for info on the fridge before I made the jump. My bounder has a Samsung counter depth RF18HFENBSR-2 installed and has been nothing but trouble. A quick search of the web showed that the fridge I have reacts poorly to power outages (hint when you switch between power sources it can look like a power outage). The other bit this article misses imho is service after the sale. Good luck getting a warranty to cover anything if it breaks. The dealer is not equipped to handle residential appliance repairs so it will always be a local appliance repair shop that will charge you extra remove the fridge from the wall. Ice makers are problematic due to low water pressure issues. Residential refrigerators were never really intended to vibrate ( in all honesty more like earthquakes given the current state of the interstate roadways). When it works it is nice but for me it is more of a pain than it is worth.
Robert is correct in his comment about absorption type refers not working well during high heat times. This boondocker installed a 12volt muffin fan in the condenser cavity to help, but in 90 to 100 plus days, the freezer will not keep food below 30 degrees in our large domestic refer with the fan running 24/7. We stopped using the ice maker during summer months. Our four large solar panels and 3500 watt inverter would handle a residential refer quite well with the battery bank of 4 12 volt deep cycle units. Our replacement refer will be a 120 vac unit.
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned here is cold weather usage with an absorption fridge. The manufacturer says I should turn off my fridge at 32F, but I’m living full time in ski towns, hit -26F last winter. Below 40 or so I can’t keep the outside section of the fridge warm enough to keep functioning. I’m planning on pulling out my perfectly functional fridge (except winters) to replace with a residential fridge just so I can use it in the winter. Typically I’m on shore power, but I have a generator and two batteries for the little boondocking I do in the summer.
May I comment, your article is quite informative and a good read. I live in my RV in that it is my residence and these new days many people are beginning to realize that this is the only way a person can live with roof walls and warmth it has been known for many years that fridges fail in cold temperatures and warm up fast when they do. the solution to this dilemma is to keep the backside of the fridge warm. the poor man’s method is to block most of the venting and provide heat using a lightbulb rated at 60 to 100 whats at the accumulation point so the mixture of ammonia and water, more so water will not frezz for if the water freezes it a kick in the chops and take quite a bit of effort to cox the fridge back into operation. Just an FYI. the reason I am responding is more so about the generator people that wish to go off-grid or boondock in campers are using the wrong type of gen. an AC gen is wasteful a person must realize, you’re on 12 volts. get a gen that provides only 12 volts. this would be preferable for the reason that you’re not having to run the R.P.M`s at 3600 and then convert 110 to 12. Lower rpm less fule and power is supplied at your needs. I hope this goes through for I hate typing something out to find it stalled because I am not a member