The refrigerator is one of the most important components of your RV and spending any length of time on the road will have you relying on it to keep food and drinks nice and cool for when you arrive. It would understandably be a nightmare if your RV fridge suddenly lost its power and spoilt all your supplies, so battery backup is a must.
But can your RV fridge run off battery power? Yes it absolutely can, but it is not the most practical option as it may only last for around 8 to 12 hours, and this total battery run time could vary depending on your refrigerator type and how your RV is set up. Residential-style or ‘Compression’ fridges for example can last as long as 12 hours on battery, whereas an ‘Absorption’ 12-volt power fridge may only last up to 3 hours!
The battery life of your RV fridge will also depend on whether you use it alone or with an additional power source such as propane gas or with the help of an inverter to convert the DC battery power to AC to help it run longer. Many factors will affect how efficient your RV fridge is on battery power, so we’ve answered some of the most common queries concerning running an RV fridge to help you come to the best conclusion for your needs.
How Long Will an RV Fridge Run on Battery?
The more you know about your RV setup, the better you can answer that question! The battery runtime of your RV fridge will depend on two main factors:
A) Whether your RV is set up with a ‘compression’ or an ‘absorption fridge’ (we’ll delve into more detail on these types later on) as these can make the difference between as little as 3 hours and as much as 10 to 12 hours.
B) What type of battery and battery rating your RV has. RV designs can vary between running off a 12-volt battery or four 6-volt batteries and these can be built for heavy or light use (meaning they either cannot be drained past 50 percent or they are strong enough to safely drain down to 20 percent).
If you have a 12-volt battery with a rating of 100 amp hours (Ah) for example, your battery would put 5 amps of power per hour for 20 hours until it was completely drained. A better understanding of your RV’s overall battery capabilities can help determine how long your fridge can run for.
Will an RV Fridge Run On Battery While Driving?
Absolutely. In fact, driving is one of the better times to run your fridge and other appliances on battery power since the battery is actively being recharged by your RV’s alternator.
The alternator is your built-in generator within the engine of your RV, and if you are traveling with a pull-behind motorhome, then the battery in your tow truck will be what powers your fridge from its own alternator.
Using a Generator to Power Your RV Fridge
A good alternative to running down the built-in generator in your RV or tow truck is to power your RV fridge with a separate stand-alone generator.
One con of having a generator is that they can be bulky and take up extra real estate in your RV, but they can also be your lifeline when there is a power outage, and there is no risk of a fire like there is with using propane.
Portable generators are generally cheapest but are not as powerful as the bulkier ones. Depending on your budget, you may want to choose a basic generator that powers just your fridge or one that powers multiple appliances at once.
RV Refrigerator Types
The 3 main fridge types in an RV are typically categorized as ‘1-way’, ‘2-way’ and ‘3-way’ fridges, otherwise known as Large residential, compressor and absorption refrigerators:
Compressor fridge – Compressor or 2-way fridges run on 12 or 24-volts powered either by your RV or camping batteries and can run on a maximum of 240-volt power via your portable generator or an on-site camp ground power source.
Absorption fridge – Absorption fridges or 3-way fridges run on 12 or 24-volt powers like compressors, but they can also run on propane (or LPG gas). And because they use a gas flow heat exchange system, it cools the fridge by simply removing the heat instead of creating cold air.
Residential fridge – These are the large floor-to-ceiling style of fridges you typically find in Class A RV’s and they are known as ‘one-way’ RV fridges because they can only run off of shore power from a generator or with an inverter to convert the DC batteries of your RV into AC power your residential fridge can then use.
Does an RV Fridge Cool Faster on Propane?
Yes, an RV fridge run on propane will cool much faster compared with electricity. Propane works by heating up the water rapidly to create a quick evaporation cycle, which soon creates a cold environment in the refrigerator.
Does an RV Fridge Need a Battery to Run On Propane?
Yes, and if you’re planning on running your RV fridge on propane for any length of time, it will need to be used in conjunction with battery power to ensure it maintains its cool environment. The battery will power the thermostat in your fridge, and this is vital for monitoring and regulating its internal temperature.
How Long Will an RV Fridge Run On a Tank of Propane?
The efficiency of every propane fridge varies across models, but generally, a standard 20 lbs propane tank should allow the average RV fridge to run for 11 days non-stop. You can always help to increase this time by taking regular steps to make it more efficient.
How Much Propane Does an RV Refrigerator Use?
Many factors can impact how much propane an RV fridge will consume such as the size and age of the refrigerator, as well as how well you maintain and care for it.
As a reference point, most new RV fridge models with an internal volume of 10 to 12 cubic feet will typically consume around 1.5 pounds of propane each day, which works out at roughly 1,400 BTU’s per hour (British Thermal Unit).
How Do I Keep My RV Fridge Cold While Driving?
- Cool things down the night before – turn your fridge on the night before your trip to save you 4-6 hours of cool down time on the road.
- Make sure your fridge is level – if your fridge is on an uneven surface, the refrigerant will pool on one side and impact airflow and therefore cooling ability.
- Don’t overfill the fridge – Over-stocking your RV fridge will decrease its circulation. A fridge fan will help increase circulation when driving on sizzling days. In some cases, it can help cut down on cool down time by as much as 30 percent.
How Long Does an RV Fridge Take to Get Cold?
On average, most RV refrigerators should take 4 to 6 hours to get cold. Factors like the outside weather will affect how quickly it reaches the desired cool temperature. If you know you’ll be setting off on a road trip during a heatwave for example, setting the fridge to its coolest setting the night before will give it a better head start or reaching the optimum cold temperature faster.
Can I Replace My RV Refrigerator with a Standard Refrigerator?
Replacing your RV fridge with a standard residential one certainly comes with the benefits of greater storage capacity and perhaps better cooling settings, but it is not generally recommended, and you should be aware of the extra work needed just to power and maintain it. Installing a standard fridge will mean…
- Taking up extra power – a standard fridge typically needs a 120-volt AC outlet to power up and since there won’t be a 120-v plug in your fridge cabinet, you will need to install (which should be done carefully to prevent an overloaded circuit in your RV!).
- Boon-docking woes – If you go dry-camping or ‘boon-docking’ with your standard fridge, you’ll need to power it using a generator at all times, as it won’t be compatible with your RV’s batteries.
- Poor airflow – RV fridges use compressors to create the necessary airflow inside, but standard fridges weren’t designed to be packed into a tight space, and this new setup can impact its airflow. This means that not only will its cooling ability suffer, but its lifespan and convenience will also start to diminish, warming up quickly when not in use and starting to smell in between being hooked up to power.
How Cold Should My RV Refrigerator Be?
Your RV fridge should ideally be set to less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit (or 4 degrees C). Above 40 degrees is when food is at greater risk of spoiling. Different fridge brands will have different settings, so you could keep a thermometer nearby to make sure you have your fridge set at the correct, safe temperature.
Does a 3 Way Fridge Make Noise?
3-way fridges or ‘absorption’ RV fridges should not make noise as they operate on a heat exchange system. However, if you do notice noises coming from your 3-way fridge, it could be down to one of the following reasons:
- It isn’t resting on a flat surface
- It’s knocking into other objects/appliances
- Circuit tubes at the back are touching/vibrating against the fridge