How RV Refrigerators Work

RV refrigerators come in all shapes and sizes, from old-school models to innovative new tech. How they work is fascinating.

Your choice depends on where you camp and what power sources are available. Absorption fridges are best for dry camping and boondocking. They can be powered by propane or electricity and use heat to keep things cool.
Absorption Refrigerators

Absorption refrigerators rely on heat rather than electricity to cool. They can be powered by propane gas, low-voltage DC electric heaters or 120V AC power. Some also use solar power to help them run. These fridges are very quiet.

The cooling cycle works by changing ammonia from a liquid to vapor state and back again. This process does not require much heat and can be done by using a variety of convenient heat sources such as natural gas, solar energy, burning fossil fuel or waste heat from factories.

In RV absorption fridges, the heat source is either a propane gas burner or low-voltage DC electric heater. Propane is the most efficient way to supply the heat needed to kick-start the refrigeration cycle and boil the water/ammonia mixture, but can be powered by a 12V electric heating element (great for boondocking) or by the same 120V AC power used when you’re hooked up at an RV park.
Compression Refrigerators

Unlike absorption refrigerators, compression refrigerators can only work when your RV is hooked up to either propane or AC power. This means that you need to plan ahead and bring extra food and drinks with you on your trips if you are using this type of refrigerator.

When it comes to maintenance, these types of fridges require less than absorption refrigerators. However, it is important to make sure that your RV is level so the refrigerator door seals properly. You also want to regularly inspect the refrigerator door seal for signs of wear, tears or damage that could allow hot or cold air to escape the refrigerator.

RV Refrigerators are one of the most important pieces of equipment in any camper. So, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide to RV Fridges and Refrigerator Parts to ensure your refrigerator is working properly and keeping your food and drinks cold for as long as possible.
Residential-Style Refrigerators

Residential refrigerators work like the fridge you would find in your home. They use a compressor to keep items cold and require a constant supply of electric power to run. Most are two-way or three-way models that can run off either LP gas or your RV house batteries and an inverter.

Residential fridges are the big trend in new RVs, especially those shiny stainless steel models found in Class A motorhomes. They can be a great choice for full-time RVers who prefer to stay at developed campgrounds with power pedestals, but they also can make an excellent option for those who do some boondocking and overnight Walmart stays.

If you plan to use a residential fridge for extended trips, make sure your RV is well-leveled to avoid overworking the system and wasting energy. Also, be prepared to invest in a large battery bank and solar system to power it when you are off the grid.
Combination Refrigerators

A combination refrigerator is like a french door model, but splits into two halves: the freezer is in one larger half up above, while the smaller fridge part extends from the middle down to the bottom. This makes it easier to reach items in the freezer without opening both doors, as well as minimizing energy consumption by only running the freezer when necessary.

Our dual-temp combination refrigerator/freezers are available in an upright or undercounter design, as well as models rated for storage of flammable materials. They include separate microprocessor temperature controllers for precision control, verification and recovery, as well as digital temperature displays. They also offer security backed with an extensive package of audible and visual alarms. Most feature manual defrost operating systems to limit product-damaging temperature spikes, while some have auto defrost and require periodic manual defrosting.

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