Categories: RV Living

5 Reasons to Avoid RV Residential Fridges

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Guess where it’s awesome to have a residential fridge? In a residence. Guess where it’s a pain? In a big metal box bouncing down the highway at 65 mph without a power connection. RV residential fridges have been frustrating RV owners since their inception, and in this article, we’re going to discuss why.

What Is an RV Residential Fridge?

Most of us are guilty of sitting inside our RVs, thinking it would be nice if we just had one more convenience. So, after we’ve finished installing our huge TVs, recliners, and adorable Keurigs, we turn to the next “necessity” and wonder if we couldn’t have a better refrigerator. 

Not that our RV fridge is awful. But wouldn’t it be great if the freezer got cold enough to keep our ice cream frozen-solid? Honestly, firm ice cream is all that separates us from the Neanderthals. So what if we could take our fridge from home – the one that freezes ice cream perfectly – and put it in our travel trailer? Sounds logical enough, right? 

Well, it’s not that simple. As the name implies, an RV residential fridge is just like the fridge in your home: It plugs into the wall and uses 110V AC for power. By contrast, RV absorption refrigerators can run off of gas or electric.

RV Residential Fridges vs 2-Way RV Refrigerators

Residential fridges are familiar to most of us. They come in tall boxes that our kids turn into forts, and once we plumb the ice maker and plug it in, we leave it there. The inner workings and dusty backsides are a mystery to most of us. We plug in the fridge, and it usually lasts for a decade or two until we get something fancier and demote the “old” fridge into a garage fridge.

On the other hand, our RVs use smaller 2-way RV refrigerators. The 2-way fridge is aptly named because it can run on either electricity or propane. It’s the perfect system for our home on wheels because we have electricity when we’re plugged in with hookups and LP (liquid propane) while we’re disconnected. 

Although these 2-way RV fridges work well, they tend to be smaller than our fridges at home, and people want “more/bigger/better.” Now, we’re seeing the trend of equipping new RVs with residential fridges instead.

5 Big Reasons to Avoid RV Residential Fridges

Let’s take a deeper dive and see why RV residential refrigerators aren’t always such a good idea.

1. Not Built for Travel

Unless you have a 300-mile-long extension cord, your residential fridge won’t stay connected to a permanent power source while you’re on the road. This means you’ll need an alternative power source. 

But do you really want to run your generator (if you have one) during your entire drive? The fuel costs and wear and tear on your generator would be extensive. Of course, you could install an array of solar panels and an inverter, but this takes many solar panels, a large battery bank, and a reliable inverter to supply continuous power. Solar power diminishes in cloudy weather, and it’s gone altogether if you’re traveling at night.

You know those latches on your RV fridge that you’re accustomed to clicking with muscle memory when you open the doors? Remember what those latches do? They keep your fridge doors shut while you bounce down the road. Unfortunately, RV residential fridges do not have latches.

Most RVers who own residential fridges solve this problem with bungee cords. Otherwise, they can expect to be picking up some messy spills when they arrive at camp. However, the hassle of remembering to put bungee cords on the fridge every time you hit the road is a turn-off to many travelers.

2. Won’t Fit in Older RVs Without Serious Modification

There’s also a larger spatial footprint with RV residential fridges. Space is one thing that RVs don’t have in abundance. Even with slide-outs, there’s only so much square footage in the kitchen. Newer RVs with residential fridges lose usable space (say for storage) that smaller fridges would not have taken up.

Even worse is trying to retrofit a residential fridge into a space previously occupied by an RV fridge. The residential models are taller, wider, deeper, and heavier. These units need to sit on the ground and not in a cabinet enclosure, so any cabinets, drawers, or shelves below (and potentially above) the old fridge will have to go. 

Additionally, you’ll have to widen and deepen the enclosure, which means you’ll lose adjacent cabinet space. What’s worse, the floor might need reinforcement for the extra weight. Most people don’t take the weight into account, but the residential units are much heavier, and they also have more interior cubic feet. 

And what do we do with all that extra cubic feet? We fill it with heavy bottles, cans, and pounds of delicious food. Before you know it, that fancy fridge has just become hundreds of pounds of extra cargo.

3. Not Suitable for Boondocking Without Serious Power Upgrades

What about the boondockers? Boondockers account for a larger percentage of campers than most people think. And with the recent boom in RV sales, campground and park capacities can’t keep up. This means more RV owners will naturally turn to dry camping without any hookups.

Your RV requires sources of power to keep all the systems running. Fortunately, most boondockers have studied their available options to the point that they’ve all become junior power plant engineers. They’ve surveyed requirements and upgraded battery banks and inverters to run televisions or even CPAP devices. 

This is our electric setup which runs a residential fridge just fine, but this is a very expensive investment.

Boondockers balance the use of generators and solar panels to keep their RVs running with all the comforts and accessories they require. 

Then along comes the power-hungry residential fridge with its motors and compressors that need to run intermittently 24/7 to keep ice cream hard. Now, this presents a problem. You either have to run your generators more every day or increase the solar panels on your roof.

Running the generator more might be acceptable for a short, overnight trip, but this isn’t a viable option for longer trips. For frequent boondockers, the residential refrigerator’s benefits don’t outweigh the costs when a decent RV absorption fridge can reliably run on their current power sources.

Personally, we spend about 3/4 of our time off-grid and love it. We have made significant investments in our ultimate solar system and do run a residential-style fridge (DC compressor). This however is a significant investment. It will likely cost $3000 to install a solar system to run a residential fridge.

4. Expensive

Why do we only invest in major appliances at home once every decade or longer? Because they’re expensive, and there’s usually nothing wrong with the ones we already have. While an RV absorption fridge isn’t cheap, it’s typically more reasonable than residential refrigerators. Plus, it’s more affordable to operate. 

A typical residential fridge for a home will run you $1,500-$3,000 compared to an RV model for around $1,500-$2,500, but the RV models are much smaller with fewer bells and whistles than the home models. And they likely won’t last as long as an RV absorption fridge.

Remember, you’re also not just investing in the fridge. You’re investing in all of the equipment to run the fridge. Once you add in the golf cart batteries, big inverter, solar panels, and fuel for the generator, you have to ask yourself if that rock-hard gallon of ice cream was worth it in the end?

For most people, the answer is a hard no. Think of how those costs could translate into things you need or want, like an RV faucet upgrade, lithium batteries, or more fuel for more travel days. 

5. Many RV Mechanics Will Not Work on Them

Residential fridges sit in a kitchen (or maybe a garage) and remain immobile until they eventually die of old age and head off to the landfill. They aren’t intended to travel the world or bump along at highway speeds. 

Things go wrong when an appliance suffers from the abuse of the open road. Wire connections come loose; fans stop fanning; compressors stop compressing; shelves and drawers detach and break. The list goes on. It’s a near eventuality that the RV residential fridge will break down much sooner than expected. What do you do then?

Service techs draw the line at RV residential fridges. Your home appliance tech won’t ever fix your RV appliances, and your RV service tech won’t touch your home appliances. Why? The home appliance technician won’t come to your RV because “home” is in his name. And RV techs only have the background to work on traditional RV refrigerators that run off propane and/or electric power.

So what do you do when your residential fridge that’s pretending to be a mobile appliance breaks down?

That’s a real puzzle because neither of those professionals wants to venture into this gray area. That puts the RV residential fridge owner in no man’s land where nobody wants to perform the service.

The RV Geeks have had their share of residential fridge problems from the movement of full time use, we even helped them with it

There just isn’t a right answer to this problem. (Sorry!) The ugly truth is that the fridge will probably have to be removed from the coach before it can be serviced, once again rendering RV absorption refrigerators the superior option. 

Are RV Residential Fridges Worth It?

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a full-timer, the days you spend on the road are supposed to be relaxing and fulfilling. You shouldn’t spend these days stressing over where the next power outlet will be or whether you remembered to bungee cord the fridge doors closed. If going park to park residential fridges can actually be pretty great but in the case of trying to camp off-grid, significant upgrades need to be made to run them.

We personally have used every type of RV fridge in our travels and still think the absorbtion is the most useful RV fridge type. With a large solar system our preferred fridge is a DC compressor model that we run now. This gives us the best of both worlds, a fridge that is made for an RV but cools great and has the amenities of a residential unit.

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Mortons on the Move

We are Tom & Caitlin Morton. We gave up the stationary life for one where we are constantly on the move. We live in a fifth wheel RV and travel with our two pups, Mocha and Bella. We enjoy hiking, biking, boondocking, videography, and upgrading our RV to suit our off-grid mobile lifestyle. Our goal is to share educational, entertaining, and inspiring content with our readers and viewers.

View Comments

  • My RV fridge stays at 10degrees with no problem, plenty cold for ice cream. We also keep 1or2 half gal bottles frozen just in case.

  • Don't disagree with many of your points, but our latest RV came with a residential fridge and sufficient batteries/inverter to handle it with one charge per day. After having this, I would never go back.

    • Lol we could also write an article about reasons that residential fridges are good in an RV :)

  • As I recall you installed one of the modification units from JC Refrigeration. Are you happy with that modification? Thinking o making that change.

    • Our fridge itself ended up failing as the vacuum panels broke their seal and puffed out. It lasted 2 years solid to that point. We ended up replacing the fridge with one of the new domestic compressor units. We really like having the auto defrost!

  • Kind of a lopsided view. This article leaves non-technical people without a balanced understanding of what they really need to consider to make an informed decision. I wouldn’t be without our residential fridge.

    • Thanks for the feedback. We understand that many RVers really like having a residential fridge, and if it works for them, we think that's great! Here, we simply wanted to offer some considerations for folks who might not be familiar with RV residential fridges. But ultimately, each RVer has to decide what appliances are right for them, their RV, and their lifestyle.

  • How long have you had your DC compressor fridge?
    Been thinking about that when my No-Cold dies, but haven't seen much info as to dependability.

    • Our current fridge we have had for about a year, its the new Dometic compressor fridge. Its a bit louder than the absorption but it works very well and is very efficient. Prior to that we ran a DC compressor conversion unit for 2 years.

  • We have a residential unit in our Winnebago class A and love it. The power inverter and bank of 4 AGM's will handle it for several days, a simple latch fits most units in an RV and with a turn the doors are locked for travel. We eat organic, and carry A LOT of fresh and frozen dinners with us, and we couldn't live without the SIGNIFICANT increase in useable space. In fact, we have a Whynter FM-62DZ fridge/freezer in the basement for added cold space.

  • Another point you forgot to mention is the ordeal of replacing a dead residential refrigerator. Factory installed units are often installed prior to slides so there is no easy way to get them back out. Some people have to have a slide removed or maybe the windshield. Very expensive!

  • I’m with those that caution that this is a one sided article. I understand that it provided to show a single view, but would be misleading for those that follow this channel for balanced advise. I’ve equipped my rig for serious off grid and have done little that has been a better experience than replacing the gas absorption refrigerator with a 23 cu ft residential unit. Running on batteries the residential uses massively less power in a day. I have data to backup this claim. Running to the propane refill every two days in hot weather is not fun. Cost of a residential unit was 1,500. The gas absorption unit was over 4K.
    I would never claim the residential is the right choice for everyone, but the five reasons given against residential seem to be more focused on SEO optimization using odd numbers and a declarative statement than a balanced discussion.

    • This is a one-sided article as the title states, we could and probably will very easily write exactly the opposite article as well. You are very right that an absorption fridge on electricity is crazy inefficient! Ours drew 8 times more power than the electric compressor!! As for propane it would still run for months.

  • I agree with Ron, I've replaces 2 absorption refrigerators in 2 different motor homes. The first one I did a lot of research on and a lot of people were saying that it took value from the motor home. I didn't find that to be true, and when I sold it the new buyer liked the fact that it had a much larger holding capacity than the absorption. It was about 800.00 as compared to about 2,000.00 for a new absorption. Also, I know couples that boondocks a lot and have a 18 cuft residential and solar panels and unless it is cloudy for several days (over 4) they don't have to run generator
    but as they say everyone has to DWMYH. (do what makes you happy)

  • Lopsided article. Almost seems to be an argument against retro-fitting a residential into an older unit, never designed for one; and writer just doesn't like residential units. Our large residential pulls 3 amps, way less then a typical home base unit, so we've never had an issue powering it while traveling, as article suggests.
    Bungee cords? Ours has the same convenient door latch as propane/12v units.
    Residential for full time boondocking, maybe not best application. Residential in a large unit used for extended travelling, and never into off-road back country, definitely. Make your choice based on application.

    • Good points, We actually have run residential fridges as well and did enjoy them, but had a huge solar system. this article is one-sided per the title, but we could write the other side just as easily :)

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