RV refrigerators require a 12 Volt DC source to run “the brains” and either a 110 Volt A/C or propane to run the “cooling” part. They do not have a compressor like home refrigerators.
Absorption refrigerators take longer to cool than compressor styles and can have trouble in hot weather or at higher altitudes. Some owners purchase a refrigerator fan to help air circulate more effectively.
Choosing a Refrigerator
Whether your RV came with a fridge or you are looking to upgrade it, choosing the right refrigerator is an important decision that will depend on your camping style. The size of the refrigerator will be a constraint and you will need to consider where it is located in your RV as well as its power consumption.
Refrigerators are powered in two different ways – alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). You will want to think about how much food you typically camp with and how often you go boondocking. You will also want to consider how much time you spend plugged in to shore power as that will impact your choice of fridge.
Absorption fridges are a popular option as they are able to run on LP gas, shore power, or DC electricity. You can find two-way models that are either LP or AC powered, or three-way fridges like Norcold and Dometic that will automatically switch between power sources.
Refrigerators have various components to maintain the refrigeration cycle. The major ones include compressor, condenser, expansion valve or metering/throttling device and the evaporator coils. All these parts have their specific role to play in the overall cooling process of the refrigerator. The evaporator coils are in the form of small tubes made from copper or aluminium, which have high thermal metal conductivity to maximize heat transfer. They absorb the heat from the food placed in the cooling sections. They are also responsible for distributing cold air to the fridge door shelves and freezer compartment.
The condenser is a heat exchanger that transforms liquid refrigerant into a vapor state. As the refrigerant passes through it, it loses a lot of pressure and is forced by the expansion valve to low pressure area in which it reaches its normal working temperature. It then passes to the evaporator, which in turn cools the foods. Absorption refrigerators use any heat source to function, with natural gas, propane and kerosene being popular.
A residential refrigerator can be used in an RV if the proper steps are taken. First, be sure the propane is turned off for the entire motorhome. You’ll also want to disconnect the propane line and install a propane terminator. Then, cap off the electrical wires to prevent accidental shorting and wiring issues. Then, place the new fridge on a furniture dolly (perhaps modified in height) and maneuver it into the cabinet opening. Slide it all the way up to the stop blocks, then secure it with straps. Be sure to close off the roof vent and add insulation.
On a regular basis, check the fridge door seals for leaks and vacuum out any debris or bird nests that could block the flow of air over the fridge coils. It’s also a good idea to have a 12V thermostatically controlled fan installed in the back of the fridge to help remove excess heat. This will increase your fridge’s performance by up to 40 percent.
For RV refrigeration to work well, it needs proper maintenance. Absorption fridges rely on air circulation to cool and should be checked periodically for an adequate amount of venting in the lower exterior access panel area, up the back side of the refrigerator, and over the cooling coils. In addition, check the rooftop vent for leaves and critter nests that can restrict the flow of air to the fridge.
Properly cooled foods can extend the life of perishables and keep harmful bacteria from growing, saving you money in the long run. A thermometer inside the fridge is a good idea to monitor temperatures and ensure that they stay below 40 degrees F for the fridge and 0 degrees F for the freezer.
Make sure to defrost the fridge on a regular basis, especially after storing a lot of foods that are high in moisture content. Finally, try to avoid leaving the fridge on while traveling – this can cause the refrigerator to overheat and lead to premature damage.