Common RV Refrigerators and Refrigerator Power Sources

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Many RV refrigerators run off three main forms of power. These include electricity, battery and LP gas. However, since the 1980s, most manufacturers started only offering two of the three main power sources – LP gas and 120 volt electricity – as options to power refrigerator units.

More recently, manufacturers have gone away from using 12 volt battery power to fuel RV refrigerators and are now mostly offering LP gas and 120 volt systems. This is primarily because the RV refrigerators operating off of 12 volt would drain the battery down within six to eight hours of use.

For larger units, it is still possible to use a battery bank to fuel RV refrigerators with the assistance of an inverter to give you 120 volts of power. Meaning, the refrigerator will run as if it were using electricity even though it is only using 12 volt batteries. Because of the size, smaller RV refrigerators with the freezer incorporated inside will easily run off of the 12 volt battery.

Four door RV refrigerators are nice to have mostly because only a limited amount of coolness is allowed to escape when opened. This is because you can select which door to open and there is no need to open up the entire unit just to get a drink.

It is critical to know the size and model of your RV refrigerator, especially when it comes to operating and troubleshooting. Plus, this information is important for knowing which power source works best with your unit.

Discussion
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26 Responses to “Common RV Refrigerators and Refrigerator Power Sources”
  1. Raymond

    As a new RV’er, one thing I don’t get is what to do with the refrigerator when you are moving. Mine is a 2-way as was pointed out as more common now. We are not supposed to have the propane on when moving so that leaves just AC power. So, does that mean run the generator when moving to keep the refrigerator cold?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Raymond. Thanks for visiting the RV Repair Club site and the opportunity to assist with your refrigerator/propane question. The reason refrigerator manufacturers and the propane industry recommends cutting off the propane line at the tank or cylinder is for safety issues. The propane lines in your RV are typically small copper lines running through cabinetry and often times close to the sidewall. If you happen to “clip” a road sign, someone side swipes you, or even a fitting loosens up, propane gas will leak into the RV and a pilot light or spark ignitor will become a disaster. Plus you always need to shut off all pilot lights and propane valves before entering a fueling station.

      Both Norcold and Dometic have engineered an outstanding insulated compartment that will maintain temperatures for over 6 hours. We conducted a test and brought a unit down to 34 degrees inside the refrigerator compartment and placed a wireless probe inside. 6 hours later it was still at 39 degrees and the ambient temperature inside the coach was up to 87 degrees! Here’s a couple of tips…put a 5-7 lb bag of ice in the freezer section. This is the first stage of cooling in an absorption refrigerator and will help the cooling process in the main compartment. Place a small 9 volt fan in the main compartment to circulate the air. Hot air will rise and this will help keep a consistent temperature throughout. Make sure all seals are tight and the door is tight, lock it if possible.

      You can run the generator to provide 120-volt power, but it’s not necessary if you do the steps listed.

      Reply
      • Terry Lee

        TERRIBLE RESPONSE!!! The answer is NOT to put a bag of ice in the freezer (or put a fan in the fridge) while traveling. If you don’t want to use LP while traveling (I wouldn’t) and you have a 2-way, you run on 120 volt from the inverter and the vehicle alternator keeps the batteries charged. You don’t buy a $1500 fridge for the privilege of routinely buying ice. If this is reflective of the quality of info on this site, I’m out.

        Reply
        • Terry Lee

          And if you don’t have an inverter, you shouldn’t have a 2-way fridge.

          Reply
  2. Michael

    I am also new RVing and mine does not seem to work on propane and is very hard to keep cool in desert. any suggestions on getting the propane to work with my fridge?
    Thanks Mike

    Reply
    • RV Repair Club Team

      Thanks for visiting the RV Repair Club site and the opportunity to assist with your refrigerator issue. First, verify you have propane available to other appliances such as the stove top or water heater. If either of these work, you can eliminate the tank and regulator. Next, check to make sure the in-line valve is open to the refrigerator. This is usually located in the back compartment accessible through the outside vent panel. There should be a copper LP line coming into the compartment and connecting to the burner assembly. In line is a valve that needs to have the handle in-line or parallel with the line. Now check your house battery condition. Even though you will be running on LP, the system needs 10.5 volts or more to open the gas valve and provide spark. If all this is good, pull the cover off the power module (black plastic box in the vent area) and inspect the 12-volt fuse.

      Since you are new to RVing, here is a quick tutorial on how the system works. When the power mode switch is on the “Auto” selection, the refrigerator with run on 120-volt power when it’s available. It will automatically switch to LP if the power goes out, so if you have it on auto, it will not run on LP. Putting the switch to “Gas” makes it run on LP. Not knowing your make, model, year, or brand of refrigerator limits further troubleshooting, however newer modes with the LED readout on the top will provide a code for troubleshooting. The system will try to start/light several times and then flash a code that helps diagnose the problem. When the switch is moved to “Gas” you should hear a click, then several attempts to light with sparking sounds. If it can’t light, it will give you a code.

      All this and more is covered in detail on the website with videos specifically tailored to the LP system. Check out the items listed above and I think they may help. Also, check out the video on making your refrigerator run more efficient as it should be able to handle the hot weather on 120-volt as well!

      Reply
    • Terry Lee

      The short answer is … when the outside temp exceeds 90F, an absorption fridge (2-way, 3-way) may not perform very well, irrespective of the power source. Under those conditions, you may need to buy a bag of ice.

      Reply
  3. ken

    My 2 way refridgerator will operate on propane great but will not switch to 120 volt. Can you tell me what to check?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Ken. Thanks for visiting the RV Repair Club site and the opportunity to assist with your refrigerator issue. The first thing I would check is the circuit breaker in the distribution center. Next make sure the refrigerator is plugged into the outlet by opening the outside vent cover to access the back of the refrigerator. Also check this outlet to make sure it’s working. It could be connected to the GFCI circuit which includes the bathroom, kitchen, and outside outlets but only one has the test/reset button. If this has tripped, none of the outlets work. Then open the power module cover and check the 120-volt fuse in the module. You should be able to find the location in your owner’s manual. Depending on the model and year of your refrigerator it should be a glass in-line fuse. If you still don’t have power, it’s either a faulty module or in the eyebrow board.

      Reply
  4. Janet

    My refrigerator is in my slide out and I have two vents one at the bottom and one at the top. The one at the top is covered by a .piece of thin wood( I think) it covers all but about two inches at the top. Should this be there? My camper has the winter package. I’m using alot of electricity and we thinks it is the refrigerator.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Janet. Thanks for visiting the RV Repair Club site and the opportunity to assist with your refrigerator issue. The top vent is designed to allow the heat from the cooling unit to rise up and escape and should not be blocked! This will trap the warm air in the back cavity of your refrigerator compartment and make the refrigerator work harder which will eat up more electricity. The lower vent is designed to help draw air into the cavity and assist with getting the warm air to the top. It’s also an access point for service work on the burner assembly and module board.

      Reply
  5. Chris

    I have a Dometic fridge but it does not have any adjustment area showing. It shows in the manual the adjustment area is hidden. My fridge is now freezing items. Do I need to schedule a repair visit?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Chris. Thanks for visiting the RV Repair Club site and the opportunity to assist with your Dometic refrigerator issue. To provide more specific troubleshooting information I will need to know the model number and year. Most of the Dometic refrigerators have a thermister that is attached to the fins inside the unit to sense the temperature and sends that info to the module board. I’m not familiar with the “adjustment area” you referred to however if I can get the model and year, we should be able to help get your refrigerator working properly.

      Reply
  6. Dennis

    I have a Norcold 4 door and I find myself having to defrost it about once every two weeks. Any I doing something wrong or might there something be wrong with the unit itself?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Dennis. Thanks for visiting the RV Repair Club site and the opportunity to assist with your Norcold defrosting issue. The first thing is get a thermometer and check the temperature of the unit. It should be running somewhere around 36-37 degrees. If it’s colder than that, the moist warm air introduced in RVs will cause excess condensation and freezing. Next, check your door seals by placing a dollar between the door and the gasket. Pull it lightly and if it doesn’t have a little resistance coming out, your door is not sealing properly and again, warm/moist air is entering. Limit the number of canned goods as this will also create excess condensation. Do not block shelves with too much food, the refrigerator needs air circulation. Place a small 12-volt fan inside to help circulate air as well. If it’s in the freezer section, next time you defrost, place one of those plastic temporary cutting sheets on the bottom and back side. When frost builds up, simply pop those out and the ice comes off easily.

      Reply
  7. Ronnie

    I want to power my RV fridge while traveling…is there an inverter that could be recommended to just run the 120 watts needed for the fridge? Mine is a 1987 Dometic which runs on both propane and AC. Rarely use propane.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Ronnie. I would recommend contacting Xantrex to find the proper inverter for your application. One consideration you need to look at is what battery power and condition you have currently. Another thing to consider, if you leave the door shut, the refrigerator will maintain under 40 degrees for over 6 hours while traveling! Check out the video in the appliance section. Put a 5 lb bag of ice in the freezer to assist with the initial temp and add a small 9 volt fan to circulate the air and it will save you a ton of money. Otherwise, visit Xantrex here: http://www.xantrex.com/industry-solutions/recreational-vehicles/power-inverters.aspx

      Reply
  8. Richard

    We are new to running a diesel RV (2014 Thor Tuscany XTE) and having a side by side residential size refrigerator. On all of our other RVs they ran on shore power (electric plug in) or on propane. This model runs on shore power (electric plug in) and inverters we think. Not sure how to turn the refrigerator off when taking the RV in for service (as our mechanic prefers it off). Any ideas?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Richard. The residential style refrigerator runs just like the one in a home, on 120-volt electricity only which is supplied by the distribution panel through the shoreline power, or the inverter using the house batteries to “invert” to 120-volt power. You can either unplug the unit from the wall outlet, or shut off the circuit breaker at the distribution center and verify by opening the door.

      Reply
  9. Laura Casey

    We have a 32 ft. Allegro RV. We are on vacation and our full-size refrigerator will not work unless we use an electric cord on the side and plug into a recepticle inside the RV. Any ideas?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Laura. To provide more specific troubleshooting information we need the make and model of your refrigerator. Typically you would have a two-way refrigerator that operates on 120-volt power or LP? When the rig is plugged into a campground source or other outside electrical source using the power cord or “shoreline” cord, power goes to the distribution center and to a circuit breaker similar to your home. The refrigerator has a dedicated circuit breaker which feeds power by a line to a receptacle usually located in the back accessible through the outside vent cover. During 120-volt operation, the refrigerator uses a heating element to heat a solution that travels through a series of tubes known as the absorption method of cooling. Check out the free videos on the site overviewing the operation. When using LP or Gas, the spark ignitor starts a small flame that heats the solution similar to the heating element. Both operations require at least 10.5 volt DC from your house batteries as this powers the monitor panel. When you stat that you use an electric cord on the side and plug into a receptacle, where are you plugging the cord into originally? Is it at a campground source, or some other outside source? And what receptacle are you plugging into inside the rig? Or, are you plugging an electrical cord into the refrigerator cord unplugged from the outlet and running it inside to another outlet? If so, your refrigerator plug does not have power which could just be the circuit breaker or a GFCI button tripped somewhere down the line?
      Thanks
      Dave-RVRC

      Reply
  10. Bart

    Wanted to know if I have to have my battery connected when I’m trying to get my refirdgeator cold the day before we leave to go camping. I’m new at csmping

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Bart,

      You should have your batteries connected and the unit plugged into
      120-volt power to charge the batteries and cool the refrigerator.
      Make sure the unit is level in the driveway as an unlevel refrigerator
      will have an unlevel cooling unit and this could bet blocked and ruin the
      cooling unit in a couple of days. Also, make sure you are plugged
      into a dedicated power source. If you are connected to a typical
      residential outlet in the garage, it’s typically a 10 amp outlet and can
      be “ganged” to other outlets and not getting the dedicated 10 amps?
      You should have a licensed electrician install at least a 20 amp dedicated
      outlet as you refrigerator will draw about 6 amps and the battery charger
      could draw up to 9 amps!

      Thanks,
      David RVRC Video Membership

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first year membership.
      http://go.rvrepairclub.com/C9875

      Reply
  11. Ed

    We have a Norcold N641R unit at our off grid hunting camp. It stays on an outside porch and only runs on propane. Can anyone tell me what size solar panel I would need to keep the battery charged for the igniter during extended periods when no generators are running?

    Thanks……..Ed

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Ed,

      You should be able to get by with just one 100 watt panel, however it also depends on the efficiency of your battery? If it’s sulfated, it will not store much power. Your refrigerator will draw approximately 5 watts per hour which is not much. I would suggest going to Go Power’s page that has a calculator here: http://gpelectric.com/tools/GoPowerCalculator.htm?state=RvDiv
      Another issue is how much “prime” sunlight will you be able to get? Usually it’s only about 3 hours when the sun is at the high noon point.

      Thanks,
      David RVRC Video Membership

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first year membership.
      http://go.rvrepairclub.com/C10111

      Reply

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