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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18 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

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