RV REFRIGERATORS – THE MOST FRUSTRATING KITCHEN APPLIANCE Kitchen Series 1.0
Updated: Mar 5
Although I’ve worked within the RV Industry for several years teaching others about RV systems and appliances, nothing beats hands-on experience to learn what to do and what not to do in your camper! To me, being able to be comfortable and cook, shower and sleep just as I would at home is most important. Glamping means something different to every one of us and to me it means living as I do in my brick and stick home, just in a camper! Since our lifestyle allows us to travel in our 5th-wheel as we work, I’ve learned some tips and tricks in my RV Kitchen that I wish someone had taught me on Day 1!
Over the next few months. I’ll be sharing My RV Kitchen Tips and Tricks to provide you with some helpful insights to your RV Refrigerator, Stovetop Cooking Options, and Baking Options! My series won’t focus on ALL the available options to consumers, but rather on what I use and why I use it! At times I feel like my husband and I are obsessed with gadgets but really, I just like to find ways to make my life easier, less complicated and more efficient. My hope is that you’ll find good information in this series and some great new gadgets aka tools to use for your RV Kitchen!
To kick off this first session, let’s focus on the most frustrating appliance in your Kitchen – the RV Refrigerator! Most Girl Campers have smaller sized rigs like a small travel trailer or pop-up camper. Some of us even have older vintage campers like an Airstream or Shasta. (Personally, those are my favorite!!) With these smaller sized campers, the option to have a ‘residential refrigerator’ in your RV is nearly impossible. So, because we likely have an RV Refrigerator, also known as a Propane Refrigerator, we will focus on that temperamental appliance that can easily make or break your camping trip!
OPERATED BY ELECTRICITY AND PROPANE
First, did you know that the standard RV refrigerator operates on two fuel sources? It can run off of your standard 110V electricity but can also run off of propane! Wow! It’s kind of crazy to think that an appliance that is supposed to be COLD can operate off of a hot fuel source like propane.
In this photo, you can see where the source is currently set on electric.
Electric Operation – the operating of the refrigerator itself is electric and is fueled by your 30amp/50amp connection (think 110V, power cord, standard plug in to pedestal, etc.) but the brain of the refrigerator, the component that thinks to determine when the refrigerator comes on/goes off is actually connected to your 12V RV battery! This means even if you are plugged into full power, if you have a dead battery onboard, your refrigerator will not come on. Your battery powers the refrigerator control board (aka the brain) and decides if the refrigerator cooling unit needs to come on or not.
Propane Operation – the second fuel source to operate your RV refrigerator is propane, also referred to as LP gas. Now I can’t really get into the nitty-gritty details of how LP gas is used to ‘heat up and cool down your refrigerator’ but I can promise you it really does work! Operating your refrigerator on propane still requires the 12V battery power for the brain of the control board. It also requires that you have propane in your tanks and that the tank is open allowing propane to flow into the camper for the propane appliances.
How do you decide which fuel source to use? Well, that depends on your camping situation. I’ll tell you how I choose, and you can decide for yourself based on your own camping set-up/available sources.
If I am camping at an RV Park/Campground and I have full power, then I would use electricity and save my propane for other uses such as cooking or heating my camper. The exception to this would be if I need the available power (there are limited watts available in your rig) for other uses. Maybe I have multiple appliances besides my refrigerator that require electricity and I want to run everything at the same time? Don’t get me wrong, your refrigerator is not a power hungry appliance like your air conditioner but when you are limited to 3600 watts available in a 30amp camper and your refrigerator needs 200 or more of those watts, you need to budget the power if you have more power hungry appliances plugged in.
If I am boondocking/dry camping with no power or limited electricity (house/garage power) then I would use propane. Make sure you have a way to recharge your 12V battery each day, so the refrigerator control board has power to continue to tell the propane when to come on/cut off. You can easily do this with a small portable gasoline generator. Fire the generator up once or twice a day to recharge your batteries and you’ll stay in business!
If you do not own a generator, there are lots of generator options out there but we personally own a Champion generator we found on Amazon that works great for our 30amp camper needs. I’m not a proponent of purchasing tiny generators that are less than a few hundred dollars because then you are extremely limited in the number of watts you can use off the generator. For example, an RV air conditioner needs approximately 2400 watts to operate. If you are camping in the summer and need to have AC to survive (don’t most of us?) then you’re now limited what the generator has left over for your refrigerator, your coffee maker, hair dryer, and more. To learn more about managing your power needs, check out the RV Tech Home Study Course at the bottom of this article.
PROPER TEMPERATURES AND HOW TO KEEP IT COLD
Join any online group for camping and you’ll eventually see folks complaining about the difficulty of keeping food cold or frozen inside their refrigerator/freezer. They lose the groceries they’ve just spent good hard-earned money on and are frustrated that things have spoiled. Now they have to go replenish their food supply when they are supposed to be at the campground relaxing!
There are ways you can ensure your refrigerator is working properly to maintain consistent temperatures. Because we are asking an appliance to work like a residential one, yet we are taking it across bumpy highways to various climates, we need to have some patience and understanding with our RV Refrigerator. Besides, it’s really just an expensive ice chest with cooling fans!
Turn your refrigerator on the night before you leave for a camping trip to allow it enough time to properly cool down. This may surprise you, but did you know it can take up to 12 hours for an RV refrigerator to cool down to the correct temperature? Wow! That’s a long time when we live in a ‘plug and play’ world. We want to plug the camper in, flip on the refrigerator and it be ready to roll within an hour! By turning the refrigerator on the night before, you can give it the proper time it needs to reach the correct cooling temperature before you put all your groceries in.
Load cold or cool groceries into the refrigerator once it is cold and ready. Never load your refrigerator with hot items and do not expect the refrigerator to instantly cool a refrigerator full of room temperature items. For example, if you have a case of soda you want to cool down, insert a few at a time to keep the overall temperature down and allow the refrigerator to cool down a small batch of items at a time. If you’ve just gathered your leftovers and want to put them in the refrigerator, let them sit out on the counter to room temperature before placing them in the refrigerator. Help your refrigerator do its job efficiently. I don’t have the time to wait 10-12 hours, what else can I do? Use an ice chest with ice to keep your items cold until your refrigerator is ready! Trust me, your refrigerator will thank you!
Be sure to allow air flow around the items within your refrigerator. I’ve included a picture of the inside of our refrigerator to show you our placement of items. Don’t get me wrong, we do have more items inside at times, but the air in your refrigerator needs to have room to flow behind and around all items. If you overpack the shelves, then you prevent the airflow from reaching the entire unit which will cause the refrigerator to work harder to keep your items cold.
Keep your temps in the Safe Zone! You’re ready to make dinner but you don’t really know what you want to eat. You open your refrigerator and you stand there moving things around until something sparks your interest. How long did you just have the door open while you sorted through your various dinner options? Your RV Refrigerator requires 1 hour of recovery time for every 1 minute that the door is open. That may seem excessive but remember the RV Refrigerator is not efficient like your home refrigerator. Here is another gadget that we find to be super helpful in our household! Use these internal wireless temperature sensors we found on Amazon for both your refrigerator and freezer to make sure you’re in the ‘safe zone’.
You want to keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower to keep your groceries safe. When you begin dipping under 38 degrees, you will start to see frost on some items like lettuce, celery, etc. You can see in my picture that my freezer is at 18 degrees and my refrigerator is at 39 degrees. You can also see what the max temps have been since I last cleared it – which for me has been about 3 weeks. Temps will vary throughout the day and especially when your refrigerator is in a slide, which ours is.
Well, that is it for this article. Next time we will go a bit deeper into the RV Refrigerator to learn some easy preventative maintenance you can do to keep it working in tip top shape. I’ll also share some tips for preventing frost build up inside your freezer and things you can do to help keep your refrigerator cold while you’re traveling. Also, one of my most favorite questions – Why won’t my ice cream freeze??
If you’re interested in learning more about your RV Refrigerator or other systems and appliances, please know that I’m sharing bits and pieces of information that we teach here at the National RV Training Academy. You can learn at home through our online RV Maintenance course. Within the 30+ hours of video training, you can learn about the Propane system and how it works within your refrigerator. We also cover the Electrical system and what ‘watts, amps and volts’ all mean and why you need to know how to manage your electricity usage.
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