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Hiking the North Grove Trail in the snow of Calaveras Big Trees State Park in the Sierras outside of Murphys, California and Highway 49.

Refrigerators are major power draws. As much as technology has advanced, the RV refrigerator is still a serious consideration when calculating how much power you need. After all, it is an all or nothing proposition. Either you run the refrigerator or do not. There is little you can do to improve its efficiency while it is in operation aside from keeping the ambient temperature down.

Do I really need a freezer?

In looking into RV refrigerators, the biggest variable I encountered is how large the freezer. Understandably, a freezer needs to keep food at an even cooler temperature, so the energy demand is greater. I had the fortune to encounter a variable duty refrigerator/freezer that beautifully demonstrated the difference in draw. It has two separate units that you can set to either be a refrigerator or a freezer. When they are both set to refrigerate, the average draw across 24 hours is 600 W/24h. When one is set to refrigerate and another freeze, the average draw is 1,100 W/24h. When both are set to freeze, the average draw is 1,250 W/24h. What a jump in consumption once the freezer comes into play!

So, here is where the soul searching comes in: how badly do you need a freezer and how much space do you really need? In a sticks and bricks house, more often than not, the freezer is a holder for fall back foods. This is where food is stored that you do not have an exact timeline to consume because it can last for an open ended period of time. But when the freezer is so expensive to run, can you afford to keep the same set of frozen burritos in the freezer for a month? Maybe in an RV park with full hookups but not in the desert when powering off of solar panels.

Investigating my own freezer usage

So, we start looking into freezer usage. There are some things that only a freezer can store: ice cream, ice cubes, or other things with “ice” in the name. But most things we keep in a freezer are items that are frozen to prolong their life and will be thawed before serving. We all have our little foibles. Between Chris and I, my obsession with Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sandwiches is a bit of a joke. Nine times out of ten, I would choose them as an alternative to any other breakfast option. My first thought when looking at some of the mini freezer compartments available was: “I can only fit four breakfast sandwiches in that.” But that’s assuming I want to keep them frozen.

A lot of “frozen” products could be stored in the refrigerator. We freeze them to extend shelf life but that that extra time spent running a freezer is so costly as to frequently negate the value of longer shelf lives. Slightly switching gears, we can also approach this from the perspective of energy consumed when cooking. It takes far less energy to simply warm food rather than defrost and warm food. If you are relying on the defrost setting on a microwave, that’s a lot of energy! So, selecting food items that can be refrigerated makes sense on both a cooling and warming front.

How Large of A Refridgerator Should I Get?

My impulse is to max out food storage. Our goal is to build a rig that supports extended boondocking. So, storing food over that time is an essential part of this process. All the same, we simply do not have the space or power for a full sized refrigerator. Given the space I have, our model should be around 43″ x 27″ x 21″.

I’m collecting a table of potential refrigerators at the moment. It certainly is subject to change. Some of these models are really pushing the limits of the available space in the camper. But, seriously, they are so appealing, especially models using drawers rather than doors. But here’s my starting point:

Height (inches)Width (inches)Depth (inches)Storage (cubic feet)Power Consumption (W/24h)
Isotherm Drawer 160 Frost-Free COMBO Fridge/Freezer/Ice Maker3424.623.45.51100 (115V)
Isotherm Cruise 200 INOX Stainless Steel34.728.924.37800
Isotherm Cruise 130 Elegance Clean Touch Stainless Steel29.321.421.44.6418
Dometic CoolMatic CRX 140 S31.9720.6724.41580
Dometic CoolMatic CRX 110 S29.3320.4721.972.6580
Norcold EV07883020.520.253.1
Vitrifrigo DRW180A33.7524.3323.255.3600 / 1100 / 1,250

We are still in the process of settling on a refrigerator. If you have thoughts, experience, or questions to share, we’d love to hear them in the comments!

Lexi lives in a truck camper down by the river.

Comments:

  • January 24, 2020

    Another possibility is to build your own using a Nova Kool kit. I’m thinking of doing this to fit a fridge into a space where one would not normally fit.
    http://www.novakool.com/products/BuildingYourownCoolerofFreeer.htm
    Nova Kool also has also kits that will retrofit your existing propane fridge to 12 volt compressor.

    reply...
    • Lexi Goforth

      January 28, 2020

      Oh no! I better make sure that Chris doesn’t see this. We are already making so many things from scratch I don’t know how we will ever finish this build! But, in all seriousness, that sounds awesome!

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  • February 27, 2020

    Have checked out your build having rehabbed a C-11 a few years ago and now having moved to a new steel tube frame camper built from the ground up. A search for “dodge ram gothic cabover” should pull up a pic of us at last years overland expo event in VA. Moving on then to refrigerators, after years of propane refrigerators and their problems, went with a 12v marine refrigerator and two 100 amp gel cells plus two 100 watt solar panels and cold beer has never been a problem again.

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  • Bruce

    August 11, 2020

    Lexi, Just happened across your reply now, probably didn’t click the box to be notified of the follow up. Don’t have any easy access to interior pics right now but the features include hickory floor, birch paneling with walnut trim, windows are trimmed in mahogany. Lots of SS screws with cup washers that add to the marine look. Counter top is copper with a blue glass bowl sink that sits on top. 40 gallon water tank and propane instantaneous water heater with outside water access. Had an Avion that didn’t feel near as roomy this one even being 3′ longer, plus the light and ventilation with the upper windows that all open is spectacular. Bed space is tight with the low roof sections but works for us.

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    • admin

      August 12, 2020

      That sounds delightful!

      reply...

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