Pros and cons of residential fridges in RVs

Pros and cons of residential fridges in RVs

By Diane McGovern
Hoo boy! Did we ever hear from a bunch of readers this last week about refrigerators in RVs! In his essay in RV Travel Newsletter Issue 828, editor Chuck Woodbury wrote about the trend of nearly every new fifth wheel trailer, 30 feet and longer, and high-end travel trailer and motorhome at the recent RV show he attended at San Antonio being equipped with a residential refrigerator.

He also provided a poll for our readers to respond whether their RV-type fridge had ever caught on fire, an argument used by RV salesmen to sell residential refrigerators; luckily, only 2 percent of more than 2,500 readers who responded indicated that it had – but that number is still too high.

At the bottom of that survey, almost 50 readers added their comments and opinions on the pros and cons of residential fridges in RVs, plus about 30 comments in the newsletter itself. We are providing some of them here (generally unedited) for your review, in case you’re weighing the options of what type of refrigerator you want in your RV. Thank you for all of your comments!

PROs of residential refrigerators in RVs

Hey Chuck, you really opened a can of worms! We fell into that trap of buying a new M/H in 2016. We were and still are planning an ALCAN vacation this June. When we were looking all the Class “A’s” seemed to only offer residential. Up until then we were mostly boondockers for 40 years, hated hook uppers & generators, still do. Anyway we got a new 35′ with the residential refer & it’s awesome compared to the gas one! I’m still trying to get the amperage draw figured out so I don’t need to run the “YUK” gen! So far I bought 4 AGM L16, 390ah batteries. Have only one 160w solar and ready to install 2 more. But due to current roof issue I have to see if that will cover my needs for a day without using the gen. If anyone has info on a real life usage with boondock camping with the residential refer, please let me know. —Dave Telenko
••

We are now in our 3rd motorhome in our lives, 2 of those as full timers (FT since 2009). First 2 rigs had propane fridge. Current rig has residential fridge (installed as modification after market, not from factory). We will NEVER go back to a propane rig. We have three 8D AGM batteries and a quiet 10KW diesel generator in a quiet box mount. If you are not camped right next to us, it will not bother you. However, I just installed 1400 watts of solar panels to take advantage of “free” sunlight and ZERO noise. And no, our rig is not an expensive new motorhome. It is a high-end 2003 Foretravel U320 40′ with 2 slides. We have no sticks and bricks, and hope to never have one again. Love this lifestyle. —Darrel
•••

We had a saying in the electronics company I work at for over 35 years. Talking to the dead is only slightly more difficult than talking to an engineer, and talking to a computer programmer is the dead. The upper level management does not have a clue about what is engineered, built and sold. The management and engineers should have to live in one of their designs for a few months and I will bet there will be some changes made. I have a passionate dislike for gas refrigerators because they are nothing but troublesome, expensive pieces of junk which have been the cause of many a fire. The #1 complaint I hear out in the world of boondocking is the troubles people are having with their junk gas refrigerators. The engineers of these things should be castrated with a dull, rusty knife. When people ask me what they should do when they have troubles, I tell them to get a picture of the CEO of the company who made their refrigerator. They should glue the picture of the CEO to the front door and drag the damn thing out to the gun range and shoot it with a high powered rifle aiming at the CEO picture. Also while they are doing it they should video record and put it on YouTube. —Jane Shure
•••

Chuck, You have missed the mark. I too, as several, have the residential style fridge. If I choose to boondock I will simply turn off the fridge and use my coolers that I have had since tenting. Your fridge excuse of not calling a 5er a recreational vehicle is weak at best. Better to report on the Glamping vs Camping or simply take yourself back to tenting and report on why it cost as much (or near to it) to tent as it does to camp. —Don Stout (CMC Ret)
•••

Changed out my Norcold 1200 fridge for a Samsung RF18 and love it. I have solar and 4 12 volt AGM batteries in my 5th wheel. And a Honda 3000 generator. Run the gen at night to watch TV, etc., and the batteries are at 12.4 V in the AM. So no problem boondocking. In Quartzsite right now having a great time. Also getting a check now each year from the class action suit against Norcold. —Ron Bunge
•••

Chuck, I disagree with you about the residential refrigerator not allowing boondocking. We use one in our 35′ MH and have run on the batteries (4X12v) for up to two days without recharging. This includes other electrical equipment in the MH. Of course I have a gen set which allows me to charge when necessary (don’t have solar charging). Running the generator for a couple of hours per day is not terribly inconvenient. —Steve Browning
•••

We have a residential fridge in our class A Holiday Rambler Vacationer. Going to Quartzsite, Arizona, for the RV show in two weeks. Checking into portable solar so we can boondock more. Don’t mind using generator to recharge batteries for fridge but with all the solar advances why not get something to run fridge. We can stay out longer with a packed fridge this way. Portable solar for us, then if we get another unit down the road we can take it with us. Also, we do love staying in nice parks. We meet so many wonderful new friends. —Judy Wiemer
•••

I also believe you are inaccurate in your assessment on residential refigerator power use. While I have no experience in trailer 5th wheel battery capacity, most motorhomes add additional batteries with a residential installation. Newer refrigerator models can easily run a day on the batteries. Constant generator runs? Perhaps you should try before you jump to conclusions. Our prior coach with a residential (Samsung 18 cubic foot) required a 2 hour a.m. run and a 1-2 hour evening run. I realize some folks are large energy consumers with lots of microwave, TV, satellite, etc., but with a little care the convenience of the residential outstrips the old gas/electric. Let’s also face the fact that people purchasing these larger RVs aren’t rushing out to go camping. They may be hiking and doing other recreational activities but they don’t want to “rough it” for dinner or sleeping accommodations! —W Jordan
•••

Definitely go residential fridge. This leaves more room for me in the WalMart parking lots. —George
•••

If Norcold and the others made a decent refrigerator, I would agree with you. We got tired of 50 degrees inside on a hot day, slow ice production on hot days. It was more than frustrating when it quit altogether whenever it rained and Norcold’s “fix” shut it down. With proper management and enough batteries, we boondock just fine. —John Zumwalt
•••

I disagree with you about the residential fridge. I have no problem boondocking and camping with mine. The AGS runs about an hour in morning and an hour in late afternoon (not during quiet hours), and I am running everything in my coach as if I were hooked up to shore power. If I scrimped some on power, I suspect the fridge would require 1 hour a day of generator time. The generator does not “run hours on end,” as you say. The residential fridge is much nicer than that little RV fridge, and fires do happen. Why not eliminate that risk. Many with coaches like mine “upgrade” to an Amana residential as soon as they can. —Greg Labadie
•••

We do not have a problem with the residential refrigerator. Our pet peeve is the floor plan that we really like doesn’t come with a gas cook top. Only induction. That uses more power than the fridge. Also need to have the generator running. So much for quiet times in New York State parks. —Rich Dzialo
•••

Those comments about charred wood are kind of scary. I didn’t see anything like that in my case. The compartment was insulated and much of the insulation was coming loose so I removed it and covered the entire compartment with reflectix. Used glue and staples. As far as replacing the cooling unit, the hard part is getting the fridge out – it’s heavy. I removed the doors, shelves and anything else I could. Then a friend helped slide it out to the floor face down. Removing the old cooling unit was just unbolting stuff. The new Amish unit is considerably heavier. I needed help getting it into place after all the prep work was done. First test was to stand the fridge upright without the doors and turn it on. Pretty amazing how fast the freezer got cold, even without door. While it was upright, I also changed the ice maker. Got one from Lowe’s – it’s an Amana unit. About half the price of a Norcold. Exact fit. Once put back together and installed, hooked up, turned it on, in 4 hours it could make ice. It’s been running since. I never turn it off. That was about 2 years ago. —Alan Bottorff
•••

I had two recalls on my four-door Dometic but it failed about three years later. I replaced the cooling unit with the Amish cooling unit because it was cheaper and better quality. If I could do it again I would have put a residential unit in. One positive thing is that I joined the class action lawsuit against Dometic and I received the first of four checks for $228.90. I personally changed the cooling unit and there was a piece of wood behind the refrigerator that was burnt black from the heat from the refrigerator. I consider myself very blessed it did not catch fire. —Greg
•••

In 2012 we bought a 24 ft. 1978 Prowler 5th wheel. The fridge never really worked right. We quit using it at all after the first year. Between 2013 and 2015 I read a lot about the fires in the LP fridges. In 2015 we bought a Full Timers unit – 37 ft. Wilderness 5th wheel. The first thing we did, very first order of business, was removing the fridge. Funny thing was I ran the SN on it and it was on the catch fire recall list issued by Dometic. I sold it for $400 and told the buyer it was on the recall list and that they needed to have it serviced before use. They were just glad to be able to get a cheap one I guess. We modified the cabinet, put in a 3/4 solid floor, moved the wires, added in ReflecTex to the walls, and bought a Marine Hatch and replaced the old fridge vent in the side of the coach corresponding with the door. All we have left to do now is remove the roof vent and seal that up. We bought a 5.8 cubic foot vertical residential freezer to put in the place of the fridge, and bought a vertical Whynter 3.6 cubic foot fridge to take the place of our refrigeration needs. (We freeze more than we fridge around here anyway.) We built in custom locks to hold the freezer in place (one of the issues with residential in mobile applications is lack of buffer for movement). We built in holding blocks to keep it from shifting side to side and front to back as well as custom doors for the cabinet, and a UPS battery backup system to serve the freezer independently of the house batteries during travel. Our system carries the freezer 6-8 hours 70-80[?] degrees as is setup. The Whynter fridge is so completely portable and uses 70watts when it cycles. I am so glad to be rid of the LP based fridge system. We have something in place that serves us so much better and does not carry the same risks as the LP fridge Bomb most people with RV’s are cursed with. Note: After we got our new rig in 2015 , not long later, like weeks later, the ammonia (mind you it was unplugged, removed from the LP lines and not in service at the time) burst in the fridge in the old rig – the Prowler – and completely saturated the Prowler. We couldn’t even sell it to anyone. It was completely poisoned. We ended up having to tear it down to its frame a year later and take it all to the dump ourselves in pieces, and then send in written documentation to DMV to have it archived. There was no using it ever again after that happened. Just the ammonia totally ruined that rig. Now think of what would happen if you add in the LP gas to the equation and boom! —Sally
•••

No fire, but coil failed. $4300 to remove old frideg and install new one. Number 1 on list when buying a different motor home was residential refrigerator. Bought a 2007 with 8- 6 volt batteries. Overkill? Maybe. Would not go back. Ice cream temp perfect. —Larry Prough
•••

Did not have a fire with the Norcold, but when I replaced it with a residential at the 11 year point I found singed fabric, melted styrofoam, and charred wood in the ceiling area near the “chimney.” This was not due to any Norcold issue, but to bad engineering/installation on the part of the RV manufacturer. I feel extremely fortunate that my coach did not burn to the ground. —Paul
•••

Same here (to comment immediately above). Our “RV” fridge in our used Tiffin was almost useless during hot days. When I pulled the wiring, etc., to investigate, I discovered burnt wiring, insulation, etc. A fire hazard for a product that barely worked. We sold the motorhome and bought a new one with a residential fridge – couldn’t be happier! —Bob Gash
•••

Chuck, you may need to delve deeper into the “RV” or “residential” refrigerator issue, as some of the rhetoric you’ve posted may not stand up. First, there are many reasons for preferring residential or switching. While the number of fires may be viewed as “small”, the risk of fire, at least for Norcolds, is significant. And their patch had to go through numerous “revisions” (I think it’s at RevF) that failed in place. Many “seasoned” RVers understand risk management. But the most pressing reasons for having a residential refrigerator are economic. Replacing a Norcold can cost two or more times the cost of replacement with a residential. If the cooling unit gets weak or fails, replacing that alone can cost more than a residential. On our Norcold, the door seals started leaking after about 8 years, and even THAT was going to cost more than a residential. Switching to a residential was a no-brainer after doing some research. And in practice, your comments on energy use may be dated or ill-informed. Today’s residential refrigerators are generally energy efficient, many with “Energy Star” ratings. Many models run on MSW inverters in rigs with 2-4 deep cycle batteries. They hold temperature well if off for periods of several hours overnight or driving. And while they do require battery charging off-grid, it’s likely not as onerous as you make it sound. Lastly, you should talk to some RVers who have switched. Many are likely to tell you it’s one of the top mods they’ve made, that their ability to boondock isn’t severely curtailed, and they sleep better with little risk of fire. I fear that you may be conflating the tired old “people don’t camp anymore” lament (which sort of tries to invalidate a significant portion of the population’s lifestyle choice) with a basic advance in how technology is applied to the RV world. Just my two cents… 😂  —George
•••

$2300 for a new “Nocold” or $360 for a Whirlpool residential that is 10.7 cf or 40% larger in the same space!!! Coach came with 4 golf cart batteries, added 500 watts of solar, about $1500, still less then a new Nocold! In good sun no problem recharging the batteries next day. If no sun, yes, it will take about one hour of generator run. A happy camper. —Harry
•••

Never a fire but after we had a cooling unit replaced … that one failed in less than two years. Warranty would only replace with another cooling unit. $1,300. So we had enough and they allowed the same money and we replaced with a two-door residential in place of the 4-door NEVER COLD. We never boondocked but do always stay at State Parks and COE Parks. So yes, we have electric hookup. We can travel for 5 hours with the doors shut without running the generator. We just couldn’t afford the over $3,000 price of another new RV refrigerator. The residential was $800. It’s been two years now and we don’t have to worry about spoiled food, which is important as we have been fulltime since 2013. —Brenda
•••

Many reasons for going to residential. First is cost. A replacement Dometic for our Wanderlodge is over $3200, while a residential with over 50% more space is about $1000. It will also keep ice cream frozen, make plenty of ice, does not need defrosting and will keep vegetables fresh. We do extensive boondocking at Quartzsite, Oshkosh (EAA Airshow) and many other sites for over a week at a time with no issues. Generator time is only increased by about an hour a day with the residential refrigerator and can be easily reduced with a solar installation. Our experience with replacement Dometic units was very poor with a lifespan of about 3 years. I am sorry to say, maybe you should consider that you are looking at all changes as negative. Not all changes in RV’s are negative. —Jim
•••

(Response to comment immediately above.) I agree. Lately the weekly posts have been doom and gloom. Not everyone stays at private parks or boondocks. We are fulltime on the eastern U.S. and stay at COE and State Parks as we prefer natural settings. It’s not all one or the other. We have been completely satisfied with replacing our 4-door NEVER COLD with a two-door residential. —Brenda
•••

We have the same year/size Adventurer and fridge mounted in a slide as Chuck. We suffered years of chronic Norcold absorption fridge problems literally from day one of taking ownership, which included under warranty replacing the entire fridge… and later two cooling units AND a class action settlement check. After the last cooling unit failure which Winnebago, Norcold, or any authorized service center in San Diego could not remedy… we finally put in a residential fridge. We gained over three cubic feet of cooling space in the same footprint, now enjoy minus degrees freezer temps in +100 weather, no frost, plus the financial benefits that Jim and others here describe. It’s also Energy Star efficient with a three year service warranty. If beyond that a problem occurs… we can replace the ‘entire’ fridge for 60% less than just a replacement absorption cooling unit, with no delays for warranty begging! So… what’s not to love? We couldn’t be happier! We delightedly chuckle at the despairing and uninformed remarks about owners of RVs equipped with residential fridges. When anyone owns an RV beyond about 25 feet, I believe it’s unrealistic, perhaps even delusional, to see it as anything other than a cabin on wheels instead of as a rugged camp nestled in the wide open wilderness, especially if the only differentiation is a residential versus a weak absorption fridge. Interesting note: No one we talked to on the phone would admit to even knowing this problem existed… but curiously enough sold REMEDY kits to FIX it. Because the fridge was in a slide, heat had to vent vertically[?], instead upward… so the tin baffles suggested did no good at all.. Heat, still wanted to still rise, even though apparently there is no problem… the Adventurer now offers a choice of absorption and residential fridges. You can do the figuring. —Joe S.
•••

Ours has not caught fire but it has been replaced at a cost of nearly $3000. At the time we had not known residential refrigerators were even possible. We would have gone that way if we had known. RV refrigerators are also costly to run and not all that efficient. We did add an auxiliary fan and it has changed the efficiency immensely. —The Brookers
•••

Had a fire in our motor coach – the ice maker line burned off and put out the fire. The coach flooded; however, we are still alive. Insurance investigator spent about 2 hrs. looking at the damage and the only thing he said was go buy a lottery ticket! Four months later we have a residential fridge. Going down the road and boondocking we get around 8 hours of run time. Much better option for us. —Mark Becker
•••

Our RV fridge had gone out and when we shopped for a replacement we found that the RV fridge would be 3 cu. ft. smaller and $800 more expensive than a residential one that would fit the same compartment. We went with the residential due to the fact that we do not boondock. While moving from place to place we are only on the road no more than 5 or 6 hours at a time before arriving at the next RV park or location that has electricity. We were advised that if the fridge being without electricity while traveling was a problem then an inverter could be installed and that would maintain the fridge between electrical hookups. —Gregg
•••

Fire is a possibility but not something I lose sleep over. However, RV fridge units are a pain and someone should have improved their functionality by now. Leveling, inadequate heat exchange and cooling in outside/rear mechanism, inadequate cooling and air movement inside the fridge, long cool down times and slow recovery when you open the doors. Fire isn’t my main concern, but poor performance despite having added multiple gadgets myself (cooling and exhaust fans inside and outside, LED lighting, frozen ice packs, temperature monitoring alarms, etc.), my fridges rarely kept food at safe temperatures. So, I would prefer compressor style residential or dorm/office style units. Yes, this would limit boondocking without some other power options being added. And I do agree most RVers won’t add these expensive and complicated power systems. —David


CONs of residential refrigerators in RVs (or PRO RV-type fridges)
•••

Gail with a mid-sized RV refrigerator.

I like my propane/electric RV refrigerator. Mine will operate at zero or -2 in the freezer and about 34 F in the bottom when set on “6” out of 10. Uses a minuscule amount of propane. Either I got a good one or they have been around long enough the bugs are all out. I did have the option of a residential style when buying my 2013 Winnebago new but apparently now the choices are limited. —Kevin Hogle
•••

We agree with you Chuck. Along with those residential fridges another thing the RV industry has done is to change out the style of windows. The new ones hardly open. If you are in an RV park with electric hook ups, you can run fans or air conditioning. But if you want to boondock, even in a Walmart parking lot while on the road, you can’t get hardly a breeze through those windows. We feel both windows and fridge changes are simply economics. They are cheaper for the manufacturer. —Steven and Trisha Ruth
•••

As always an informative newsletter and we look forward to our Saturday morning issue, which takes priority before the local paper. Agree with your thought on residential refrigerators in RVs today. We are looking at going to 5th wheel and most have them, although we also found most would let us “downgrade” (as they refer) to a typical RV model. We personally know 4 families that own them and 3 of the 4 have issues specifically when camping on batteries, 2 of them even with expensive solar upgrades. The technology just isn’t there yet to support this camping style.… —Bill LeCluse
•••

Agree about the residential fridge. I spent a year in a Lance camper, boondocking (’95). The fridge had a mechanical thermostat. It would freeze things, so you had to be very careful, but no power demands. I bought a TT in ’11. I noticed it drew about 30 AH a day when nothing was ‘on’. The fridge had a computer board and a gasket heater, undocumented. The heater could be snipped. The board was still 15 AH a day. This annoyed me a lot. I’m not buying another RV. The products have all gone big and deluxe, which misses the point for me. I bought a small cargo van and just camp in it. It’s too useful as a vehicle to build out, so I use stuff that folds or rolls up. The Danfoss compressor fridge I have draws maybe 20 AH a day, which is less than the electronics in the Dometic. —George Sears
•••

We visited the Dulles RV Show yesterday. We go every year just to see what’s new and walk around. We also noted the inclusion of residential size refrigerators. The space is designed around it, so it does not surprise me that an option of a smaller refrigerator is not possible. This was a limiting factor in our purchase of an RV last year. There are many reasons we prefer a smaller fridge that can operate on gas. There is no reliance on electricity so it opens your options for locations, We also prefer to travel lighter and do not want to carry a loaded refrigerator. We have traveled for weeks at a time and have never needed more than what we can store in a smaller fridge. For larger families they may need more or buy more frequently. I still believe it should be an option. For those who have multiple people and use their RV as a vacation home with long stays in one spot, I can see where a larger refrigerator may come in handy. But there are many of us that want a smaller/gas option with the other amenities that come with those rigs. We would like that option. Think about what you need when you buy. You may be looking in the used market. —GBehrle
•••

We never boondock and love our electric/gas refrigerator. Once you know how to fine-tune the adjustments they work quite well. We learned to not buy groceries for the next 2 weeks stuffing the fridge. We never drive longer than 300 miles or 6 hrs., whichever comes 1st, and our fridge stays cold without running the propane while pulling. —Earl Balentine
•••

When the control board on our Norcold 1200LRIM “froze” I took the opportunity to replace the cooling unit (never very cold) with the Amish helium cooling unit. Now it’s very good at keeping food cold or frozen. Had the ARP thermal limit switch installed before the cooling unit was replaced. I still like the option to run on propane. —Sandy Swede
•••

Wonder if all the RVs that come with residential fridges come with an inverter? How long will food keep if there’s no electric? If I’m traveling six or eight hours and stop at a Walmart for the night, how long will I have to run the generator? Will there be more food poisonings? We’ve had three motor homes in the last 25 years with no fire and no work done on the electric/propane fridge. Reminds me of those cheap windows that just tilt out at the bottom.It’s just cheaper for the manufacturer, but you’re not going to pay any less. —Vernon Webb
•••

I prefer Dometic versus Norcold. We have an 8-year-old Dometic still going strong. —Ray
•••

RVs with residential-type refrigerators are often also equipped with washer-dryers.

Have owned 3 travel trailers since 1985. All have had Dometic units. None has ever failed. Always worked on both propane and electric. Absolutely no fires. The trend of using electric only refrigerators reflects the “new age campers” who never venture too far from cities … never camp boondock style. They are what I call Disneyland campers … plastic animals … plastic trees … paved campsites in RV Parks. Closest thing to nature they ever get is the organic vegetable department at their local supermarket! —Patrick Granahan
•••

We have an 18-year-old Dometic New Dimensions that has never had a problem (knock on wood). It’s extremely large for a dual energy fridge and I already did the research on it. There is no current electric/propane replacement for it in this size and the space it’s in is not deep enough for a residential, although that was not the optimal choice for us. So, I have a site bookmarked that replaces the entire coil system on the back. A bit of a task to do but it should be the right solution for us if it ever quits.  —Eric
•••

When we bought our 5th wheel two years ago we had a choice and went with the RV type for the versatility. Hadn’t heard of the fire issue but that would not have changed our decision. —Mike
•••

Have owned at least 8 to 10 RVs over a 45-year time period and [knock on wood] NEVER had a fire problem. These residential style fridges are the reason we aren’t buying anything above a 2012 year. I’m from old school and old is better quality and pride in building our recreational vehicle. Have a good day and better tomorrow. Great newsletters—Buck K.
•••


Other …

Back in the late-50’s to early-60’s Chicago had nothing but gas refrigerators. There was not enough wiring for electric refrigerators. The brand name was Servel, if I spelled it right – still used in remote areas for cabins. That was called residential then. Never heard of a fire. I like my Dometic – keeps things cold/frozen and I’ve never had a fire either. —Tom Becher
•••

Two things annoy me with RVs nowadays. First some engineer decided it was better to have an RV fridge that requires 12 volts to operate on propane. That’s going backwards in my books. The old ones only required the propane bottle. The other is the lack of any improvement in efficiency with furnaces. One could roast a wiener at the exhaust outlet on a furnace. —Wayne
•••

Lots of comments about residential refrigerators. We have an RV refrigerator and dislike its ups and downs. The freezer gathers ice at the bottom and the refrigerator is impossible to regulate. We bought a tiny refrigerator and put it in the garage for salads, fruits, etc., that freeze in our RV refrigerator. Can’t comment on the big residential ones myself but I have friends I boondock with that have them and they have no complaints. —Alaska Traveler
•••

Good Lord, Chuck – I didn’t know it was a debate. I just thought you were presenting some insight on new RVs. From what I’ve seen and heard, the residential fridge is for larger capacity – more food. Nothing more than that. Dude. (Yeah, I’m chuckling.) —Dave
•••

Hey, you guys heard of solar powered fridges? Mine runs all the time, use as a spare beer fridge when laid up at home. Just remove a few beers and load up for the next trip. Does not cost anything. Sunlight is free in New Zealand. —David McKee
•••

I’m selling my Allegro Breeze 32BR. Would have sold it 10 times if just a guy was buying it. Wives are killing the deal. First time RVers and they want a residential refer, dishwasher and washer/dryer. They don’t want to go “camping.” — GO BUY A CONDO. —Jerry X
•••

This whole residential refrigerator thing kinda makes me wonder.  The RV manufacturers buy these things in bulk, so they get a price break. They were never designed to be shaken, rocked and rolled down the highway similar to a 6.0 earthquake (trust me, I know about that). And also the battery manufacturers are going to love these things because of replacements…. I guess time will tell. Kinda like when the class A’s went to tripod jacks in the early 2000’s and told all this was the wave of the future. Just sayin’… —Mike H
•••

If they can put a residential refrigerator in RVs, why can’t/won’t they install a CheapHeat Hybrid Electric Furnace Kit in those same RVs? With the CheapHeat Kit you can switch back and forth from electric when you’re plugged in to shore power or gas when you’re boondocking. This system is UL listed, RVIA compliant, and according to CSA (the certification agency) it does not affect the furnace’s ANSI listing. Seems to me these are the types of questions that need to be asked. WHY IS THE INDUSTRY HOLDING BACK NEW PROVEN TECHNOLOGY like Gas/Electric furnaces? Check it out at http://www.rvcomfortsystems.com  —Larry McGaugh
•••

Chuck, We just purchased a new fifth wheel with an RV fridge. I think you missed why the move to residential refrigerators. I think it is because they are cheaper for the RV industry. We found that the salesman pushed the residential fridge, saying that they could run off of the battery for up to three days and that they will stay cold for up to eight hours while traveling. We found that the quoted price for an RV or residential fridge equipped RV to be similar but the profit margin on the residential fridge to be larger. —Charles Wenning
•••

While I HAVE read about fridge fires, I’ve never met anyone who actually experienced one. So, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about that, and DO spend a lot of time boondocking. —Tommy Molnar
•••

Once again, an excellent and informative issue. Thank you. Perhaps you could present both sides of the residential refrigerator “debate.” After replacing one RV type fridge and having the next worked on or repaired numerous times, I elected to install residential knowing I limit my camping options, but tired of having to cope with the headaches that came with the RV type fridge. Will be looking to upgrade / change RV, and will most likely go with the standard gas / electric. —Dennis Strope
•••

Great information here. Thanks to all the contributors to this thread. I have replaced one Never-Cold unit already (under warranty). Will avoid that in the future. The Amish option sounds very helpful. —Sheridan J Ball
•••

We had the 4-door Norcold. It had the updates installed. While coach was parked inside my barn (steel building) it was plugged in to shore power. As I entered the building one morning I could smell the sulphur smell. I checked the back of the unit and sure enough it had blown. Yellow powder all over the burner area. No other damage and the recall kit did its job, as the power was OFF. Replaced the cooling unit with an Amish unit which works a lot better than the original. It cools down faster and can even make ice in the middle of the desert on a hot day. I like being able to boondock without worrying about battery usage as much. —Alan Bottorff
•••

Thanks to everyone who commented here. Good information for me to mull over as I plan my van conversion. Check out this web page that discusses the Amish refrigerators and Norcold problems:
http://maliasmiles.com/amish-cooling-units/  One of the comments mentions marine refrigerators. They run off 12 v so no inverter or energy waste needed. —Jane 
•••

Chuck, if you go back and look at some of the original camper trailers from the ’30s and ’50s I think you will see residential refrigerators. We have had six class B motorhomes and 3 class A, one with a 12 volt compressor refrigerator which did suck down the battery, and the rest with RV fridges. No fires, but I do have a friend who had a fire start in his, and I had a fire start in the TV amplifier. We have an automatic fire extinguisher mounted in the refrigerator compartment. —Bill
•••

We were sitting on a Sunday morning, in 2014, having coffee, when we smelled something burning …. Damn, it was us. Had it been 2 hours earlier, we would have been in bed. 2 hours later and we would have been in church. Since then, we have changed to an Amish Cooling unit and have been HAPPY CAMPERS. —Dave
•••

My last motorhome had the 4-door Norcold refrigerator that was the prime reason for the recalls and major culprit of RV fires. I had it updated at least 3 times as the different recalls evolved and never had any problems. The recall upgrade included putting a thermistor on the boiler to ensure the boiler didn’t overheat. That feature should have always been standard equipment. Problems developed when the refrigerator was being used and not level, causing the boiler to overheat and actually melt, releasing its contents which immediately caught fire. Very often those refrigerators were installed right next to the exit door and the fire trapped the occupants inside the RV – a sure recipe for disaster. —Don
•••

Never had a fire, and never had an issue with keeping things cold or frozen. We have had small Dometic in a Class C and a large side-by-side Dometic in our current Class A. Going to residential would require more batteries (we already have large inverter) and solar or more generator run time. But, if you don’t boondock and stay in parks with electric hookups, I guess it is cheaper. —Lance Craig
•••

I have owned 10 RVs since 1974. I live full time in my RV now. I converted my RV to total electric. including my fridge. Much safer and cheaper to operate. Also my water heater. I have never had a fire in any of my RVs. I am 83 years young and still love to travel in or with an RV. —Curtis McRee
•••

Never had one catch on fire. In our current RV we upgraded our Norcold cooling unit with the “Amish” replacement unit. I don’t even worry about fridge fires now. Amish units are made up in Northern Indiana (Shipshewana). Much better quality than the Norcold. More tubing, heavier gauge construction, etc. We picked ours up at the factory. Took about 2 hours to replace the unit and put the fridge back in. I also added fire resistant panels around the fridge. —Walt
•••

We also replaced ours at the Amish factory in Shipshewana after a noxious smell. Was worth the drive there as we have not had a problem since. Unit now produces ice in the hottest conditions. —Rich H.
•••

Related

17 thoughts on “Pros and cons of residential fridges in RVs

  1. Cliff

    Problem is, all of these are pretty lame. I use 12v true refrigerator freezers in my commercial heavy trucks. Some are even made by Dometic as factory order units. There is no need to go 3 way or residential with inverter. Why the RV/TT OEM’s haven’t gone with 12v fridge/freezer units boggles the imagination. One in my current semi truck has seen almost 800,000 miles of rough riding, running 24/7, keeps frozen foods frozen even in 100F heat with the truck shut off, and dairy in the fridge section remains well within acceptable temps. Have never had dairy go bad. And the fridge in my semi can operate for a couple of days before there is any appreciable degradation of the batteries.

  2. gerald fuller

    I have four drawer type compressor fridge/freezers that run on 12v. If we are going out one of the freezers with blue ice and drop in whatever cooler we want. Also the cold air doesn’t fall out on opening and if something does spill while on the road much less of a problem.

  3. Nanci

    When we were looking for our new motorhome, gas/electric frig was a must. Could not find in the type we were looking for. Residential frigs all over the RV lots! Caved and got 1000 watts of solar and LOVE ithe residential now. Although it is still rather empty,, great freezer space and my soda, milk and water iare cold now. Read a hint about freezing gallons of water before boondocking to keep in freezer and frig when boondocking and it works well. Never had a fire in the old one, didn’t mind leveling the unit but it did not keep things cold at all when 100 degrees outside. And yes, it does have a washer dryer. We have moved from camping to living…full-timers.

  4. Traveling Man

    In one of the comments above, it was mentioned that the reason manufacturers put in the residential refrigerators is “because it’s cheaper”. I don’t totally disagree but there are considerations:

    1) The residential refrigerators can be less expensive if the manufacturer picks a lower end or smaller refrigerator. But if a better quality refrigerator is selected, they can be more expensive. Sometimes over a $1000.

    2) You HAVE to have an inverter. Inverter’s are not cheap. A good Magnum brand 1800W/24V Pure Sine Wave Inverter can cost $1000 or more. Cheaper inverters can be purchased for $300 but I personally know someone who has been thru 3 of these cheap inverters. Each time, they risk a fire hazard. Sooooo…having a cheap inverter can also be the same fire risk as the Norcold Propane refrigerators. And usually, people (or the manufacturer) undersize the right inverter. For a 1500W refrigerator drawing 12amps at 120V, you need to have at least an 1800W inverter. If one chooses to purchase a 1500W for a 1500 W refrigerator, they are overheating that inverter causing a shorter life due to heat. So make sure you have the right size inverter for the application. Your load should be no more than 80% of the total load of the inverter.

    3) You’ll need better and/or additional batteries for the setup. 4 golf cart batteries would be better. You will need to run a generator or solar panels to keep them charged when not on shore power. Sooooo….again there an additional expense for this kind of setup to operate properly.

    3) And lastly, there is additional labor to install this kind of setup.

    So the bottom line is that this can be viewed as less expensive. But in the end, by the time you get a good refrigerator, extra batteries, a good inverter, solar panels or a generator, and pay the extra labor to install this kind of setup, I don’t know for sure that you can say it is less expensive. For the unscrupulous manufacturer, there are ways of saving money at YOUR expense. But you’ll find that out after buying the pretty rig.

    Happy glamping!

  5. William Nichols

    The Amish now make a replacement unit that is a house compressor Freon system that pulls less than one amp and will hook up just like the replacement ammonia system for around the same price, check it out

    1. Peggy Flickinger

      Do you have a link to check it out?

  6. Dennis Johnson

    I am 71 and we have owned 4 Class A Motorhomes and a Class C Motorhome first. We have always had the propane refrigerator unit in every one of them, and we really never had an issue with any of those units. I notice the difference now too going to the NASCAR Races and the bulk of the camping areas are dry camping, the noise from the generators all night is getting terrible. We dropped our tickets for Texas Raceway finally, it got ridiculous with the noise. We do dry camp a lot and still like the propane units for that purpose.

  7. Randall Walters

    We are not fulltimers. We are half-timers. We live in 5th wheel 5-6 months every year. We have residential fridge with ice maker and love it. The downside will be if/when we need a new fridge, the only way to get it out of 5th wheel will be through back window. That won’t be so nice.

  8. Ron Hale

    We do not fulltime. Our motorhome is used for occasional trips, sometimes a few weeks at a time. The absorption fridge works fine for us. I like being able to switch it to gas to cool down a day before we leave, since it sits in a storage lot when not in use. And the size is perfectly fine for two of us. We load it up at the beginning of a trip, and can easily stop to replenish food we may need or want anywhere along the way. What’s the big deal??
    This is my 5th RV….all with an RV refrigerator. All have worked perfectly without any failure of any type, even in 100+ degree weather. I have no desire for a residential refrigerator in my RV.

  9. Sam North

    This debate seems to be stuck in an either-or pattern. I’m not sure if Chuck intended his article to be specifically about big residential refrigerators, or about every kind of electric-only refrigerator. There’s a difference.

    One that I’m looking at for our next RV is made by Nova Kool (novakool.com). These can run on 12 volt only, or switch over automatically to 120 volt when available. They’re made specifically for use on boats and other mobile applications so they’re more durable than a regular residential unit. And of course they use less current than a 120 volt unit.

    Here’s a great step-by-step installation article, with videos, from one of my favorite RV sites, The Fit RV: https://www.thefitrv.com/?s=Replacing+our+RV+Fridge .

  10. mort

    35 years, 7 campers, Dometic Refrigerators, gas 12 volt, 120 volt 3 ways . Zero failures. Running on 12 volt and or gas when booning and on the road. Having it switch automatically to gas when the power went out in the campgrounds—–Priceless

  11. Emery Leraand

    We installed a 12V Novacold 9.1 cu ft marine fridge in our “antique” bus conversion. It has a true 12V Danby compressor, not the adapted 20V that Norcold reportedly uses. With 1,200 watts of not very efficient solar (curved panels facing two ways) and four Rolls batteries, we can run without pedestal power for a long time. Six days at Indianapolis last July running fans, pump, lights, an Oasis boiler and the fridge! Simple and seems to be pretty easy on the power.

  12. Philip Wood

    In the late 1960’s, we lived on the Island of Okinawa (I was in the air force). Our fridge was an absorption type that had an electric heater. If the unit quit, you took a screwdriver leaned it back to get access and removed two screws, unscrewed the heater, screwed a new one in. put the screws back in, and plugged it back in. The reason given was that they were much cheaper than the compressor types and they lasted almost forever. If you look at the cooling unit on RV, they are incredibly simple. I had a Servel fridge and my friend had one built in International Harvester. If GE built a fridge no better than what is put in RVs, they would be out of business. If you can buy a cooling replacement for $700 to $1000 then where is all this extra cost coming from. I am a refrigeration engineer.

  13. JRW

    In 1977 I had to have a fridge replaced. Since then nothing but Dometic and never a problem. The 4 door unit in our Montana works great on gas or electric. Ice cream stays frozen and vegggies crisp while everything else is perfect.
    No generator needed and I’m overkill with 2 size 27 12 volt batteries.

  14. Sue Conant

    Camping as we know it has changed with the rigs having a residential refer and W/D. We full time in one of those big RV’s and those were “must haves”. Not for everyone that is for sure. As for the RV type refers, we’ve known folks who were lucky to survive a refer fire in their rig. Their health was never the same. And after spending a lot of time in the hospital and waiting to get their rig fixed, they decided to keep on RV’ing. First trip out, the refer caught fire again and this time they did get out and let the whole RV burn to the ground. Another couple not only lost their RV, but 1/2 of their house. It isn’t a scare tactic…it does happen.

  15. Douglas H Rizzo

    Chuck,
    Have you considered the new 12 vdc refrigerators available now? Several companies make them for off grid use, some will run on 220 watts of solar with a battery.
    Brands include Unique & Sun Star to name 2. Both brands offer solar kits with their fridges. They seem perfect for RV’s. I plan to have one installed in my soon to be ordered custom coach. Prices are reasonable too. Check them out. Ben’s Discount Supply carries both brands.
    https://bensdiscountsupply.com/

  16. Jon E Guenther

    Full size Fridge. We are not full-timers nor are we travelers. We are seasonal RVers and love it. Due to our work and my need to be no further than 90 minutes from home we find seasonal camping great. We don’t have a full size fridge but would welcome one since we are connected to electricity full time. We do have a small fridge to store our drinks and food along with the camper fridge.

Leave a Comment