What You Need to Know About Propane RV Refrigerators
RV fridges that run on propane are absorption system fridges. These fridges have an AC option in addtion to propane power. Some RV fridges also have the ability to operate on DC power. Unlike their compression system fridge counterparts, absorption fridges have no moving parts.
RV fridges work by having a small pilot light thats heats a boiling chamber filled with ammonia and water. The water and ammonia mixture is circulated through a series of tubes, eventually changing the ammonia to a gas form.
The ammonia gas keeps rising and the water runs back into the boiling chamber. The ammonia starts cooling and runs down tubes, absorbing heat from the interior of the refrigerator as it goes, making the interior of the fridge cold. To operate at peak efficiency, RV refrigerators need to be level and require care and maintenance.
How Much Propane Does An RV Fridge Use?
Generally, a 10 to 12 cubic foot RV fridge will burn about 1.5 pounds of propane per day. However, the amount of propane an RV fridge uses will depend on the age, size, and ambient temperature.
Propane RV Refrigerator Maintenance tips
An RV fridge will use less propane and last longer with a little care and maintenance. Here is what you need to do to look after it.
- Keep your RV fridge level. To help keep your RV fridge from overheating, park your RV on a level surface. RV fridges have a harder time cooling when they are not level because the water and ammonia can’t make their way through the tubes as efficiently. This can not only cause your RV fridge to burn more propane, but can also cause your RV to burn. Unlevel RV parking can cause RV refrigerators to catch fire, with catastrophic consequences.
- Cool your RV fridge before putting food into it.
- Defrost your RV fridge regularly.
- Allow air to circulate in your RV fridge by not blocking the coils at the back of the fridge. Don’t pack too much into the fridge.
- Park so that the fridge is on the shaded side of the RV. If the refridgerator is on the sunny side of the RV, it will have to work harder to cool the air inside itself. Park so that the side of the RV that has the fridge in it is on the coolest side of the RV.
- Never run your RV fridge on propane while driving. This is the number one cause of RV fires on highways.
Make sure you keep track of all your RV maintenance and repairs with an online tool such as RV LIFE Maintenance from RV LIFE. Not only can you keep all of your documents in one place, but you’ll also receive timely reminders when maintenance is due to help you avoid costly repairs and potentially serious accidents.
Lynne lives, travels, and works full-time in a Forest-River R-Pod 180 with her 2-pointers, Jolene and Annabelle. Lynne has been an enthusiastic RVer for over 35 years. And then one day in 2019, she began full-time RVing as a lifestyle experiment. She quickly fell in love with the convenience, freedom and minimalist lifestyle offered by full-time RV living. Lynne is a professional writer and has been a professional dog trainer since 1995. You can read about her travel adventures on her R-Pod Adventure blog, R-podyssey at: http://www.rpodaventure.com
Samuel W Arnold says
Please provide your reference material for the following statement: “Never run your RV fridge on propane while driving. This is the number one cause of RV fires on highways.” TYIA
I’d like to see this as well. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc. but we always run our fridge on propane while driving, and we drive all around the country.
Lynne Fedorick says
As a professional firefighter, I saw four RVers that learned about running the fridge on propane while travelling the hard way. They watched their beautiful rigs destroyed while thanking God they were able to escape. The fire inspector confirmed that the propane fridge was the cause and said you should never have propane valves open while driving. I don’t know if my own experience is enough for you, but I am sure you can talk to your local fire chief.
Rick Rund says
Was just going to post the same comment.
Greg Kent says
Another fact is that most friges will operate on a battery that is as low as 9 volts.
I learned the hard way that an RV fridge uses up the battery before it uses up the propane. 🙁 When a three-day repair on our tow vehicle in a remote town turned into a two-week job, we drove back to the RV storage yard to find our battery dead, and not even coyotes would touch the contents of our fridge (luckily, vultures cannot be offended).
John Pop says
Thanks for the video on the fridge maintenance. It shows how simple most things are and how a little time spent keeps things running tip top ! Lots of good advice ! Did you notice a difference in the fridge operation by putting in those muffin fans? I was always thinking about putting one in.
About 10 years ago it was discovered that Dometic propane fridges had a hazard issue and prematurely leaked so they started putting a shield on them and recalled them warning people they were a fire hazard; however, for many years people have traveled with their camper fridges on (most only run on gas in travel) only recently have people been getting all electric campers. Personally I would not want that since I do not like to only camp in crowded camp parks with hookups unless I have to. They have to with all electric appliances and, forget many national parks if you are all electric. Solar can only do so much and in the woods(shade) barely work.
John Mullins says
Many thanks to the author for the detailed discussion about the uses of propane in an RV Refrigerator. Also, thank you very much for sharing the tips about reducing propane usage.
So if you don’t run your fridge on propane while you’re traveling, what do you run it on? Most either run on propane or AC when they’re plugged in.
Plugged in using a 12v to 120v power inverter?
Eric Wuolle says
I always find the “leave on LPG/Turn it off” opinions interesting and somewhat puzzling. My wife has found some very simple but effective means of keeping the fridge and freezer sections cold enough during a travel day, without leaving the fridge boiler burner on. I assume no one would travel with a burning candle in their truck, trailer, or motorhome.
Given the road vibration, extraordinary RV component quality, and 100 % error-free factory installations so widespread in the RV industry, it seems to me that traveling with a flame burning in the RV is an unnecessary risk to take. Look into less risky choices. Also, ask your insurance agent if an RV fire traced to an LPG appliance
lit while traveling will be covered. Their opinion is probably the one that will resonate with most RV owners.
Russ K says
Interesting comments about operating the refrigerator while the vehicle is on the road. My Dometic manual (DMR/DMC 7-Series) says nothing about turning the refrigerator off during travel. In fact, in the section about leveling, says that leveling is not important for operation while on the road. Normally these manuals go overboard on preventing even the most remote hazards.