How To Install A Residential Refrigerator In An RV (Securely)

Although they may not seem to differ at first glance, RV refrigerators and residential refrigerators differ in some important ways.

You might wonder if you can install a residential kitchen refrigerator in your RV if your RV’s original fridge has burned out or if you simply want to add a refrigerator to it.

How to Install A Residential Refrigerator In An RV (Securely)

It is technically possible to wedge a residential refrigerator in place if the measurements are right. A well-insulated fridge and some consistency in 110 Volt electricity might allow you to do this. You might just find yourself in a tricky situation if you just hope for the best.

Let’s take a closer look at RV refrigerators and residential refrigerators, as well as which might be the best choice for you.

Refrigerators for RVs vs. refrigerators for homes

Refrigerators in RVs and standard refrigerators work very differently, even though they do very similar things.

It is important to understand a little more about the mechanical processes and key characteristics of these companies.

What is the working principle of an RV refrigerator?

RV refrigerators, also known as absorption refrigerators, do not use compressed freon like residential refrigerators. There are no moving parts in it.

An ammonia-hydrogen mixture is combined with heat to simulate the cooling effects of evaporation. 

To cool the interior of the fridge, the water moves through internal tubes, transferring heat energy.

It is possible to drive this process with electricity or propane as a heat source.

A dual-fuel RV refrigerator enables you to run it at peak performance even when there is no electrical power nearby. 

When you switch the refrigerator back to electricity, it burns a tiny amount of propane.

In some newer RV refrigerators, the refrigerator will automatically switch to propane when electricity is lost.

Is there more or less storage space in an RV refrigerator?

There is a slight difference in size between the refrigerator in your RV and the refrigerator in your home. A typical internal volume is between six and eight cubic feet. 

For maximum cold retention, they also require more air space between stored items.

It is possible to overcome this issue by placing small battery-powered fans inside the freezer compartment.

RV Refrigerators: How Durable Are They?

Compared with a somewhat delicate residential refrigerator, which is intended to sit untouched on the kitchen floor for its entire life, RV refrigerators are also designed to handle more shaking, bumps, and vibrations. 

Basically, RV fridges are built for the kind of abuse that comes with road travel in America.

Residential Refrigerators: How Do They Work?

Refrigerators with the “Residential” label found in most home kitchens use compression to force freon gas into an enclosed volume, which removes heat from the interior. 

Home electrical systems use 110 Volt AC current for this purpose.

The cold air is also circulated using a fan or blower.

Most of these appliances share cold air between the freezer and refrigerator using a special venting system.

A poorly circulated air system can adversely affect cooling performance if overcrowded.

What is the storage capacity of a residential refrigerator?

Refrigerators are designed to hold the food necessary for a week’s worth of consumption for a family.

The cooling process is also driven by a large number of moving parts and blower fans.

The volume of these refrigerators is higher than that of comparable RV refrigerators. They typically range in size from 14 to 18 cubic feet. Several large units have an internal volume of 20 to 22 cubic feet. 

The majority of cooling devices provide their own air circulation, so packing them a little tighter won’t have any negative impacts on their performance.

Is it necessary to keep residential refrigerators level?

When using older compression refrigerators, you must make sure they are always level.

The fluid dynamics in the system can be altered even by turning it on its side for a few minutes in the cargo box of a pickup truck. The effects can be both short-term and long-term.

Most older compressor refrigerators won’t have major problems due to minor leveling issues.

It is important to keep it as upright and level as possible if you have one that dates back to 2005.

It’s fortunate that modern compression refrigerators can handle less-than-perfect floor levels. 

A few “luxury RV” manufacturers have benefited from this.

Are RVs compatible with regular compression refrigerators?

Are RVs compatible with regular compression refrigerators?

You might be able to get away with installing a secondhand residential refrigerator in your RV. It is important to consider the age of the model. 

It should be from 2006 or newer so it can withstand the jostling and movement of installation.

You probably can’t expect your buddy’s old garage fridge to last as long as you hope.

Installing and securing a residential refrigerator in your RV

Imagine you find a newer residential refrigerator or a secondhand refrigerator that you want to install in your RV. Installing it correctly requires a few steps.

Step 1: Take twice as many measurements as possible

There are times when RV doors are narrower than the doors of your house. 

You may not be able to fit the refrigerator through the RV door even if there is a spot available inside.

Don’t forget to include the space taken up by straps and hand carts when you take your measurements.

Step 2: Remove the existing refrigerator

It will be necessary to remove the absorption refrigerator if it is currently in place. It is necessary to turn off the main propane valve in order to do this.

The line must be disconnected from the back of the refrigerator and a propane terminator must be installed. 

It is also a good idea to cap the 12V electrical wires while you are doing this.

Make sure that any screws or fasteners holding it in place have been released. You will then be able to take the door off the RV refrigerator at that point.

Step 3: Make sure the refrigerator is secure or seek assistance

Trying to force the refrigerator into the RV yourself can be tempting. There are some residential refrigerators that are lighter than they appear. 

It can be awkward to deal with them, and when one gets away, things can go downhill quickly.

You’re better off getting help from someone else. Ratchet straps are best for securing the refrigerator to a heavy-duty hand cart if you cannot get help. 

In this way, if it gets loose, the hand cart will prevent it from taking a bad fall.

Step 4: Place the new refrigerator

Before sliding the residential refrigerator into place, you may need to plug it into the 120 Volt socket if you don’t have an exterior access hatch.

A fastener might be necessary if it feels loose in any way.

Sheet metal screws with self-tapping heads should be sufficient. It’s just not comfortable driving down bumpy roads with a residential refrigerator rocking around.

Is there a new residential refrigerator designed for RVs?

Recently, RV manufacturers have teamed up with compression refrigerator manufacturers to offer motorhomes with residential refrigerators integrated. 

Having a large capacity and superior cooling power at home is made possible thanks to this.

How Much Power Is Required?

Compression refrigerators in RVs require a constant source of 120 Volt AC electricity, just like refrigerators at home. The food will start to lose its freshness if it isn’t supplied with reliable power.

In order to keep your refrigerator powered up when boondocking or “dry camping,” you will need to operate your generator constantly.

There are power posts or “Shore Power” available at RV parks so you can get electricity.

You will need a 50 Amp system for most of these systems.

If you plan to install a new aftermarket compression refrigerator in your RV with a 30 Amp system, you may need to upgrade the electrical system.

Otherwise, you might not be able to power it, as well as the other appliances you need to stay comfortable.

How Durable Are These New RV Compression Refrigerators?

In spite of the efforts of residential refrigerator manufacturers, these units still have moving parts and aren’t as robust as absorption refrigerators.

You should expect a short life if it gets beaten and jostled on the road.

A realistic age range is 8 to 12 years. It might be possible to nurse one to the age of 15 if you stick to smooth roads and stay in RV parks.

There is, however, no way to say for sure yet how long the technology will last since it is still a relatively new innovation.

What special requirements do you need to meet when traveling with it?

It is ironic that a compression refrigerator is somewhat safer than an absorption refrigerator that burns propane, which must be turned off whenever you pull into a gas station.

Compression refrigerators have doors that must be taken into account. You will need to latch them while traveling since they don’t tend to seal as tightly.

You might just get by on the road with a strip of duct tape when in doubt.

What is the best way to keep food cold while traveling with a residential refrigerator?

The operation of an RV generator can be uncomfortable for some people.

Using an aftermarket generator on a travel trailer might not even be safe!

You can keep food items cold safely in residential refrigerators thanks to their well-insulated walls.

  • Tip 1: If you plan on leaving in the afternoon, make sure you prechill your refrigerator and freezer a full day in advance. By doing this, you can ensure that the interior of the vehicle is as cold as possible when loading it.
  • Tip 2: Cold packs and ice blocks should be placed in the refrigerator and freezer, respectively. By acting as a heat sink, they will keep things cool.
  • Tip 3: Maintain a sealed refrigerator door throughout the drive. Every time you open the door, you are letting in ambient heat and letting cold air out. To keep drinks and snacks on the road, keep a small side cooler.
  • Tip 4: High-quality coolers are ideal for storing bulk food items. Thankfully, the cooler industry has put a lot of effort into flooding the market with its products. You should be able to find one that works great for a price that won’t break the bank when you read online cooler reviews. Then put frozen foods inside and top it off with high-quality ice packs or ice blocks.
  • Tip 5: Use an electric cooler with a 12-volt power supply. Several coolers come with a built-in electric cooling unit, which can be powered by an RV’s 12-volt system. Your main batteries may even be able to be reduced in draw by installing solar panels in windows!

What is the maximum time you should leave a compressor refrigerator without power?

You can use a residential compression refrigerator to stay safely cold for four to six hours without running your generator if you need to travel.

Assuming, of course, that you kept the doors closed during transportation and prechilled the food.

In hot weather, or when traveling without an air conditioner, the surrounding heat can gradually reduce the refrigerator’s insulation quality.

However, if you keep the door firmly closed, you shouldn’t have too much trouble.


It can be very convenient and comfortable to have a residential refrigerator in your RV.

You might be able to get a decade of reliable use if you source a newer unit designed for use in RVs.

It is probably best to use a standard RV absorption refrigerator if your only other option is an older residential refrigerator.

To increase your available storage space, you can always use a high-quality cooler or electric cooler.



Hey there! I'm Shawn. We were traveling full-time in our travel trailer with our 7 kids. We had to learn a lot to make that lifestyle work, and we wanted to pass some of that experience to you! Our goal is to help save you time, frustration, and money!

Leave a Comment



Hey there! I'm Shawn. We were traveling full-time in our travel trailer with our 7 kids. We had to learn a lot to make that lifestyle work, and we wanted to pass some of that experience to you! Our goal is to help save you time, frustration, and money!

Recently Published Guides