Your RV fridge should keep your perishables cold while you are doing dry camping for an extended period of time or just between campground destinations. An inverter may seem like the best way to run an RV fridge, but is it the best option?
Inverters allow you to conserve propane even when you are not plugged in and run your RV refrigerator. For RVs with residential refrigerators that run only on AC power, this is a great option in addition to propane conservation.
There is no doubt that the fridge is the most important appliance within a standard RV. Inverter-powered RV fridges have pros and cons, so we’ll explore them further.
Also, we’ll show you how to choose an inverter that will fit your lifestyle and be compatible with your recreational vehicle, as well as determine your refrigerator’s specific power needs.
Is it possible to run an RV refrigerator while moving using an inverter?
The refrigerator in most RVs runs on propane when you aren’t plugged in. The electronics and interior light require very little DC electricity, so it’s a great option for boondocking or dry camping.
If you don’t have power when you’re not plugged in, you can use an inverter to run your RV refrigerator. When camping off-grid for extended periods or between campgrounds, it’s worth exploring this option to conserve propane for other purposes.
Inverters are already present in most modern RVs, which is a good thing. Your refrigerator should be equipped with electronics that can switch to inverter power if your propane runs out.
You must, however, ensure that your inverter is compatible with your fridge, other appliances, and RV batteries if your RV does not already have one.
RV Inverters: What Are They?
RV inverters convert direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC). DC electricity is stored and supplied by your RV battery, but AC electricity is needed by many appliances (some refrigerators included).
You can use an inverter in an RV park to power your refrigerator (and other AC appliances) without being plugged in.
It will be necessary to hard-wire the inverter into your RV’s electrical system in order to accomplish this.
Which type of RV fridge do you have?
RV refrigerators are divided into two types: two-way refrigerators and three-way refrigerators. An RV refrigerator that runs on two power types (propane or AC) is known as a two-way refrigerator. A three-way fridge can run on AC (alternating current), DC (direct current), and propane (natural gas).
Then there are RV refrigerators that look like residential refrigerators and RV fridges that are designed like RV refrigerators. Inverters need to be rated according to the type of generator you have in your rig. Now let’s compare residential refrigerators to standard RV refrigerators.
Residential fridges offer increased capacity as their main benefit. RV fridges tend to be much larger and more efficient at maintaining your desired temperature than standard RV fridges. A fridge with AC power won’t emit any propane flame, so you don’t have to worry about them.
Inverters with pure sine waves are usually required for these refrigerators. To supply power to the fridge, the inverter must also be left on indefinitely.
For more efficient recharging, you’ll need to use additional batteries and/or solar panels as inverters are not 100% efficient.
Standard RV Refrigerators
Liquid propane gas, DC power, or AC power can all be used to power standard RV refrigerators. Consequently, they result in reduced electricity consumption since they allow you to switch from one power source to another.
However, in extreme cold, extreme hot, or extremely humid conditions, these refrigerators are not nearly as efficient as residential fridges.
A residential-style RV refrigerator retains temperature better than RV refrigerators that take longer to cool once the door is opened.
Do RV refrigerators need a lot of power?
Your RV refrigerator’s size affects this. An inverter for a 16-cubic-foot refrigerator, for example, should have a continuous power rating of approximately 1,500 watts and a surge power rating of approximately 3,000 watts.
Continuity vs. surge power: What’s the difference?
When an appliance is first started, it consumes more power than it does after it has been running for some time.
Surge Watts, or surge power, refers to the amount of power needed to start an appliance. Continuous power, or running watts, is the amount of energy required once an appliance has been started.
Using an inverter to power an RV refrigerator
Adding an inverter to your electrical system is as simple as following these steps if you are set on using an inverter to power your RV’s fridge.
Determine Your Fridge’s Power Rating
The first thing you need to do is understand the power requirements of your refrigerator. This information is usually found on the inside of your refrigerator on a sticker.
To find your RV’s surge and running wattages, you may need to consult your owner’s manual. For your search for a compatible inverter, take note of both of these wattages.
RV Inverters You Should Consider
Your refrigerator should be powered by an inverter that is rated to provide enough power. The inverter you choose should be able to match the surge power required by your fridge, for example.
When your fridge starts up, however, be sure to leave some wiggle room to avoid overloading your inverter. Consider an inverter rated for at least 3,500 watts if your refrigerator can handle 3,000 surge watts.
RV inverters come in a variety of types. Square wave inverters, modified sine wave inverters, and pure sine wave inverters are the three main types.
An inverter running on pure sine wave will be required for most RV refrigerators running on only AC power. Inverters that work with modified sine waves or square waves are less efficient than inverters that work with pure sine waves.
Inverters must be hard-wired into electrical systems
An RV electrician is highly recommended for this step. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you may want to consider hiring a mobile RV mechanic in your area since messing with your rig’s electrical system can be dangerous.
Inverters are installed between batteries and refrigerators. Direct current (DC) from the battery will be converted to alternating current (AC) by the inverter.
To supply your fridge with AC power, the inverter will be wired into your refrigerator.
It might sound simple, but if you aren’t experienced, it can be easy to mess this up. I recommend you hire a professional (even if it’s just to assist you).
There is no substitute for in-person help from a trained professional even with the best YouTube videos.
Make sure the system is working
Your refrigerator must be switched over to AC (if applicable) once your inverter is hardwired into your system. After it has cooled down for an hour or two, re-check that it is working properly.
Inverter problems with RV refrigerators
The refrigerator in your RV can be operated on an inverter, although there can be some issues. In order to make sure you are informed, let’s quickly go over them.
Keeping batteries charged
The battery storage issue is one of the major problems with RV fridges powered by inverters. A good amount of power is required for most RV refrigerators. In that case, you may end up losing all the functionality of other critical appliances when you run them off your house battery.
You can upgrade the power storage capacity of your RV by installing an extra battery. To avoid over-discharging their batteries while boondocking or dry camping, many people use solar panels to recharge their batteries daily.
Type of refrigerator
Manufacturers are now including residential-style refrigerators in some of the larger and more modern RVs.
Some of these fridges will run only on AC power despite being larger and more convenient than a typical RV refrigerator.
You’ll be converting DC-to-AC with your inverter, so that won’t be a problem.
However, larger fridges can also drain your RV batteries faster if you go too long between charging them. If you run them on AC 100% of the time, they can even deplete them faster.
Installation of inverters
An electrician with experience in RVs will be able to install an inverter if your RV doesn’t already have one.
Several precautions must be taken since a new inverter will need to be hardwired into your existing electrical system.
Taking on the services of a professional will cost more than you are currently prepared to spend.
Having said that, it will save you from damaging your RV’s electrical system, existing appliances, or, in a worst-case scenario, yourself.
Inverter-powered RV fridge alternative
It is also possible to run your RV fridge using a generator if your RV isn’t equipped with an inverter.
The fridge and other large appliances in RVs are often powered by this temporary solution.
A few hours in the morning and evening are spent on it, however. When you spend several days traveling or dry camping, this is a good way to conserve liquid propane.
However, if your refrigerator runs only on AC power, you’ll have to figure out what to do.
Generators should not be run while RVs are moving, which is when AC-only refrigerators need inverter or generator power to operate.
Some people, however, say you don’t need to worry about running a generator while traveling. Personally, I used to use our generator to warm up lunch or tea in the microwave all the time while driving.
In our experience, residential refrigerators maintain cold well, and our rig has never suffered any ill effects.
In that case, running your generator twice for a 30-minute stint may be enough for you to maintain an adequate level of cold until you can plug it back in at your next campground.
Many RV refrigerators can be powered by multiple sources, which is a great feature.
RV refrigerators are quite versatile, as opposed to your residential fridge (which will most likely be rendered useless during a power outage).
While RV electrical systems should not be messed with too much, we do urge caution.
When you are simply trying to improve the functionality of your refrigerator, you can risk creating larger problems unless you have a great deal of experience and technical skills.
As always, we hope you enjoyed this article and that a few of the insights we provided have helped you improve your RVing Know How. Leave us a comment below to let us know what you’re planning to do this summer!