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RV Residential Refrigerator vs. A Traditional RV Refrigerator: What’s The Difference & Which Is Right For You?

Are you looking to upgrade your RV fridge? Check out our comparison of an RV residential refrigerator vs. a traditional RV refrigerator. 

A few years ago, the only option for refrigerators in RVs was the small absorption refrigerators that came with the camper. 

They had little cooling power but could run on propane, LP gas, or the RV’s battery. 

However, as more RVers demanded better features and more space for their food and drinks, manufacturers began to explore using residential refrigerators in RVs. 

While regular residential fridges are bigger, cooler, and have more design options, they always need AC power. 

But thanks to advances in battery technology, residential refrigerators are now a popular and increasingly viable option for RVers. 

In this post, we look at how an RV residential refrigerator fares against a standard absorption RV refrigerator. 

Find out which option is right for bigger space, cooling power, design options, and power source in this must-read guide for RVers.

RV Residential Refrigerator cover

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What Is An RV Residential Refrigerator?

RV Residential Refrigerator

An RV residential fridge is just the same type of fridge used in a regular house or apartment. 

They work by alternately cooling and heating a refrigerant. 

A residential refrigerator needs AC power to work as it would in your home. 

A few years back, that meant you’d need to be hooked up to shore power to run a refrigerator in a camper.

But now, with RV solar panels to recharge large-capacity lithium batteries, cheaper, more powerful generators, and increasingly efficient inverters, providing a constant AC current on the go is finally possible.

So, using a residential refrigerator is a serious contender, even for boondockers

Read more: How Long Will RV Battery Last Boondocking


  • Bigger size: residential fridges are larger and offer more space for storage.
  • Improved cooling: residential refrigerators are more powerful and can maintain a consistent temperature, keeping your food and drinks fresher for longer.
  • More design options: there are more styles, colors, and features to choose from with household refrigerators compared to traditional RV refrigerators.
  • No need for propane or LP gas: a residential refrigerator runs on AC power, so you don’t need to carry propane tanks or worry about running out of gas.
  • Energy-efficient: residential refrigerators use less energy than traditional RV refrigerators when connected to AC power.
  • Less expensive: household refrigerators are less expensive than traditional RV refrigerators, making them a super attractive option.
RV Residential Refrigerator shave more storage capacity


  • AC power requirements: a residential refrigerator needs to be connected to AC power at all times, which can be a problem if your electrical system needs to be bigger or you need a reliable AC power source.
  • Size and weight: A large and heavy residential fridge can be a problem for smaller RVs or trailers.
  • Installation requirements: installation of a residential refrigerator may need modifications to your RV or trailer.
  • They are prone to damage and spillage while the RV is moving. They’re not designed to travel, so ensure the refrigerator door is always tightly shut. Many have glass shelves, and there is no door-locking mechanism like the one on regular RV fridges.

What Is A Traditional RV Refrigerator?

RV Residential Refrigerator

Until a few years ago, most RV refrigerators were absorption fridges. 

An absorption refrigerator works by alternately cooling and heating ammonia, which absorbs heat inside the fridge and cools it down. The hot air generated in the processes gets vented out.

A typical RV refrigerator can work with propane/LPG and either one or two other power sources, including a 12V DC input and a 110V or 240V AC input. 

This flexibility is a significant advantage and the reason they remain a popular choice for many RV owners. 

They work great on 12v or propane for short off-grid trips and equally well when connected to AC shore power. 

Read more: How Much Propane Does An RV Fridge Use?


  • The most significant benefit of RV absorption refrigerators is that they can work on any power source, including propane. You can go entirely off-grid with these, which is harder to do with RV residential refrigerators without a good size house batteries and inverter setup.
  • They’re designed specifically for RVs, so they are better equipped to handle bumps on the road and keep the door shut while you are traveling.
  • They don’t have a motor or any other moving parts, so there is less chance of damage while you are on the road.
  • Most older RVs come pre-installed with these refrigerators, so you’ve probably already paid for one when you bought your RV.
RV Residential Refrigerator can work off grid with a good solar set up


  • They are pretty small. The average volume of an RV fridge is between four to twelve cubic feet, whereas a residential refrigerator can be as big as 20 cubic feet or more.
  • They are prone to ammonia leakage; to fix that, you will need replacement parts at an additional cost.
  • They only cool well if you level your RV correctly.
  • They don’t cool as well as RV residential refrigerators.
  • Using propane can always be a fire hazard, even though manufacturers ensure complete safety.
  • They need an exhaust for venting out hot air. Otherwise, they don’t function well because they cannot cool properly without heat exchange from the outside air to the inside.
  • They do not cool well if the ambient temperature is high. 

Read more: How to Improve RV Refrigerator Cooling & Make It More Efficient

RV Refrigerator vs. Residential Fridge: Which is Right for You?

When it comes to choosing the right refrigerator for your RV, there are a lot of things to consider. 

For instance, size, power consumption, and cost are just a few variables that can differ between an RV refrigerator and a residential fridge. 

The choice you make can have a significant impact on your ability to travel freely and comfortably in your RV. 

Here are the key factors to keep in mind when trying to decide between an RV refrigerator and a residential fridge.

Power Sources

power source consideration is essential when chooing what type of refrigerator to install in your RV

Power sources are among the most critical factors to consider when deciding between an RV refrigerator and a residential fridge. 

An RV residential fridge needs an AC supply. You can provide that from either:

  • Shore power hookup, 
  • A generator, or 
  • A battery and inverter setup.

If you spend most of your time on a campground, access to shore power will likely be fine. 

Using a generator to power your refrigerator permanently isn’t viable, but it could be a solution for short off-grid trips.

An RV with solar panels and a good size battery and inverter is a popular choice among RV owners. 

With enough stored DC energy in the battery, the inverter converts it to AC, so you can constantly supply AC power as you travel.

You must buy the most efficient refrigerator your budget can stretch to and appropriately size the battery bank and inverter.

Read more: RV Solar Calculator for Off-Grid Living

If your off-grid electrical system isn’t powerful enough to run a residential fridge, you may opt for a 2-way or 3-way refrigerator.

2-Way RV Fridge

2-way RV fridges run on either alternating current (AC) power or propane gas. 

They are generally powered by propane gas when camping off-grid, and when there is a connection to 110-volt AC power, they can also run using electricity. 

These refrigerators don’t typically run on battery power, meaning they will only function when connected to another power source unless connected to a solar-powered battery.

If you camp in established campgrounds and enjoy boondocking, and already have propane for cooking and heating in your RV, a 2-way fridge could be ideal.

3-Way RV Fridge

A 3-way RV fridge offers more power source flexibility than their 2-way counterparts, making them a popular choice for RVers. 

These refrigerators have three power sources: 

  • AC power, 
  • DC power, and 
  • Propane. 

Because they can run on 12-volt DC power, they’re a particularly attractive option for people who love boondocking or camping off-grid.

Read more: Best 12 Volt Refrigerators For Campers

Size & Capacity

RV Residential Refrigerator

A residential refrigerator is typically larger than those created specifically for RVs. 

Because homes can accommodate large refrigerators with plenty of storage space, regular household refrigerators come in various sizes. 

RVs are limited in space due to their design and dimensions, so RV refrigerators often have a narrower breadth.

The size difference between the two types reflects how much food and drink storage capacity each can hold. 

The available storage space is a significant factor to consider if you have a large household or enjoy hosting parties and sharing communal meals.

Energy Efficiency

RV Residential Refrigerators are typically more power efficient

When comparing the energy efficiency of an RV fridge to a residential fridge, it’s essential to compare the two refrigerators’ efficiency that uses like for like power sources. 

This is because different power sources provide various levels of energy, which can have a significant impact on the refrigerator’s long-term energy consumption. 

RV refrigerators tend to have smaller capacity

It’s imperative to understand the long-term effects of energy consumption when comparing RV and household refrigerators. 

Adequate sizing of a fridge and the right choice of energy source can significantly impact your long-term energy consumption and overall budget expenses. 

Choosing a fridge that doesn’t meet your needs could result in more energy-intensive cooling, high energy bills, and excess wear and tear on the refrigerator, leading to more trips to the repair shop.

RV fridges aren’t so great when keeping food cold during warmer weather.

They work well if the outside temperature is kind, but if it’s hot and the RV isn’t shaded, their cooling efficiency goes down significantly. 

With experience, most RV owners keep their camper parked in the shade and open it only when necessary.

Residential refrigerators are much better at managing high ambient temperatures. 

Read more: Can An RV Refrigerator Fan Make Your Fridge More Efficient?

Correctly Sizing An Inverter For Maximum Efficiency

For instance, a residential fridge runs on AC power, whereas RV fridges can run on AC, 12v, and propane.

Comparing the energy efficiency of an AC-powered household fridge to a 12V-powered RV fridge, for instance, is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

To power an AC refrigerator from a battery, you need an inverter to convert the battery’s DC power to AC. But there’s a power loss in the conversion of approximately 10%.

For example, a 300-watt AC refrigerator needs about 330 watts when run on a battery and inverter setup.

Of course, how energy efficiency is determined by the make, size, and model. 

If you’re considering using an inverter to power your AC fridge, keep in mind that it’ll run constantly.

Even when the inverter is at idle, it uses some battery power. Larger inverters tend to use more idle power from your battery bank as well.

So, if you have other AC appliances that need an inverter, and they don’t run constantly, it might be more efficient to use a dedicated, smaller inverter just for your fridge.

This way, you can save the larger model for other AC appliances that only get occasional use.

By doing this, you’ll optimize your battery power and to ensure you have enough power to handle all your electrical needs for the longest amount of time possible.

Keep this in mind as you make your decision on what type of inverter to use for your fridge and other AC appliances!

Read more: How To Install An RV Inverter


But RV refrigerators are built for a hard life on the road

This area is where RV refrigerators outshine residential ones in leaps and bounds. 

RV fridges are made for the road: 

  • they don’t have any moving parts, so there is less damage likely to happen, 
  • their construction and material are more durable, 
  • their doors are designed with a locking mechanism so it doesn’t open when you are moving, and the list goes on.

Residential refrigerators are not meant for the road. 

They were designed for homes, and just because they can be fitted in RVs doesn’t magically make them sturdier. 

Residential fridges are prone to damage while moving. 

Sometimes the shelves are made from glass, the worst possible material to use on the road. 

Most don’t have any built-in door locks, so the fridge’s contents can spill out unless you build some DIY locking mechanism.

Safety Concerns

2 or 3 way refrigerators are more versatile

It’s important to note that propane-based refrigerators have some safety hazards. 

RV fridges work by heating ammonia gas through burning propane, which can become risky if the boiler temperature exceeds its standard operating temperature of 350F. 

If your RV isn’t level, the boiler temperature can reach 800F, leading to accidents and fires. 

Additionally, propane or LPG gas leakage from the RV fridge can be a significant concern.

Read more: Best RV propane detector for campers

Residential fridges have two minor areas of concern when it comes to safety. 

Correct installation is crucial, as even a tiny mistake can result in electric shocks. So, if installing it yourself, it’s essential to follow all safety protocols and understand how to wire it in an RV. 

The other concern is that the doors of residential refrigerators should be locked while traveling to prevent damage. 

There are several ways to ensure that the fridge’s doors remain shut, which we will explore further below.


RV refrigerators are usually pre-installed in most RVs, meaning their cost is included in the camper’s price. 

This can be a significant plus point for RVers. 

However, if you plan to replace your old RV fridge with a new one, the costs can add up quickly. 

The top brands in RV fridges, such as Dometic and Norcold, offer models starting at $1,000-$1,200. 

If you need more space and more cooling, expect to pay closer to $3,000 or more.

Residential fridges come in various sizes, which makes giving a single cost estimate challenging. 

But, on average, residential refrigerators can be cheaper per cubic foot than a traditional RV fridge. 

The market offers many more models, styles, and customization options for residential fridges. 

More Info On Refrigerators For RV Campers

How Do I Choose The Right RV Refrigerator For My Needs?

Choosing the right RV refrigerator for your individual needs can be tricky. The first step is to figure out exactly what those needs are. 


  • How much space you need, 
  • How often you plan to travel,
  • Where you’ll be traveling to, and 
  • What kind of energy source you have available to power your fridge.

Once you have a better idea of your needs, you can start comparing models from different brands. 

Although there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, RV refrigerators are often best for RVers that need:

  • A solid, dependable fridge that can last for years without having to replace it.
  • A fridge that can reliably work without AC hookup for long periods.
  • They don’t need the extra capacity as they are going on solo trips or couple trips. However, it must be said that RV refrigerators are getting bigger every year.
  • They don’t spend a whole lot of time in their RV, like weekend warriors. 
  • Enjoy dry camping but don’t want to spend the extra bucks on a solar generator.

On the other hand, residential refrigerators in RVs are ideal for:

  • Larger families and need lots of food storage space.
  • Full-time RVers who spend a lot of time on campgrounds.
  • Boondockers with large battery banks and solar capacity. 

Weekend Warriors

If you take shorter trips and don’t need a large amount of space, you may fare better with an RV refrigerator. 

These fridges come pre-installed in most vehicles, meaning the cost is already included in the camper’s price point. 

Additionally, RV refrigerators usually offer sufficient cooling for short trips and can be significantly more portable than residential models.

Full-Time RVers

Full-timers who live in their RVs may benefit from the increased space and customization options a residential fridge offers. 

Residential refrigerators come in all sizes, so you can customize your fridge to better fit your lifestyle needs. 

Most importantly, they are typically more energy efficient, saving you money over time.


RVers who travel from place to place as the seasons change—can benefit from both types of refrigerators. 

If portability is key, an RV refrigerator may work best as it provides adequate cooling for shorter trips and won’t require any special installation or wiring. 

But if space and energy efficiency are important for snowbirds, then a residential refrigerator or freezer could be their best bet. 

This option often has a larger capacity than an RV model and offers long-term energy savings.

Keeping Your Residential Refrigerator In An RV Closed

Traveling with a residential refrigerator in your RV can be a tricky business. 

Shakes, bumps, and jerks are inevitable while on the road, and it’s important to ensure your fridge stays securely closed along the way. 

The Fridge Fixer is basically a latch and lock system.

Once fitted to your refrigerator door, it’ll help keep it securely shut during travel. 

In Conclusion

When considering a refrigerator for your RV, weighing your needs and preferences is essential. 

An RV fridge may suffice if you plan to stay off-grid but don’t use your camper much.

However, if you’re often on the go with a large family, being connected to campgrounds and having access to power can be more beneficial than going off-grid. 

In this case, investing in an RV residential refrigerator is the perfect solution for reliable, energy-efficient cooling that provides maximum convenience and comfort for you and your family. 

Regardless of your preference, choose one that offers the capacity, mobility, and energy efficiency that fits your lifestyle.