Propane vs. Electric for an RV Fridge: Which Is Better?


Modern RVs come with modern facilities, which also include a fridge. But RV refrigerators aren’t always like the ones we have at home. Some run off of propane. So, which is better? Let’s explore propane vs. electric for an RV fridge.

Generally speaking, propane-powered RV fridges are preferred as they don’t require a lot of maintenance, and they last longer as they don’t have any moving parts. An electric fridge, on the other hand, is a bit safer and doesn’t require you to be on the lookout for gas leaks.

Keeping your food fresh during travel is a huge plus, especially if your kids love to eat ice cream after dinner. Having access to an RV fridge also allows you to store meat safely for longer periods of time.

Comparing propane RV fridges with their electric counterparts is necessary if you are looking to get a new one for your RV.

Carefully examining their features, maintenance, cost, and usability will help you decide what the best option for you is.

Just like comparing an RV and a motorhome and gauging what’s great for you.

I’ve used both kinds of refrigerators and lean towards propane RV fridges more. However, Electric RV fridges also have their plus points when it comes to the overall safety and optimal performance conditions.

Is a Propane Fridge More Efficient Than Electric?

Propane fridges are extremely efficient compared to electric ones and can run continuously for more than a week on just 20lbs of propane. As there are no moving parts inside the fridge, it doesn’t need regular maintenance because of less wear and tear.

Of course, not everything is simple, there are certain factors that directly affect the efficiency of a propane fridge.

The Air Temperature of Your Surroundings

A propane fridge works more like an air conditioner than a regular electric refrigerator.

So, if you are driving around in Arizona during summer, expect the fridge to take some time to cool down. Usually, it takes around 6-10 hours for a propane fridge to cool down. I recommend turning it on during the night, as the temperature is cooler during nighttime.

Airflow

Airflow is also necessary for the propane refrigerator to work efficiently. Make sure you have proper airflow not only for optimal operation but also to avoid any unnecessary heat build-ups.

Level

The level of the fridge also matters a lot. If the propane fridge is not completely flat, it will not work efficiently. So if you are driving on an incline, it’s better to just turn the fridge off to save fuel.

The Electric RV fridges on the other hand work on 120V AC or 12V DC and can provide consistent and faster cooling.

They are not as efficient in the long run as Propane RV refrigerators but do have the advantage of quick cooling and consistent working performance wherever you go. If you are planning a trip to naturally hot regions, it’s better to have an electric RV fridge.

Is a Propane Refrigerator Cheaper Than Electric?

As a general rule, propane refrigerators are more expensive to purchase than electric refrigerators. That being said, propane RV fridges offer great returns on the investment with their low fuel consumption, lower maintenance costs, and longer lifespan.

Propane RV fridges don’t have any moving parts or compressors.

So fewer points of mechanical or electrical failure are present. This results in the refrigerator working perfectly for years. Advances in technology made Propane RV fridges more efficient when it comes to using fuel as well. They have lower emissions and better fuel economy that end up saving you money in the longer run.

But how long does the equipment in an RV last?

Of course, different pieces of equipment last longer than others, but in a recent article, I cover all major pieces of equipment in most RVs and not only give you the average lifespan but tips on how to extend that.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Propane is also produced right here in the USA. In fact, 90% of the propane we need is produced in the country. This also drives the running costs down and improves the overall running costs.

The majority of RVs use a 30lbs propane cylinder that can contain 7 gallons of propane and weigh around 54lbs.

You can easily stretch it out over a week even if you are using the heater, cooking stove, hot water, and RV fridge. These days the price is around $2.3 per gallon and for around $70, you’ll easily get a week of chilled beverages.

Yes, these are rough estimates, and your mileage may increase if, let’s say, you are not using the stove or heating.

Does an RV Refrigerator Use a Lot of Propane?

1 gallon of propane can usually run a refrigerator for approximately 61 hours. So, doing simple math, we know a 20lb tank can run a fridge for 12 days. Motorhomes sometimes have propane tanks of up to 80-100 pounds which could run a refrigerator consistently for 48-60 days.

The amount of propane a refrigerator uses depends on its size and age.

The bigger it is, the more fuel it will need. Older refrigerators are also a bit less efficient and may use more propane. A 20lb tank holds 4.6 gallons of propane.

In short, no, an RV refrigerator isn’t going to use a lot of propane.

Does an RV Propane Fridge Need Electricity?

An RV propane fridge requires at least a 10.5 V battery to get it started. This is used to open the gas as well as spark the ignition. Some RV refrigerators also use the battery for front control panels if they are available.

However, if you are worried that you’ll need to put a strain on your RV’s main battery, rest easy.

A propane fridge doesn’t require a ton of electricity to function properly. You can store medicine and food inside without the worry of interruptions.

I’ve run mine (propane) using just the inverters off battery power for hours plenty of times.

How Does a Propane Refrigerator Work in a Camper?

Propane-powered RV refrigerators work by heating up ammonia until it reaches a boil. As it boils, the ammonia steam goes into the condenser where it turns back into liquid. The liquid ammonia combines with hydrogen gas which turns it back into gas again, and this process cools the refrigerator.

But another key to getting a propane refrigerator to work in a camper is leveling.

That’s right, you’ll need to level your camper to make sure your fridge works perfectly. Place the level on the fridge itself or on a shelf/counter to see if it is flat horizontally or not.

So, if you’re in a campsite that’s way uneven, make sure you use your leveling jacks or the refrigerator may not work properly.

As we’ve already mentioned, even though propane powers the fridge, you still need an electrical source too.

So either shore power, generator, or an inverter for the house batteries will be needed.

Motorhomes, RVs, and travel trailers can also use a propane fridge.

Confused by all the different types of RVs? Luckily I have a comparison of a Class A motorhome and a travel trailer. Those are 2 of the most common types. And while having to tow a trailer is hopefully obvious, there are a lot of similarities too.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How To Use RV Refrigerator / Dometic Propane Fridge

Conclusion

In short, we know:

Electric RV fridges can stay colder for a longer period of time. They aren’t influenced by external factors but can have regular maintenance costs add up. They also run off of generators and inverters, which can also wear over time.

Propane RV fridges on the other hand require optimal conditions to work.

They cannot cool efficiently if their air temperature is already high. You won’t be getting super frozen ice creams with this fridge, but it will run for longer periods of time without requiring any maintenance. Propane RV refrigerators are also cost-effective and won’t rack up propane bills too much.

Both, Electric and propane fridges have their pros and cons.

I recommend using a propane refrigerator if you are camping in a remote area with no easy access to electrical outlets or fuel stations. However, if you are traveling short distances and require chilled beverages regardless of how steep the inclines are, an electric fridge might be the way to go.


Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay and Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell travels on and off with his 3 daughters in a Newmar Baystar Class A Motorhome. He writes extensively on both RVs, campgrounds, parenting on the road tips, remote learning & schooling, and much more!

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