RV fridges come in all sizes, and more importantly as a single 12V or three-way unit.
For years, the three-way fridge has been the traditional unit for use in RV’s, yet it had two major drawbacks:
- The absorption type fridge requires leveling of the vehicle.
- It has complicated power source requirements: 12V + 120V wiring and propane tanks.
That all changed with the advent of the Danfoss compressor. Refrigerators equipped with these compressors are energy efficient, highly reliable and compact. Connected to batteries, as a 12V power source, these fridges can run for days and indefinitely when connected to solar panels. No more restrictions when traveling through tunnels (propane) and more opportunities to build a propane-free conversion van.
Necessity and Price
With the focus on a van conversion, first the need of a fridge should be established. If only used on weekends you may be better off getting a portable cooler, but in most cases a small fridge is appropriate, either for cool drinks or for food on longer trips. Also determine the likely use of a separate freezer.
A small size is sufficient under most circumstances as a cargo van will accommodate 1 or 2 persons anyway. Its limited size also reduces electric demand on the power generation of the vehicle, something that always remains an issue.
After establishing the need and size of the fridge, price probably is an determining factor for most people. Unfortunately, the better appliances made specifically for RV’s (or marine use) are often exorbitantly expensive. That applies not only to fridges, but also to heaters, cooktops and RV sinks. They start at a few hundred dollars and can go up to $2,000 and upwards.
Brands and Models
Only a few brands are available to the consumer, when looking for a 12V model with Danfoss compressor.
Yet the selection of models spans a wide variety from single-door, double-door, side-by-side, top-to-bottom, freezer drawer or top-loader.
Insulation and Ventilation
Electric use can be cut in half with an additional 2 inch insulation around the back and sides of the refrigerator as long as proper ventilation is maintained. Installation of a cheap low-power computer fan, is an great way to increase air circulation.
A 3 or 4 cu ft (100 L) fridge works well for one person for over a week, with an electrical demand of probably less than 50 Ah a day under warm conditions.
The new lithium battery technology in combination with the higher efficiency solar panels, can, at an additional cost, substantially extend your boondocking (dispersed camping) capabilities. In such a degree that you could be permanently independent from the power grid, while enjoying the comfort of appliances like a refrigerator.
The NovaKool R4500 has been my long time favorite for the upcoming conversion. With a price tag of approx. $850.00 (without shipping) certainly not a bargain. With all the options now on the table, my ultimate choice would be the Vitrigo DW-250, a refrigerator combination in stainless steel with a top fridge and a bottom freezer drawer; however, with a retail price above $2,000 not a realistic option for my conversion van. Trying to be somewhat frugal, I recently found the Truckfridge TF-130. A 4.2 cu.ft. fridge, a close copy of the R4500 yet much less expensive at $595.00.