How Much Propane Does An RV Refrigerator Use?

An RV parked in the canyon on a road trip. .

Most RV’s are equipped with a refrigerator which allows you to keep food cold and fresh while you are on the road. These units are built to run on electricity in addition to propane. Before you fire up the rig for your next trip, it is a good idea to consider exactly what amount of propane an RV refrigerator uses so you can plan accordingly.

Every model of RV and refrigerator will have a varied energy consumption. The amount of propane needed will vary according to the age and size of the refrigerator as well as how full it may be during your trip.  An average RV refrigerator has 12 cubic feet of volume which will burn through about one and a half pounds of propane daily. This amount can go up or down depending on the performance and the model of the RV refrigerator you are using

The best way to get the most out of your RV is by following a routine maintenance plan and preparing for your trip in advance. To find out more about how to calculate the amount of propane you need for your RV refrigerator and how to make it run more efficiently, keep on reading. 

Absorption refrigerators or RV fridges run on a mixture of electricity and propane. Even when run fully on propane, they tend to be very efficient. There are some variations depending on the size of RV refrigerator you have and your usage style, but most will last for over 10 days on a single tank.

An average propane tank is 20lb, if you run your RV unit non-stop on just propane alone, it will last on average for around 282 hours, or 11 days

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Using electricity whenever possible and also employing some energy-saving tips, you can extend the time frame well past the 11-day mark

Modern RV refrigerators utilize efficient combustion which allows them to last longer, produce fewer emissions, and make them safer at the same time. Keeping your RV fridge in good working order through regular cleaning and maintenance will also help you to save money on propane by reducing the amount burned each day.

Pay close attention to air leaks and propane leaks if you notice your refrigerator isn’t getting as cold as it should

If you notice your propane is running out earlier than usual without any changes in your usage habits, check for corrosion and rust.

Soot near the vent can also lower the efficiency and reduce the number of hours your unit can run on a single tank.

How Much Propane Does an RV Fridge Use? Per Hour? Per Month?

The total amount of propane a RV refrigerator uses will vary depending on the size and the model.

Modern units that have cubic space of 12 feet will use 1 1/2 pounds of propane each day. When you convert that to BTU’s that comes out to 1,400 per hour

If you use your RV daily for a month, you will need 45 pounds of propane to operate your RV refrigerator without interruption.

Many avid RV users will install a dual fuel generator that runs on propane so that the propane usage for the fridge and the generator is more energy efficient. 

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Tips for Increasing RV Fridge Efficiency

There are a few ways you can increase the efficiency of your RV refrigerator which will also help you save money on propane. Of course, it is important to understand how this type of absorption unit differs from a stationary unit like the one in your home.

Traditional units use freon as the cooling agent, but units in RV’s cool through evaporation. This is achieved by a mix of ammonia, hydrogen, and water that is heated via propane or an electric current. There is a sophisticated vaporization process that removes the heat from the inside which results in a cold interior.

It is important for your absorption refrigerator to be level for peak efficiency. The cooling system runs on fluids that move through the system due to gravity. When the cooling system is uneven, it can make the cycling process less efficient. When you park your RV choose a spot that is as level as possible to ensure the best propane usage efficiency possible.

Another way to manage your propane usage is by adjusting the settings on your unit. If it’s cold outside, you can increase the refrigerator temperature to reduce power consumption.

Depending on the age of your unit, it may be worth it to upgrade to a newer model. Modern RV refrigerators have a higher level of thermal efficiency and also have stronger seals that trap cold air inside much more effectively.

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The number of times you open your refrigerator door will also have an effect on the amount of propane you burn each day. Make a point of opening it only when needed and think about what you want before you open the door instead of just browsing or staring at the contents.

Always cool your RV refrigerator before filling it up with food. This will put less strain on the cooling system and help you save propane. When loading your RV refrigerator, always put the coldest items in first, and then those that are room temperature. If an item will stay fresh on the counter, skip putting it in the fridge.

Never put hot food inside, this will raise the temperature of the whole unit and cause a higher draw on your propane stores as the system struggles to keep up.

Can I Run An RV Refrigerator on Battery?

An RV fridge will often run on the electricity of your onboard generator or the 12 Volt battery system. For those who are camping or taking extended trips, it can be set to run on propane instead. This will reduce the strain on the electrical sources that could lead you stranded if allow to draw power continuously. So while you can run an RV refrigerator on a 12 Volt battery system, it is not recommended for long-term use.

The fans in absorption refrigerators run on propane, but you can swap out the compressor fans for ones that run on batteries or to the 12-volt battery itself. 

An RV compressor-driven fridge usually runs on AC/DC power. In short, if you are plugged into the shore, it will pull power directly, but when unplugged, it will operate via battery. If you own a dual model RV refrigerator you can use both propane and battery power for cooling. The main thing to keep in mind is that battery power has a very limited lifespan coming in around just over three hours for a 12 cubic foot refrigerator. When you compare that to the weeks, it can run on a single propane tank, using only a battery seems silly. 

Final Thoughts

RVs are a great way to enjoy the comforts of home, including delicious meals while you are on the road. With the right unit and a few power-saving tips, your RV refrigerator can help you keep your cold foods cold and your meals fresh for weeks on a single tank. 

If you are in the market for an upgrade, there are a lot on the market to choose from that are not only energy-efficient but also consume low quantities of propane so you can get the most out of every trip.

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