How Many Watts Does a RV Refrigerator Use?

The RV refrigerator is an essential appliance for a motorhome or RV towable.

When you’re running low on power, it can cause problems with keeping food fresh and/or frozen. Therefore, answering the question of “How many watts does a RV refrigerator use?” becomes important to RVers.

Indeed, many RV owners will turn off their fridges overnight to save power rather than leave them on. This is not always necessary when ensuring your RV has sufficient power for your needs.

RV Refrigerators vs. Residential Refrigerators

The RV market is currently divided between RV refrigerators and residential refrigerators used in a motorhome.

RV Refrigerators

A standard RV refrigerator is included with the motorhome as part of its factory specification. Conveniently, it doesn’t have moving parts because it uses a process called absorption.

Also, it relies on a mix of hydrogen gas, warmth, and ammonia to function. The lack of moving parts helps it survive bumpy roads too.

Residential Refrigerators

The so-called residential refrigerators either rely exclusively on 120-volt power sources or they’re two-way or three-way models.

In the first case, these require a household power source in AC. That’ll need to come from an RV inverter or an inverter generator to get the right kind of power.

In the second case, the two-way or three-way fridges are run by propane gas, 12V, and 110V power sources. These types of refrigerators recently gained popularity for dry camping (boondocking) due to their flexibility in different situations.  

How Many Watts Does a RV Refrigerator Use?

To figure out how many watts an RV fridge uses, the RV refrigerator wattage is split between starting watts and regular watts:

Starting Watts – When first turning on an appliance, it consumes a substantially higher number of watts (and amps) than it’ll require later. This is true of most appliances, but also vehicle engines too. For instance, starter batteries provide high cold cranking amps to deliver a jolt of initial power to start the engine. An RV refrigerator needs more watts initially too.

Regular Watts – Regular watts (and amps) are the more typical usage pattern for an appliance. This is where the watts and amps consumed per hour of operation are lower.

To summarize, when turning on an RV fridge, it uses an initial burst of power, and less once up and running. This is also true once the refrigerated compartments and/or the frozen compartment have reached their intended temperatures. At this stage, the refrigerator requires far less energy to remain at this temperature level.

How Many Watts Does a Dometic RV Fridge Use?

In the first instance, the Dometic RV refrigerator manual should provide energy consumption estimates, including the watts and amps, for that model.

Product manuals need to be Google’d and downloaded. Few products come with printed manuals now.

The watts and amps usage is broken down by different activities. Bear in mind that refrigerator size dramatically changes the estimated energy consumption.

Here’s a general guide for Dometic RV fridges (or other RV refrigerators) with a double-door running on a 110V/120V system:

Starting Up: To get up and running, a large RV refrigerator may require upwards of 1,000 watts from a 110V system. Therefore, the generator and power system need to reach this level of sustained wattage output to get the fridge operational after it’s been turned off. From an amperage standpoint, upwards of 10 amps is often required.

Running: Once past the initial starting-up phase, a larger RV fridge may consume up to 300 watts or as little as 120 watts for smaller models. In amperage, around 5 amps, or less is needed.

Defrosting: The defrosting process, where the fridge follows a programmed operation, has far lower power requirements. Here under 100 watts is required and perhaps a couple of amps.

Calculating and Converting Power Needs for an RV Fridge

While electricity is a confusing subject, it is possible to convert between different measurements. This is beneficial when a product manual gives one bit of information, or you find something online and you need to convert it. When doing so, you’ll be comparing apples to apples, rather than talking in cross-purposes.

If you want to know the watts, but only have volts and amps, then the formula below confirms how to discover the watts:

Volts x Amps = Watts

The volts are determined by whether you’re using household power, which is 110V/120V, or house batteries in an RV, in which case it’s 12V. So, that part is simple.

If you’re coming up short on power availability, consider upgrading your generator to make up the slack. In a pinch, the Honda Power Equipment 3,000W 120V EU3000IS keeps your refrigerator running. Also, it’ll recharge 12V battery packs if you haven’t driven much and they need a top-up:

Honda Power Equipment 3,000W 120V Portable Home Gas Power Generator (Model EU3000IS1AN)

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Read Also: How Long Will A 12 Volt Battery Run a Refrigerator?

How to Think About Wattage and Power Consumption

With wattage calculations, it’s not just about how many watts are used. Your power availability needs to provide more than the wattage required when first turning on the refrigerator. It must support the wattage power requirements during the total running time, too.

As such, your generator supplying 110V power needs to provide enough watts to deliver what a refrigerator requires.

Providing some flexibility with the energy source is another reason why more people opt for a three-way refrigerator.

Low on propane? Switch to generator power to keep the fridge operational.

Low on fuel for the genie or need to maintain a low noise profile? Use the 12V house batteries to keep the refrigerator running overnight to not disturb your boondocking neighbors.

Size Matters with Refrigerators

Smaller refrigerators consume much less power than larger ones. Smaller fridges fit under a counter or slide under a bed frame.

People with a diesel pusher (Class A) or pulling a fifth wheel often have larger families and need a bigger fridge. However, if you’re in a smaller rig and/or have fewer people to feed, then it’s worth considering using a smaller refrigerator.

Also, do you worry about power consumption and its availability? Or are you often away from RV campgrounds for chunks of time? A three-way or at least a two-way refrigerator offers greater flexibility to keep food and drinks cold whatever your situation.

Here’s a good example of a compact, three-way refrigerator for an RV:

Smad 3 Way Refrigerator 12v Fridge for RV. AC/DC/LPG. 55 Qt. Black

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Read Also: How to Keep RV Fridge Cold While Driving?


How Many Watts Does a Camping Fridge Use?

One of the smallest fridges is a camping fridge. These are compact enough to use much less energy for both the starting-up phase and ongoing use.

They’re also an excellent upgrade from an icebox. The modest icebox is fine for a day but will gradually lose its effectiveness when dry camping for longer.

The smallest camping fridges may only require 150 starting watts and then run on 50 or fewer watts once they’ve reached their optimal internal temperature.

The Dometic CFX3 is a good example of a portable camping refrigerator with a convenient lift-up lid as a space saver:

Dometic CFX3 — 45-Liter Portable Refrigerator & Freezer. Powered by AC/DC Electricity or Solar

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How Many Watts Does a 12V Fridge Use?

The 12v RV fridge power consumption is highly favorable.

Instead of relying on 110V power, using the house batteries alone to run your fridge removes the headache. With that said, 12V refrigerators often are considerably more expensive than 110V fridge models. So, you pay more upfront but save money during the full ownership period.

The smallest 12V refrigerators might only need upwards of 110 watts to operate. They’ll still require a few hundred watts to get the fridge going though. But it’s still much less than other alternatives.

Closing Thoughts

A well-conceived energy plan requires a realistic assessment of the watts required by a reliable RV refrigerator. After all, you’ll be powering other appliances at 110V and a few from the 12V house batteries too. So, more watts will be needed to turn the fridge on and see it happily power up. Due to this, any generator needs to produce excess wattage to handle the demand.

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