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 frozen.

Therefore, answering the question of “How many watts does a RV refrigerator use?” becomes important to many 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 split between RV refrigerators and ones seen as more like residential refrigerators.

RV Refrigerators

The typical RV refrigerator is built into the RV from the factory. It doesn’t have moving parts because it uses a process called absorption.

Also, it relies on a mix of hydrogen gas, some 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 either two-way or three-way types.

In the first case, these need a household power source in AC, so 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 fridge options can be powered by propane gas, 12V, and 110V power options. This type of refrigerator has gained in popularity for dry camping aka boondocking due to its flexibility with how to power the refrigerator in all conditions.  

How Many Watts Does a RV Refrigerator Use?

To figure out how many watts an RV fridge uses, a distinction is made with RV refrigerator wattage between starting watts and regular watts:

Starting Watts – When first turning on an appliance, it will consume 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.

As may now be clearer, when turning on an RV fridge, it will use an initial burst of power, and less once it’s up and running. This is also true once the refrigerated compartments and/or the frozen compartment have reached their intended temperatures. At this point, the refrigerator requires far less energy to maintain at this temperature level.

How to Know How Many Watts a Refrigerator Uses and When?

In the first instance, the refrigerator’s manual should provide details on energy consumption including the watts and amps for that model.

These need to be Google’d and downloaded because few products come with printed manuals any longer.

The watts (and amps) are broken down into different activities. Here’s a general guide for an RV refrigerator with a double-door running on a 110V/120V system (refrigerator size changes energy consumption dramatically):

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

Running: Once past the initial starting up phase, a larger RV fridge may only consume up to 300 watts and sometimes as little as 120 watts for smaller ones. This means up to 5 amps, or less too.

Defrosting: The defrosting process, where the fridge will have a programmed operation for it, 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 confusing for many, 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 need to convert it. Then you’ll be comparing apples with apples.

If you want to know the watts, but you only have volts and amps, then there’s an answer:

Volts x Amps = Watts

The volts are determined by whether you’re using household power, which is 110V/120V, or its 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. It can keep the refrigerator running in a pinch, but also recharge 12V battery packs if you haven’t driven much and they’re needing 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 is not just about how many are used. Your power availability needs to provide more than the wattage needed when first turning on the refrigerator and later, keeping it running with a reduced wattage power requirement.

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

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

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

Low on fuel for the genie or need to keep a low noise profile? Use the 12V house batteries to keep the refrigerator running overnight while not disturbing 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, if you worry about power consumption and availability, or you’re 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 during ongoing use.

They also make for an excellent upgrade from an icebox which is fine for a day but will gradually lose its effectiveness if you’re 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 consumption is highly favorable.

Instead of relying on 110V power, using the house batteries alone to control your fridge can remove the headache. With that said, 12V refrigerators tend to be considerably more expensive than ones that rely on 110V. So, you tend to pay 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. Yet it’s still much less than other alternatives.

Closing Thoughts

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

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