Converting an RV Refrigerator to Residential – Is It Possible? (Yes!)

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Most, if not all modern RVs come with some type of refrigeration unit. A modern luxury that has since become the standard in American RV living.

RV refrigerators are different in design and operation than the residential refrigerators one might be used to.

Yes, you can convert your RV refrigerator to a residential one. The differences can make a conversion tricky though.

It’s worth it to consider the pros and cons of each type of refrigeration unit before making the switch. Let’s get into it!

RV Refrigerators

There are three types of RV refrigerators on the market: compression, absorption, and thermoelectric. The most common of these three is an absorption refrigerator, which is what is being referred to as an “RV refrigerator” in this article.

Absorption refrigerators in RVs use an evaporation and condensation process for cooling. These are popular refrigerators to use in RVs because they don’t require electricity to run – you can also run them on propane. This makes them perfect for camping off the grid.

That said, these fridges have their downsides, too.

Absorption refrigerators tend to be shallower in depth than residential refrigerators due to the absorption mechanism on the back of the machine. This means they hold less, but it doesn’t mean they’re smaller overall — they just have a smaller interior volume. 

Absorption refrigerators must also stay level in an effort to prevent the ammonia cooling mixture from crystallizing. They can be quite sensitive, however, if you’re mainly driving on level roads, this may not be an issue.

Residential Refrigerators

Residential refrigerators have been included on higher-tier RVs and all-electric RVs (no propane!) for a number of years.

To fit an RV residential refrigerators require both extra batteries and inverters to work properly in your RV. This is something to consider when wanting to make the conversion from an RV refrigerator to a residential refrigerator, despite today’s residential refrigerators using less electricity.

Residential refrigerators have a larger internal storage capacity than RV refrigerators. They are also not level sensitive and are more precise when it comes to temperature control.

That said, if you’re retrofitting a newer residential refrigerator to an older RV, you may need to adjust your counter or storage space. Many older coaches were not designed to house a residential refrigerator and some carpentry adjustments may need to be made.

Factors to Consider When Making the Switch

Before making the switch from an RV refrigerator to a residential refrigerator, it’s best to consider the following factors.

Power

An RV refrigerator can be powered in a number of ways, including electric or propane, however, a residential refrigerator can only be powered by 100v electric supply. 

If you’re plugged into a campground, this won’t necessarily matter. That said, when traveling, you’ll need an inverter (this will depend on the make, model, and age of your coach) in order to avoid power loss.

If you have an older coach model you may need to upgrade your battery in order to install a residential refrigerator.

Because RV refrigerators are made specifically for travel, if you are worried about power usage then it may be best to stick with an RV refrigerator versus converting to a residential refrigerator.

Efficiency

Similar to power, efficiency is something to consider when wanting to convert your RV refrigerator.

Power consumption on an RV refrigerator may not be as efficient as a residential refrigerator. They can take longer to cool and keep food consistently cool, especially in warmer climates. In this regard, residential refrigerators may be a better option than RV refrigerators. 

Size

Depending on your coach, you may not be able to fit a residential refrigerator without making structural adjustments to the interior of your RV. 

Before converting your RV refrigerator to a residential refrigerator you want to make sure that your residential refrigerator will fit comfortably within the coach, not just when it comes to width and height. It may seem obvious, but you want to be able to open your refrigerator door comfortably!

A residential refrigerator will take up more space than an RV refrigerator, so be prepared to make some adjustments.

You’ll also need to factor in the weight of a residential refrigerator. A residential refrigerator typically weighs more than an RV refrigerator. Many roads and campgrounds have weight restrictions, and with a refrigerator that weighs more, you want to make sure you’re not going over those limits.

Keep in mind that a heavier RV will affect your mileage.

Manufacturing & Maintenance

Both RV refrigerators and residential refrigerators will require maintenance. That said, depending on your needs and how often you travel, use your refrigerator, etc. there are pros and cons to each type.

Generally, residential refrigerators have better performances than RV refrigerators. With RV refrigerators, you need to consider not only outside ambient temperatures (they will affect how your RV refrigerator cools) but how you park your coach, and whether or not you’re parked levelly. 

That said, you’ll also need to consider that residential refrigerators are not meant to withstand the bumps, vibrations, and jolts one might encounter on the road. RV refrigerators are made with strong steel built specifically to deal with such issues.

That said, advancements in RV construction have become impressive, to prevent damage to internal appliances, so potential issues with residential refrigerators may be mitigated.

The Conversion Process

So now that you’ve officially decided to convert your RV refrigerator to a residential refrigerator, it’s officially time to tackle the job. It’s not as easy as just switching out an old RV refrigerator model for a new residential refrigerator model — there are things you still need to consider.

In an effort to prepare everything before the actual installation, use this checklist:

Assess Removal and Installation Path

First and foremost, make sure you can get your old refrigerator out, and your new refrigerator in! You may have to remove a window or door to do so, so factor that into your time and cost.

Site Preparation

Make sure that your installation site (where your new residential fridge is to be installed) is all set before you start.

You want to make sure that you have the proper power hookup, along with the proper inverter. If this is done poorly, you could result in breakage or RV fire down the line. 

If your residential fridge has an ice maker you will need to ensure that you have a water line that is properly installed. 

Many RV refrigerators do not come with an ice maker, and in older coach models, there may not be a water line already installed. You also need to ensure your water line has a shut-off valve for when you are not traveling.

Finally, there needs to be adequate airflow around your refrigerator to ensure that your condensing tubing has enough room. Because the size of your residential refrigerator may differ from your RV refrigerator, you may need to figure out a way to create extra space if necessary.

Refrigerator Size & Fitting

Before you make any purchases or installations, you need to measure your space. 

Make sure there is adequate space for your new residential refrigerator and that your refrigerator door has enough clearance to open and close properly.

Your new residential refrigerator door opening will need to match the existing door swing – this isn’t a time to switch things up.

IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that your residential refrigerator will need a lock installed on the door to keep it closed. The vibrations from your RV coach will prohibit the usual magnet closure from working properly. Plan for the space needed for this lock, or whatever system you decide to use.

Installation

Label and take pictures of your connection lines on your old refrigerator so you know where everything goes. 

Once you start hooking up your new refrigerator, continue to label and take pictures. That way, if you ever need to do maintenance on your refrigerator, you’ll be able to easily disassemble and reassemble.

Secure Your Refrigerator

You may need extra pieces of particle board or wood to fit around your residential refrigerator to allow for proper airflow and to keep your refrigerator secure and in place. You can also use molding trim if you need smaller pieces.

Set Up Your Batteries

You will most likely need at least two batteries to adjust to the new power load required by your residential refrigerator.

Make sure that you have a battery charger that can adequately charge your new battery load. Your battery requirement will depend on your coach’s make, model, and age, and if you haven’t done this before, it’s best to consult a professional.

Final Thoughts

This article provides only a basic overview as to whether or not one can successfully convert their RV refrigerator to a residential refrigerator. If you are considering making the switch and are not practiced in this, you should consider consulting a professional to guide you through the process.

There are many pros and cons to converting your RV refrigerator to a residential refrigerator. Just make sure you do thorough research and consider everything you’ll need in regards to space and power before doing so. Happy traveling!

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