Propane fridges give us the fantastic ability to have a working refrigerator even while off-grid. However, one common worry is how efficient (or inefficient!) they are. As someone with an interest in off-grid living, I’ve spent a few hours researching this.
So how efficient are propane refrigerators?
Propane refrigerators are highly efficient. While the efficiency varies per fridge, most last longer than 11 days running non-stop from a standard 20lb propane tank. You can increase this using our efficiency tips below. Still, use electricity when available: it’s cheaper and doesn’t need refilling.
That’s the summary answer, but of course there’s more to it than that.
Read on for more details, tips on how to get the most out of a propane fridge, find how long your propane tank would last, and more.
Did you know that absorption fridges (the propane type) were first invented in 1858? A French scientist, Carré, first coined the technology at the Swedish Institute of Technology. Einstein actually proposed his own design – the ‘Einstein refrigerator‘ (a bit confident with that name, wasn’t he?)
Ever since then, the technology has been progressing through innovations until the modern types of propane fridges available today.
Looking to purchase one of these fridges? Check out our detailed run-down of the best propane fridges on the market.
Want to learn about safety? We’ve got that covered too, in our article covering propane fridge safety.
Now regarding their efficiency, there’s not a lot of published data that we can consider for direct comparisons. Especially since they are quite a niche technology. For some rough estimates check out the following sections comparing propane to electricity, and estimating the efficiency from different sizes of propane tanks.
What Affects the Efficiency of a Propane Fridge?
The actual efficiency of a propane fridge will vary slightly depending on conditions, including:
- How hot the air temperature is
- How much airflow is around the refrigerator
- Anything in the refrigerator (ice packs vs. warm food)
- The setup of the refrigerator (i.e. is it completely level?)
Chemical reactions fueled by a heat source. This is either an electric heater, or a propane burner.
How to Increase The Efficiency of a Propane Fridge?
- Switch it on the night before. Will take less time to cool down (lower starting temperature) and be ready for use on the day.
- If you can’t put it on the night before, give it a helping hand by putting a small bag or tray of ice in when you turn it on.
- Make sure it’s completely level. The whole system relies on gravity, so any misalignments will affect the cooling efficiency.
- These fridges don’t have anything to encourage airflow. Picking up a few mini fans can help get the cold air flowing and quickly cooling the fridge.
- Don’t stuff it too full! Leave enough space for there to be good airflow. Particularly when first cooling it down.
- Use electricity to power the fridge before you leave on a trip. Then switch to propane.
- Hodor! Hold the door and keep it shut. Only open it when you need to.
How Does Propane Cool a Fridge?
A propane fridge works using a series of chemical processes involving ammonia, hydrogen, and water. In short, these are:
- A ‘generator’ is powered by burning propane (or an electric heating element)
- Ammonia and water are put into the generator, which seperate as ammonia becomes a gas.
- The ammonia gas is then put through some cooling fins, which cool it back down to a liquid.
- This liquid is then combined with liquid hydrogen in evaporator coils. When they are combined, their reaction produces a lot of cooling.This happens inside the actual fridge.
- Once the reaction is finished, the ammonia and hydrogen are seperator in an ‘absorber’. The ammonia combines with water.
- The ammonia and water go back into the generator. The process starts again!
The whole process. Source.
See a more detailed description in our post covering the best propane fridges (near the bottom of the article).
Using Propane Vs Electricity On A Fridge
Due to the sheer availability, it’s always a better idea to power a propane fridge via electricity – when available. This is simply due to using propane means you’ll need to refill or replace the propane tank. Typically, the difference in energy cost isn’t enough to compare to the time and hassle you lose filling propane tanks.
Directly comparing the costs of both fuel types is difficult: there’s so many variables. Not only their actual costs, but their efficiency in how we use them. We can however draw a basic comparison.
Per this source, if you pay a standard $0.12 per kWh of electricity, and one gallon of propane = 27 kWh of electricity, then 27*0.12 = a break-even point of $3.24.In other words, if you can get propane for less than $3.24 a gallon then you’ll save in comparison to using electricity at $0.12/kWH.
Note: It’s also worth bearing in mind that propane burns cleanly while our electricity is typically generated using fossil fuels, propane is arguably better for the environment (unless we’re talking about electricity from renewable sources.
Does A Propane Fridge Need Electricity
No. A propane fridge can run without any electricity whatsoever. This is why they’re so loved by outdoor and wilderness enthusiasts, as well as RV-owners.
How Long Will A Propane Refrigerator Run On A Propane Tank?
Let’s work it out together for the example of a standard 20lb propane tank.
- A gallon of Propane provides around 91,000BTU of heat.
- A 20lb propane tank contains 4.7 gallons of propane, or 4.7*91000 =427,000BTU available
- The average propane fridge uses 1,500BTU per hour to operate.
- 1,500 * 24 = 36,000BTU per day
- BTUAvailable/BTUPerDay= 11.8 days of fuel.
So there we have it. If you’re using a standard 20-lb propane tank, you can expect it to last around 11 days (non-stop) before needing to replace or refill it.
For a 30lb tank just add 50%; so it would last for 17.7 days non-stop.
Note:The above calculations provide a ball-park estimate only. In reality, many propane fridge users find their tanks to last for weeks and weeks.Especially when they’re not in constant use. In most cases, you’ll barely be able to tell a decrease in the level of gas in the tank after a whole day. So I would take these calculations as a ‘worst-case’ estimate.
How Long Will A Propane Refrigerator Run On Battery?
To fully operate a propane fridge on battery can quickly drain the juice from the battery of an RV (or similar). Expect it not last longer than 3 hours. However, if not switched on and only using the electricity for the control panel, this is a tiny amount and can last for weeks.
How Long Does It Take For A Propane Fridge To Get Cold?
As I mentioned above, the answer to this question depends on a lot of variables. Particularly the power of the fridge, and the temperature of the air.
In general, it will take many hours for a propane fridge to cool down. At least 6, more likely 10-12 hours. This is why the best practice is to turn it on the day before you need it, and let it cool down overnight. (This is even more effective given it starts from a cooler temperature at night).
Be sure to reduce the cooling time by following the tips to get the most efficient cooling from earlier in this article.
Propane fridges are an amazing tool to get the advantages of civilization even while totally off-grid. They do come with disadvantages (upfront cost and long cooling time), but they’re totally silent and work everywhere. Which are priceless advantages.
I hope this guide has helped give you the information you need to get the most out of your propane refrigerator. If you want to learn more, check out our articles on:
The best propane fridges available
Are propane fridges safe?
I hope you enjoyed this article, and that you have a great day!
Do propane refrigerators use a lot of propane? ›
How much propane your RV refrigerator use can vary depending on the size, and age of your RV's refrigerator. In general, a newer RV refrigerator with around 10 to 12 cubic feet of internal volume will consume around 1.5 pounds of propane per day. This translates into roughly 1,400 BTUs per hour.How long will a propane fridge run on a 20lb tank? ›
A 20 pound tank of propane will last you for about a month. However, you also need batteries for everything to run effectively. There are also things you can do to reduce the amount of propane burned per day.How much electricity does a propane refrigerator use? ›
A 10 cubic foot propane refrigerator will typically consume 1.5 lbs, or . 375 gallons, of propane per day. The energy content of 1.5 lbs of propane is 32,250 Btu or about 9485 watt hours. The Sun Frost RF12 consumes only 24 amps hours a day, which is equivalent to 288 watt hours a day.Is propane fridge better than electric? ›
Propane-fueled appliances require less maintenance, greater convenience and higher efficiency over electrically-operated appliances. There are no moving parts used to cool a gas refrigerator. This means that there are no parts to wear out. Electric and 12V refrigerators require freon and an electric compressor/pump.What are the cons of propane appliances? ›
The biggest disadvantage to a propane heating system is keeping up with tank maintenance – or not. If you own the tank, you're responsible for regular inspections, and you have to fix the problem if there's leaks or corrosion. You might even eventually have to replace the tank.Do propane fridges need to be vented? ›
Make sure that the ventilation of the premises is adequate
All propane gas refrigerators require a sufficient supply of fresh air to operate safely and efficiently.
RV refrigerators work best when using propane but 3 way refrigerators can be run on 12volt Dc while driving. This conserves propane but will drain your battery if you switch your motor off for even a few hours. If you travel with your generator running, use the electric setting on your refrigerator.Is it safe to store a 20 lb propane tank on its side? ›
DON'T store propane tanks on their sides, because that can lead to the release of liquid and vapors. DO store propane tanks on a dry, level surface.Does a propane fridge need electricity? ›
If you don't have solar power, propane will work the best for off-grid camping. RV propane fridges don't need electricity to operate, so your fridge can still function no matter where you camp.What are the benefits of propane refrigerators? ›
Propane refrigerators are typically less expensive to operate than electric refrigerators, and produce no emission, so they are considered a green alternative. Electric refrigerators emit carbon dioxide when they convert power to coolant which gets lost in heat into the atmosphere.
Is propane appliances cheaper than electric? ›
Propane stoves generate heat at a cost that's 10 – 30% less than their electrical counterparts, which means your monthly energy costs will be significantly lower, depending on how much you cook.How long will battery last running a propane fridge? ›
An RV refrigerator will run off of the battery if your fridge model is set up for it or if it uses propane too. An absorption fridge will run on batteries only for about 3 hours but if using propane too it will last for weeks. A residential RV fridge will last for about 12 hours on batteries.What type of refrigerator is most energy efficient? ›
side-by-side fridges or top-mount freezer vs. side-by-side fridges — yes, it does matter where that freezer sits: The most energy efficient refrigerator style is a top-mount freezer refrigerator.What is the most efficient refrigerant for a refrigerator? ›
Ammonia: Unlike CFCs and HFCs, ammonia is a natural gas. Ammonia is one of the oldest refrigerant options, and it uses less energy than HFCs, making it the most efficient refrigerant option out of the bunch. Plus, ammonia costs less than artificial refrigerants because it is found in nature and readily available.What are 3 disadvantages of propane? ›
- Propane produces fewer BTUs per gallon than oil heating.
- Propane-burning equipment often costs more to purchase than heating oil-based systems.
- Propane is combustible in air, so precautions are needed to operate the equipment safely.
One reason is the development of fueling stations throughout the country. Most have been built around delivering gasoline, and as a result has driven the bulk of the automobile market toward gasoline.What is a negative effect of propane? ›
In high concentrations propane displaces oxygen and is an asphyxiant gas. It causes suffocation if allowed to accumulate to concentrations that reduce oxygen below safe breathing levels. Breathing of high concentrations may cause dizziness, light-headedness, headache, nausea, and loss of coordination.Can a propane fridge give off carbon monoxide? ›
Watch out for carbon monoxide
A propane fridge can asphyxiate you if the burner is not getting enough air. Poor combustion can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.
One of the greatest advantages of a propane refrigerator is absorption technology. This system uses mainly fluids and gas, meaning it is quieter than most, leaving you with a peaceful living space.Do propane refrigerators smell? ›
Should there be an odor coming from the flue exhaust on my propane refrigerator? A. No. The odor is usually from a “foul flame” – debris in the burner – and the burner and flue need to be cleaned.
Is it OK to leave RV plugged in all the time? ›
Is it Okay to Leave Your RV Plugged in All the Time? Again, the short answer about keeping your RV plugged in all the time is – no. The risks include battery damage from overcharging and frozen refrigerator coils, as most RV refrigerators need to be periodically cycled off and thawed.How long will RV fridge stay cold without power? ›
How long will your fridge stay cool? A 12v RV fridge that has been running in an RV can typically stay generally cool for up to twelve hours, but running it as low as possible before shutting it off can add quite a bit more lasting, cold air inside.Should you turn off propane when traveling in an RV? ›
Absolutely! Propane tanks can explode. This is why you must close propane tanks when entering a gas station. You may drive your entire life and never have an issue with open propane tanks on your RV.Can propane tanks sit in the sun? ›
While your tank should not be stored indoors, it should also not be stored in direct sunlight. On a hot sunny day, the temperature of a tank that's not properly stored could quickly go above 120°F. The hotter your tank gets, the greater the pressure will be inside the tank.Is it OK to leave propane tank outside in summer? ›
In warm weather your propane tank can still be stored outdoors on a flat, solid surface. You'll want to keep the tank in a shaded area so that it's not in direct sunlight for long periods of time—this will keep the tank at a safe temperature, note exceeding 120 °F (49 °C).Is it OK to leave propane tank outside in winter? ›
Even as the temperatures drop, your propane tank should remain outdoors. Propane tanks should always be kept in a well-ventilated, shaded area and at least 10 feet from your home. Turn it off. If you'll be bringing your grill inside for the winter, be sure to turn off your propane tank and disconnect it.Are propane fridges expensive? ›
Propane Refrigerators Are Expensive. Let's look at a comparison again. A 6 cu ft Dometic propane absorption fridge can cost over $1,800. A larger 8 cu ft Dometic absorption fridge can cost over $2,200.What is the disadvantage of gas fridge? ›
Gas fridges tend to cost more than electrical ones, and this is as result of electricity costing more than gas.Is it worth switching from electric to propane? ›
Because propane is a more efficient fuel, it costs less to operate. Propane appliances also generally have a longer lifespan than their electric counterparts, saving you both money and peace of mind in the long run.What household appliance uses the most propane? ›
Furnaces, hot water heaters, and gas fireplaces use the most propane in your home. Here's how much propane they use. The average 100,000 BTU propane gas furnace uses approximately 1-gallon-per-hour or 500-1,200 gallons per year.
Is propane cheaper if you own your own tank? ›
Owning your propane tank can save you money in many ways. Reduced price for propane: Many propane suppliers will give you a better price on propane if you own your tank. No monthly or yearly rental payments: You'll have the upfront cost of the tank and installation, but you won't have monthly or yearly rental payments.Why won't my propane fridge stay lit in my RV? ›
Many times the light won't stay lit, which may mean you have a bad gas-flow. The flow of propane to the refrigerator is controlled by the thermocouple. First, make sure to clean the flue, burner tube, and the orifice inside the flame area. On the outside of the coach, there is a fridge access.Why won t my propane fridge stay lit? ›
If the burner lights but does not stay lit after you release the Safety Valve “Gas” Button, then retry and hold the button on longer. If it still does not stay lit, then the Thermocouple may be dirty, loose, or defective. Clean any carbon deposits from the end of the Thermocouple with a soft wire brush.Which type of refrigerator consumes less electricity? ›
Refrigerators with the freezer on either the bottom or top are the most efficient. Bottom freezer models use approximately 16 percent less energy than side-by-side models, and top freezer models use about 13 percent less than side-by-side.Are French door refrigerators less energy-efficient? ›
French Door Refrigerator
Among its “pros,” this refrigerator style is more energy-efficient compared to models with just one door since less cold air escapes the appliance when opened, keeping your foods more chilled for longer.
A fridge will use anywhere from 100 to 400 watts depending on size, a large fridge will use about 180 watts or 1575 kWh annually.Can a refrigerator be 100% efficient? ›
This energy used to make it function reduce the total energy for available for conversion. Hence efficiency will be always less than 100%. We have to do work for moving heat from lower temperature to higher temperature and this principle is used in refrigirator. compression is highly irreversible process.Who makes the most reliable refrigerators? ›
- Best overall refrigerator brand: LG.
- Best budget refrigerator brand: Frigidaire.
- Best high-end refrigerator brand: Sub-Zero.
- Best smart refrigerator brand: Samsung.
- Best energy-efficient refrigerator brand: Whirlpool.
- Most reliable refrigerator brand: GE.
While R-12 was once the go-to choice for residential/domestic refrigeration systems, Freon™ R-134a refrigerant is now most commonly used.What type of fridge has least problems? ›
Most Reliable Refrigerator (Side by Side)
Refrigerators with the freezer on the bottom are more likely to need repair than top freezer refrigerators. Bottom freezer refrigerators of all brands with an ice dispenser are more likely to have problems than bottom freezer refrigerators that do not have an ice dispenser.
Which refrigerator has less problems? ›
Top-freezers, as a category, have the highest predicted reliability. Despite these high marks, most top-freezer brands were rated low in terms of owner satisfaction. Within the category, five of the nine brands earned top-notch ratings for predicted reliability: Kenmore, LG, Maytag, Samsung, and Whirlpool.Is top freezer or bottom freezer better? ›
The compressor is much closer on a bottom freezer unit, so it can be harder to keep heat out. As reported by the U.S. Department of Energy, top freezers use about 10 to 25 percent less energy than bottom freezers, which helps reduce your energy bill, electricity consumption, and carbon footprint.Does a propane refrigerator burn propane? ›
A 10 to 12 cubic ft RV propane fridge will consume about 1.5 lbs of propane per day.How much propane does a propane deep freezer use? ›
Q:How much propane does it use? A: Our Unique 6 cu/ft Propane Chest freezer uses approximately 1.8 lbs LPG in 24 hr.Can you run a propane refrigerator while traveling? ›
Technically it's totally possible to keep your propane refrigerator running while you're driving.How much does it cost to fill a 500-gallon propane tank? ›
So a 500-gallon tank only holds 400 gallons. Propane is like gas—prices vary by location and change daily. The current national average of propane is $2.337 per gallon, meaning it costs about $940 to fill up a 500-gallon tank.Why am I running out of propane so fast? ›
The main cause of a propane tank run out is simply improper management. Perhaps sudden cold weather caused an unpredictable surge in your home heating, or the fuel supplier is unable to deliver due to bad road conditions or poor planning. In any case, a propane tank run out should not be taken lightly.How much propane should I be using in winter? ›
1,000 square feet will use an average of 430-450 gallons annually. 1,500 square feet will use an average of 640-680 gallons annually. 2,000 square feet will consume up to 800-900 gallons annually. With 3,000 square feet or higher, you can expect to use 1300+ gallons or more annually.How much propane does a 3 way fridge use? ›
Generally, a 10 to 12 cubic foot RV fridge will burn about 1.5 pounds of propane per day.How long will 250 lbs of propane last? ›
A 250-gallon residential propane tank holds 200 gallons of propane and will generally last around a month—but a tank can last much longer depending on a list of factors. A 500-gallon tank holds 400 gallons of propane and can last several months, ranging between 2 to 14 months.
Is it cheaper to heat with electricity or propane? ›
BTUs (British Thermal Units) are a measure of the heating power of a given fuel source. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, propane costs nearly half as much as electricity, which means you're getting almost twice the heating power with propane.