Make Your Own DIY Camper Refrigerator To Save Tons Of Energy

Campers & RVers: Do you know how much of your valuable energy reserves are being consumed by your refrigerator?

Even if you happen to have a very efficient refrigerator, chances are that you are draining tons more than you really need to be.

Consider these questions:

  • Is your refrigerator running most of the day?

Especially if you’re in a hot climate, it’s probably running almost full time. Assuming you turn off the lights at night, and use the AC/Heating only when you need it, your refrigerator is the most energy consuming appliance in your RV, because it’s intermittently consuming energy 24/7.

Camping Refrigerator
  • Is your refrigerator packed completely full most of the time or is it half empty most of the time?

If you’re like a lot campers, you fill your fridge with what you need when you leave and gradually empty it out until you’re back in civilization to restock, when you’ll find it either completely empty or half full of stuff you never touched. In other words, you’re probably cooling tons more air than is really necessary.

  • Is your refrigerator front-opening or top-opening?

Duh. Of course your refrigerator is probably front opening like every other manufactured refrigerator. And like every other refrigerator, you dump out all that cold air every time you open the door. What a humongous waste!

Non Energy Efficient Refrigerator
Familiar family photo of cold air invisibly dumping out of a typical refrigerator when the door is opened. :-)

What if you could make your own DIY custom RV refrigerator that fixes all of these problems? Sure it might not be among the easiest projects you’ve done, and may even be among the most difficult. But what if you could?

Let’s start with the most wasteful part — by stopping all the cold air from dumping out. The easiest way to keep the air inside — even when you open the door — is to create a refrigerator that operates “on it’s back,” like chest freezer. Since cold air is denser and wants to go down, a top-opening refrigerator can be opened up over and over without spilling out the air. This helps it stay cool for most of the day without needing to run the power.

It’s so obvious that you have to wonder why they don’t all do this already! It’s because the front-opening refrigerator/freezer is way more convenient in your everyday household for just grabbing what you need off the shelf instead of digging around for it like you do with an ice chest style freezer.

But how about for an RV? Even though you’re starved for space, a couple of things make a small top-loader really convenient. Think about this — Do you already use a camping cooler in your RV to store your drinks and stuff?

If you don’t find that inconvenient to use, then small top-loading refrigerator (or a few of them) should be just as convenient. For a permanent installation, a good place might be under the fold-down “sofa” seats. You could even make a sofa out of the refrigerator! While it may seem a hassle to tell your buddy to get off the couch so you can check the fridge… honestly, how many times do you have to tell someone to get off the cooler so you can get a drink. Same thing, right?

Maybe you’re wondering if a little fridge under the flip-down couch seats will give you enough fridge space. Well, how much space do you actually use? A good experiment might be to see how many coolers you need store all the food you need for the next trip. Maybe you’re camping with a family, and you find that a few coolers isn’t enough, no matter how well you pack it… So you’re kinda “stuck” with the big one you already have. But with some creativity maybe you can think up a handy way to keep the cold in when you open it — maybe some kind of insulated “chest of drawers” design or even some of those clear plastic strips like they have in the back of the grocery store.

pot-in-pot refrigerator
Zeer Pot (Pot-in-Pot Evaporative Refrigerator)

But consider this: There are actually great ways to keep your food cool that don’t require any non-renewable power at all. There’s even an evaporative cooling device called a Zeer Pot that can chill food down near normal refrigeration temperatures in dry climates using nothing but water. Or if you’re not living near the desert, maybe you can just use a modified camp cooler to handle the less critical stuff. Though making ice takes electricity, simply replacing a reusable blue ice pack in a super-insulated cooler every few days could really cut your energy costs.

So the question becomes…Is it possible that much of your fridge space is taken up foods that require only minimal cooling rather than full refrigeration?

While meats, dairy products, and cooked and processed foods will typically need full refrigeration below the FDA’s easy-to-remember upper limit of 40°F (4°C), many raw fruits and vegetables don’t require more than light refrigeration to stay crisp. (Just remember to wash them thoroughly as usual.) Many condiments, jam, salted butter, oils, and hard cheeses can also do fine with light “cooling.” Check out this article for inspiration: 7 Foods That Can Survive Outside The Fridge.

Once you’ve (hopefully) downsized your full-refrigeration needs and moved some of it to a simple cooler, you can think about designing a more efficient refrigerator.

(End of Part 1 – Click for Part 2: Make Your Own DIY Refrigerator To Save Tons Of Energy)

About Mobile Rik

Mobile Rik is an avid rockhound, nature-junkie, and off-the-grid experimenter living "the simple life" in my full-time tiny-house on wheels. This site is a collection of cool stuff I found while prepping for life on the road (and "off the road") in my full-time tiny-house on wheels -- my simple home-built DIY truck camper.

One thought on “Make Your Own DIY Camper Refrigerator To Save Tons Of Energy

  1. Another thing to ask yourself is: Do you even need a fridge at all? There are so many things you can eat that don’t require a fridge. Cereal, soup, pasta, beans, rice, pre made Indian food like Tasty Bites etc. Its really mostly a lifestyle choice. Dehydrated foods are another solid option, milk, eggs, TVP and even meats can be bought from lots of places and have decades long shelf life. Honeyville Farms (no affiliation) for instance sells just about anything you’d put in a fridge in a number 10 can. Butter Buds can be reconstituted into an acceptable butter alternative. Mayo and Ketchup can be bought or “grabbed” from fast food places in those individual packets. Fridges really are not essential. Since Mobile Rik didn’t mention it I’ll also mention the combination of evaporative and radiant cooling. Get a small cooler. Put cool water in it, place whatever you want to keep cold in water tight containers. At night leave the cooler open to the stars. This only works with no cloud cover. Space is very, very cold so heat is naturally drawn to it to attempt to “equalize” the temperature. In the southwest the effect of evaporative cooling is pronouced, and can reduce temperatures by as much as 30 degrees below ambient. BYU researchers have actually made ICE with this method when the ambient temperature was around 56 degrees. Yes. During the day close the cooler, place it in the shade (like under the truck) and place a wet terry cloth towel over it, this will produce evaporation and cooling, sucking the heat out of the cooler.

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