Converting your own campervan can be a daunting task for anyone but especially if it’s your first time taking on this kind of project. What’s the best type of insulation to use? How many solar panels do I need? Where do you go to the toilet? These are all the kind of questions we had when we converted our first van. Do not fear, we at UKVanlife.co are hear to help by trying to answer all the questions you might have, finding all the best vanlife gear and giving you all of the information you need to make informed decisions about every aspect of your campervan conversion. Today we’re going to be looking at the best fridge for your next campervan conversion; looking at the best options for you and suggesting some of our favourite choices to give you refrigeration on the go.
Can you use a normal fridge in a campervan?
The simple answer to this is yes, absolutely you can use a normal fridge in a campervan however there’s some drawbacks to using them.
Firstly a normal household fridge is generally much larger than a camper van fridge, they are designed to go in houses and not vans and as such aren’t built to be space efficient. Secondly, although the actual draw of a household fridge compared to a camper van fridge (specifically thermoelectric coolboxes) is relatively similar in terms of power, the limitation is that they only run on 240v mains electrics, this means using an inverter in your van at all times to keep the fridge running. This comes at a cost of efficiency as you are having to step up the electricity in your van from 12v to 240v and you lose power doing so, sometimes up to 15%. Finally, domestic fridges use compressors in order to cool the food and while these can be transported around they aren’t built for regular bumpy transit that you get from being part of a van conversion, camper van fridges either don’t use compressors or are built to withstand being part of a van conversion.
So while the answer to the question ‘can you use a normal fridge in a campervan?’ is yes, we think there are far better options for you out there.
What is the best fridge for a campervan?
While the options seem endless, the numbers confusing and the technology alien; when you look at it there are really only 3 types of campervan fridges: Thermoeletric Coolbox, Compressor Fridge and 3-Way Fridge. Each of these options has it’s own benefits and weaknesses so let’s have a closer look at each one to see if it’s going to suit your needs.
Let’ start with the cheapest option of the 3, a thermoelectric coolbox. These cool boxes work by using a heat pump to take the heat out of the inside of the box and then use a fan to disperse it into the outside atmosphere. Unlike your traditional fridge at home a thermoelectric coolbox does not actively cool it’s contents and simply maintains a relative low temperature based on the ambient temperature around the box itself. This means that on a very hot day the coolbox will only be able to lower the temperature to between 10-15 degrees lower than the outside temperature.
Thermoelectric Coolboxes are the most power hungry of all of the 3 fridge options. They can use up to 80W which means that you will need around 120W of solar and a 110aH battery to be able to run this option. During the winter when there is less solar input you will struggle to be able to run a coolbox but then again it’s usually cold enough in winter to not need a fridge in a van anyway.
- Cost: £20 – £250 depending on performance
- Powered by: 12V/24V
- Cooling power: 10-15 degrees below ambient temperature
- Our recommended models: Mobicool U26 DC Thermoelectric Cool Box, Dometic CoolFun SCT26 Thermo-Electric Cool Box, Outwell ECOcool 35L 12V Cool Box
A compressor fridge is perhaps the option closest to the type of fridge you have in your own home and it works in a similar way, albeit running on 12V rather than 240V. By compressing gas into a liquid and back again the fridge is able to cool and even freeze all of your items within the unit. It uses less power than a thermoelectric coolbox to do this but the trade off is the increased price.
12V fridges start at around £250 but can go up to thousands depending on the features and efficiency so you will have to factor in the cost when making your decision on which fridge is best for you. What you get from a compressor fridge for the price is a low power cooling solution that comes in either a traditional fridge shape, a chest fridge shape or even a draw; meaning you have ultimate flexibility when it comes to placing it into your camper conversion.
- Cost: £250 – £2000 depending on performance
- Powered by: 12V/24V
- Cooling power: Can achieve freezing
- Our recommended models: Smad 2 Way Caravan Fridge, Dometic CFX 35 Portable Compressor Fridge Freezer
As the name suggests, a 3-way fridge can run off 3 different types of input. Firstly it can run off 12V which is usually the most important when it comes to choosing a fridge for your own campervan conversion as this will be what your van electrics usually are. The second input is 240V which is the voltage that your home will run and more importantly for you van, the voltage that the power hook up at campsites run. This means that if you decide to stay on a campsite your fridge can handle being plugged into the hook up and continue to run fine without it draining your van batteries. Finally, and perhaps the biggest selling point of a 3-way fridge is it’s ability to run of LPG Gas. Having the option to run off something other than your battery bank gives you peace of mind that you will not completely drain your van battery trying to keep your cheese cold.
It’s greatest benefit is also the fridge’s greatest weakness. The fact it can run off LPG Gas means that it is that bit harder to install yourself, especially if you have limited experience working with gas. It’s not impossible to add to your campervan conversion but it will require some careful planning and attention. The flexibility of being able to run off multiple inputs comes at a cost; as these 3-way fridges are the most expensive of the 3 options, starting at around £350.
- Cost: £350 – £2000 depending on performance
- Powered by: 12V/240V/LPG Gas
- Cooling power: Can achieve freezing
- Our recommended models: Dometic CombiCool RF60 Fridge, Smad 3 Way Caravan Gas Fridge
Which is the best fridge for your next campervan conversion?
Well the answer really depends on you budget and what you intend to use the fridge for and how often. In our first van we used a thermoelectric coolbox which worked great in cooler climates but struggled in the height of summer. Having said that, the fact it only cost us £80 was a huge bonus.
For the combination of it’s ease of use, cost effectiveness and performance, for most people a compressor fridge will provide you with the home like cooling you get from a standard fridge without the worry of using up all of your leisure battery.
Which fridge would you recommend? Let us know your thoughts