Best Refrigerators / Freezers For Living Off The Grid – Reviews & Buying Guide

Refrigerators, sometimes called as fridges, are considered to be one of the very crucial equipment that can be present in anybody’s house these days. A refrigerator is one of the most important pieces of equipment in your kitchen for keeping foods safe. Without a refrigerator, your life will be harder.

But in fact, our entire way of life is dependent upon gadgets of convenience and being tied to the grid. And our food is kept cool and fresh by the refrigerator in your kitchen which is connected to the electric grid. If a sudden emergency were to occur, all the food in your refrigerator is spoiled. If we do find ourselves in a sudden long terms emergency where the use of electricity is non-existent, what are our options as far as keeping food refrigerated? Are you equipped and prepared to live in an environment where there is no electricity?

Off grid appliances (especially off grid refrigerators/freezers) are likely expensive and they could be the largest consumer of electricity in your off the grid home. But, without it – the quality of your life will suddenly deteriorate. Options for good off grid refrigerators are numerous and knowing which is the best one to invest your hard-earned money into can be confusing. Selecting the best off grid refrigerators for you is less about aesthetics and more about size versus power usage. After doing some research, we have found a few things that could help you out of with this predicament and save a lot of time and money. So, let’s look at the various considerations and our top picks for the best off-grid refrigerators to keep in mind before making any purchasing decisions.

A quick list of the best off grid refrigerators/freezers:

Image Off Grid Fridge/Freezer Type Size Price
Sundanzer DCR225 Solar/Battery Powered 8.1 cu. ft. CLICK TO READ
EcoSolarCool Solar Refrigerator Solar/Battery Powered 9.2 cu. ft. CLICK TO READ
Whynter 85 Quart Wheeled Solar/Battery Powered 2.84 cu.ft. CLICK TO READ
Avanti RA7316PST 120V 7.4 c.f. CLICK TO READ
Frigidaire FFTR1514QW 120V 15 Cu. Ft. CLICK TO READ
Dometic RM3962RB Gas/Propane 9 cu. ft. CLICK TO READ
Norcold N841 2-Way Gas/Propane & 120V 7.5 cu. ft. CLICK TO READ

How to choose Off Grid Refrigerators & Freezers

1. Choose the Right Size

The very first thing to take into account relates to sizing and knowing how many cubic feet of the refrigerator will meet your needs. Most of us have been conditioned to believe that a larger unit is better but more often than not, it ends up with spoiled food because it’s easy to forget about items that aren’t easily seen. Conversely, a refrigerator that is too small can become a source of frustration because one can’t store all the items they need.

What size unit you need depends on how much fresh produce you’ll typically consume. If you are a family, you may want to consider a 16-18 c.f. unit. If you are single, you may want to check out something in the 4-7 c.f. range.

The second consideration is your power source. The reasons why you should care about your power source because everything takes power. And your refrigerator actually poses a significant burden to your power supply system. Standard freezers and refrigerators can use 3000 watt-hours each day. A few better models like can be found that use under 1500 watt-hours a day, but it’s still a big number. If you plan on powering your home with a solar system, you may want to consider selecting a smaller unit (or increasing your solar system size and battery bank) or buying a propane fridge – more efficient electric unit.

2. Buy The Most Efficient Off Grid Refrigerators & Freezers

Refrigerators for living off the grid should be the most efficient, lowest energy consumption available.

Don’t choose a refrigerator with the quite thin wall. A refrigerator is an island of cold air surrounded by warm air. Assuming that you don’t open the door often or place a lot of warm foods in it all at once, the insulation acts to keep the heat from seeping into the cold space. “The thicker the insulation the longer your refrigerator kept cold without power”. The refrigerator with a thin wall also has a higher heat gain, which in turn requires more battery power.

There are different varieties in insulation thickness when it comes to appliances, so if you’re trying to pick something for an off grid application, definitely be mindful of this one factor alone. We recommend that you should pick a chest freezer with a decent amount of insulation to keep it as efficient as possible. Chest freezers generally have a thicker wall designed to keep cold air in.

As refrigerators tend to be among the largest power consumers in the home, care should be taken to ensure that the most energy efficient refrigerators are used. If you’re still using the refrigerator that you bought when you got married 20 years ago, it’s time to stop bragging about its longevity and start looking around for a new model.

There is a number of things that you should consider before you buy a new energy efficient Refrigerator:

  • Assess your refrigeration needs and then buy a fridge that meets those needs rather than one that is too big or too small and that then requires supplementing with an additional small fridge. A large fridge is more expensive to run than a small fridge and causes more damage to the environment, but two smaller fridges cost even more.
  • A refrigerator/freezer combination with the freezer section at the top is more efficient than a side by side combination or one with the freezer on the bottom.
  • Choose a fridge with a thermostat that allows you to control the temperature. Freezers should remain between -15 and -18°C, while your fridge should be between 3 and 4°C. A one degree change can affect energy consumption by 5%.

If your fridge doesn’t come with a built-in thermostat, this Refrigerator/Freezer Wireless Digital Thermometer from AcuRite will help you.

3. Understand your Refrigerator

It might seem too easy but the important way to buy the best off-grid refrigerator is by locating one without all the bells and whistles and looking at the “Energy Guide” label or documentation.

Simply look at the label that states how many kWh per year the fridge will use. You should be able to find an 18 to 20 cubic foot unit with an energy consumption of under 365 kWh per year. If you keep to this standard you will be able to operate your fridge with about 1000 watts of solar modules, even in the worst of climates (with battery bank).

If you can’t find any “Energy Guide” label like the image above, you should buy a Kill-A-Watt meter. Simply connect your fridges to the Kill A Watt, and it will assess how efficient they really are.

4. Buy From a Reputable Seller

The downside of buying off grid refrigerators as they are made one at a time and are priced from $1000-$2000 and even higher. If something were to go wrong like a compressor burning out, repairs are very difficult. No one stocks parts for these beautiful machines and no one seems to know how to repair them, although they don’t operate any differently than a 120V version. If you can afford one, we still highly recommend you to buy refrigerators and freezers from reputable sellers (we listed below).


Solar Powered Refrigerator & 12V DC Battery Powered Refrigerators

Pros:

The solar powered or battery powered refrigerators and freezers can be powered by one or two 100 watt solar panels and a small deep cycle battery bank. If you’re planning to live off of the electric grid, purchasing an efficient solar-powered refrigerator is probably one of the most cost savings investments you can make.

By creating electricity with the help of the solar panels, it then uses the electricity like a normal plug in the refrigerator. A solar powered refrigerator/fridge that uses batteries actually uses a combination of solar panels and lead batteries, the batteries serve as back up overnight and on sunless days.

Did you know that old refrigerators can be converted into solar-powered refrigerators if your wire it with a proper power inverter.

Cons:

While they can be effective, this type of solar refrigerator/fridge has many disadvantages. For instance, they are expensive to buy, the batteries are heavy and deteriorate quickly in hot climates, are maintenance intensive and only last about three years. The batteries also need to be disposed of properly otherwise they leak and cause lead pollution.

Refrigerators will be your biggest consumers of electricity and because of this, you will have to run a generator to keep the batteries topped up during inclement weather.

1. Size Your Solar PV System

I discussed how to size your home solar PV system, you can read this post to know how to size your solar panels and battery bank for powering your off grid refrigerators. Sizing PV systems for refrigerators is not difficult if you know how much power will be used and how long they will operate each day.

Solar panel:

Unless you live in the very cold northern latitudes having short days and low sun angles, most parts of the United States will average 4 to 4.5 hours of direct sun per day during the winter months and 5 to 6 hours per day during the summer months.

As an example, if you select a refrigerator or freezer that requires 800Wh per day to operate, this means you will need a solar array that can provide at least 100W output (800 Wh/8 hours) during the summer. Since the ambient air temperatures are cooler in the winter than summer, all refrigerators and freezers will require less energy to operate during colder months, so a more accurate winter calculation would use the Wh load given for lower ambient temperatures.

A 100 watt solar modular will provide approximately 650Wh during each full hour of peak sun (with 6.5 hours of peak sun). So using the above example, we will require more than one 100 watts solar module. A 200 watt solar PV system is the best choice. You will always have some days with less than average hours of peak sun or even no sun, so adding a large solar module will allow putting more Wh of charge into the battery that will be consumed that day. Having extra solar Wh going into the battery on a sunny day will carry you through those days with little or no sun.

You should find a refrigerator/freezer that consumes less than 1 kWh per day. That is definitely within the range a solar home can handle.

Battery:

The size and type of battery you select will determine how long the refrigerator or freezer can continue to operate without being recharged. Do not use automotive-type batteries, as these have very thin plates and will not last longer than a few months if subjected to a daily charge-discharge cycling.

The size of your batteries depends on how and how often you recharge your batteries. Most sources of off-grid power, though, are only available for some of the time. If you live in the desert and you have solar panels, the fridge just needs to run through the night. If your power comes from a generator than you might expect your fridge to run through the day and get a daily charge from the generator. If you live in a country with clouds and rain, you might go for days without any power input. How long you go without charging the batteries is the most important part of calculating the needed size.

You should look for a quality deep-discharge battery, it can cost you more than $100, but it is worth it. The Optima D31M BlueTop Deep Cycle Battery is one of the highest quality battery that you can find on the market. Installing an Optima BlueTop battery in your boat, RV or your solar PV system means exceptional running time and more recharges than you’d get out of a traditional battery. It is pretty expensive but it can give you 5+ years of use without maintenance. You can’t go wrong with this one.

Battery Charger:

When shopping for the battery charger, make sure it has an automatic state-of-charge feature that reduces or completely shuts off the charging current when the battery is full. Otherwise, leaving a battery charger connected full-time to any battery will quickly “boil” it dry if the charging current does not lower as the battery’s charge level goes up. The NOCO Genius Smart Battery Chargers is perfect for this application. They are some of the safest and most advanced battery chargers on the market. It charges 2x faster than ordinary chargers, can jump start dead batteries, repair damaged batteries, power DC devices. It can also effectively maintain automotive, marine, RV, lawn & garden and deep-cycle batteries.

Solar Charge Controller:

I like to use a maximum power-point tracking (MPPT) solar charge controller, which will “squeeze” more charge out of any solar module. The charge controller’s size depends on the size of your solar array.

2. How to choose Best Power Inverters for Off Grid Refrigerators

An inverter is an electrical device that converts DC battery power into 120-volt AC household power to run appliances such as a refrigerator. Inverters are available in different power capacities and some are powerful enough to operate refrigerators. But before you run out to buy an inverter, you need to figure out how big an inverter you need.

Inverter’s Size:

When shopping for an inverter, you need to know the power draw of your off-grid refrigerator in watts. Read refrigerator’s label or use Kill-A-Watt device to know. If you see 700W, keep in mind that it is just running wattage. If you read this power inverter buying guide, you will know that every electric device with motor requires “peak power” to start up. A fridge motor also needs a jolt of about three times its running wattage to start up, but this surge is needed for only a fraction of a second. To run this refrigerator, you will need an inverter that can handle 700 watts for long periods and a surge of 2200 watts for a split second. And now you will need an inverter with “peak power” higher than 2200 + 700 = 2900W to power your 700W off grid refrigerator.

A typical inverter offered at discount stores or home centers provides 1,500 watts continuous AC power and 3,000 watts of surge power. This unit should run a typical 16 cu. ft. refrigerator with no problem. If you want to use other electric devices along with your 16 cu. Ft. refrigerator, you will need a bigger power inverter like these 2000 watt units or 3000-watt units.

Inverter’s Peak Surge Wattage >= “Your Fridge Wattage” x 4

NOTEDo not use a new fridge with a modified sine wave inverter. Today’s refrigerators use fancy electronics and computers for temperature regulation. It is not uncommon for a new fridge to be completely destroyed in a short time by a poor quality sine wave.

3. Best Solar-Powered/Battery-Powered Refrigerators for Living Off The Grid

1

Sundanzer Solar-Powered Chest Refrigerator/Freezer DCR225

Save on costs with SunDanzer DCR225 refrigerators and freezers. This high-efficiency refrigerators and freezers have exceptionally low energy consumption requiring smaller, less expensive power systems and low operating expense. Thick insulation, top opening, and a refrigeration system optimized for solar make the SunDanzer refrigerators and freezers the ultimate low energy user.

The Sundanzer DCR225 is a fridge with 8.1 cubic feet (229 liters) capacity, and it uses just 730 Watt-hrs/day at 12V, 90°F (32°C).

SunDanzer cabinets are commercially produced by Electrolux of Sweden, one of the world’s leading refrigeration unit manufacturers. SunDanzer chest-style refrigerators and freezers are easy to clean using the drain hole at the bottom. 24V interior light in all models, not as bright when used on the 12-volt system. Exceptionally low energy consumption direct from house battery, no inverter needed.

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Best Setup for Sundanzer DCR225:

2

EcoSolarCool Solar Refrigerator (9.2 cu. ft.)

This solar refrigerator is of the highest quality and efficiency in the EcoSolarCool refrigeration range. Made with the latest and most advance Danfoss DC compressor in European factory, it provides comparatively, larger cooling refrigeration storage to the freezing compartment. The freezer is situated on the top and the refrigerator on the bottom. This model is ideal for residential and business customers whose needs are primarily cooling refrigeration storage.

The power consumption is the record lowest at 550Wh/day in the solar/ DC refrigeration appliances industry worldwide. It is also amongst the lowest in the AC refrigeration appliances market. It operates on 12 or 24 DC volts and no inverters required.

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Best Setup for EcoSolarCool Refrigerator:

3

Whynter 85 Quart Wheeled – Best Portable Refrigerator/Freezer

This Whynter Portable Fridge / Freezer offers premium quality and innovative design to your frozen/refrigerated needs. This freezer is great for RVs, boats, campsites, fishing trips and truly portable so you can take your fridge/freezer anywhere! All you need is either a standard household 110 Volt outlet or a 12 Volt power source, like an automotive battery.

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4

Avanti RA7316PST – Best Compact Refrigerator/Freezer for Off Grid (7.4 c.f.)

The Avanti RA7316PST only operates on standard household 120V outlet. But it is one of the lowest power consumption available on the market. It draws 70 watts when running, but it doesn’t run all the time. At 80 degrees ambient temperature it runs a bit less than half of the time, so it draws only an average of 30 watts (720Wh/24hrs). This refrigerator will work perfectly on your 200 watt solar PV system but you need an inverter.

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5

Frigidaire FFTR1514QW Top-Freezer Refrigerator (15 Cu. Ft.)

The Frigidaire 15 Cu. Ft. Top Freezer Refrigerator is loaded with features. It is designed to handle extreme temperature conditions. The humidity-controlled crisper drawers are designed to keep fruits and vegetables fresh so you don’t have to worry about stocking up. Designed, engineered and assembled in the U.S.A. the Frigidaire 15 Cu. Ft. Top Freezer Refrigerator is high-performing, more accessible, and more innovative than ever. It runs on 120V household outlet and it draws only an average of 980Wh/24hrs. It is perfect to run on your solar PV system of 300 solar panels and more.

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Best Setup for Frigidaire FFTR1514QW:


Gas/Propane Refrigerators/Freezers for Living Off the Grid

A propane refrigerator operates with a propane gas flame to heat the ammonia and distilled water using hydrogen gas to circulate steam vapor and liquid ammonia to cool it down. No electric lines or inverters and generators to power the refrigerator. Many boats, RV, and off-grid homes use this type of refrigeration method. A propane refrigerator is an efficient way of cooling food when one is living off the grid.

1. Why should I use gas/propane refrigerator?

In order to live in a house off the grid, we believe that propane is still the most cost-effective to operate a refrigerator in the long run. This is based on the amount of maintenance to operate vs. a 12VDC refrigerator. Since there are no moving parts on a propane refrigerator there is hardly any maintenance to use this type of refrigeration unit. Generally speaking, a gas refrigerator usually needs to be cleaned only twice a year by cleaning the burner area and flue tube. No compressor unit to go bad. No batteries to charge.

The downside of the propane fridge is the propane/gas cost. Expect to pay $20 to $50 per month for the operation of your propane fridge. Propane is quite a safe energy source, but it does have risks. It is combustible, and as with any flammable gas, a leak can be potentially devastating. Also, propane is stored under high pressure, making any sudden decompression or rupture of its container an event of violent force.

2. Best Off Grid Propane/Gas Refrigerators

1

Dometic RM3962RB (9 cu. ft.)

Thanks to advanced insulation technology, Dometic has expanded the storage space of the RM 3962 to 9 cu. ft. – without increasing its outside dimensions. Also featuring adjustable shelves, eye-level LED controls and self-locking handles for convenient and secure storage. The RM 3762’s shelf guards will helpfully prevent spills while driving on bumpy roads. With its sleek, contemporary design the Dometic New Generation refrigerators are a fitting centerpiece for your off-grid home. It can run on 2-way: 110V AC and LP Gas. When floor space, capacity, and appearance are all important, there’s no better choice.

Dometic is the worldwide trusted brand. Dometic’s headquarters are located in Solna, Sweden.

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2

Norcold N841 2-Way Refrigerator (7.5 cu. ft.)

Norcold’s gas absorption refrigerators are “Best in Class” in reliable performance. They have been made in America by an American-owned company. Roomy models are user-friendly, with an easy-to-see and operate LCD control panel at eye level. Superior cooling units give you better performance, durability and longer life. Built-in diagnostics make service faster and more efficient.

Model NXA841R 2-Way operates on propane and 120V electric.

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FINAL TIPS:

  • The most efficient fridge/freezer is the freezer on top: Cold air is heavy and falls from the freezer chamber to the fridge using no fan or pump. The bottom freezer model all use electricity to move the cold freezer air up to the fridge compartment. The side by side models are usually not that efficient either and are best avoided.
  • Ice makers consume too much electricity: Do not buy a fridge with an automatic ice maker. You can spend a few minutes a month filling the ice cube tray.
  • Do not buy a fridge with auto defrost. These refrigerators use a timer and electrical heating elements that consume a huge amount of electricity every so many days. This can add many kWh per year of operating electricity. The second problem with auto defrost is the timers/computers can be confused by generators or poor quality sine waves making the auto defrost cycle happen more than normal.
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