How to Run an RV Fridge on Propane (Step-by-Step)

You can’t deny the convenience of a propane refrigerator. All you need is fuel and a battery to operate one, no matter how remote your campsite.

In other words, when you need to keep food or medication cold but lack electrical hook-ups (or a continuous supply of ice), running your RV fridge on propane is a great option.

So, let’s learn how to run an RV fridge on propane step-by-step. Plus, we answer the most commonly asked questions campers have regarding their propane-powered refrigerators.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Important: RV fridge operation will vary by model. Please refer to your refrigerator’s owner’s manual for exact instructions. Below is a general overview, based on the Norcold N400 model line.

Step 1: Prepare Your RV

We first need to make sure a few things are ready before we can run our propane-powered fridge.

  • To run an RV fridge on propane, you need your RV to be perfectly level. Ensure this is the case by placing a level in your RV fridge or on the counter next to it.
  • Propane refrigerators usually need a small amount of DC power to get started, so you also want to ensure your RV’s battery is on. 
  • You will need to make sure the valve at the LP gas tank is turned on.

Step 2: Lighting Your Propane Powered RV Fridge

Once you’re ready to start powering your fridge with propane, you will need to locate the control panel. The location and look of the control panel will vary by model, so refer to your owner’s manual for this information.

Here is an example RV refrigerator control panel.

RV fridge control panel

You will first need to move the Thermostat to the highest setting. This would be 5 in our example diagram above.

Next, move the Selector Switch to propane, oftentimes indicated by a little flame icon.

Now, push and hold in the Gas Safety Valve and push in the Piezo Igniter several times quickly, for no more than five seconds.

Important: Do not press in the Gas Safety Valve for more than 30 seconds. If you can’t produce a flame in this time then you should wait at least 5 minutes before trying again.

You may have to repeat this step until the flame is lit. If you are having issues getting the flame lit, you may have to purge the propane system of air. Check out our guide on how to purge RV propane lines for more information.

Step 3: Set the Fridge Temp

Once you have the pilot lit, you can set the temperature on your RV fridge using the Thermostat. It should now be running completely off propane.

That said, it won’t be usable right away. It will take at least a few hours to cool down to whatever temperature you indicate, but up to twenty-four. If possible, start your fridge the day before you intend to fill it.

Important: Again, these are general instructions based on the Norcold N400 model line. Every model of fridge is going to be different. Please read through your fridge owner’s manual for important information on how to operate your propane fridge.

FAQs

Below are a few frequently asked questions we get about propane-powered fridges.

Feel free to contact us with any general questions pertaining to propane-powered RV refrigerators! For model-specific questions, it’s best to refer to your owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer.

Does an RV Propane Fridge Need Electricity?

Most RV propane fridges will need a small amount of DC battery power to operate. This may be to help light the pilot, power the control panel, and/or to control the gas valve.

Does an RV Refrigerator Work Better on Gas or Electric?

Typically, gas is better at getting your food items cold, while electricity is better at keeping them cold.

With that said, there are pros and cons of running your RV refrigerator on either gas or electricity.

Gas-powered appliances are more affected by outside temperatures and elevation. In fact, Norcold states that with some models if you’re over 5,500 ft elevation you should switch to electric.

Electric-powered RV refrigerators can also cool in less stable conditions. They don’t need to be level like gas-run models. And electricity is also inherently safer since gas lines are flammable (though electric shock is still a risk).

But here’s the thing. We don’t always camp with access to electricity (or propane), so use the power source that’s available to you. If you have the luxury of both (and a 2-way or 3-way RV refrigerator), try starting and cooling down your fridge with propane, then switch to electricity.

How Much Propane Does an RV Fridge Use?

An RV fridge rated at 1500 BTUs per hour could run for roughly 61 hours off 1 gallon of propane.

Of course, the amount of propane your fridge uses will vary depending on its BTU rating, etc. Check out our guide titled How Much Propane Does an RV Fridge Use? to help accurately calculate your fridge’s propane use. Plus, we show you some helpful tips to run your RV absorption fridge more efficiently!

If you have multiple appliances running on propane (hot water heater, fridge, etc.) then check out our guide titled How Long Does Propane Last in an RV? which features a free calculator to help you accurately gauge how long your propane tanks will last.

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