Tiny House Appliances: Refrigerators

Tiny House Appliances: Refrigerators

Options for tiny house appliances, especially refrigerators, are numerous and knowing which one to invest your hard earned money into can be confusing so let’s look at the various considerations to keep in mind before making any purchasing decisions. The very first thing to take into account is your power source and if your tiny will be grid-tied or run off of a solar system. Contrary to popular belief, refrigerators actually pose a significant burden to a solar system and consume an average of nearly 1kWh daily (350 kWh per year) for an 18 c.f. unit such as that found in hOMe.

The second consideration relates to sizing and knowing how many cubic feet 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.

For a sense of reference, in hOMe, our 18 c.f. fridge is more than large enough to store food for four of us (and we cook most of our meals at home). What size unit you need depends on how many of you plan on living in the tiny full time, how often you’ll eat at home, and 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 and don’t eat at home too much, you may want to check out something in the 4-7 c.f. range (you’ll save hundreds of dollars and tons of space in your tiny kitchen).

The other considerations revolve around budget, aesthetics, and personal preferences. Fortunately there is truly no shortage of options for tiny house appliances, especially when it comes to refrigerators. Let’s look at specific models below as well as their advantages and disadvantages.

OFF-GRID TINY HOUSE REFRIGERATOR OPTIONS

If you plan on powering your tiny house with a solar (or other alternative power) system, you may want to consider selecting a smaller unit (though you will need to go very small to see a dramatic drop in power consumption), increasing your solar system size, or buying a propane fridge (or a super efficient electric unit) when choosing your tiny house appliances.

The Crystal Cold 18 c.f. runs off of propane and uses about .35 gallons of fuel per day

The Crystal Cold 18 c.f. runs off of propane and uses about .35 gallons of fuel per day

Propane refrigerators are a nice option for those living in moderate climates where freezing temps are rarely seen (see this article by Ethan Waldman about his misadventures with a propane unit in Vermont), where propane costs are low (the Crystal Cold 18 c.f. unit pictured uses about .35 gallon/1.5 lbs per 24 hours), when weight isn’t an issue (the pictured unit on the right weighs 300#), and when the homeowner has the funds for purchasing the unit (about $1,800 for an 18 c.f.).

Dometic 8 c.f. propane RV fridge

The Dometic 8 c.f. propane RV fridge is well suited for travel but quite costly

If you are interested in a propane unit, make sure to look at the installation instructions before purchase as you will need to create a fairly large opening/vent to the exterior for these tiny house appliances and you’ll want to make sure that the area behind your fridge space supports said opening. If you want to look at lighter weight propane options, look at the RV industry. Though they cost more than conventional units, their design is better suited for a tiny house kitchen. The pictured Dometic 9.0 c.f. on the left costs about $1,500 and is well suited for travel.

The Sun Frost electric fridge is an energy miser and uses only about .5kWh per day, half of a normal unit

The Sun Frost electric fridge is an energy miser and uses only about .5kWh per day, half of a normal unit

Another option for nongrid-tied tiny houses is a Sun Frost electric fridge. They are hyper-efficient consuming about half of what a typical fridge of its size uses (about .5kWh per day). Unfortunately they are extremely heavy (300# a pop) and will set you back $3,200 (yup, you read that right). They do have some smaller options that weigh and cost a little less so if you like the idea of a super efficient fridge but don’t want the extra weight or cost, do check them out.

In case you are curious about what we chose in hOMe (which is completely off-grid), we early on scratched out the propane option because 1) we didn’t want to create openings in our wall for venting the unit, 2) we didn’t want to pay a premium for a refrigerator (our fridge cost less than $500 vs. $1,500+ for a propane model), and 3), we didn’t want to spend any more money than needed in propane which costs us $5 per gallon delivered. Fueling a propane fridge would have set us back about $50 per month just in fuel costs. We also opted not to go with the Sun Frost because of it’s steep price and because the design aesthetics don’t match our interior.

Instead we increased our solar system (more arrays and batteries) to accommodate our power needs and we have had no regrets since. The added cost was $3,000 but we figure we have paid that off already since we saved about $1,300 from a propane fridge and are saving about $600 per year in propane costs to cool the unit.

GRID-TIED ELECTRICITY REFRIGERATOR OPTIONS

Now, the good news is that if you have a grid-tied power source, the power load for a fridge will actually be pretty negligible and won’t cost you much (about $3 per month). Tons more options also become available with tiny house appliances so let’s go over some basic parameters to help you in choosing the right unit for you.

tiny house appliances

A dorm sized fridge may be large enough for you in you live alone and don’t eat every meal at home

If you will be living solo and cooking is not your fave, consider getting a simple 4 c.f. dorm style fridge. This was the size of our pop-up tent trailer fridge when we were living on the beaches of Baja and 3 of us spent nearly 5 months feeding ourselves out of it. Honestly we loved it. We never had a single food item spoil and we always knew exactly what was in there. It also forced us to eat what we had before going shopping for more. I don’t know that we would want to live with it on a full time basis but for a single person, it could be just the ticket. They hardly take up space (24″ x 21″ x 35″), are pretty light (70#), use just a tiny bit of power, and will only set you back about $140.

tiny house appliances

A 7 c.f. fridge like this Igloo holds a nice amount of food for one person

The next size up falls in the 7 c.f. range. These fridges actually have a separate freezer compartment and are large enough for various food items, have storage on the door for condiments and even a vegetable crisper. They have a pretty small profile at 56″ x 21″ x 23″, weigh about 90 pounds and aren’t too demanding of the check book (about $300). From an energy stand point, they are quite efficient and draw just 0.6kWh per day.

tiny house appliances

This 9.2 c.f. Magic Chef fridge would be pretty ideal for most couples

Up from the 7 c.f. units are the ones in the 9 c.f. range. Personally, if it were just me and Andrew living in hOMe full time, we would look at getting one of these tiny house appliances. I think they are the perfect size for 1-2 people because they hold enough storage for about three days’ worth of food as well as a well stocked condiment shelf. One would have a hard time letting things rot in there because it’s pretty easy to see all the contents inside. They don’t take up much room (23″ x 59″ x 26″) and cost about the same as a 7 c.f. unit ($300) but the downside is that they use about as much electricity (about 1 kWh per day) as a fridge twice their size.

tiny house appliances

A 15 c.f. fridge should be large enough for a family of 3

Moving up the cubic foot ladder, the next size up falls in the 15 c.f. range. These tiny house appliances start to appear more like what we are accustomed to seeing in apartments and smaller homes. They’re great in that they provide ample fresh food storage space for a family of 3-4 while not taking up too much room (28″ x 64″ x 31″) in a tiny house kitchen. Cost wise you are looking at the $600 range. From a power stand point, they use essentially the same amount of electricity as a 9 c.f. version (about 1 kWh per day).

tiny house appliances

An 18 c.f. fridge is large enough for a family of 4 doing nearly all cooking at home

For those with larger families (3+ more) that eat lots of fresh foods and vegetables, an 18 c.f. refrigerator can work in a tiny house with a larger kitchen. They aren’t super light (200# range) and take up a bit of room by tiny house standards (32″ x 26″ x 66″). Price wise, they will set you back about $600 and they draw about 1.1 kWh per day. We have been been overall happy with ours but I can say with certainty that we wouldn’t miss the extra space if we dropped down to a 15 c.f. unit.

Drawer refrigerator units look super sleek in a tiny house kitchen

Drawer refrigerator units look super sleek in a tiny house kitchen

Finally, for a very sleek and modern looking kitchen, under-counter drawer fridges are super cool tiny house appliances. They are generally very pricey (you’ll definitely be paying a premium) but you can find a refurbished one for about $680. Historically these units were used in commercial applications but they are getting more popular in residential settings now. They are small 23″ x 33″ x 33″ and store about 5 c.f. of food but if you wanted more space you could combine two units side by side (or have one as a fridge and another as the freezer). The really nice thing about them is that you can easily see exactly what foods you have when you open the drawer.

Well there it is. As you can see, options for tiny house appliances abound, especially when it comes to fridges. Which one you choose will depend on what your specific needs and budget are. Once you know what your electricity source is and how large of a fridge you need, making an informed decision will be a cinch.

How about you? What size fridge are you thinking about installing in your tiny house? And if you currently are living tiny, are you happy with your refrigerator size?

 

22 Responses to Tiny House Appliances: Refrigerators

  1. Lisa June 28, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    LOVE IT!!! Now if only we could ever convince habitat for humanity to build tiny… I would love to own my own home for myself and my daughter.

    • Esha Washington April 30, 2017 at 9:53 am #

      I did some work with H4H and asked that question and didn’t get an enthusiastic response but that was just 2 people. I imagine continuing to plant the seed is the beginning.

      I am looking to build my tiny home but would prefer to have some folks who have some idea of the process. I’ve never built anything but a mud fort when I was 11. lol – 33 years later I desire my two hands to design, build and decorate my own home – again, with guidance…LOL I will be driving everywhere in it adventuring and making my jewelry and art for a living.

      Anyway, if we don’t pose the questions, those questions might not get answered, right? Let’s keep asking H4H!

  2. Gil Palmer June 28, 2016 at 10:35 pm #

    The most cost-effective option is converting a top-open freezer into a refrigerator. There are lots of cheap, easy conversion kits online.

    The rationale: everytime you open a standard refrigerator door, the cold air (literally) falls out onto the floor. So, the motor has to work hard to bring it back down to temperature when you close the door again. That uses a lot of energy. Units that open from the top, use much, much less because the cold air never escapes.

    The second-best solution would be to use a standard refrigerator model with the freezer at the bottom instead of the top. On these, the freezer pulls out rather than opens from the side. So, at least when you open the freezer section the cold air there stays inside.

    • Jeff July 28, 2016 at 7:29 pm #

      Just be certain that the pull out freezer section actually *has* a drawer & not just a basket on rails…dumping all that pricey cold air on your toes.

      I really like the chest freezer conversion idea…

    • Angela July 3, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

      Yes, I researched the top-open freezer to frig conversion! They make tons of sense, in terms of energy savings – as long as you’re able to give up a bit more floor space. Maybe it could be set atop of an already existing, low-set, shelving unit, or something…?

  3. Sharon Wegner July 28, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    We are looking at a single wide mobile home that has been converted into a tiny house. The frig is about 7-9 cf and runs on propane. It needs to be replaced- no question. So I’m thinking if we can get a solar system along with a generator, I can get an electric frig and save money all around. I like the freezer on the bottom. Much more energy efficient.

    • Gabriella July 30, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

      Sharon, sounds like you will be fully off grid-tied power. For us in the summer, fall, and spring, we have no problems generating enough electricity from the sun for our fridge and everything else. Then, like you said, the generator allows us to generate electricity during those low sun months. I’ve been happy with our decision to go electric with our fridge!

  4. Gail kelly July 30, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

    I live alone and have the 7 cu one by Vissani. It was on sale at less than $200, but am constantly grumbling when I am forced to augment with a cooler. It also drips water from the freezer which collects along the back of the top shelf of refrigerator and then freezes to whatever is stored there. I would definitely go up to a 10cu or higher unless you eat out very regularly.

    • Gabriella August 2, 2016 at 9:02 am #

      Thank you for this great info Gail!!

  5. Lily August 16, 2016 at 9:46 am #

    There are 3 things I often wondered about regarding a refrigerator in a tiny home
    1) does it make a big difference having a top vs side door? I have read about the “cold air not spilling out” idea but since items are stored on top of each other more often in a top door design, the fridge will be open longer to shift and reach items at the bottom which will kind of “pull” cold air out too. So not sure if it makes a big enough difference since I have not read any measurement trials. It sounds energy saving though and I would go that route still if possible.

    2) will it generate heat ( the bigger they are..) that warms up the house or makes poor indoor air quality?

    3) will it be noisy since the motor or condenser may run more often ( because it’s small amd because the tiny house may be warm ) and it is in such close proximity. Would one build a simple soundproof/ cold insulating box to house it (with an opening behind it ) to address this or many just grin and bear it. I usually turn off tiny fridges in hotel rooms in the middle of the night ( the AC can be noisy too) because of the noise and items are not even that cold at all to begin with. But turning it off at night for a quiet sleep may not be a good idea in a warm tiny home. The small fridge may warm up during the night.

  6. Bruce from MB August 26, 2016 at 9:28 am #

    I have grown up using propane fridges at our remote camp. Yes they work, sometimes all too well (freezing everything solid). The issue is the propane and maintenance. Supplying propane isn’t as big of an issue if you can drive to the door, but the tanks are big/heavy and unsafe if not transported properly. This becomes an even bigger issue when remote – hauling by boat, plane, snowmobile. The other issue is they require constant attention cleaning the burner (spiders are a big problem), cleaning the chimney, etc,. otherwise they don’t operate properly. You have to remain vigilant and proactive otherwise you will have problems.

    Our last propane fridge actually caught fire due to a leak in the control valve. Out it went. In came a new high efficiency 15 cuft 120VAC fridge (Whirlpool) running off solar. Nothing fancy but considerably larger and more convenient than the propane unit. 500 W of solar with batteries and 2000W inverter. Works great and is left on from late April until end of October. No propane! The sun powers the fridge and keeps my beer cold. High efficiency DC units (NovaKool) are also available (and are smaller and more suitable for Tiny Houses) if you want to avoid inverters. We live north of 49, so sun in winter could be challenge, however we have a large outside freezer. One can size the solar to be larger or augment with generator/charger if required.

    I would suggest that propane is not the preferred option for refrigeration. Electric is a better option. Save the propane for your cooking and heating.

    • Gabriella August 28, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

      I totally agree Bruce from MB. I’m really happy we took the risk with electricity and didn’t go the propane route. Cost us more in solar system but I think that by now we’ve paid it off.

  7. Rachel August 29, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    Just thought I would share, we have an off grid home and we built out the back of our garage, so I have been searching for the most efficient fridge and the best I have found is from Unique out of Canada, but has distributers here in US. They have propane, but we bought their DC Solar fridge – their 470L (approx 16.5 CF) uses approx 275 KWH per year – I have yet to find one that can beat that. Since its on order I cant say how it is, but thought I would help spread the word. I think we paid $1500ish?? I cant remember. We paid 3k for the large upright fridge & an off grid range and that included tax & shipping.

  8. Laurel September 21, 2016 at 8:50 pm #

    Which fridge did you decide on Gabriella? I can see the one’s you didn’t choose 🙂

    • /bob September 22, 2016 at 5:18 am #

      Laurel, in the article she does state:
      “We have been been overall happy with ours but I can say with certainty that we wouldn’t miss the extra space if we dropped down to a 15 c.f. unit.”
      This is at the end of the paragraph for the 18 c.f. electric unit. So I would hazard a guess that’s what they have. I would agree with Gabriella’s statement considering the kinds of things we keep in our fridge vs. what we really need to keep in there. Having a larger fridge than needed, like any other space, seems to encourage one to fill it with more stuff than needed.

  9. Chris November 15, 2016 at 5:35 am #

    Hi from Australia,
    I to are trying to decide what fridge to put in a gypsy wagon 24ftx8ft, my question is concerning the 3 way gas fridge is a silent option and as 5 people will be sleeping in such close quarters noise is a real problem. Does any body know which tropical units AC/DC fridges are the quietest, I haven’t seen any infomation and want to set up for off grid with solar power.

  10. Randall Styx December 2, 2016 at 9:51 am #

    While the tiny house concept does not include moving from place to place frequently as with a camp trailer, many tiny homes are build on wheels. This anticipates that they will be moved more often than a tiny house on a permanent foundation. What about the realities of motion and road bumps and their effect on the compressor of a standard home refrigerator, however small? Are Dometic and Norcold correct in saying that standard domestic refrigerators are not suitable for RV’s (as many tiny homes are legally classed)?

  11. Corinne December 4, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

    Hi!
    I am in the design stages and am trying to figure out what size of fridge to make room for. After doing very minimal reading of reviews I saw mention of some refrigerators not being compatible for solar power. I know that they are obviously ran on AC, not DC, but when using an inverter there shouldn’t be any problem, correct? Did you have to purchase a special kind of fridge for use with solar power, or did you not have to worry about that? Thanks again for your help!! I don’t know what I would do without this resource!

    -Corinne

    • /bob December 4, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

      Take a look at this web site which has some pictures to show what is happening:
      http://cleangreenenergyzone.com/solar-power-inverter-types-of-solar-panel-inverters/
      It is kind of technical but less so than many other web sites. The issue is that many if not most solar system inverters put out a square wave or modified sine wave (which is still square wave with a wait inserted) and power from the grid is pure sine wave (smooth rounded curve when graphed up and down). There are also some more complicated (read expensive) inverters that may use stepped square wave.

      Many appliances that are not specifically made to work with solar systems cannot handle any square wave power and must have pure sine wave power. Grid Tied inverters do usually provide this pure sine wave same as grid power so can work with all appliances. Something to think about when looking for your refrigerator and other electrical stuff as well as your solar system set up.

      Of course, DC voltage appliances are more efficient if that is possible and this inverter issue becomes moot.

  12. creeky January 5, 2017 at 8:08 pm #

    I’ve been using an electric fridge off grid for 5 years now. The $400 I paid for a plain jane 10 cuft out of a big box store (inc. taxes and shipping) was a real bargain compared to the money I made selling the propane fridge I had.
    Also, the propane savings now amounts to somewhere around 2 thousand dollars.

    I did put in an extra 500 watts of solar panel to cover the fridge use. So deduct 400 dollars from those earnings/savings.

    Modern “e-star” fridges use less than 1 kw a day in the 18 cu ft range. I go and look at them in the store. One day.

    http://creektreat.ca/electric-fridge-for-off-grid-yes/

    Note: all electric is not so good for traveling. The cooling system needs to be stable to work. So for RVers. Not an option.

  13. Douglas September 5, 2017 at 12:30 am #

    Most modern AC fridges are very efficient and will work well on a solar/battery setup. The only disadvantage is that they require a high start current (about 6 times the rated power for a short period of time) so you need to invest in an inverter and battery that will deliver the start current and if noise is an issue it needs to be a pure sign wave inverter. A DC fridge will require less start current and eliminate the need for an expensive inverter but cost a lot more to buy.

    If you know of a reasonably priced 12 or 24 volt DC fridge please provide details.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tiny House Appliances: Ranges and Ovens - TinyHouseBuild.com - July 28, 2016

    […] ones will serve the demands of your tiny house lifestyle the best? A couple of weeks ago we covered refrigerator options for tiny houses on wheels and foundations. In this article, we cover tiny house appliances: ranges […]

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