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.
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?