Shopping for tiny home appliances can be tricky, especially when it comes to kitchenware. You’ll be using these appliances on a daily basis, and you want to make sure everything runs smoothly.
So, how do you shop for the best refrigerator for tiny house living? We like to consider the most important factors such as power supply, capacity, and energy-efficiency first, before looking into other variables such as style and noise. When you really nail down these features, it’s easy to set a budget for the right refrigerator.
In this article, we talk about everything you need to know when it comes to picking the right model, as well as our top 6 picks for tiny house refrigerators.
Types of Tiny House Refrigerators
Price range: $700 - $800 for 4 cubic feet; $1,300 - $2,000 for 6 - 10 cubic feet
Durability: 6 to 12 years on average
Propane refrigerators, also referred to as gas or absorption refrigerators, are ideal for completely off-grid living. These are powered by a process called absorption, which uses heat to activate the cooling system. Propane refrigerators can be efficient with fuel, and are ideal for people who live in areas with low propane costs.
A 10 cubic feet refrigerator will usually consume .375 gallons of propane a day. A gallon of propane typically costs around $3 - $4. Setting up a tank for powering appliances such as a refrigerator can cost $400 for a tank that has 100 to 120 gallons of propane.
Setting up a propane refrigerator requires a bit more planning. This type of refrigerator needs two vents built into your tiny home. Even if you’re planning to run your propane on mostly electric power, these vents are non-negotiable; they’re used to filter out the carbon monoxide out, after all.
Price range: $150 - $300 for 4 - 7 cubic feet; $700 - $1,000 for 15 - 20 cubic feet; $3,000 + for high-end, ultra-efficient
Durability: 14 to 17 years on average
Electric refrigerators, including solar-powered refrigerators, are ideal for both off-grid and on-grid living. Going electric is the easy answer if you’re living in a stationary home. You don’t have to worry about setting up solar panels; just plug in your refrigerator and start cooking.
For happy campers who like travelling from time to time, buying energy-efficient refrigerators that can run on solar power alone are a great investment. While generally more expensive, they consume a lot less power than other refrigerators: a Sun Frost electric refrigerator can run at just 0.5kWh a day, but a unit with this much energy efficiency can cost you $3,200.
Of course you can always get a mid-range electric fridge and buy batteries and set up more solar power grids to help power up your home. Take note that electric fridges consume about 350-400 kWh on average annually. Plan accordingly if you’re planning to power your appliances through solar energy alone.
Things to Consider: What Makes a Good Tiny House Fridge?
1. Off-Grid or On-Grid?
Before anything else, the most important thing you should consider is your power capabilities. Are you going to be powering it with your own solar panels, and if so just how much power are you capable of producing? Will you be traveling from one RV park to another or will you be renting land in the city?
Understanding your tiny house lifestyle will help you determine whether a propane or electric refrigerator is suitable for you. In general, people living in the suburbs and cities choose to live with small to medium-sized electric refrigerators that are highly energy-efficient.
On the other hand, those completely living off the land tend to set up their own solar power grids or use a propane refrigerator instead.
2. Direct Cool VS Frost Free
Fridges use different mechanisms to maintain temperatures and preserve the freshness of produce. Frost free refrigerators are practically self-cleaning, but cost more and tend to be heavier. They also eat up more energy than frost free refrigerators.
|Direct Cool||Frost Free|
|PROS||Lower power requirements due to not using a fan and heating to regulate temperature||No frost damage; automatically defrosts using built-in heater and fan|
|Frost build-up can help keep produce longer on weeks where solar power is not abundant||Low maintenance - can easily be cleaned with cloth alone|
|More affordable than frost free refrigerators||Provides guaranteed freezer space without block of ice needing regular defrosting|
|CONS||Needs manual defrosting which can be tricky in a tiny home||Runs on twice as more energy as direct cool freezers|
|Produce does not remain fresh indefinitely||Continual use can heat up the back of the fridge|
|Older model of refrigerator and might be obsolete in the future|
3. Size and Capacity
Thought tiny homes only have space for small, dorm-sized refrigerators? Think again. Your tiny kitchen can house a pretty sizable 7 cubic feet refrigerator if needed, or a cute little 4 cubic feet fridge if you’re really looking to downsize. It all depends on your eating and cooking habits.
When deciding on the size and capacity of your tiny house fridge, ask yourself the following questions:
- How many family members will be living in the tiny house 24/7?
- How many trips to the grocery store/market do I prefer to do every week?
- Will most of my meals be prepared at home or eaten outside in a restaurant?
- Do I need a lot of space for leftovers?
- What sort of food do I eat on a daily basis? Do I store produce such as eggs, meat, vegetables, and dairy?
- Do I need a freezer or is a simple cooling fridge enough for me?
- Do I plan to host guests and prepare food for them on a regular basis?
For couples, a 4 - 5 cubic feet fridge is usually enough to hold a couple days’ worth of food. Smaller families with 1-2 small children should get fridges with a 7 - 12 cubic feet capacity. For larger families who eat their meals at home every single day, you can even consider getting a large fridge that’s up to 18 cubic feet in capacity.
Remember that everything you put in your tiny house will have an impact on your home, especially if you’re living on a tiny house on wheels. If you plan to move your home regularly, consider that a 160 lb fridge might not be the best thing for you.
Tiny house refrigerators come in all size points. You could spend anywhere from $150 to upwards of $2,000 to $3,000. Unit size typically dictates the price, but other features such as energy efficiency could also mark up the costs.
A simple electric 4 cubic feet fridge retails at $140, while a 7 cubic feet fridge can set you back $300. On the other hand, custom fridges that are built inside a regular-sized drawer (that would hold about 5 - 6 cubic feet of food) could retail for $600 to $700.
You can also find specialized refrigeration units with additional features and unmatched cooling power. For instance, the Dometic Waeco CoolFreeze CDF-18, which retails for $600, is an 18-liter, incredibly portable refrigeration ideal for the tiniest of tiny homes. Its best feature is its ability to cool down to -18°C, while using only 0.03 kWh / day.
Any small thing is usually magnified in a tiny home, and that includes noise. The last thing you want is a refrigerator gurgling, humming, and crunching relentlessly throughout a quiet night.
Modern refrigerators make a consistent hum as various mechanics of the fridge work to regulate temperatures. As a result, some noise is emitted by the refrigerator, which is usually caused by:
- The compressor, which is responsible for regulating cooling. Noise is characterized as a low, constant humming.
- The condenser fan, which helps regulate airflow and prevent overheating. The problem with most refrigerators is that they don’t have enough space at the back to promote good air circulation. Newer models have condenser fans at the bottom, which could still be noisy especially with dust accumulation.
When shopping for a refrigerator, ask a sales representative about the compressor and condenser fan - where they’re located, how often these automatically activate, how long they activate.
You can also look up online reviews of refrigerators to see what other homeowners think of the device. Consumer Reports is a fantastic resource for checking owner satisfaction, product specification, average energy cost, and even suggested cooling settings for specific refrigerator models.
6. Energy Efficiency
Tiny house living is predicated on mindfulness and intent. Every square foot of your tiny but mighty home should be functional, just like your fridge.
Energy Star, the industry scoreguide on appliance efficiency offers these useful tips in making sure your fridge is energy-efficient:
- Is it the right size? An energy-efficient fridge provides the exact amount of space you need for your home. Why buy something big when you can make do with smaller storage? The most energy-efficient fridges are units that measure 20 cubic feet and below.
- Does it have an energy-saver switch? Modern fridges are equipped with a heating coil that automatically kicks in to prevent condensation. Fridges that have an energy saver switch allow you to turn this off and manage condensation on your own, reducing your energy costs by up to 10%.
- Stick to the basics. Add-ons like a dispenser and icemaker can increase the fridge’s energy use by up to 20%. Stick to the basic fr-refrigerator combo to save on energy and money.
- Look for Energy Star-certified appliances. Refrigerators with this seal of approval are granted to be more energy-efficient than its other counterparts. You can view a list of Energy Star-certified refrigerators on their website.
The good news is that most tiny house-friendly refrigerators come in sleek monotone colors like white, gray, and black. They can fit in any tiny house without sticking out like a sore thumb.
To give your refrigerator a more built-in appeal, we suggest measuring the unit in advance and ensuring that the space fits the fridge perfectly. Allow a 3-5 inch allowance on the sides and back for good air circulation.
Finding the Best Fridge For Tiny House Living: Our Top 6 Picks
Still not sure what to get? We’ve got your back! We searched high and low for the best fridge for tiny house living and came up with this top 6 list. These products have been tried and tested by tiny house owners and have the community’s seal of approval:
1. SPT RF-444SS Compact Refrigerator
|Dimensions (HxWxD)||33.07” x 19.5” x 33.07”|
|Available colors||Stainless steel|
Why Buy It: It’s an affordable compact fridge standing at 4.4 cubic feet, built with analog controls for easy temperature control. This model is Energy Star-certified and runs on 0.6kWh a day.
Who’s It Perfect For: One to two person households who want to save their kitchen space for other appliances, without downsizing to a ridiculously small refrigerator
|Dimensions (HxWxD)||57.25" x 23" x 24"|
|Available colors||Black with platinum finish|
Why Buy It: It’s a good-sized fridge running on just 0.6kWh a day. With a 7.4 cubic feet capacity, this model can store a week’s worth of food for a family of three. Separate freezer and fridge components with many spacious compartments and 2 bottom crisper drawers
Who’s It Perfect For: A household of three to four who enjoys having nightly dinners with the family
3. SMAD Electric/Gas RV Compact
|Power consumption||Gas or electric|
|Dimensions (HxWxD)||18.9 x 18.1 x 26.5 inches|
Why Buy It: Ultimate flexibility for people who are on-the-go. This nifty unit features 3 adjustable shelves and a standard beverage door compartment. Easy propane set-up through a ⅜” male flare connector. The manual control, located at the front of the unit, is intuitive and easy to use.
Who’s It Perfect For: Solo or duo travelers who enjoy living off the land, away from the hustle and bustle of the city
|Power consumption||Battery-operated or electric|
|Dimensions||25.5" x 14.3" x 16"|
Why Buy It: This model has been vetted by boaters, campers, RV enthusiasts. It’s small, compact, and runs on dual power. It can run on battery power at 12v / 24v DC or 100v / 120v AC. This model is also compatible with solar power configurations.
Who’s It Perfect For: Tiny home folks who want a durable, compact refrigerator that can keep food fresh while staying off the grid. Perfect for hunters and fishers who want a hybrid unit that can turn into a freezer when needed.
|Power consumption||Electric and solar-friendly|
|Dimensions (HxWxD)||50.41” x 20” x 56”|
|Available colors||Classic white|
Why Buy It: This EcoSolar fridge packs a lot of groceries while only consuming a fraction of what other similar-sized units would consume. With a 10.1 cubic feet capacity (more than enough room for essential produce plus a few extras), this hyper-efficient model only runs on 0.58kWH a day.
Who’s It Perfect For: Hosts who enjoy cooking hearty meals regularly for their family and guests, without racking up the electricity bill
|Price||$2,499 for AC and $2,579 for DC|
|Power consumption||Electric and solar-friendly|
|Dimensions (HxWxD)||49.5” x 34.5” x 27.75”|
|Available colors||Classic white|
Why Buy It: Sun Frost fridges are known for hyper efficient fridges that can last a lifetime. This price might be hard to justify upfront, but its energy-saving capabilities are really close to none. In temperate climates of 21°C, the Sun Frost RF12 can run as low as 0.29kWh, increasing to a measly 0.47 kWh on hotter days.
Who’s It Perfect For: Tiny house owners with substantial solar power amenities who want to enjoy an easy-clean, no-maintenance, high-efficiency fridge for several years
No Fridge? No Problem: Alternatives to Tiny House Refrigerators
If you’re treating your tiny house more like a summer getaway camp and less like a 24/7 home, an ice cooler might be better suited for your needs. It’s portable, uncomplicated, and costs nowhere near as much as a refrigerator.
Heavy-duty coolers like the Coleman 100-Quart can last up to 5 days even in 30 °C temperatures with its strong insulation material. And the best part is that you can buy one for less than a hundred bucks!
Thermoelectric coolers are a step above your regular ice cooler. These electric devices don’t require or rely on ice for cooling. Instead, a thermoelectric cooler is plugged into a DC outlet to activate cooling capabilities.
We like the Koolatron P27. Voyager Cooler simply because it’s cheap and versatile. At $150, you get a dual-purpose machine that can keep your food warm or cold depending on what you need. The 12V plug is easily compatible with any vehicle, which is why it’s a staple in the RV and Campervan community.
Portable compressors are another solid option if you’re looking for a fridge alternative. These run on 0.03 - 0.05 kWh on average, and can also be plugged into an external battery source. Portable compressors, as the name suggests, can be taken in and out of your tiny home with ease.
The Engel MRO40F-U1is a traveler’s dream come true. Its exterior is made from corrosion-resistant material so you can live near the beach or sea without worrying about salt damage. What we like about this unit is how hardy and quiet the compressors are even if they’re running 24/7. At $850, this portable compressor is a great deal considering it can freeze drinks and food solid in just under 3 hours.
Power and Size
At the end of the day, it really comes down to your power options and the capacity you need in a fridge. Prioritize those two things and you’re sure to enjoy your fridge for years to come.
Keep an eye out for energy-efficiency ratings to get the most out of your power supply. When it comes to capacity, remember that your eating and cooking habits should dictate how big a fridge to get.
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.