Are propane refrigerators efficient? What about solar?

Posted on

Propane Refrigeration efficiency VS Solar Refrigeration efficiency – a comparison by

When you are looking to compare the efficiency of propane refrigeration against solar refrigeration, there are a few things to consider. We will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each in length. Moving through this guide we offer valuable insight into what will work best for your needs as we apply our over 25 years of experience in selling both types of off-grid refrigeration options. Not only do we sell them but we personally use them in living our best off-grid life.

Consider Your Lifestyle Refrigeration Requirements

To decide what type of refrigeration is most efficient for your situation, you first have to consider your off grid lifestyle and refrigeration requirements. There are a myriad of reasons to consider off-grid refrigeration with the primary goal of being exactly that – being able to live comfortably without traditional power.

It’s important to note that if you need long term solutions for year round off grid food storage or if you only need occasional or infrequent food refrigeration for a vacation cabin, hunting lodge, ski lodge etc the efficiency of either type of refrigeration, propane or solar will change. Many of our clients enjoy lifestyles in remote areas, homesteading, hunting cabins, secondary vacation homes, beach homes and more. These remote locations make alternative power sources necessary to assist in these chosen freedoms and lifestyle pursuits. This leads us to the question, which is more efficient Propane or Solar refrigeration? We will discuss both options below.

Application and Demands

Propane: an adaptable solution for nearly every off grid application. Dependent on propane costs, sourcing and storing demands. In this write up here – we cover in greater detail regarding prices of propane refrigeration with the average cost per gallon, consumption for an average annual usage. Propane identifies itself as being the most cost effective option for the long run when compared to the expense of adding a solar power grid, battery backup, generator back up required to further support the solar power setup for a homestead. Propane is a clean burning fuel that is easily accessible. Drawback is that you have to account for how much propane you will need along with sourcing the fuel and storage as needed to ensure that you keep a steady supply on hand.

Solar: Cost prohibitive unless you already have a solar set up. If you do already have existing solar capabilities solar refrigeration may be an ideal solution. This is contingent on sunshine and plenty of it. Also, you must keep in mind that a solar refrigerator will draw power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The use of the solar power produced may better be used for other items in your home like lights, washing machines, charging cell phones, computers, etc. The setup for a solar system that can maintain a refrigerator full time is a huge expense, with costly maintenance and battery replacement schedules. These additional considerations can further prove to be both time demanding as well as cost prohibitive for the long term.

In this round, propane comes out as the most efficient cooling and refrigeration option for food storage in the long run.

Browse our Propane Refrigerators >>

Overall Cost Effectiveness

While comparing the two refrigerator units side by side the initial cost is the same or a bit higher for the propane refrigerator; this expense is then offset by the overall year to year running costs which are low month over month. In our previous write up we discussed the cost breakdown of propane refrigeration vs solar refrigeration and gave in depth examples of costs year over year. As mentioned earlier, the determining factor between the two is dependent upon if you have an existing solar installation that can fully support a solar refrigerator. If you have this then the winner may be solar– that is IF you have sunshine in abundance. If you are not blessed with year round sun –and most of us are not, then you are having to contend with cloudy days, where the sun barely makes an appearance. For those occasions you will need to supplement with a generator powered by gasoline.

Having to now accommodate for the missing sunshine puts propane back in the lead for being the most cost effective option for off grid refrigeration. For this round propane refrigerators is the winner again; unless you have an existing solar installation and plenty of sunshine.

Refrigeration Cooling Efficiency

Propane: Efficient and cost effective cooling efficiency running on approximately 60 cents a day in warmer climates and in cooler regions can operate on 45 cents a day. (Estimates are based on propane cost of $2 per gallon.)

Solar: Once you have established your solar panels, batteries etc then the cost of running the solar refrigerator is zero.

Win goes to solar unless you don’t have an established solar grid, batteries and backup generator. Then the win goes to propane as it doesn’t require a huge investment and year over year. It also doesn’t require a big expense throughout the year to operate. And if we visit our article here we see that it would take many years to have the same level of operating expense as that of the solar set up.

Improve Off-Grid Refrigerator Efficiency

Helpful tips on ways that you can further improve and maximize the efficiency of any off-grid refrigerator:

  • Keep the refrigerator in an insulated and shaded area with plenty of ventilation.
      • Shade ensures it won’t have to work as hard to cool your food.
  • Protecting the refrigerator from freezing in the winter and from baking in the summer.
      • Keeping the refrigeration unit safe from the elements and wildlife extends the health and well being of your refrigerator for obvious reasons.
  • A most efficient refrigerator is a full refrigerator.
      • The packed off-grid fridge offers further insulative effects as everything works together to keep itself and their neighboring foods cool.
      • This same insulative effect works at cooling any new food added to the refrigerator.
  • Keep the door closed as much as possible; lingering in front of the open refrigerator door is an easy way to tank your refrigerator cooling efficiency as well as put a strain and drain on the efficiency of the fuel source. Be intentional when you need to access your off-grid food stores.
  • Keeping your refrigerator level to ensure that everything is flowing properly and doesn’t force it to work harder. Level is optimal. Although both propane and solar refrigerators need to be on a level surface, it is extremely important that a propane refrigerator is on a level surface. The flame needs to be positioned correctly beneath the cooling unit and fluid inside the cooling unit needs to be level to flow correctly. Having a propane fridge on an unlevel surface will negatively affect the cooling efficiency.

A Few Words on Venting

With both types of refrigerator units you want proper ventilation, not allowing heat to be trapped behind the unit. Heat is generated from the cooling process in both a propane and solar refrigerator. Ventilation is naturally accomplished if the fridge is open to the ceiling above. This allows for the heat to rise away from the back of the unit. Keeping the heat from being trapped behind a propane fridge directly affects its efficiency. If the heat is trapped, the fridge will use more fuel to function properly.

We are often asked, “Do I need to vent my propane refrigerator?” The answer to this question is, it depends.

  • A propane refrigerator located in a large open area does not need to be vented outside. The heat will naturally escape from the back of the fridge to the ceiling above.
  • If your fridge is in a very small cabin, you may want to vent it in the summertime to allow the heat to escape from your cabin but in the winter you may want to close the vent and use the heat to warm your cabin.
  • If your gas fridge has a cabinet above it or your ceiling is very low, venting is recommended. Vent the heat from the flue pipe through an exterior wall; using a water heater vent pipe or vent it through the cabinet/ceiling above.

You will also want to allow accessibility for cleaning and maintenance for both units. Regular cleaning and maintenance serves to help them to stay running efficiently.

Further, if you are only off the grid for a season it is often recommended (in some states it’s required) to turn off and disconnect any plumbed gas lines prior to closing up the home. Remember to connect everything back once you arrive safely next time. Once again check for leaks to ensure safety and then you’re ready to start using your propane refrigerator for the new season.

Warranty, Maintenance and Further Considerations

When considering efficiency, we have to talk also about the warranty, maintenance and anything else that might affect the overall efficiency and performance of your off-grid fridge; as well as the efficiency of your hard earned money.


Propane: 7 years

Free longest extended warranty available in the industry from of 7 years. Warehouse Appliance warranty details can be found here. Free setup phone support, Free service/ maintenance DVD and Free tech support for the life of the gas refrigerator.

Solar: 2 years (Traditional Warranty)

Propane: With propane refrigerators there are not many parts that can fail as it is a self-contained unit. Propane fridges are easy to maintain and clean; often bi-annual inspection and cleanings take minutes and any repairs are easily completed out in the field by the owner. Tools needed for most maintenance jobs are generally readily available and consist of a wrench and screwdriver. Parts are easy to come by as they are USA made. Inspection and maintenance consist primarily of two parts: burner and flue pipe. Keeping the burner and the flue pipe clean directly affect the efficiency of a propane fridge. If the burner is dirty due to a moth burning up or dust; the flame will not burn as hot. This will force it to run inefficiently by causing the unit to use more propane to cool and that will cost you money. The best practice is to check the flame regularly to ensure it is a crisp blue color with no yellow. If you notice your fridge is not cooling like it used to or you notice a yellow flame or odor you most likely have a dirty flame. We discuss cleaning your burner in our propane refrigerator maintenance DVD that comes with every fridge from

Browse our Solar/DC Powered Refrigerators >>

Solar: With a solar refrigerator the potential fail points are considerably more than with a propane refrigeration unit. Solar fridge potential areas of concerns are:

  • Compressor
  • Freon
  • Inverters
  • Limited Sunshine to generate sufficient solar power
  • Solar Power Set Up: Batteries, Panels and subsequent cabling including their maintenance, cleaning, repair and replacement needs.
  • Service and maintenance of a solar refrigerator is a much more involved process than with a propane refrigerator; often requiring a trip to the support center for repair work.

Taking another win is propane refrigeration. The design of the refrigerator is the epitome of efficiency at its finest. This is a closed loop system. It reuses the same chemical solution for every cycle. Since this is a chemical response, little can suffer in this design from wear and tear. With proper maintenance and care the propane refrigerator proves to be the winner in performance and design efficiency.

Durability and Longevity of Refrigeration Unit

Propane: Top performance and best quality in the industry, renowned craftsmanship and durability. Most often these refrigerators’ lifecycle, if properly maintained, can be upwards of 25 years.

Solar: Performs per industry standard and with regular maintenance often needs replacement after 10 years.

Propane refrigerator is winning again based on expected life span making for a very efficient investment.


The clear leader is propane refrigeration winning in performance, cost, longevity and maintenance. Our pick is propane for overall efficiency and cost effectiveness for your investment, doubling the lifespan or more over solar refrigerators.

This is exactly why I use a propane fridge in my home for successful off-grid living.

So, in closing, it is your lifestyle that dictates what refrigeration type works best for your needs. This is an investment that will serve you for many years to come and there are many factors to consider. We explored the efficiency of propane refrigerators as compared to solar refrigerators, and the winner was clear: Propane Refrigerators. But in the end the one that works best for you depends on your set up and off-grid lifestyle.

At Warehouse Appliance we highly experienced in all things to do with off grid appliances, and we are happy to answer any questions you may have on our solar or propane refrigerators. Send us an email or give us a call on (928) 636-1955