How much energy does a three-way fridge consume?

A three-way fridge (also referred to as an absorption fridge) uses heat sources to provide the energy needed to cool the inside of the fridge. These fridges can be powered in three different ways, which makes them so well suited to camping. They can be powered by gas, electricity, or by battery. The energy consumption for a three-way fridge differs depending on which power source you’re using. The fridge’s temperature is also dependent on which power source you use, as some are more effective than others. It’s also important to remember that a three-way fridge is quite different from a household fridge. A household fridge works with compression, whereas the three-way fridge works with absorption. The difference between the two will be explained in this blog post.

One of the biggest questions surrounding three-way fridges is how much energy they consume. An answer to this is that it depends on several factors. Firstly, the model of your fridge. Secondly, the power source you’re using. And finally, how long you’re using each power source. The best way to figure out how much energy your fridge consumes is to look at its specification, which can be found in the booklet you got when you purchased the fridge. In this blog post, I will be looking at the energy consumption of three-way fridges, how you can maintain them, and listing some of the most popular three-way fridges and their energy consumption for each power source.

This blog post will discuss the following:

Using a three-way fridge in a caravan

Dometic three-way fridge. Image from:

As expected from its name, a three-way fridge has three ways that it can be powered. The first and most popular way is with propane gas. This is the fastest and most effective way. The second way is with electricity. This is another great option, but it’s not as fast as the gas method. The third way is by using your 12V car battery. This method can only be used while towing and may barely keep the fridge cool. 

When it comes to how you want to power the three-way fridge, these options make it a popular choice for caravan and motorhome users. It means that they can pick an option that is most convenient for them while also being able to power the fridge while they are n the move, although the effectiveness of this method is debatable.

Another thing that makes three-way fridges great for travelling with is that it is almost maintenance-free. This is because it doesn’t have any moving parts and tends to last twice as long as a compressor fridge that you may have at home, with its average life being about 20 years. To learn more about using a three-way fridge, I asked people with experience in using one why having one for their caravan was useful. The majority of the responses I got from my post on Caravan Talk is that when using gas in a three-way fridge, it can usually run for a couple of weeks on an 11kg gas bottle, allowing you to free camp for quite a while and still have a cool fridge.

Usage and energy consumption

Three-way fridge. Image from:

Since there are three different ways you can use a three-way fridge, you may find it a little confusing when trying to figure out how to use each power mode. This may vary depending on which model of three-way fridge you have; however, you will find that most three-way fridges have a similar setting. The table below explains how to power your three-way fridge using your 12v battery, mains electric, and gas.

PowerHow to use
12v BatteryYour fridge should be connected to the alternator for this method to work. Once the engine has started, power goes through the 12-volt side to the fridge. Remember to switch off the mains and the gas switch on the fridge and switch on the 12-volt switch, making sure the indicator is lit. In some models, you can also use the dial next to this switch to control the temperature of the fridge.
Mains electricThe mains on your fridge may be seen as a large green switch. This lights up when the switch is on and you have connected to an electrical hook up. You can select how cold the fridge gets with the same dial I mentioned above.
Propane gasThe gas switch can also be found near the electrical switches. Once the gas is in place, make sure that the gas isolator valve for the fridge is on, and the electrical switches are all off. Then, turn on the switch on the gas side. You will hear the igniter clicking once the fridge is running on gas. You can set the temperature to what you like using the same dial.

Although there are three different ways to power these fridges, The replies under my Caravan Talk post suggest that Using gas is the most popular way. User ‘Ern’ explains that:

“When we were wintering in Spain and our electricity was metered (and expensive), we would run the fridge on Propane because bottled gas was cheap. We normally used Propane for heating, fridge and cooking, and found the difference between using the gas for the fridge and not using gas for the fridge was about 1Kg of gas per day. Obviously, there would be numerous variables to this – keep opening the door, and the fridge will get warm, but 1Kg per day is average. Electric was about €0.35/kWh, and gas was about €1/Kg. Gas was much cheaper for the fridge.”

When it comes to the energy consumption of each method, it can vary depending on the model of your fridge, the power source you’re using, and how long you’re using each power source. The best way to figure out how much energy your fridge consumes is to look at its specification, which can be found in the booklet you got when you purchased the fridge. The table below is a rough guide to how much energy a three-way fridge consumes on each power source.

Please note that this is dependent on a number of factors, and therefore, these figures may not be 100% accurate based on your fridge.

PowerEnergy consumption
12v BatteryWhen using a 12v battery, most fridges can use around 12.5 amps per hour. It’s important to remember that a three-way fridge uses quite a lot of power which can result in quickly draining down a leisure battery. This is why this method should only be used to keep your fridge going while travelling.
Mains electricThe majority of fridges can use about 150W when plugged into the mains. That being said, each fridge can vary quite significantly when it comes to how much power it consumes when plugged into the mains. It is best to check the specifications for your specific model to ensure you have a more accurate guideline.
Propane gasAfter looking at some of the manuals, most three-way fridges use about  0.27kg per 24 hours. In theory, this should give around 40 days of usage on an 11kg bottle. However, this can vary quite a lot depending on your fridge. Looking back at what ‘Ern’ from Caravan Talk said, their fridge used around 1kg of gas per day, which is considerably more than the 0.27kg as suggested in the manuals.

Maintaining your fridge

Three-way fridge. Image from:

An essential part of having a three-way fridge is ensuring that it is well maintained. I mentioned previously that a three-way fridge is suitable for camping because it is almost maintenance-free. However, there are small things you can do to ensure your fridge is kept in the best condition and can have a longer lifespan.

The first thing to remember is that three-way fridges don’t have the same airflow as a domestic kitchen fridge, and the vent on the side of the caravan must be uncovered and not be obstructed by anything when running a fridge on gas.

Here are some more tips to ensure your fridge is kept in good condition.

  • Keep the fridge door ajar when not in use.
  • Make sure you pack any foods with a strong smell before putting them into the fridge.
  • Keep the ventilation unobstructed at all times when in use.
  • When travelling, keep the door secure, so it doesn’t open when the caravan is on the move.

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