Disclosure: Some of the links in the article below may be affiliate links. This means that I may earn a small commission if you click on them and make a purchase.
Deciding on a fridge for your camper van conversion can be a challenge. It really comes down to your layout and how well each specific type of fridge will work for you. There are two options that most will consider; a top load and a traditional upright refrigerator.
The type you choose will all depend on your personal preferences as well as your layout. I went back and forth for a while on this decision because my van layout could have used either type. My main concern was choosing the solution that would be the most efficient with my solar system. I also wanted something that had lots of room and a separate freezer.
After researching and looking at various models, I decided that a top load fridge would work best for me.
Choosing A Top Load Refrigerator
There are a few major players in the RV refrigerator market and all of them have offerings that will do the job. In my search, I needed a solution that had a freezer option. When traveling in my van, I cook nearly all my meals so I like to have everything I need available. This includes frozen foods as well as perishable items that need refrigeration.
Let’s take a look at a couple of the popular brands that I looked at during my search.
Dometic is a big name in the world of camping and they make many different solutions for campers. Refrigeration is a large part of their business and they have some great products that have been put to the test by many RVers over the years. Dometic has always been at the top of my list since I have purchased from them before. I have worked in the RV industry and know that they are a reputable company with good support.
Whynter is another brand that I was looking at during my search. Although not as known as the Dometic, Whynter offers mobile refrigerator solutions that work great for RVs and other mobile solutions. Their dual-zone portable freezer/refrigerator would fit the bill quite nicely for my van conversion. It would be similar to what the Dometic fridge offers but at a lower cost. I had to decide whether or not I wanted to stick with a name I trusted or save a little money.
In the end, I chose the Dometic CFX 75DZW (affiliate link). This one made the most sense to me. The size was perfect for what I needed and I felt that it would be the most efficient.
Note: The model I purchased is now called the Dometic CFX3 75DZW. There is also another version of this size refrigerator; Dometic Waeco CFX 75DZW.
|Brand / Model||Size||Weight||Temperature Range||Power Consumption|
|Dometic CFX 75DZW||75L 35.12″ W x 19.5″ L x 18.58″ H||61.29 lbs||-7°F to 50°F||1.43 Ah/h|
Top Load Refrigerator Installation
I planned for my fridge to be stored out of the way underneath my bed. This was a perfect location for the fridge to be out of the way but useable by using drawer slides that allowed me to pull it out. I had planned to purchase the refrigerator slide system that Dometic sells that goes along with the refrigerator. At the time of this writing, the product is DOMETIC CFX SLD7580110B.
This would store neatly under my bed and I would be able to pull it out as needed. The slide system from the Dometic also has a locking feature that allows it to stay closed when not in use.
Although this slide system was not intended to be used the way I was going to use it, I had planned on customizing it to fit my needs. I purchased the Dometic slide system and it ended up being a bad decision.
There are a few reasons that this did not work for me.
- The slide is NOT full extension. Once I began planning and installing this, I was disappointed to learn that the slide stops about two inches short of being full extension. This meant that I could not pull my fridge out far enough to open the top. I had to come up with a new plan so that I could get full extension.
- The locking mechanism has too much play. After testing the system out and learning how it would work, I realized that it had too much play in it. This meant that it would rattle and make a lot of noise as I traveled in the van. I didn’t like the thought of this and I wanted something that would be tight and secure.
Overall, I will say that this slide system is very high-quality. However, in my specific build plan, it just would not work. Rather than send it back though, I decided I would tear it apart and customize it to work for my van. It would cost me more money but in the end, I would be left with a sturdy, steel base with my own custom full-extension slides installed.
I would also install my own locking mechanisms so that the refrigerator would be tight, secure, and quiet.
I’ll have to say, it was a little difficult to customize but in the end, it was worth it. I completely removed the slides that came on the unit and ordered 36-inch full extension slides that would fit. These would allow me to install my refrigerator flush with the wall and then pull it out all the way so that I could open the top of the refrigerator completely.
This is exactly what I was looking for in the first place. I’m not sure why Dometic doesn’t make full extension on this. I’m assuming that my plan for using it was different than what it was designed for.
I used the same steel base but installed the new slides onto it rather than the ones that came with it. Fortunately, I was able to use the same supports and mounts that the slide came with. This all lined up perfectly with the new slides that I had purchased. I just had to drill new holes in all of the parts to make them fit. I used the same screws and bolts that I had taken out when I tore the thing apart.
After all was said and done, I was left with a base for my refrigerator that would allow me to install it the way I had planned. It cost me an extra $70 for full-extension, heavy-duty slides but extra costs are to be expected in a custom van conversion.
Mounting The Fridge
After the slide system was created, I positioned the refrigerator unit exactly where I wanted. I built a base system out of 2x4s so that I could get the unit up off of the ground a few inches. This way, when I pulled the refrigerator out it would be above the floor.
I also added a waterproof area underneath the fridge just in case there were to ever be any water leaking from it. I mainly created this because I had leftover shower liner that I needed to use. This seemed like a perfect spot for it.
I created this simple 2 x 4 rectangle area in my garage area by screwing the 2x4s to the subfloor. After that, I drilled holes in five different locations around the frame that went all the way through the 2x4s and the metal floor of the van.
When I installed the system, I used large bolts in these holes with washers and nuts that hold everything into the metal floor. I wanted to make sure it was installed this way so that it would be secure. The refrigerator is a heavy item and if a wreck or something were to occur, I didn’t want it flying through the van. Having it bolted through the entire van floor helps to give me more peace of mind that this will not happen.
The whole unit was installed so that the front of the slide system would be flush with the wall that I had created. This would allow me to build a door onto the front of the fridge while keeping everything flush with the wall. The plan was to have a fridge that became part of the wall and only had a handle on it for you to pull the fridge out when needed.
Installing The Drawer Front
The drawer front was created using shiplap just like I used on the walls. Before installing the shiplap, I had to create wooden supports that would hold the shiplap on tightly. I did this by removing the refrigerator handle and adding 2×3 boards vertically that would essentially serve as studs to mount the shiplap. This gave me a support area to build my drawer front onto and made it very secure.
Once the supports were in place, I simply used #8 screws and a nail gun to secure each shiplap board. I made sure to line them up as close to perfect as I could to the shiplap on each side of the drawer front. The most difficult part was lining up the bottom because I had to cut the shiplap to create the perfect amount of spacing.
After I was finished installing the shiplap, I filled in the screw and nail holes with wood filler and then sanded and painted.
After that was done, I installed the hardware on the front of the drawer face. This included a handle and latches on each side to hold the draw securely closed. However, the latches I chose were not the best option, and I will probably change them out for better ones soon. Currently, I have the hardware seen in the picture below on the drawer.
These rattle and make too much noise as I’m driving. I wanted to avoid this and I will solve this by using a different type of latch. I’m not sure what I’m going to use yet but there is probably something better out there that won’t make noise.
For now, these are fine and the noise they make is bearable but it is pretty much the only noise that comes from my van while I am driving so I would like to get rid of it.
Powering The Refrigerator
As I had hoped, the efficiency of this top load refrigerator is excellent. I can power the refrigerator completely by using my Yeti 1400 solar generator. It uses a very minimal amount of electricity to keep everything cold inside. It uses less electricity if I am not using one section as a freezer. This is obvious since it doesn’t have to run as much to keep one side at freezer temperature.
When the refrigerator compressor is running, it draws a various amount of amps from my solar generator, depending on what the compressor is doing. The highest draw I have seen is around 5 amps. Normally, it is drawing around 2-3 amps when running. However, it only runs a few times per hour for a few minutes depending on the ambient temperature and how cold I have the compartments set for.
Other than that, it doesn’t use any electrical power to maintain the temperature inside each compartment. It is surprising how little electricity this unit uses.
If you are using this with a Goal Zero product, you may need to purchase the extra regulated cable (affiliate link) to use this refrigerator. Some of the newer models of their products have this built-in but the model that I have doesn’t. This regulated cable allows the 12 V output of the generator to always be 12 V.
Without it, 12 V becomes less and less as The battery drains. Dometic refrigerators need a constant 12 V in order to run. This is one of the things that irks me about Goal Zero but at least it is fixable with an inexpensive regulated cable.
Using The Refrigerator
The refrigerator works the way you would expect any refrigerator to work. I love the convenience of having a refrigerator and a freezer in one. It allows me to set one side for all of my frozen foods and the other side for my standard items that only need to remain cool.
I keep my freezer set to 16°F and my refrigerator is set to 40°F. I have found these temperature settings to be perfect for maintaining my food the way that I like. Even in 100° weather, the refrigerator performs flawlessly and has no trouble maintaining these temperatures.
In very hot situations, I have found that it does drain my solar generator a little more than it would in more ideal situations. In hot environments, the refrigerator compressor has to run more than it would otherwise. The more the compressor runs, the more energy that it uses.
On sunny days, the refrigerator does not use more than what my solar panels bring in from the sun. As long as there is some sun to charge from, I can use this refrigerator while maintaining around 100% charge on my battery.
After using my refrigerator for a while, I have learned a few things that I like and a few things that I don’t like. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using this type of refrigerator.
Top Load Refrigerator Pros
It’s very efficient
I have been very happy with the little amount of energy that this refrigerator uses. I also like the fact that when you open the refrigerator, the cool air doesn’t come out. Since cold air sinks, it stays in the cooler rather than rising out when you open the door.
Nothing falls out when you open the door
When you drive around in a van or an RV, items in a refrigerator are bound to shift and move around. In a standard refrigerator, you may have to open the door slowly to make sure these items don’t fall out. This is not the case with a top load refrigerator. You will not have to worry about anything falling out when you open the top doors on the refrigerator.
It stores out of the way
The refrigerator stores neatly out of the way and you don’t even know there’s a refrigerator there in my van conversion. Although it does take up some space in the garage, I planned for this and it is not an issue.
Top Load Refrigerator Cons
It’s difficult to get to items on the bottom
When you store items in a refrigerator like this, there are bound to be items that are on the bottom. Of course, these are usually the items you need. You will find yourself pulling lots of other items out just to get to the items on the bottom. It makes it more of a hassle sometimes if you have a fully-loaded fridge.
It requires some reaching
The way I have the refrigerator installed in my van requires a bit of reaching. When I pull the refrigerator out, I have to bend over to get something out of the back of the freezer. It can be difficult to get to the very back sometimes.
A top load refrigerator has worked well for my van conversion. However, a standard upright refrigerator would have also worked. There are other models on the market that would have fit into my plan just like the top load did. However, I chose to go with the top load because I liked how efficient it is and I like the idea of items not falling out when you open the door.
Both of these have been true as the refrigerator is very efficient and uses very little energy and I never have to worry about items shifting and moving around while I’m driving. Although there are a couple of cons, I feel that the pros outweigh the cons, and having a top load refrigerator is a good choice.
It won’t work in every van conversion but it’s worth taking a look at if you aren’t sure. If you are going through a van conversion, be sure and consider each option before you get too far into your conversion. Each type will require a different space so make sure you are giving this some thought and building this into your layout as you go.