How to Cool your RV fridge the smart way

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Setting the right temperature for an RV refrigerator then getting it to stay there can seem like a challenge, but with some knowledge and a few tricks, you can keep it nice and cold and also keep the freezer on a freezing temperature. This article is about an RV absorption fridge and not a residential fridge.

When you have an RV absorption fridge, a fridge that works on electricity (120 volts) or propane, (some can also run on 12 volts), you mostly have just one setting you can change to control the temperature of the whole unit. For example, a Norcold 1201 can be set between a 0 and a 9. The fridge and freezer temperature setting cannot be changed independently. In this article, we will show you how it still can be accomplished using some tricks.

Ideal Temperature for an RV Freezer/Refrigerator

Fridge: 34°F – 40°F is the ideal refrigerator temperature range. Some Web sites just say under 40°F, but not so cold to freeze fresh foods. Dairy products and meats keep best at the low end of the temperature range.

A freezer should be set at 0°F, or lower, if possible. If the temperature gets warmer than +5°F, ice cream will be too soft and won’t keep well. A properly working food freezer will operate in the range of -10°F to +2°F, and may go up to around +8°F briefly during the defrost cycle if it is of the “frost-free” type.

What makes a fridge and freezer work correct?

The initial temperature setting is changed on the panel in front of the fridge. It is a setting that might be a number as on my Norcold 1201 between 1 and 9. This does not tell us anything about to what degree Fahrenheit it will cool. But it’s a starting point. On my fridge, I set it to 5 that will get the fridge cool to 34 degrees and the freezer to -4 degrees. When I set it to 6 it will cool the fridge to 32 F and the freezer to -7 F, too cold for the fridge but ok for the freezer. So how can we change that so that the freezer will go to -7 F and the fridge will stay on 34 F?

First, let’s introduce the thermistor.

A thermistor is a thermostat that uses electrical resistance (resistor) to measure temperature. This device is clipped to one of the cooling fins inside your refrigerator and the wires connect to the control board to regulate the temperature inside the refrigerator.

Dometic thermistor





Norcold thermistor     

The higher it is on the fin, the colder the fridge will get.

This is how to achieve to keep both fridge and freezer on the right temperature;

  1. Make sure that the thermistor connected to the correct fin.
  2. Move the thermistor higher or lower depending on the desired refrigerator temperature. (Up is colder)
  3. Use the same thermometer for the freezer as in the fridge.
  4. Use a fan inside the fridge to move the air around. This prevents freezing of the fins and creates a more equal cooling.
  5. Do not pack too much stuff in the compartments, leave some space for air to circulate.
  6. Use fans on the vents of the back of the refrigerator/freezer unit to remove the heat more efficiently especially with a high outside temperature.

The fine-tuning of your setting (the general setting) and the position of the thermistor takes a few days to figure out. To have a consistent temperature check, do this first thing in the morning when the doors have not been opened for several hours. Take notes! Do not change more than one setting on the same day and do not change too much.

It seems that the overall temperature setting affects the freezer the most, the fridge will lag behind. That is a good thing, when you have the freezer at the desired temperature, you can use the thermistor up or down to get the fridge at the right temperature.

Unfortunately when the outside temperature changes you also need to adjust the general setting but once you know how your fridge behaves that should be easier.

In case you are not able to change the temperature of the fridge or have unexplained behavior you need to check the thermistor, it might be defective.

How to check the thermistor;

You need a multimeter, a thermometer, and a chart with the temperature and resistance of the brand and model of your refrigerator to check the working of the thermistor.




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