If you could purchase a propane-only refrigerator and save $200 or $300 off the price of a dual-fuel one, would it be worth it? Or, if your refrigerator stops working on electrical power but still works great on propane, what’s it worth to make the refrigerator work on both fuels again? We assumed the cost was worthwhile to restore our fridge to work on either but, after careful analysis, we’re not so sure. It depends upon whether you pay for electrical energy (not everyone does), your energy costs (propane and electricity), and your cost to buy or repair the dual-fuel capability.
We replaced, finally, the refrigerator’s power control board last month. Our fridge operated only on propane for four months, August through November. It wasn’t too much a problem since it still worked so well but we felt it should work the way it was designed, on either fuel. And, we were waiting for the other shoe to drop and we might lose use of the refrigerator completely.
Also we so often get our electric included in site rental costs, we thought we could benefit from selecting between gas and electric. What’s more expensive, operating an appliance designed for propane on propane only, or paying for the electric heater to operate the gas cycle in your refrigerator? We’ll get back to this.
The refrigerator worked fabulously on propane. At $120 for a control board we might save enough propane by using free electric (where we get it) to pay the control board cost. Oh, but we paid $75 in Balzac, Alberta at Bucars RV to have them tell us there is nothing wrong with our refrigerator and we paid another $75 to have Camping World in Boise, Idaho tell us we needed this control board. We knew one repair service was wrong, and thought the other was right. We’d already sunk $150 in diagnostic charges, and figured we might as well buy the board too. How long will it take to save $270 worth of propane?
This sounds a lot like the gas – diesel comparison we used to discuss. Funny, we haven’t heard people talking about this as much in the past year or so. Do you suppose it’s because diesel price just won’t come down and stay down below regular gasoline price? And you pay a lot more for the diesel powerplant and drivetrain (and might mind the noise and smell of Detroit diesels in your campsite). Then there’s the maintenance costs. Diesel only pays if you must have the torque. I’ll try not to talk about this later.
Back to the subject, if you could choose to have a propane-only refrigerator versus paying an additional $300 to obtain a dual fuel propane/electric refrigerator, are you sure the latter is worth the extra dough? I decided to work on this the way we did at work years ago. And, after working on the calculations all evening, I could probably have come to this answer in the first place. The answer is, it depends.
The most important variable is whether you pay for electrical energy (not everyone does), or for what percentage of your RVing months you pay for electrical use. The relative energy costs (propane and electricity) matter greatly, if you pay for electrical some or all of the year. Finally, what is your cost to buy or repair the dual-fuel capability?
If your electrical supply is included the price the campgrounds charge you for a site, then your refrigerator will run at no cost to you whenever your trailer is plugged into campground power (Psst — don’t tell your friends whose house you courtesy park at about this, okay?). If your electrical supply is metered, as ours sometimes is, then you won’t see such high savings from electrical power for your refrigerator.
The next most important variable is the cost of the two energy inputs, propane and electricity. Small changes can have large impacts, if you are paying for all your electrical usage. For example, if electricity costs you 12 cents per kwh (Florida’s average residential rate for 2009) and the current local price for propane is $3.85, electricity is much cheaper to run. At these prices, we could save a modest $17 per year by paying for electricity instead of propane for the refrigerator. The December 2009 prices in Mesa, Arizona, would save us $32 per year burning propane instead of paying for electricity for the refrigerator.
The picture changes completely if electrical service is provided, at no extra charge, with your campsite. Every time you run the refrigerator on free electricity, you save money, and your savings might be $120 per year if you use your refrigerator year around like we do. That’s worth it, for sure!
Propane is very rarely free to RVers. But electricity is provided, in many campgrounds, at no added cost. A dual-fuel refrigerator saves money whenever the electricity is provided at no additional cost. But if you are paying for your electrical service and for your propane, it might be worthwhile to compare the relative costs and burn the better priced energy.
Is a dual fuel refrigerator worth a few hundred extra bucks (for first cost or cost to restore capability)? The short answer is, it depends. We’re glad we fixed our refrigerator to run either propane or electricity. And, going forward, we’ll pay more attention to the local energy rates before we decide which fuel to use for the refrigerator. It may be worth watching the local energy prices, if you want to control your costs.
©2010 Dreamstreamr, Jim Cocke