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Houseboat Marine Fridges - is an LP Propane or Electric Refrigerator better?

by Kyle Libhart
(Denver, CO)

Marine Fridges Houseboat Refrigerators - What's better?

Marine Fridges Houseboat Refrigerators - What's better?

When it comes to houseboat marine fridges, what's better, an LP propane, or an electric refrigerator. Which is the best type of refrigerator for a houseboat on Lake Powell?

We own a timeshare on the houseboat and for the past four years we have been having issues with the two Norcold model N8412A refrigerators that are on the boat. We are constantly having to jump the wires for the burner.

At our annual owners meeting we all agreed to replace them but don't know if we should stick with LP, or change to electric models. What do you suggest.

Thanks for your help, Kyle.

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Reply - Answer
Well Kyle, welcome to the houseboat forums, and sorry to hear about your fridge dilemma. It can be very annoying to be on a houseboat with a constant refrigerator problem.

Before I get into which is better, I would suggest to have the ones you presently have inspected and repaired with a certified Norcold Service Technician first. It would be much cheaper and easier to have those ones serviced and working properly. It would also eliminate any removal, or any installation issues by changing them.

When it comes to marine refrigeration, the fridge(s) is an area that consumes the most energy whether it is 12 or 120 volt, even if your take into account the new and energy efficient models. The propane models alleviate any energy consumption issues, other than gas.

The LP
propane fridges are very energy efficient, yet they consume propane gas which requires rotating a spare tank on board. With propane, there are some safety issues that need yearly maintenance inspections. The LP systems also require some form of remote switches, sensors and solenoids to maintain a safe explosion proof environment.

I personally have had all the different types of marine electric, household type electric, and many propane LP refrigerators. I have always enjoyed using the propane models, and enjoy the peace and quiet that the LP models provide.

Another worthy point is not having to run the 6 to 20 kW generators to charge the houseboat battery banks, especially considering the price of fuel , that's another big bonus.

I am sure than many other houseboaters will have their own thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of each style. If you use the search function, you will find other articles discussing marine refrigeration. here's a few of interest.

Do houseboats need a marine refrigerator, or will a house fridge work?

Houseboat marine refrigerators, where to get them serviced, and what to buy?

Where to find Norcold marine refrigerator replacement parts?

Lastly, hopefully some of our readers will share and post comments about their houseboat fridge or refrigerator experiences. Feel free to use the "Click here to post comments." link found near the bottom of this page.

Thanks again for sharing, IAN from all-about-houseboats

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Comments for Houseboat Marine Fridges - is an LP Propane or Electric Refrigerator better?

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LP / Electric Fridge
by: Eric Pannell

I am not sure if this will help but I recently had the insurance company change to a new company for boats over 50ft.

My boat is a pontoon and has a lot of LP appliances and even an LP fireplace.

The new company did not have a problem insuring the boat as long as it did not have an LP fridge, for some reason they will not insure a houseboat with an LP fridge.

Full hull houseboats & propane (LP)
by: Anonymous

They don't install them in new boats that have a full hull, in a pontoon they will. Reason is if any kind of leak the LP will leak into the hull and then you can have a real safety issue.

We thought we wanted LP when we were looking for our last boat and none of the newer boats had them so we asked why and that was the answer.

Electric refrigerator consumption
by: Anonymous

We need to make sure we'll have enough power to run a refrigerator on the houseboat when we aren't plugged in.

How much solar power is needed to run a full size refrigerator? I got an estimate but I need to verify it.

Marine Fridges
by: Phil

Been an avid RV'er and boater all of my life. I am now a small RV Dealer. I understand about RV elect/LP fridges, and how they work. Intended on putting one on a 28' Trailerable houseboat that I am about to start building.

I then read these posts talking about MARINE fridges of the same brands and types that I am familiar with but have never heard of them refered to as MARINE TYPE.

Is there a difference or are these all the same fridges? Is there something that makes a traditional RV/Camper fridge different than a "MARINE" fridge?

I'm new to this site and to houseboating in general, so please forgive any rookie or ignorant questions.

I'm starting this progect and the small trailerable scale hoping to gain knowledge and enjoyment at the same time so that I'll know more about exactly what I want before I invest in a larger more permanent boat in the future.

Thanks, Phil

Reply - Answer
Phil, welcome to the forums, and congratulations on your decision to build a trailerable houseboat. I think that the LP/Elect 3 way fridges are basically a RV style fridge, installed in boats.

I don't believe that there are any of those refrigerators that are "classed Marine Approved". Hopefully someone can point out otherwise :)

IAN from

LP or Electric
by: Seaturtle

When my houseboat refrigerator required replacement I really wanted a 12/110/LP. Mainly for the LP option as there is very little to go wrong and they are pretty efficient.

However the cost drove me to explore other options. I ended with a full size 110 V ref/freezer and an inverter/charging system. This did not cost me much more than the 12/110/LP refrigerator was going to cost and now I can run TV/radio/lights/fans also - I went with a heart 2.5 KW marine inverter/charger and two Gel batteries.

When the batteries were new I could run everything all night and fire up the generator in the AM for about 1.5 hrs to recharge the bank - run all day and then fire up the generator for the same in the evening.

This worked out well as we usually wanted the generator running for breakfast and dinner times anyhow. I have a good controller so everything switch's automatically and it has charging settings and sensors to charge the bank up fast.

I have been using this for about 4 years now and the batteries are getting a little weak so I have to run the generator a little longer. But the system still works well and I sure like a 110 V fan at night as opposed to the 12 v ones.

I did get a pretty good deal on a refurbished inverter/charger and some Blem batteries so it was a good deal that I am sure glad I decided on.

Reply - Answer
Well Seaturtle, the generator, and the 2.5 KW inverter/charger is an excellent configuration. Thanks for sharing your boats setup with us.

IAN from

Rebuild the Fridges
by: Old Houseboater

Ian has it nailed. If your units are cosmetically in good condition, it would be much cheaper to have a professional give them a good service.

The working parts of the units are almost indestructible and should have at least a 25/30 year life. I would suggest you have the electronics serviced and keep the boxes you have.

Have you checked the condition of the 12 volt power supplying the units. A low voltage condition adversely affects operation of any refridgerator over the long term. (you mentioned "constantly having to jump burner wires") Condition of and spacing of the igniter points is also important.

Dual fridges
by: roger

I've had all types and there's advantages and disavantages to most. First propane is great but you have to install a propane fridge above gunnel height as you need air intake to burner area also roof vent for exhaust.

I used one for years with just minor problems that are easily handled and with 2 propane bottles that switch from empty to full automatically. For the last three years I'm running a Norcold dual electric and it works great. I run it off solar panels with no problems.

If you want the most green fridge, a Sundanzer chest type 12 volt will run off one 120 watt solar panel, and they also have chest freezer.

For now I'll stick with my Norcold it works in tropical climate and service is readily available. Roger.

Propane and Electric for me.
by: Larry

I have an RV with propane / 120v electric. That is the way I am going on my houseboat that I am building. With this setup when you are in the marina and online, the 120 volts automatically kicks in, but when you cut the AC power, the gas kicks in automatically. The down side is they are pretty expensive, but how much for convenience? Larry.

lp vs. electric
by: Tim Conley

I am under the same dilemma that you are. My main reason I decided to go with LP is that my houseboat is moored to a buoy without shore-power.

If your boat is on a slip with shore power most of the time except for the regular times on the lake, I would go with electric just based on the initial cost of the fridge.

The generator can run the fridge when you are away from shorepower. The flipside to this is there are hardly any mechanical parts to fail in the LP/absorption fridge but the initial cost is a lot more.

Either way, it sounds like it's gonna be an expensive spring, LOL.

Good luck and safe boating, Tim.

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