Narrowboats & Fridges: The Power Balance!

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If you are browsing this website regularly, I assume you know all about narrowboats! One thing that pops up all the time in the narrowboating community (other than toilet talk) is what kind of fridge is best for a narrowboat? Does a gas fridge work in a narrowboat? How much power do I need to keep the fridge on? Should I buy 12 volt or 230 volt fridge? If you have ever asked yourself these questions please read on 🙂

What to Consider When Buying a Narrowboat Fridge?

If you are thinking about purchasing a narrowboat fridge, there are many things that you will need to consider before making your purchase. Lets go over the main ones!

12 volt or 230 volt?

A 12volt fridge is always going to be the ideal appliance for your narrowboat, simply because the native electricity output (is that a real term or did I just make it up??) is also 12 volts, meaning you will not have to fit a 230volt power source (via an invertor). When you try to convert energy from 12volt to 230, you are always loosing some energy during the process, meaning you will need to generate more electricity for the same amount of fridge power.

Your Boat’s Power Balance

When running a fridge on a boat, you really need to consider the power balancing act that you are running. For example, maybe you have a massive bank of batteries and loads of solar panels plastered all over your roof. If so, you could get away with a decent sized 230 volt fridge will little to no power worries. If you do plan to run a fridge through an invertor, it will help if you get one with a low standby current too!

As battery and solar panel tech improves, this power balance should continue to be tilted on the boaters favour 🙂

24/7

The reason that it is important that you plan out your narrowboat fridge purchase perfectly is the fact that a refrigerator is one appliance that you need to have on all the time. If it conks out due to lack of capacity in your boat’s electrical systems, you are going to quickly have rotten and stinky food to deal with!! And although a fridge has a low power draw, the fact they need to be on 24/7 still make them a potential strain on your electrical system.

Size

Most narrowboats you go into will have pretty small and pokey fridges. This is not because they like it, but because this is all the boat owners trust their boat’s electrical systems to deal with. Most people dream of massive fridges with endless food storage, but in a narrowboat there has to be compromise. Finding a balance between power consumption and adequate size is a balancing act most boaters need to go through.

Another reason size can be an issue, is that if you do choose something on the larger side, you should consider the exact dimensions of the fridge and whether it will fit through the narrow access points on a narrowboat. I have heard of boaters having to remove built in fittings and furniture to get their new pride and joy into the desired position! Not ideal!

Price

Although, for reasons mentioned above, a 12 volt fridge would be the most efficient option for a narrowboat, a lot of people choose the inefficiency of a 230 volt fridge simply because they are much cheaper. It can seem hard to pay £500 for something you know would cost £2-300 if it was a 230 volt unit. This is simply because the 230 volt option is the common one used in most land based houses. You could walk into any electronics store in the UK and buy one. This is not the case for the much more specialised 12 volt fridge.

What Type of Canal Boater are You?

As with my recent washing machine blog post, when deciding on a fridge for your boat you need to make a decision as to what type of canal boater you are or plan to be! If you are permanently moored in a marina or somewhere with shoreline power 24/7, you have much less to worry about regarding power. This means you could but a large domestic style 230 volts fridge and would be fine for power. However, be aware that if you do choose to cruise the canals at any point, your fridge may flatten your leisure batteries pretty quickly 🙂

If you are a continuous cruiser out on the cut, you should choose your fridge wisely to go along with the power coming from your Solar panels (or be prepared to run your engine or a generator a lot!!). If you are heavily reliant on solar panels, be sure to take into consideration the drop off in power you will see in the winter.

What types of Fridge Can You Buy for a Narrowboat?

12 or 230 Volt– As discussed above, there are two main types of voltage to choose from when it comes to canal based fridges 🙂 And for those old school boaters that are shouted at the screen ‘its 240 volts not 230!!’, the UK voltage system was reduced to 230 volts since 2003, to be close to the 220 volts used in Europe (or this is what I gather from my limited understanding!).

Energy Efficiency Rating– Its pretty amazing how much the energy usage of fridges has been reduced in the last decade or so, making fridges a realistic option when on a narrowboat. To further enhance this, you should buy a fridge with the best energy rating possible, especially if you are a continuous cruiser.

Be sure to check carefully the energy efficiency rating of any fridge you buy

Gas Fridge– You can also buy a gas fridge for your narrowboat. These have been used for years by people living on canal boats, especially back when electric fridges were more power hungry. A lot of boaters swear by gas fridges, but there are a few drawbacks you need to consider. Firstly, you will need a gas supply on your boat, which may be difficult if it’s not already readily available. Although this may be a good option if you already have a gas appliance such as a stove on your boat.

Also, if you do choose to go with a gas fridge, you will need to consider the ventilation. The best way is to vent the gasses out the side of the boat, or certainly this is the safest way of doing it. Just make sure the wind can’t get in and blow out the pilot light of the fridge!

Finally, as with 12 volt fridges, the typical gas fridge is not that common and can get pretty pricey when compared to a regular domestic style fridge.

Anything Else to Consider?

Fitting the Fridge

Make sure to leave good ventilation around your fridge, especially for 12 volt units. Lack of ventilation can make them less efficient. Also, make sure to get a trained electrician to help you wire in the fridge. If you use the wrong wires, you could be bleeding valuable energy out of the system.

Be Creative

If your boat is struggling to run a decent sized fridge, you can find creative ways to keep things cold. For example, some canal boats have under floor compartments. As these are under the waterline they should keep things decently cold, and in Winter freezing cold 🙂

Use Power Calculators

There are many good household appliance energy calculators you can use to find out how much your fridge would use over time. These are really handy for matching your boat’s total power usage with the input you are getting from solar. I have more talk around this in my solar panel article.

Don’t Worry, the End is Nigh!!

I know all this fridge and electricity talk is annoying for you as a boater. But don’t worry, the struggle is nearly over. With the ever improving technology of fridges, batteries and solar panels, I bet we won’t even be discussing this in another ten years.

If you have any experiences you want to share about your boat and the fridge you use, etc. feel free to share in the comments section below. Although I love narrowboats, I am not exactly an electrical expert!

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