You've probably heard that you can't just use any old fridge outside. But, why not? What are the differences between indoor and outdoor refrigerators, and why is it important to know them?
Here are three of the most important things to be aware of when looking for an outdoor refrigerator.
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Outdoor vs. Indoor Refrigerators
There are two main differences between refrigerators designed to be used outdoors and indoors.
First is ambient temperature range. Refrigerators have to work to keep everything inside it cold despite the temperature outside of it. We keep the temperature in our homes pretty even — generally between 60ºF and 80ºF.
Outdoors, temperatures can change dramatically from morning to night, and vary widely from freezing cold to blazing hot. Outdoor refrigerators have to maintain consistently cold temperatures in that highly unstable environment.
In the Summer heat, for example, a fridge would require additional insulation and more powerful compressors and components to keep everything cold.
Second is weatherproofing for the electrical components. Even when built into a cabinet or other outdoor fixture, outdoor refrigerators can be exposed to water from rain, or from splashing in a pool area, or the like. Water and electricity is a dangerous mix, so special design precautions are taken to reduce the risk of electrocution. Be sure the fridge you buy is UL (Underwriters Laboratory) Approved for outdoor use.
Leading to the next point…
“Outdoor” Does NOT Mean “All-Weather”
This weatherproofing is only to keep the electrical parts safe from water. It doesn't mean you can leave it completely unprotected in the worst of rainstorms, or function in the coldest of winters.
Almost all outdoor fridges are made from stainless steel thanks to its ability to resist rust in wet environments.
However, stainless steel can still rust under the worst of conditions. And, not all stainless steel is made with the same level of rust-resistance.
To avoid rust on your fridge, you'll want to buy one with a higher grade of stainless steel — which tends to be a little more expensive. Less expensive models will be made of a lower grade of stainless steel (which is more susceptible to rust), or of plastic-wrapped steel.
You may also want to cover your fridge in particularly wet weather.
Additionally, like their indoor counterparts, outdoor refrigerators are not designed to function in temperatures below 40 degrees.* Why not? Because that's about the temperature the fridge tends to keep everything on the inside. If it's already cold enough outside the fridge, there's no need for it to turn on.
That can lead to problems like the freezer section not turning on, so that everything inside it thaws and spoils. If you keep your fridge outdoors in a cold winter environment, it's recommended to empty it, unplug it, and keep it covered for the season. (You may also want to keep the door slightly open so it can air out and avoid mold.)
*UPDATE: Is It Certified To Hold Food?
This is a good spot to insert this FOURTH good thing to know about outdoor refrigerators (in answer to questions I've been getting recently).
When is an outdoor fridge not really a refrigerator? When it's a Beverage Cooler.
In the previous section, I mentioned that refrigerators keep everything cooler than 40°F. That's the temperature below which bacteria cannot survive, and food is safely kept fresh.
But, what if you don't need to store food? What if you're just keeping drinks cold? Well, then there's no need to spend all that extra energy keeping the fridge below 40°F.
Beverage coolers are designed to do just that. They keep canned or bottled beverages cool without necessarily going below that 40° point.
This saves the manufacturer money on parts like the compressor and insulation, which makes outdoor beverage coolers a bit cheaper than outdoor refrigerators. It also saves YOU money on your energy bill.
But don't use them to store you food long-term.
When buying your outdoor fridge, be sure to confirm that it's not simply a beverage cooler. Check the manual to make sure the internal temperature range is cold enough to store food.
Freestanding vs. Built-In
If you're going to build your refrigerator into an outdoor kitchen island, or cabinetry of some sort, be sure to get one that is designed to do so.
Refrigerators need good ventilation to keep the components working properly, and to transfer the heat out of your fridge. “Built-in” classified refrigerators have vents in the front (usually on the bottom) so that you can build it in to the cabinet or island with a flush fit.
Freestanding refrigerators need space for ventilation in the back, top, and sides. If you build it flush into a cabinet or kitchen island, you will inhibit its ability to function properly and keep everything cool.
You can still install a freestanding model under a counter of some sort, but you must give it adequate spacing on all sides for ventilation.
Outdoor refrigerators are a great convenience in the Summer and in warm climates. Be sure to understand the right features and capabilities to look for in a fridge, and to take good care of it, so that it will service you well for several years.
Outdoor Refrigerator Reviews
- Good Outdoor Refrigerators Under $1,000 (Reviews + Buyer’s Guide)
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- Bull Outdoor Refrigerator Review