It seems simple enough: Buy a fridge (or reuse an old one), put it in out in the garage for convenience, and plug it in. Right?
Not so fast.
Is it OK to put a refrigerator in the garage? Do you need a special fridge for garage?
There are a few conditions you need to be aware of that will affect the performance of a garage refrigerator freezer. Mostly, though, the best refrigerator for a garage will depend upon the temperature in your garage, and how drastically it changes from season to season.
1. Is Your Garage Too Hot or Too Cold?
The main problem arises when your garage is not insulated, and susceptible to the drastic temperature changes of the seasons.
Most refrigerators are designed to work inside a home, where we tend to keep the temperature moderate — usually between 60-85ºF (give or take several degrees for personal preference).
Out in your uninsulated garage, however, temperatures can fluctuate from sub-freezing temperatures to blistering heat, depending on the climate you live in.
When it's particularly hot, say 100ºF or higher, your fridge will have to work extra hard to keep everything in it cold. This will result in extra wear and tear on compressor and other components, and may result in a shorter lifespan.
In the other extreme, when temperatures go below 38ºF — especially below freezing temperature (32ºF) — the fridge may not even do any work at all. Which might lead to the freezer section thawing out, and other problems.
How will you know if your fridge can handle the right temperatures?
A “Garage-Ready” Refrigerator
What is a “garage ready refrigerator”? I find that the definition has changed over the years, and from company to company.
I define a garage-ready refrigerator as: “a fridge that maintains the ideal temperatures for the food it stores, regardless of the ambient temperatures of the garage in which it sits.”
Don't simply trust the marketing and leave it up to the manufacturer to tell you that the fridge is “garage ready” for YOUR garage.
Always check the Owner's Manual when considering a refrigerator for your garage. You can usually download the owner's manual from the manufacturer's website for free.*
*(I include links to manuals in all my garage refrigerator reviews.)
Check the “installation” section for instructions or warnings about the “operating temperature” range in the location you want to install your fridge.
(See above image for sample warning about temperatures in an owner's manual.)
2. Look for Separate Thermostats and Better Insulation
Why would the freezer thaw in colder temperatures?
Well, most refrigerators have one thermostat, in the fridge part. When the temperature there gets too high, air is sucked out of the freezer section bring it down. Then, the compressor (the noisy motor in the fridge) turns on to keep the freezer frozen.
When it's already cold enough in your garage, the fridge doesn't need need to work to keep the food inside cold. So, it never turns on the compressor, thus, never freezing the freezer. So, the freezer section becomes more like the refrigerator section, which isn't cold enough to keep things frozen.
(read more about it here)
In freezing cold temperatures below 32ºF, the problem flips. It's cold enough to keep everything frozen in the freezer. However, this means that the refrigerator section is ALSO frozen. Items like fruits or vegetables that you don't want turned to ice will now be ruined.
One way refrigerators for garage use get around this dilemma is to have separate thermostats in the freezer and refrigerator sections. That way, cold air from the freezer it still used to keep the fridge cold, but if the temperature in the freezer section gets too high, the compressor will still turn on.*
Additionally, garage refrigerator freezers will be insulated better against extreme temperature changes. This keeps not only your food and drinks cold, and your ice frozen, but also keeps the electrical components at consistent operational temperatures.
*(Another way around this is to install a garage refrigerator kit into your refrigerator. This tricks the thermostat into thinking it's warmer in your garage, so that it will turn the compressor on.)
*DIY Tip: Build an Insulated Refrigerator Area…
Here's an odd recommendation I found on various sites around the Internet.
If you live in truly extreme weather conditions (sub-freezing temperatures, or heat above 110°F), have an uninsulated garage, and it's too expensive to insulate the whole thing (or you are constantly opening the garage door), you might want to consider sealing off a small area just for your refrigerator.
It could be as simple as a small plywood shed inside the garage that's just large enough to contain your fridge, with a little extra space for air circulation and a heating or cooling device. A little insulation wouldn't hurt.
The important thing is that you keep the ambient temperature around your fridge in the operational temperature range. It's much easier to do this in a small shed than in your entire garage.
In extreme heat, you'll want a cooling device for your refrigerator room, like a small garage air conditioner. In freezing temperatures, you'll need a heating device for a small room. Maybe something as simple as a hot light bulb in some cases.
I know, running an extra appliance with your fridge sounds like it will be extra expensive. But remember, you only need to bring the temperature around your fridge up or down to just within the operational temperature range (not to the temperature you keep your home at).
You can even plug your heater/cooler into one of these thermostat controlled outlets, so that it kicks on only when the space is above or below the recommended operational temperature range.
3. Garage Refrigerators vs. Outdoor Refrigerators
Some people mistakenly believe that they need to buy an “outdoor refrigerator” for their garage, because being in the garage is kind of like being outside.
But, the classification is slightly misleading.
Fridges designated to be “outdoor refrigerators” are those that are approved by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) as weatherproofed against wet weather. They are designed to be used outdoors in warm to moderate climates, not cold to freezing weather.
Garage refrigerators are not weatherproofed against wet weather. They are designed to work indoors, protected from the weather, but in the colder temperatures of an unheated, uninsulated room, like a garage.
Finding the Best Refrigerator for a Garage
Determining which is the best refrigerator for a garage is going to be a matter of identifying your storage needs, the temperature and insulation in your garage, climate, etc.
For some suggestions on brands and models, check out these two articles:
(At the end of that first article, I describe a method I use to search for garage refrigerator specs online.)
So, while it IS possible for people living in moderate climates to just buy a fridge and put it in their garages for extra convenience, others will have to consider the temperature conditions of their garages first.
People living in climates with particularly harsh winters will want a garage refrigerator freezer that will still keep their freezer items frozen when temperatures go down, and items in the refrigerator section just above freezing when temps go down further.
I hope this article was helpful in your search for the best refrigerator for a garage. If you're looking to purchase refrigerators for garage use, you can read some of my reviews of garage refrigerators here.
If you have any questions, or even comments about your own experiences with garage refrigerator freezers, please add them below.