Will a Refrigerator Work Outside in the Cold?
Does the convenience of an outdoor fridge outweigh the risk of damaging the appliance and possibly ruining the food inside? Protection, climate, and usage all play a role in whether a refrigerator will last outside, despite harsh temperatures.
Does the convenience of an outdoor fridge outweigh the risk of damaging the appliance and possibly ruining the food inside? Protection, climate and usage all play a role in whether a refrigerator will last outside, despite colder temperatures.
A refrigerator should not be kept outside or exposed to the elements because it's an electrical device that could be damaged by rain, hail or lightning. However, as long as it's under the shelter of a garage or other structure, your refrigerator can be used in cold weather with a few considerations.
When looking to use an appliance counter to its intended use, you should first examine its details. Standard refrigerators are meant to be stored at room temperature, which is about 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius). At this temperature, its internal sensors can easily gauge how much of a degree difference there should be between the outside air and the internal temperature. The coolant will then move through the fridge, converting from gas to liquid until it pushes enough heat out of the unit to cool the food inside.
Left Out in the Cold
Your owner's manual may specify a minimum external temperature for use, but most refrigerators will continue to work normally until the outside temperatures approach the temperature inside the fridge. At that point, the thermostat will not come on and the refrigerator will not cool. If this happens, your food and beverages may stay cold, but the refrigerator will not be able to regulate the temperature of your food. Some fridge contents like beverages may be ruined if the temperature drops below 40 degrees F.
If the unit has an attached freezer, it may shut down when outside temperatures drop below freezing. Many household refrigerators include a freezer, but both sections run off of a single thermostat. This thermostat is located in the refrigerator section, so when the outside temperature drops below the refrigerator’s temperature, the thermostat does not come on and the freezer does not cool. Test freezer function by placing a separate thermometer in among the food; it should read 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Special Outdoor Refrigerators
Your best chance at maintaining a refrigerator in fluctuating temperatures is to purchase one specifically built for the outdoors. These fridges often have more insulation and stronger hardware, such as pumps and compressors, to guarantee their longevity. They also must be resistant to rust, which is why many are made of grade 304 stainless steel, a less corrosive alloy than other fridge materials. Despite all of these modifications, however, an outdoor fridge is still not designed to work in freezing temperatures.
Considerations for Outdoor Use
When using a refrigerator outdoors, ensure it is in a dry area and protected from the elements. Many garages and sheds have ground fault circuit interrupter systems, also known as GFCIs, to prevent shorts, but if the outlet switches off, the refrigerator won't run and the food may spoil. For the same reason, don't plug your refrigerator into an outlet that is controlled by a switch. Finally, be sure to regularly inspect and clean the refrigerator and the surrounding area.
The decision to store a refrigerator outdoors, even in an enclosed space, is best made according to personal need. Is your house located in a region prone to extreme weather conditions? If you live in an area with extremely cold temperatures, it may be in your best interest to avoid an outdoor fridge altogether, or to limit its use to certain seasons of the year.
Based in central Missouri, Rachel Steffan has been writing since 2005. She has contributed to several online publications, specializing in sustainable agriculture, food, health and nutrition. Steffan holds a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Truman State University.