A Guide to Understanding Outdoor Refrigerators
Outdoor kitchens are increasingly popular. Fully decked with setups and appliances, an outdoor kitchen provides beautiful scenery and an opportunity for some fresh air during your dining experience. Having an outdoor refrigerator is very helpful in these setups. They allow users to store their perishables or drinks in an outdoor area, preventing them from having to repeatedly travel indoors to collect items. Operating similarly to an indoor refrigerator, the outdoor refrigerator models require more heat-resistant casing and durability, making them somewhat more expensive than a standard indoor unit of the same size. However, the convenience of the unit can easily outweigh its cost.
Types of Outdoor Refrigerators
- Freestanding outdoor refrigerators are basic outdoor fridge units. To allow for insulation and energy efficiency, outdoor refrigerators work best when moved away from other outdoor appliances, like ovens and barbecues. Freestanding models can be positioned beneath island countertops, but they require at least one inch of ventilation on all sides.
- Built-in outdoor refrigerators integrate seamlessly into outdoor kitchen cabinetry. Built-in fridges are front-vented, so they do not require the clearance on the top, sides and rear like freestanding models do. However, installation and setup will most likely need to be done by a professional. Built-in units can also be purchased in the form of sliding drawers rather than basic one-door units.
Important Outdoor Refrigerator Features
- Size: Outdoor fridges are more compact than indoor kitchen refrigerator units. Outdoor units are commonly 24 inches by 34 inches tall with 5.5 to 6 cubic feet of internal space. There are slimmer models, usually 15 inches wide, with about 3 cubic feet of space. There are also outdoor drawer cooling units available that can slide out of any outdoor counter space. They are sold in two- or three-drawer sets and offer the same approximate dimensions of the standalone units.
- Material: Outdoor refrigerators need to withstand weather and natural elements, so rust-resistant material is important. Because of this, most outdoor refrigerator models are made of stainless steel. The steel comes in different grades, though, so you should study the differences before making your final purchase. Look for grade 304 stainless (a.k.a. 18/8), because it has higher resistance to corrosion. Less expensive fridges are made from plastic-wrapped steel or grade 430 stainless, which is susceptible to rust.
- Lock: Many outdoor units should have locks, for the simple reason that they are not protected by house doors. Even if your yard has locked gates and a security system in place, a refrigerator lock can be extremely helpful for families with children, particularly when the outdoor unit is being used to store alcoholic beverages. It also lessens the chance of intense winds or stray animals randomly opening your device and ruining its contents.
- UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approval: UL is a government approved program, established in 1894, that checks products for safety and offers certification to those that pass their tests. This certification is especially important for your outdoor refrigeration device, because weather conditions, particularly rain and snow, provide ample opportunity for electrocution and other safety hazards. UL verifies that these situations are less likely to happen.
Outdoor Refrigerator Cost
Basic UL-approved outdoor refrigerators with a plastic door panel and manual defrost usually start around $550. Stainless steel models with more interior space and possibly a freezer compartment raise the price to about $700. Glass-fronted beverage coolers are at least $900, and having drawer units will raise that price to anywhere from $1,800 to $3,000.
The cost of outdoor refrigerator units should almost always include a warranty that covers parts and labor for one year and the compressor for five. If an indoor refrigerator unit is installed outdoors, then the warranty on that unit will likely be nullified. Also, outdoor refrigerators are not meant to operate in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so residences in cold climates are encouraged to bring their units indoors during the offseason to prevent any warranty-nullifying conditions.
Estimates suggest that the yearly utility cost of operating an outdoor refrigerator is around $35. However, this figure may rise or fall depending on outdoor temperatures, exposure of the unit to direct sunlight and proximity of the fridge to other outdoor appliances, such as a barbecue. Other likely cost additions will be adding a 110-volt GFCI outlet, or purchasing a converter for your current outlet, and a cover for freestanding units to protect them from intense weather conditions.