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Can You Keep a Refrigerator Outside?

There’s nothing like having an ice box full of beers near the BBQ grill in summer – but is it safe to bring the indoor fridge outside and use it on your patio or decking area?

Typical indoor refrigerators aren’t designed to withstand the elements and be rust-proof, so they’re not safe outside. So ensure the fridge you buy is UL certified for outdoor use and is made of 304-grade stainless steel, so it can deal with rain and large fluctuations in outside temperature.

Let’s dive down into the subject of using refrigerators outside in more detail, and discover what’s safe to do in this context – and what isn’t…

Can I Keep a Refrigerator Outside?

Do You Need a Special Refrigerator For Outdoors? (Differences With Indoor Fridges)

Having an outdoor refrigerator seems like a good idea. It’s a great way of creating extra storage space for chilled food, and if you have an outdoor kitchen, it’s great to have the food (and beers) to hand while you cook. However, if you would like to have a refrigerator on your porch or patio, you’ll need to buy a special outdoor model.

Typical indoor refrigerators aren’t designed to withstand the elements, and even more importantly, they’re not safe outside. So, how is an outdoor refrigerator different from the one in your kitchen?

Well firstly, the build quality is different, as an outdoor model has to be rust proof. 304 grade stainless steel is a common choice of material for an al fresco fridge.

Then there’s dealing with fluctuations in temperature. The standard kitchen refrigerator operates in temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees fahrenheit. Its outdoor counterpart has a bigger range than this, with superior insulation to protect both the food and its mechanics. A normal fridge simply won’t function effectively outside its narrower parameters as it doesn’t have this insulation.

You can use an outdoor refrigerator indoors, but not the other way round. If in doubt (for example, you want a fridge for a semi-outdoors space like a garage or covered porch), always go for an outside model.

Water and electricity is never a good combination: make sure the fridge you buy is UL certified for outdoor use to make sure the appliance is safe. You’ll also need to ensure that you have a safe electrical supply, with a proper waterproof socket (running a cable through the window really isn’t an option). Speak to a professional to ensure you have the right sort of power supply for your outdoor appliances.

Is it Illegal To Leave a Refrigerator Outside?

It depends what you mean by “leave”. Abandoning a fridge outside, with its doors on, is unlawful in most states. This is to prevent kids from playing in an abandoned refrigerator and becoming trapped inside. So, if you’ve heard that it’s illegal to have a fridge outside, that’s probably where this information stems from.

If you have a fridge in your yard as part of your outdoor kitchen set-up, it’s not abandoned. However, if it’s switched off and not being used, you’ll still need to make sure that kids and pets can’t become trapped in the compartment. 

Can You Leave a Refrigerator Outside in The Summer?

If you have an outdoor refrigerator, it can spend the summer outdoors, dispensing cool drinks and keeping your BBQ salads nice and fresh.

Keep it in a shady spot away from direct sunlight. The fridge’s job is to keep produce cool, and if it’s always fighting the ambient temperature, it’s going to have to work much harder. Choose a cooler part of your yard to install your new outdoor refrigerator. It’s unlikely that your yard will get this hot; however bear in mind that a fridge cannot work in temperatures of over 110 degrees fahrenheit.

You may also live in a zone with climate fluctuations, so even if you’re just keeping your fridge outside during the warmer months, make sure it’s out of the prevailing wind and has shelter from the rain.

Can You Leave a Fridge Outside in Winter?

This depends on the climate and which zone you live in. If you experience harsh winters, your fridge will struggle. When the temperature drops below that of the fridge compartment (typically around 40 degrees fahrenheit), it won’t be able to function. This is because if the fridge senses that the temperature is cold enough, it will simply shut down.

If the weather is very, very cold, the oil inside the refrigerator’s compressor may even freeze. This means that the oil can’t circulate so the compressor can burn out. So, if you have to store your refrigerator outdoors in the winter, at least turn it off.

Having read this, you’ll probably decide to winterize your outdoor fridge under cover. If it’s freestanding, unplug it, clean it, dry it and store it in the garage or similar safe outbuilding. Unplug and clean a built-in unit, and if you can, cover the whole kitchen island to protect it from debris.

Fridges have a tendency to become moldy if they’re not used. This can cause staining to things like the door seals, as well as leaving you with an unpleasant job in the spring. Prevent this by leaving the door slightly ajar when the fridge is switched off. Tie it open to prevent it from closing (and see the earlier point about kids getting trapped inside fridges).

Can I Put a Refrigerator in a Hot Garage? (Do I Need a Special Model?)

All refrigerators will have to work harder in a hot place, and this is the case for outdoor models, too. An uninsulated, poorly ventilated garage will get pretty hot in the summer, far hotter than a typical domestic kitchen will. If you’re buying a fridge for a basic type of garage (by this, we mean a garage that doesn’t have a window or air con or a heating system with a thermostat), go for an outdoor model.

Now, your tough outdoor refrigerator will handle extreme temperatures far better than an indoor one will, thanks to its superior insulation; however, don’t push its limits. If you’re aware that your garage is a super-hot spot, it may not be the best place for a refrigerator. This is not least because your bills will be higher due to the fridge’s thermostat constantly running.

We mentioned that the oil inside the fridge can freeze: it can also overheat. Never expose your refrigerator to temperatures exceeding 100 degrees fahrenheit. 

Can I put a fridge outside?

Do I Need a Cover or Enclosure For An Outdoor Fridge?

Like all appliances, your outdoor fridge will last longer if you take care of it. Relentless exposure to rain, sun, and wind will hasten the demise of any appliance, even if it’s designed for outdoor use.

We’d recommend finding the right spot for your new outdoor fridge to protect it and lengthen its life. A shelter is good, to keep the worst of the rain off, and position it out of the prevailing wind. Of course, you’re going to pick a spot that’s sheltered and shaded for our outdoor kitchen area anyway, so you probably already have a place in mind.

An outdoor fridge also needs a good flow of air around it. Make sure there’s space for air to circulate by not placing the appliance right up against the wall. Keep the area around it free from fallen leaves and similar debris.

Why Are Outdoor Refrigerators So Expensive?

An outdoor refrigerator is more expensive to build, and is made from higher quality materials. For example, your indoor fridge doesn’t need to be constricted from 304 grade stainless steel, or have cleverly boxed-in, waterproof components. A typical indoor fridge doesn’t have all that extra insulation, either.

Expect to pay upwards of $800 for an outdoor fridge. Take a look on Amazon, where there’s a good choice of freestanding and under-counter models. If it’s just for drinks, you can get a compact outdoor “beverage refrigerator” for closer to $400.

Final Words

For safety reasons, it’s not a good idea to use an indoor fridge outdoors.

Outdoor fridges are made of premium 304-grade stainless steel so they can withstand the elements – so they’ll definitely do the job much better – but they aren’t cheap at a cool $800 bucks for starters.

However, in the final analysis, an outdoor refrigerator could definitely be a great investment if you live in a warmer/dryer climate and entertain outside a lot.

And just think of all those cold beers only an arm’s length away from the grill. Bring it on! 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >