Is It Safe To Run a Refrigerator On a Generator?


It might seem simple enough to just connect everything to a generator and as long as it has fuel it should run, right? This is not always the case.  Before buying a generator, you need to take stock of what you will be running on it.

In the case of running a refrigerator, they normally require quite a bit of power.  So is it safe to run a refrigerator on a generator? 

It is perfectly safe to run a refrigerator on a generator as long as the generator has a higher watt allowance than the starting watt consumption of the refrigerator. The average starting watts of a fridge is between 800-1200 watts, so a generator with a 2000 watt capacity is sufficient. 

A 2000 watt generator is enough if the only appliance running on it is the fridge.  But what happens when you’re running other loads on the generator? Can you damage your equipment?  Will it work with a freezer?  I am here to answer those questions for you and more.


Related: My favorite generator hands down is the Honda 2200i. I have had mine for over 15 years as a backup to my solar system. It can power a fridge and even be tied into another Honda generator for even more power!

HONDA EU 2200i GENERATOROpens in a new tab.


How Many Watts Does It Take To Run a Refrigerator

Knowing how many watts a refrigerator requires to start and then run is crucial. It will help you determine what type of generator you need. Because a refrigerator automatically switches itself off and on to maintain the right temperature, it is best to use the starting watts as a base and to consider it as the running consumption.

The power consumption for a modern refrigerator is around 100 to 200 watts. If it is a fridge/freezer (a refrigerator with a freezer), you are looking at anything around 150 to 400W. The starting watts of a modern refrigerator ranges between 900 to 1200W depending on your model. 

The starting watts just stands for the amount of power needed to start the refrigerator. Understanding the difference between running consumption and starting consumption is important for consumption management.

Before buying a generator to run your fridge, be sure to check the power specifications of your model.

Managing Power Consumption 

This is the most important part of this article in my opinion. If you have a few appliances running on your generator, you need to make sure that you manage the consumption properly. To do this, you need to know what the running watts and starting watts of all your appliances are. 

Running Multiple Appliances On One Generator

Let’s say you have a 2000W generator and all your appliances are on excluding your refrigerator and the total running consumption is 1000W. Sounds good right, the refrigerator only takes 200W so the total will only go up to 1300W. This is completely wrong and I have seen people make this mistake before.

You need to work with the starting watts of a refrigerator so in the example above, when you switch the refrigerator on, your consumption will shoot well above 2000W. Going above this number comes with the risk of blowing the generator or in the more likely and best-case scenario, the generator will shut off.

Even if your refrigerator was switched on before other appliances, every time the thermostat kicks in and starts the compressor, your consumption goes up. That is why you should use the starting watts as the running watts.

Running Only Your Refrigerator On The Generator

Most refrigerators have a maximum starting watt of 1200W so you could get any generator that is 2000W and above. You can do so with peace of mind knowing that you will not run the risk of overloading the machine.

Related: Should You Let A Generator Run Out Of Gas?Opens in a new tab.

How To Work Out the Wattage of a Fridge

If you try looking for the Watts of your refrigerator and you cannot find it, all you have to do is multiply the volts with the amps of your refrigerator and this will give you the wattage.  You can typically find this information written somewhere on the fridge itself, usually in the back.

Can a Generator Damage a Refrigerator?

If you overload a generator and have a refrigerator connected to it, it can cause damage to both the refrigerator and the generator. To understand why this is, we need to understand how a refrigerator works.

To maintain temperature, a refrigerator has a thermostat.  This thermostat is what tells the compressor to switch on and off to maintain the right temperature.

If there is not enough power for the thermostat to do this or for the compressor to switch on properly and this happens over a prolonged period of time, you will damage the refrigerator.

What Generator Should You Get?

If you are like me and your energy usage is low, you can get away with a Honda EU 2200i GeneratorOpens in a new tab. for all of your needs. If you need 2, get another one and run it in series giving you 4400 watts of power. These generators are the best. I have had mine for years and have beat it to death and it still runs great.

For the heavier power users, I recommend getting something that is between 5000 to 7500 watts. Anything above 5000 Watts will be enough to run all your critical appliances along with the lighting in your homestead. The Westinghouse 7500 Portable GeneratorOpens in a new tab. is the one for you. Louder than the Honda, but it delivers.

However, I have been running my homestead with a generator in tandem with solar panels.  I have a solar inverter that is large enough to handle most loads. When the charge level of my batteries needs topping up, I can use a 2000 watt generator to charge the batteries, but the inverter is the one handling the loads.

How Long Can a Refrigerator Keep Food Cold Without Power?

If for some reason your generator stops working, it takes approximately 4 hours for your refrigerator to start warming up so that is more than enough time for you to go out and sort your generator out.

For modern refrigerators, it takes around 2 hours of being on for it to reach a good temperature. As for the food inside, that depends on what you have in there.

How Long Will The Freezer Keep the Food Cold?

For a freezer, it depends on how full it is. If the freezer is full you have approximately 48 hours before the food is thawed and if the freezer is half-full you can halve the time, so, approximately 24 hours.

If the refrigerator and has the freezer built-in, you should only work with the 24-hour window for the freezer.

It takes a freezer anywhere from 24 hours to 48 hours to freeze all the food inside it. This obviously depends on how full it is.

This is important to know so you can decide what to do overnight.  You don’t want to have to run the generator all night and be that annoying neighbor.  Nor do you want all of your food to go bad.  So what do you do?

We know that a refrigerator can retain its temperature for 4 hours, We also know that the freezer can retain its temperature for up to 48 hours. So I would say you have about a 6 to 8-hour window before you need to put the generator back on.

I have done this for the past 2 years with success.  My fridge is plugged into an automatic timer that shuts the fridge off from 9 to 5 in the morning.  The only difference I have noticed is that my milk goes bad faster, but other than that, everything else seemed fine.

If your fridge runs on a generator alone, just switch the generator off just before going to bed and switch it on first thing in the morning when you wake up. This will make sure that your food doesn’t spoil.

If you want to take extra precautionary measures, you could lower the temperature within the refrigerator an hour before going to bed to prolong the process warming up process.  You can also cover it with a moving blanket.  This will help insulate the fridge and keep the cold air from escaping.

Is A Generator Dangerous?

While generators normally have safety features in place, there are some things that you want to avoid doing. 

One of the most important things you should never do is run a generator inside the house. The carbon monoxide fumes and other gasses can be very dangerous, especially in small spaces.

I have also seen folks leave gas cans behind the exhaust of a generator.  This is a major no no.  That exhaust is hot and can spark that gas can up into a flaming inferno before you know it.

Related: 5 Ways To Find Money For Your Off Grid HomesteadOpens in a new tab.

Conclusion

I think that one of the best things you can do when building an off the grid homestead is to ask questions. Nobody will ever have all the answers to everything but knowing as much as you can make life so much easier.

To summarise this article: Yes it is safe to run a refrigerator on a generator. You just need to make sure that the specifications of both are compatible. Do not run the generator in the house and try to develop a schedule so that you don’t have to leave it running overnight.

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Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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