In the not too distant past, someone got the incredible idea of putting an old refrigerator in his garage. I’m pretty sure he won the Nobel Prize that year. He should have anyway…
All over the world people tried to do the same thing with their old refrigerators.
There’s only one problem. Depending on how hot or cold your garage gets, those old fridges probably broke pretty quickly.
Most refrigerators are designed to work in a pretty narrow temperature band. Your house never really gets hotter than 80 degrees or colder than 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
On the other hand, your garage can go from below freezing to above 100 degrees. We needed a fridge that could work in those extreme temperatures.
Thus…garage ready refrigerators were born.
What is a garage ready refrigerator? Here’s the bottom line: a garage ready refrigerator is just a fridge that has more than one temperature sensor, a wider range of acceptable operating temperatures, or some other feature that will make it popular with garage enthusiasts.
There’s no special sauce here.
Knowing that one simple fact can save you hundreds of dollars when you’re shopping for a new fridge.
Do refrigerators work in the garage?
Another popular way of phrasing this question is “Do I need to buy a special type of fridge to work in the garage?”
Each of the four major brands (Samsung, LG, KitchenAid and Whirlpool) recommend a normal operating temperature of between 55F (13C) and 110F (43C). I didn’t check every major refrigerator brand, but literally every manual I checked had the exact same requirements.
Why is that?
Inside your house, the outside air is normally a cool 70 degrees or so. But in a non-insulated garage, the temperatures can fluctuate wildly, depending on the season. If you live up north, it can easily get cold enough where the compressor never turns on.
You’ll normally fall in one of two camps:
My garage gets really hot in the summer
I feel your pain. That’s what started me on this crazy journey of transforming my garage.
If your garage is consistently hot, your refrigerator is going to work a lot harder than it normally would. This means parts are going to wear out faster and you’re going to be using a ton of electricity.
Before you add a garage refrigerator to your plans, you should take a look at how to keep your garage cool in the heat. Nothing is worse than warm beer…except maybe hundreds of dollars in repair bills because your fridge died.
My garage gets really cold in the winter
A fridge usually has one temperature sensor that controls both the freezer section and the refrigerator section. It senses the temperature inside the freezer and adjusts it if it rises above a certain threshold. There’s normally a small vent which then pumps some of the freezer air to the fridge section to keep it cool.
So what? If it’s cold then no problem, right?
Well, not exactly.
If the outside temperature is cold enough that the fridge isn’t cooling, but it’s above freezing, then anything you have in your freezer is going to spoil. On the flip side, if the temperature falls below freezing and stays there long enough, the food inside your fridge will eventually freeze.
Either way you’ve going to have spoiled food.
What options are there for a garage refrigerator?
Now we know that most combination refrigerator\freezer units only have one temperature sensor to control both sections. So when the outside temperature is too low, the compressor won’t turn on. So it sounds like you need a refrigerator designed for varying temperatures.
There are a couple of different ways to solve your problem.
Skip the fridge section…
I grew up in Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Almost all of my friends who had homes had an extra freezer in their garage to store extra food. It was usually extra frozen entrees, but occasionally you’d see the Thanksgiving turkey or even meat from their last hunting trip.
It seemed everyone had their extended family close by and having an extra freezer meant that they’d always have enough food in the house to prep for the next family gathering.
Hot or Cold?: If the temperature in your garage gets below freezing in the winter, you can still have a standalone freezer. The manufacturers I talked to all said that temperatures colder than 32 degrees (0 C) won’t affect the unit’s operation and extra heating elements aren’t necessary. But, if your garage gets above 110 degrees F (43 C) in the summer, you’ll be overworking the compressor and your unit will wear out faster.
Price: You can find standalone freezers at most of the big-box stores and online, but you won’t have as many options as combo-units. Prices range from $300 for small 7 cubic foot freezers to around $800 for the larger 20 cubic foot varieties. To give you a frame of reference, if you’ve got a side-by-side fridge\freezer in your kitchen, the freezer section is likely around 6 cubic feet in total storage.
Bottom line: If you’re even considering a standalone freezer for extra space, I’d recommend the 20 cubic foot freezers. You can still find some bargains that aren’t that much more expensive than the smaller size models.
Or skip the freezer section…
Beer and power tools: All you really need for a fun weekend!
Seriously though…who doesn’t want to grab a cold drink when you’re working in a hot garage? After I cut the grass in the hot Florida sun, the first thing I reach for is a cold bottle of water.
Then I reach for the beer.
Hot or Cold?: The outside temperatures are going to play a big role in how your garage refrigerator works.
If they drop to around 20 degrees in the winter, the temperature inside your garage is going to be cold enough that the fridge may start to freeze over. To be fair, a combination unit will have these exact same issues.
If the temperature gets too hot in the summer then the compressor will be overworked and you’ll rack up high electricity bills and higher maintenance costs.
The best option, since we’re working on transforming your ordinary garage into your dream garage anyway, is to build a small, insulated area for your fridge. This will hopefully regulate the temperatures to a more normal operating level.
Price: Standalone refrigerators range anywhere from $500 to $2,000, depending on their overall size.
Don’t get too hung up on features or finish. Remember, this is going in your garage, not your kitchen. There’s no need to buy the Gladiator Garage Refrigerator for $1200 when the exact same company makes one without the “cool garage styling” for $300 less.
Bottom Line: Do a little comparison shopping when buying a standalone garage refrigerator. Some models will include features that make great sense for your kitchen, but are a waste of money for the garage.
…or do little more digging if you need a combo unit
If either a standalone freezer or fridge won’t work in your garage, you’ll want a refrigerator what has more than one temperature sensor. That may take a little more digging to find.
I searched through the big-box appliance store (Sears, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Best Buy) and none of them had an easy way to search for refrigerators with more than one temperature sensor.
If it was listed, it was usually buried deep in the specifications section of the product detail page. Sometimes they ignored it completely.
I’ve found a shortcut to find refrigerators with more than temperature sensor.
Just look for a “garage ready refrigerator.”
What is a garage kit for a refrigerator?
I gotta admit, this is a cool concept.
If you remember from earlier, the problem with refrigerator\freezer combo units with only one temperature sensor is that when the outside air gets between freezing and around 40 degrees, the freezer will start to thaw out because the compressor isn’t turning on.
The garage kit is a small heating element that wraps around the temperature sensor in the fridge and tricks it into thinking the air is warmer than it really is.
Thankfully both Frigidaire and Whirlpool sell heating kits for their standalone refrigerators. If you have a Samsung or LG, unfortunately you’re out of luck.
You could probably rig the garage kit to work with other models, but that’s more MacGyver than I’m willing to be.
If you’ve made it work, let me know in the comments below!
Is GFCI required for refrigerators in the garage?
If you’re not familiar with GFI or GFCI, they stand for Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). In layman’s terms, both mean exactly the same thing. They are the special outlets you see in your bathrooms and kitchens that will trip if it senses a sudden increase in load. This basically makes it impossible to electrocute yourself by dropping the toaster in the bathtub like you see in the movies.
Here in the United States, the National Electrical Code (NEC) has mandated that all commercial kitchen outlets have GFCI protection. But for residential dwellings it gets a little trickier. GFCI protection is required for outlets along the kitchen countertop, but not for major appliences like your dishwasher or refrigerator.
However, once we move to the garage things change considerably. Every outlet in your garage must have GFCI protection to meet code. For those of you following along at home, this is outlined in section 210.8A of the 2017 National Electrical Code, bullet #2.