Why You Should Avoid Using a Refrigerator in an Unheated Garage

If you’ve purchased a second fridge recently, you probably thought about putting your old refrigerator in the garage. But if your garage isn’t climate controlled or insulated, that might not be the best option.

Putting an old refrigerator in an unheated garage could affect the fridge’s performance, causing it to freeze food unnecessarily, leading to spoilage. In extreme cases, these temperature changes in the garage can accelerate wear and tear on the fridge’s components.

This article will explain how the cold air temperature in your garage affects your refrigerator. Then I’ll explain how to protect the fridge from the extreme temperatures in the garage.

How Freezing Temperatures Affect Your Garage Fridge

The ambient room temperature impacts how your refrigerator and freezer performs. Fridges and freezers will use up to 50% more electricity in a warm room than in a cooler one.

Most refrigerators were designed to work inside your climate-controlled home, between 60-85ºF (15-30ºC). Even so-called outdoor fridges have only a slightly wider temperature range of between 50º and around 110º F.

In an uninsulated garage, winter temperatures can go well below freezing for long periods. In summer, it can get as hot as 100° F (38º C) or worse, depending on where you live. 

Theoretically, that’s within most manufacturer’s tolerances. So, it’s OK to put a refrigerator in an unheated garage, right?

Not so fast.

For every 1º F change in the ambient room temperature, you can expect an increase of between 2% to 2.5% in the energy consumption by the fridge.

The fridge is forced to work much harder in a sweltering garage to keep everything inside it cold.

In other words, if the temperature in your uninsulated garage climbs to 80ºF (27 ºC), you will use 22-25% more energy to power the fridge. That increases to 45-50% if your garage temperature climbs to 90ºF (32ºC).

Your garage refrigerator running longer results in more strain on the compressor and other components. The harder it works, the shorter its lifespan will be.

Can You Use Your Refrigerator in an Unheated Garage in Winter?

It stands to reason that refrigerators don’t like heat. But what happens in the winter when it starts to get colder?

Strangely enough, cold rooms pose different challenges for your fridge. To understand why we first need to know how a refrigerator works.

The thermostat in your fridge turns on the compressor when the temperature inside gets above a certain point.

Even though the fresh food section of your garage refrigerator is insulated, it can still freeze over if the outside temperature gets too cold. When the room temperature fluctuates between 36º and 50º F, the items in your fridge could freeze and thaw over and over again, spoiling the food.

Fridges with a single thermostat can get confused when the room temperature is too cold. It stops it from turning the fridge compressor on, even if the temperature inside is warm enough to need it.

It’s not much better for the freezer section, either.

Cold temperatures trick the unit into thinking the freezer temperature is colder than it is. This causes the compressor to shut off more often and, occasionally, stop working completely.

Eventually, this causes the freezer temp to rise and fall wildly.

Ice accumulation is likely when using a refrigerator in an unheated garage

One way to solve this is if your garage fridge has two thermostats (one inside and one outside). Even if one thermometer gives an inaccurate reading, you’re less likely to have issues with repeated freezing and thawing food.

Finally, water lines connected to the fridge inside the garage may freeze and burst in the extreme cold.

How to Safely Run a Refrigerator in an Unheated Garage

If you want to use your fridge in an unheated garage, here are a few things you can do.

Look for Garage-Ready Refrigerators

Garage-ready refrigerators have a wider operating temperature range, allowing them to work much better in fluctuating temperatures.

They come with internal heating coils, ensuring the machine works properly. Heater-equipped garage fridges also have larger compressors, extra insulation, and more refrigerant.

Regulate the Temperature Around the Fridge

Ideally, you would insulate your entire garage to help regulate the room temperature. However, if that’s a bigger project than you want to do, there are other options.

You could create a small temperature-controlled space in your garage to house the fridge. An insulated wooden cabinet with a small vent to let out heat is enough.

Just be sure to leave adequate room for ventilation and access to any panels you need to maintain your garage fridge.

In the winter, it’s cheaper and more practical to use a portable garage heater instead of warming the entire garage.

Heat Up Your Garage Refrigerator’s Thermostat

The air around your refrigerator’s thermostat must be warm enough to make it turn on. Depending on how cold it gets, there are a few ways you can keep your garage warm enough in the winter.

Some manufacturers make a kit that lets you convert an older fridge into one that can work in colder temperatures.

Not every manufacturer makes a “garage-ready” kit. However, there are kits available for most Frigidaire or Kenmore models so you’re free to use your refrigerator in an unheated garage.

Another suggestion is to use a clamp-on work lamp near the fridge to trick your fridge’s thermostat into thinking it’s warmer than it is. These lamps are available at your local home improvement store for a few dollars. When you fit them with an incandescent light bulb, the bulb will put off heat.

You can use an infrared heater to accomplish the same thing in cold temperatures.

However, this option will only work if you have a fridge with an external thermostat.

Wrapping It Up

While you can use a fridge in your garage, putting a refrigerator in an unheated garage may not be the best option. This depends heavily on the climate in your area.

Because refrigerators and freezers work harder when it’s hot, you could spend a lot more on your electricity bill than you bargained for.

In climates where the temperatures drop below freezing, you risk spoilage and unwanted frozen food because your fridge isn’t designed for it.

If you decide to put a refrigerator in an unheated garage check out my guide to garage refrigerators. It’s got a lot of great information about what to look for and some recommendations on which fridges work best in the garage.

However, the best option is to insulate your garage to help regulate the temperature. This article looks at how much it cost me to insulate my garage’s walls and doors

Photo of author

Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including BobVila.com, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.