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Old 04-18-2016, 09:55 PM   #1
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A few questions about my norcold compact fridge

I recently bought a 1.8 cu ft norcold fridge to put in my van conversion project. I have some questions regarding this fridge:

1. It looks like there are some vent hoses. I noticed something in the manual about high altitude vent kit so I'm not sure if I need to hook the vents up. Is it a safety concern if I don't?

2. I don't plan on being in high altitude very much but it's possible I will do a ski trip or something in the mountains. How high of altitude can I expect this fridge to work on propane (with and without the vents)?

3. With my van's motor running, will my van's stock 12v system power this fridge? My van is a 2001 dodge 3/4 ton; I don't have any other high power consuming items hooked up to the 12v system.

4. About how long can I expect this fridge to run on a 20lb propane tank? (under normal summer camping conditions, nothing else hooked up to the tank)

THANKS!
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Old 04-18-2016, 10:18 PM   #2
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Which model Norcold fridge do you have?

You mentioned that it is equipped to run on propane. Some fridges are set up to also to *also* run on DC (12v) current....some are not.

(To further expand this, and hopefully not confuse you....some fridges can run *only* on propane....some can run on propane *or* AC current (110/120v)...and some can run on all three....)

Perhaps you already understand all that....and you've already verified that your fridge is indeed operable on *both* propane and 12v DC.

If that's the case --- is your question more about whether or not your van's standard alternator has enough power to run the 12v requirements of your fridge?

Either way --- perhaps good to share which model Norcold you have, so the specs/current draw requirements of it can be referenced.
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Old 04-18-2016, 10:49 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MountainBikeRoamer View Post
Which model Norcold fridge do you have?

You mentioned that it is equipped to run on propane. Some fridges are set up to also to *also* run on DC (12v) current....some are not.

(To further expand this, and hopefully not confuse you....some fridges can run *only* on propane....some can run on propane *or* AC current (110/120v)...and some can run on all three....)

Perhaps you already understand all that....and you've already verified that your fridge is indeed operable on *both* propane and 12v DC.

If that's the case --- is your question more about whether or not your van's standard alternator has enough power to run the 12v requirements of your fridge?

Either way --- perhaps good to share which model Norcold you have, so the specs/current draw requirements of it can be referenced.
Yes, sorry for the confusion. I assumed all norcold rv fridges were "tri-power". Mine can be ran on 120v, 12v, and propane. Model is 3163
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Old 04-19-2016, 01:07 AM   #4
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No problem.....do you have all the original manuals/documentation for your fridge? If not --- the Internet is your buddy....and the Googles....

I just now scooped up your fridge's documentation and specs from NORCOLD 3163 INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS AND USERS OPERATING MANUAL Pdf Download.

It reads:
12 Volts DC Operation:
15.4 volts max. - 11.5 volts min.;
DC current draw: 11.7 amps @ 12 volts DC - 13.6 amps @ 14 volts DC

Trivia to be aware of with 2 or 3 way Propane fridges (that have the capability to also run on DC 12v power):

Propane 2-way or 3-way fridges use *significantly more DC current to operate* than do DC electric-only fridges. This is due to the fact that the 2- or 3-way Propane fridges are using that DC current to *heat up a heating coil* sufficiently enough to match the BTU output of what a lit propane flame would be doing otherwise in propane mode. (Read: That's a lot of 12v juice to do.)

By comparison, a "12v DC only" *electric-only fridge* uses its 12v current only to power a small efficient compressor....so its current draw is much less.

From the specs, your fridge draws 11.7 amps in 12v DC mode. This compares to my buddy's 2 cubic foot 12v DC electric-only fridge in his Sportsmobile that pulls only about 2 amps.

Benefits of propane fridge:
1) silent, super-efficient when using propane as fuel.
2) long-running on tank of propane! (I can get three weeks of continuous boondocking out of my propane fridge, running off the Sportsmobile's built-in propane tank)
3) 2-way or 3-way Propane Fridge also works nicely when running on 110/120v AC current (on home extension cord land-line)

Drawbacks of Propane Fridge:
1) not the most efficient when running on 12v
2) requires fairly-precisely "leveling" the van for it to work when camped.
3) reported reluctance (in some cases) to operate at high altitude (I've used mine up to/above 6000 feet without any issues however)
4) ****ALWAYS**** requires cutting ventilation ducts through the side of the van to the outside. (To vent the propane gases.) You mentioned what sound like **additional** high-altitude ventilation ducts that you are considering....but remember that **no matter what** you will absolutely HAVE to cut some sort of fairly-significant ducting/venting to the outside of the van for the spent propane gases and heat.

To your query about the ability of this fridge to run on your vehicle's electrical system while cruising: here's where my electrical expertise is reaching its limits....but still, I would think your big Dodge's alternator would have no problem kicking out the juice to flow 11.7amps to that fridge.

***JUST BE SURE...that you're running the correct gauge of wires from your alternator/charge circuit back to your fridge for the DC current to handle. (Follow manual/electrical spec guidelines to choose a wire gauge rated for the amount of amps it will need to flow (as well as total wire length). 11-14 amps of 12v will want fairly decent wire gauge to be both efficient and avoid overheating the wires.) ***

Here's a typical chart to choose wire gauge:
http://www.offroaders.com/tech/12-vo...gauge-amps.htm

Also, be sure you consider:
There exists the likelihood of your under-hood battery going dead in the rig....if you park it and leave the fridge operating in 12v DC mode for any significant length of time with the engine not running.

Are you building this rig with a second, isolated battery to power the fridge? You don't want to have your main vehicle battery go dead on you (and potentially strand you) if the fridge and other RV items drain it down while you're parked or camping.

----------------------------------

Hope this is beginning to get you on track...(and that perhaps some better-overall-versed "RV engineers" can jump in from the forum with more guidance as well.
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Old 04-19-2016, 11:47 AM   #5
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Yes you absolutely need to install the vent through the outside wall no matter what elevation. If not, it will fill the van with poison gas and kill you while you sleep!!!! It would be like building a fire inside the van.

Don't know about high elevation.

Yes the van can run the frig on 12volts with the motor running. It appears the frig uses less than one amp when running on propane. It should run several hours on propane without drawing down the van battery, without the motor running. Usually you can't run propane while driving because the wind blows out the flame.

The problem will be if the frig is running on 12volts and you shut off the engine but forget to switch the frig to propane, it will quickly drain your battery. On our van we modified the frig wiring so it can't run on 12volt unless the engine is running.

The frig will run several days on 20 lb of propane. But the van battery won't last that long. A 20 lb tank is not safe inside a vehicle. It has a pressure relief valve and it WILL release propane gas when the temperature changes.

This fridge looks like the ones used in vw westfalias-it has a powered combustion vent. The advantage is the vent holes in the van wall can be fairly small. The disadvantage is it needs 12volt power even to run on propane, to power the combustion fan. There are other propane frig's that do not need any 12volt power at all, to run on propane. They do require much larger vents in the wall.

This model of Norcold also vents the heat from the refrigeration unit into the van. Most propane units vent the heat outside. I think it would be a problem in the summer.

Not to beat a dead horse, but when working with a flammable gas like propane, the instructions must be followed exactly, or risk fires, explosions, and/or suffocation. If you got a used frig without instructions, the frig itself could be unsafe until inspected by a qualified technician.
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Old 04-19-2016, 12:51 PM   #6
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adventureVAN ---

Here's a worthwhile read on another website about the longevity of a propane fridge on 20 pounds of propane. Seems like quite a few people speak of getting about two weeks.

RV.Net Open Roads Forum: How long will 20# of propane run my fridge?

As the forum discussion at that link indicates, and also as dhally noted however, even when running on propane, your 12v electrical power will be a consideration as well --- the propane fridge you have will be drawing some amount of electrical current continuously to power a vent fan and some other electrical circuits within it (it does sound like a pretty low number though, the manual reads 240 milliamps)....so you can't completely ignore your battery even when you're running on propane.

(You can either run the van's engine a while every day to "top off" the battery.....or have some other way/ability to keep power going to your battery (recharging it somehow, small solar panel or something) to make sure the fridge will continue to run and not slowly kill your 12v battery.)
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Old 04-19-2016, 03:23 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MountainBikeRoamer View Post
No problem.....do you have all the original manuals/documentation for your fridge? If not --- the Internet is your buddy....and the Googles....

I just now scooped up your fridge's documentation and specs from NORCOLD 3163 INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS AND USERS OPERATING MANUAL Pdf Download.

It reads:
12 Volts DC Operation:
15.4 volts max. - 11.5 volts min.;
DC current draw: 11.7 amps @ 12 volts DC - 13.6 amps @ 14 volts DC

Trivia to be aware of with 2 or 3 way Propane fridges (that have the capability to also run on DC 12v power):

Propane 2-way or 3-way fridges use *significantly more DC current to operate* than do DC electric-only fridges. This is due to the fact that the 2- or 3-way Propane fridges are using that DC current to *heat up a heating coil* sufficiently enough to match the BTU output of what a lit propane flame would be doing otherwise in propane mode. (Read: That's a lot of 12v juice to do.)

By comparison, a "12v DC only" *electric-only fridge* uses its 12v current only to power a small efficient compressor....so its current draw is much less.

From the specs, your fridge draws 11.7 amps in 12v DC mode. This compares to my buddy's 2 cubic foot 12v DC electric-only fridge in his Sportsmobile that pulls only about 2 amps.

Benefits of propane fridge:
1) silent, super-efficient when using propane as fuel.
2) long-running on tank of propane! (I can get three weeks of continuous boondocking out of my propane fridge, running off the Sportsmobile's built-in propane tank)
3) 2-way or 3-way Propane Fridge also works nicely when running on 110/120v AC current (on home extension cord land-line)

Drawbacks of Propane Fridge:
1) not the most efficient when running on 12v
2) requires fairly-precisely "leveling" the van for it to work when camped.
3) reported reluctance (in some cases) to operate at high altitude (I've used mine up to/above 6000 feet without any issues however)
4) ****ALWAYS**** requires cutting ventilation ducts through the side of the van to the outside. (To vent the propane gases.) You mentioned what sound like **additional** high-altitude ventilation ducts that you are considering....but remember that **no matter what** you will absolutely HAVE to cut some sort of fairly-significant ducting/venting to the outside of the van for the spent propane gases and heat.

To your query about the ability of this fridge to run on your vehicle's electrical system while cruising: here's where my electrical expertise is reaching its limits....but still, I would think your big Dodge's alternator would have no problem kicking out the juice to flow 11.7amps to that fridge.

***JUST BE SURE...that you're running the correct gauge of wires from your alternator/charge circuit back to your fridge for the DC current to handle. (Follow manual/electrical spec guidelines to choose a wire gauge rated for the amount of amps it will need to flow (as well as total wire length). 11-14 amps of 12v will want fairly decent wire gauge to be both efficient and avoid overheating the wires.) ***

Here's a typical chart to choose wire gauge:
Wire Gauge Amps Ratings for 12 volt Automotive Systems

Also, be sure you consider:
There exists the likelihood of your under-hood battery going dead in the rig....if you park it and leave the fridge operating in 12v DC mode for any significant length of time with the engine not running.

Are you building this rig with a second, isolated battery to power the fridge? You don't want to have your main vehicle battery go dead on you (and potentially strand you) if the fridge and other RV items drain it down while you're parked or camping.

----------------------------------

Hope this is beginning to get you on track...(and that perhaps some better-overall-versed "RV engineers" can jump in from the forum with more guidance as well.
Good info, I will run the vent for sure. My plan is to run 12v while driving (since the movement would put the flame out?), gas while camping, and 120v whenever avail. Like mentioned, I will need to remember to switch the button on the fridge from 12v to gas whenever I turn the engine off.
Just how level does the van need to be? I didn't realize it was so sensitive.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dhally View Post
Yes you absolutely need to install the vent through the outside wall no matter what elevation. If not, it will fill the van with poison gas and kill you while you sleep!!!! It would be like building a fire inside the van.

Don't know about high elevation.

Yes the van can run the frig on 12volts with the motor running. It appears the frig uses less than one amp when running on propane. It should run several hours on propane without drawing down the van battery, without the motor running. Usually you can't run propane while driving because the wind blows out the flame.

The problem will be if the frig is running on 12volts and you shut off the engine but forget to switch the frig to propane, it will quickly drain your battery. On our van we modified the frig wiring so it can't run on 12volt unless the engine is running.

The frig will run several days on 20 lb of propane. But the van battery won't last that long. A 20 lb tank is not safe inside a vehicle. It has a pressure relief valve and it WILL release propane gas when the temperature changes.

This fridge looks like the ones used in vw westfalias-it has a powered combustion vent. The advantage is the vent holes in the van wall can be fairly small. The disadvantage is it needs 12volt power even to run on propane, to power the combustion fan. There are other propane frig's that do not need any 12volt power at all, to run on propane. They do require much larger vents in the wall.

This model of Norcold also vents the heat from the refrigeration unit into the van. Most propane units vent the heat outside. I think it would be a problem in the summer.

Not to beat a dead horse, but when working with a flammable gas like propane, the instructions must be followed exactly, or risk fires, explosions, and/or suffocation. If you got a used frig without instructions, the frig itself could be unsafe until inspected by a qualified technician.
I start my van every day or twice a day while camping and let it run 10-15 min to keep the battery charged. The only things I'll have hooked up to the van 12v system is the fridge (for the combustion fan), a few interior/exterior LED lights, radio, and phone charging. However, I'm not opposed to getting an extra deep cell battery. How should 2 batteries be wired so that one is dedicated to starting the van in case the other one is drained?

Quote:
Originally Posted by MountainBikeRoamer View Post
adventureVAN ---

Here's a worthwhile read on another website about the longevity of a propane fridge on 20 pounds of propane. Seems like quite a few people speak of getting about two weeks.

RV.Net Open Roads Forum: How long will 20# of propane run my fridge?

As the forum discussion at that link indicates, and also as dhally noted however, even when running on propane, your 12v electrical power will be a consideration as well --- the propane fridge you have will be drawing some amount of electrical current continuously to power a vent fan and some other electrical circuits within it (it does sound like a pretty low number though, the manual reads 240 milliamps)....so you can't completely ignore your battery even when you're running on propane.

(You can either run the van's engine a while every day to "top off" the battery.....or have some other way/ability to keep power going to your battery (recharging it somehow, small solar panel or something) to make sure the fridge will continue to run and not slowly kill your 12v battery.)
Thanks for the link. good read. Hopfully I can get at least 2 weeks of run time on a 20 lb bottle. I plan to have two 20 lb bottles so I can power a fridge, stove, mr buddy heater, and a tankless portable camping hot water heater/shower.
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