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Old 10-26-2007, 07:14 PM   #1
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Choosing a refrigerator

Hi!

I'm wondering if people can weigh in on suggestions for us. We have a Norcold 3.1 cu ft electric refrigerator. We boondock for a week+ at a time. We have three solar panels but still find that the refrigerator drains our two batteries if we can't get enough sun (e.g., rains all week, have to camp in shade, etc.). So now we're thinking about switching to a propane refrigerator. Are they a lot more hassle? What are the pros and cons of getting propane *and* 12V *and* 110?

Any ideas or suggestions or information welcome!

Thanks,
Diana Tashjian
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Old 10-27-2007, 07:33 AM   #2
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Re: Choosing a refrigerator


Diana;
The idea is to always turn OFF propane while moving, using it only while boondocking.
This eliminates the possibility of explosion/fire in case of a crash.
When hooked to 110vac, power will flow through your coach inverter to charge the batteries, then through the second inverter and run the fridge as if wired directly to 110vac.
When moving, power from the alternator will flow to the batteries, then through the second inverter, and thus run the fridge as if on 110vac.
Having read some of the other responses, I agree that something doesn't seem to be working properly.
Maybe you just need a NEW SMB, LOL.
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Old 10-27-2007, 07:50 AM   #3
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Re: Choosing a refrigerator

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the info. Can you tell me why you recommend using 110 through the inverter instead of just using 12V? Or, when hooked up, just using shore power directly?

Thanks,
Diana Tashjian
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Old 10-27-2007, 07:51 AM   #4
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Propane fridges work fine, but there are some major differences from the compressor type fridge.
1 - They have to be pretty level to work.
2 - They don't maintain a set temp in the fridge. As the temperature in the van changes, so will the temp in the fridge. Just not as much or as fast.
3 - They take longer to cool down.
4 - Don't run them on electricity without an external power source. They are real power hogs. Fine on shore power, generator, or when the engine is running.
I used to use them all the time and they are great as long as you realize their shortcomings. The big plus is that you don't need electricity.
Personally, I'd keep what you have and run the engine once in a while to charge your batteries.
Good luck....
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Old 10-27-2007, 08:42 AM   #5
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I always put a quart ziploc bag of ice in fridge. I find the fridge cycles less and I have ice for drinks.

Suggestions:
- Cool/freeze everything you can ahead of time.
- Bring a small ice chest filled with ice and put as much ice in the fridge as possible.
- Never did this, but dry ice would work great too
- Bring a spare battery, pull from 2nd car if you have one
- Do not make ice unless you are on 110 or driving

Avoid the propane is my preference
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Old 10-27-2007, 09:36 AM   #6
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We have the Norcold 3cf fridge and one 125W solar panel. I don't know about the rain for a week, but we can camp in shady spots for a week without problems. Before we got the solar panel we could go 3-4 days on the two standard SMB Group 27 batteries, not a 4D (2 group 27 batteries are about the same as one 4D battery). Even a little solar power would extend our camping nearly forever.

Maybe you should look at what other drains you have on your batteries instead of blaming the fridge.

- Do you have an inverter?
- Do you have the stereo on?
- Are you running incadescent lights several hours?
- TV? Computer?
- Any other power drains?

An inverter will pull alot of power even without a running load. The stereo, TV or computer could use more power than the fridge. One incadescent light will draw as much power as the fridge. You could change the reading lights to LED lights. And make sure you reduce other power drains on your batteries.

I also would reccomend against a propane fridge. Just the hassle of trying to get reasonably level would mean we couldn't park in many hiking areas. And the Norcold holds temps much better - especially when it gets above 90.

Mike
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Old 10-27-2007, 10:16 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ford_6L_E350
We have the Norcold 3cf fridge and one 125W solar panel. I don't know about the rain for a week, but we can camp in shady spots for a week without problems. Before we got the solar panel we could go 3-4 days on the two standard SMB Group 27 batteries, not a 4D (2 group 27 batteries are about the same as one 4D battery). Even a little solar power would extend our camping nearly forever.

Maybe you should look at what other drains you have on your batteries instead of blaming the fridge.

- Do you have an inverter?
- Do you have the stereo on?
- Are you running incadescent lights several hours?
- TV? Computer?
- Any other power drains?

An inverter will pull alot of power even without a running load. The stereo, TV or computer could use more power than the fridge. One incadescent light will draw as much power as the fridge. You could change the reading lights to LED lights. And make sure you reduce other power drains on your batteries.

I also would reccomend against a propane fridge. Just the hassle of trying to get reasonably level would mean we couldn't park in many hiking areas. And the Norcold holds temps much better - especially when it gets above 90.

Mike
We have 3 solar panels (about 165 watts total), 2 marine batteries and the only other electric device we use is the water pump, very sparingly. We use free standing lights. After two days of shady/foggy days the batteries are getting low and it's clear that the solar panels are not keeping up. Now, the refrigerator is old (1997) so maybe today's newer refrigerators are more efficient?

Thanks,
Diana Tashjian
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Old 10-27-2007, 12:14 PM   #8
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[quote=diana@tashjian.com]
Quote:
Originally Posted by "Ford_6L_E350":1acvukrd
We have the Norcold 3cf fridge and one 125W solar panel. I don't know about the rain for a week, but we can camp in shady spots for a week without problems. Before we got the solar panel we could go 3-4 days on the two standard SMB Group 27 batteries, not a 4D (2 group 27 batteries are about the same as one 4D battery). Even a little solar power would extend our camping nearly forever.

Maybe you should look at what other drains you have on your batteries instead of blaming the fridge.

- Do you have an inverter?
- Do you have the stereo on?
- Are you running incadescent lights several hours?
- TV? Computer?
- Any other power drains?

An inverter will pull alot of power even without a running load. The stereo, TV or computer could use more power than the fridge. One incadescent light will draw as much power as the fridge. You could change the reading lights to LED lights. And make sure you reduce other power drains on your batteries.

I also would reccomend against a propane fridge. Just the hassle of trying to get reasonably level would mean we couldn't park in many hiking areas. And the Norcold holds temps much better - especially when it gets above 90.

Mike
We have 3 solar panels (about 165 watts total), 2 marine batteries and the only other electric device we use is the water pump, very sparingly. We use free standing lights. After two days of shady/foggy days the batteries are getting low and it's clear that the solar panels are not keeping up. Now, the refrigerator is old (1997) so maybe today's newer refrigerators are more efficient?

Thanks,
Diana Tashjian[/quote:1acvukrd]

Two other factors to consider are the efficieny of the solar panels you have, and which solar controller you have. I know the power output of the panels has gone up over the years, and SMB now uses the Blue Sky solar controller.


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Old 10-27-2007, 10:15 PM   #9
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Ah wait, if the fridge is from 1997 how old are the batteries? Maybe it's time for a battery change.

Also for the thread sake the Norcold fridge will automatically draw from the 110v power if it's available, therefore if your invertor is on (say left on all night) you'll draw/drain significantly more power than with the fridge running on 12v. ("significantly" in this case == my best guess because the inefficiencies of the fridge on 110v and the power loss converting through the invertor).

The only time you "want" the fridge to run on 110 is when you're plugged in to shore power.

I didn't know the propane fridges were less efficient on 12v than a 2-way. Good info here.
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Old 12-09-2007, 09:03 PM   #10
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Propane vs. electric fridge

I have an '85 GMC that SMB retrofitted nearly 10 years ago with a 3-way Dometic fridge, and recently bought an '01 SMB with a 2-way Norcold. Here are my experiences with the two units:

Dometic:
Advantages
1) Totally quiet operation, even in 12v. mode, which only drives a heating element, not a mechanical compressor.

2) Works great. Makes ice in 1/2 day. Cold even in Mojave Desert summer days.

3) I have never had a problem with excessive power use when in 12v. mode, but I always switch when I stop for more than a couple of hours.

4) Because it is propane, can run as long as the tank will allow. I have camped in Baja for over 2 weeks and never had a problem.

5) Because the fridge is propane, I have never needed solar panels.

6) I can bring unit down to temp using either 110v. or just light the pilot and let it run over night.

Disadvantages
1) Requires that a vented hole be cut into the side of the van through with you light the pilot and turn the valve.

2) Of course (duh), you need to be plumbed for propane.

3) Requires switching from 12v. to gas when you stop and back to 12v. when you launch (takes about 10 seconds).

4) Van needs to be fairly level, but no more so that you would want for camping.

5) Sometimes the pilot is a bit cranky and hard to light if wet or dirty, or I'm trying to use a spark lighter. But so long as I keep the pilot tip clean and dry (if the road is real dusty, I just cover the little pilot box with a piece of aluminum foil); and use a long-snout, flame-type BBQ lighter, it lights immediately.

6) Some people don't like propane flame.

Norcold:
Advantages
1) Doesn't need to be level to work.

2) Doesn't need opening vent panel in the side for lighting pilot.

Disadvantages:
1) Really loud compressor.

2) Power hog--mine craps the batteries in 3 days unless I run the engine, which seems stupid to do that just to run the fridge.


Considering all this, if there was a way to remove my old Dometic and install it into my new SMB, I would (I am going to sell my '85 and don't want to have a useless hole in the side of the van. I have been completely satisfied with the Dometic. It works perfectly, is quiet (important for me, especially when I am trying to sleep), and uses gas sparingly (like almost none at all). I don't have to mess with dead or dying batteries or buy a solar panel. Some people I have talked to find switching the unit from 12v. to propane annoying, but I never minded it. In fact, I sort of like the ritual when I get to camp.

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