We will discuss RV refrigerators and why they are one of the things that makes RVs self sufficient along with waste holding tanks and Propane heat and hot water. The absorption refrigerator has been around a long time and 40 year old units are still operating like new. The inner workings of this special refrigerator are quite complex. Metal tubing is bent and stretched into diverse angles to accommodate several chemicals that, when heat is applied, cause the fins inside to become quite cold, thus cooling the inside of the unit. When the heat is applied using propane, the refrigerator will cool normally without 110 volts. This makes living off the grid much more pleasant.
The two major manufacturers of RV refrigerators are Norcold and Dometic, both major players in RV appliances. Unfortunately, these units have gotten a bad name due to defects that can cause cooling units to fail catastrophically as well as cause fires. Here is information on the RV Refrigerator Recalls, as well as information on the Norcold Class Action Lawsuit as a result of these defects.
Many people have opted to replace these RV refrigerators with residential units. Here is information on how to change your RV refrigerator to residential.
This is the cracked boiler section of the cooling unit in our Dometic Refrigerator. Note the greenish residue. This happened 6 weeks after the recall kit was installed.
If you are interested in exactly how an absorption refrigerator works, here is a great article by Gary Bunzer, the RV Doctor that goes into much more detail than I can.
How an RV Refrigerator works
Refrigerator Cooling Unit hi-lighting the Problematic Boiler Section
Before you turn on an RV refrigerator, ensure the rig is level within a few degrees both side to side and front to back. RV refrigerators depend on gravity to work properly and can be severely damaged if operated off level.
Always pre-cool the refrigerator overnight before putting food in it. You want to make sure you’re not trying to cool the food and the warm refrigerator at the same time.
You might want to cool and freeze food at home first and load it into the RV refrigerator after it is cool.
Pack food loosely so air can circulate freely. You can add a small battery operated fan to help air circulation.
Uncovered liquids and food can cause condensation and frost buildup on the interior fins. There are inexpensive aftermarket fans that clip to the fins to keep them from freezing up.
Try to keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible. It has been said that each minute the door is open, it takes an hour to regain the cold temperature. Never cover shelves with foil or large pans, as this will keep cold air from circulating.
Check the door gaskets often. Close the doors on a dollar bill and pull the bill out slowly and you should feel a slight resistance.
To test interior temperature, set a glass of water with a thermometer in it on the top shelf inside the refrigerator for the most accurate reading. Temperatures in the mid 30's are ideal.
If you smell ammonia, turn off the refrigerator immediately, open the doors and ventilate by opening windows and roof vents. Unfortunately, the ammonia smell means the cooling unit is irreparably damaged and must be replaced.