Replacing our RV Fridge – Part 2: Demolition!

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It seems like there are about 200 “home remodeling” shows on TV these days.  It’s totally a gimmick shot, but the one staple you’re absolutely guaranteed to find in every single one of these shows is a homeowner taking a sledgehammer to a sheetrock wall.  I would have done the tear-out gimmick myself – just because – but there’s no room to swing a sledgehammer in a Class B.  So you’ll have to settle for my video, which has none of that:


I did use a regular sized hammer and pry bar though.  Removing everything from the cabinet was tougher than I had expected.  Most RV construction is screws or “stick and staple”, but when dealing with an absorption fridge, there’s a “chimney” in the back of it that has to be sealed off, airtight, from the living space.  This is necessary to keep carbon monoxide, engine exhaust, and who-knows-what-could-happen-if your-“ammonia-boiler”-breaks fumes out of the living area.  So there was a rather large passageway behind the fridge that was glued together with copious amounts of very tough, impermeable sealant.

Add this to my list of reasons to dislike absorption refrigeration.

That sealant made it very slow going in removing the far back reaches of the cabinet.  But I got it done, and in the process I discovered a second function that my Fein Multimaster tool excels at.  It has an attachment that turns it into (basically) an electric putty knife on steroids!  If I ever have to remove all the tile from a bathroom or something, you can bet I’ll use this tool for it.

I had originally wanted to take Lance in to an auto body shop and have them weld covers and paint over the dopey refrigerator vent holes so that it looked like they never happened.  I even had a welder lined up who said he could do it.  Unfortunately, when I got things torn apart, I could see that the aft ends of the holes actually extended further rearward past the cabinets I was tearing out.  Basically, unless I tore apart even more of the cabinetry, we probably would have set the RV on fire.

So instead, I sealed the vent openings where they were.  To do this, I used some half inch sheet material: Type 1 PVC.  This stuff is awesome!  It works with regular woodworking tools, it holds screws, and it’s completely weather proof.  The downside, naturally, is that it’s expensive.  Let’s just say it’s a good thing I only needed a couple small pieces.  At any rate, I got those pieces screwed into place and then I sealed the whole affair up with liberal amounts of Loctite PL S30 sealant.  It’s a polyurethane sealant, it sticks to anything, it’s cheaper than a lot of specialty RV sealants, and it won’t peel off in 6 months like silicone.  The only downside is that it cures pretty slowly.  Like – about 3mm of depth per day.  So for about a week, I have to be careful where I put my hands in there.  But other than that, I love the stuff.

Well, beyond that, the video pretty much explains itself.  The music you hear is some old stuff from a band I was in a long time ago, complete with a guitarist who likes to turn himself up too much during solos.  And if you watch closely, you’ll see cameo appearances from the grandkids and even (very briefly) the cat!

James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.

    18 thoughts on “Replacing our RV Fridge – Part 2: Demolition!

    1. Tom

      nice work. I am at the point of deciding to either do a camper conversion myself or buy a used travato. With your experience and with all the changes you have done to the unit and the nice shop you have why not do your own conversion using an empty promaster? Some of the photos from your project it seems Winibego’s workmanship is not that good, ie missing insulation, wiring mess etc, or is not as bad as it looks. Any insights would be helpful. your post are very educational. thanks

      1. James - Post author

        Well, maybe the pictures and posts make it seem easy, but building your own RV would be HARD!
        With the Travato, what you get for the price you pay is pretty good. I don’t think I could beat it if I placed any value at all on my time.

        (Plus, a self-build is almost impossible to sell used.)

        1. Tom

          thanks for the reply… good point on selling a self built one.We do end up paying more up here in Canada for those rigs so that is why we are looking at all options to get one that will hold up for the big trip. Now that you have used the Rv for a bit how is it holding out any issues with cabinets coming loose, chassis issues, leaks etc? Would you happen know how much your towing capacity increased once you removed the generator? Anything you would change?.thanks

        2. James - Post author

          I’m not a good one to ask these questions. I’ve torn so many things apart in our rig, I can’t really hold anyone but myself responsible if I have problems, leaks, etc.
          I’d suggest looking into owners groups or forums for the rigs you’re interested in, as I recommend in this post: 8 Step Program for Choosing Your First RV
          No increase in towing capacity due to generator drop, because the overall weight didn’t change much. Actual weights, and pictures of the weigh slips from the CAT scales are in this post: Our Generator Free RV

    2. D. J. Heaton

      While I’ve done some respectable DIYer mods to the RIALTA FDT (twin) none were anything like that this pjct. I’m simply not in your league. However, I do LOVE to look at your shop…ENVY. BTW, how many hours on the pjct.? I’m thinking 25-30? Also, from the get go, one of the nicest aspect to our ordered 59K is a COMPRESSOR REFER! I often think how I will never have to clean a refer’s propane burner!

      1. James - Post author

        For an hour estimate, probably double that. I’m not working from a blank slate – I’m working from something someone else made that I didn’t know all the details from at the start. There were a number of false starts, do-overs, and what-the-#$%s… in addition to my usual mistakes. Also lots of time staring at stuff trying to figure out what to do. And I hear ya on the compressor fridge. We’re already loving it!

        1. D. J. Heaton

          In your rapid speed video (very clever!) I noted some regular extended time w/hands on hips looking at pjct. moments. You’ll never do this again…but if you did the total time on pjct. would be significantly less.. If you were on the 4th – 5th time, like any skilled technician, you’d become a great deal more efficient. Hell, you’d save all your templates! Even w/OE NOVA-KOOL, it is nice to be able to keep a Dove Bar. You might recall we have 260w on roof, a bit less then you and no Li-ion but the OE AGM’s and 45amp converter-charger. That said, we really don’t even think about the refer or Ah’s. If in AZ, might…but then a lot more sun then we have here in SW Mich.

    3. Bob B

      Love it! I will let you post the link to this video on the Travato FB page; I did last time and kept getting all these notifications/postings really meant for you.

      “..sledgehammer to a sheetrock wall..”? My favorite demo tool is a Sawzall; just cut out the whole wall, studs and all.

      Are you going to document – i.e. draw up what you are going to do, maybe mockup even – before you tackle this latest mod OR wing it, go design/build in place?

      1. James - Post author

        I have a rough sketch where I’ve figured out where everything will basically fit, but for the most part, I’ll make it up as I go.

        1. Bob B

          Matching the existing “woodgrain” finishes in Lance or going for the gray melamine/carbon fiber look – like your new cabinet?

    4. Ted

      Waffle House! Has Stef been there? All that pork grease that hits you when you walk in would make me expect her to burn the shirt while performing an exorcism.

      Using the Type 1 PVC looks like a good solution. I don’t think welding the vents out would make your bright yellow van any stealthier :-).

    5. BOB Garbe

      WOW. I am exhausted just watching. I am glad you are fit.. amazing how much stuff is jam into all those spaces, and how hard to remove it.

      Great project.


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