Replacing our RV Fridge – Part 1: The Old Fridge Sucks


I tried to like our RV’s fridge.  Really, I did.  I even went so far as to cut the door down to make it less ridiculous.  In the end though, I just couldn’t make myself love absorption refrigeration, and that sealed this refrigerator’s fate.  I’m officially embarking on replacing that refrigerator with a (twin) compressor-driven fridge from Nova Kool.  As you watch the video below, think of the beginning of Gilligan’s Island where you see the boat leaving the harbor…  “a three-hour tour…”  Because that’s pretty much how these projects go.

 

I freely admit that I didn’t do everything I could have to make the absorption refrigerator work great.  Here is a partial list of things I didn’t do:

  • Always start the fridge 24 hours before you load it for a trip
  • Add an additional powered fan to circulate air in the refrigerator
  • Don’t pack the fridge too tightly so air can circulate
  • Disassemble, clean, and reassemble the burner before each trip
  • Use the “winter covers” when the temperature drops outside
  • Be sure to rotate your rig so the fridge is out of the sun when the temperatures outside rise

 

I didn’t do any of those things BECAUSE THEY’RE STUPID!

If someone told you to do any one of those things with a new household refrigerator – you’d tell them to take a hike and you’d buy a different fridge.  Nobody would accept that in the real world.  Yet for some reason, RV consumers have accepted these limitations and poor performance since biblical times.  Maybe because pretty much ALL RVs have had these propane-powered refrigerators for decades, people assumed nothing else was available.  But there have been other, better options available for a long time, and that’s what I’m installing.  It’s simply a better way to go.

So, as you watch this video – and the ones to come – hopefully you’re entertained.  But I also hope you’re inspired… to look for better refrigeration options in your next RV purchase!  If everyone quits accepting absorption refrigerators in RVs, maybe they’ll quit selling them!  And when they do, we’ll all be better off.

Wish me luck!

James



James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling certified 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.


    50 thoughts on “Replacing our RV Fridge – Part 1: The Old Fridge Sucks

    1. VW_Vista

      Man, I could not agree with you more! For years we went through all the crazy voodoo and rituals with the Dometic 3-way fridge in our Westfalia.. but even under ideal circumstances it was only going to cool about 40F below ambient temps.. and here in Mizzery (Missouri) you know there’s going to be mostly 90F days in the summer.
      A few years ago I replaced it with a 12/120v TruckFridge 49.. compressor driven, and just WORKS.. you know, like you expect a fridge to work! The 78Ah house battery I already had will run the darn thing for 3 days.. but we’re usually driving a little bit every day anyway.
      and the best part.. it was bigger on the inside but SMALLER on the outside than the Dometic.. so we GAINED cabinet space!!

      I cannot for the life of me understand how propane fridges are even still being considered as standard equipment in a new, $100K+ RV!! Ridiculous!!

      Reply
    2. Roger

      Love the 12v 5 cu ft frig that is standard in my Roadtrek Zion SRT! Turn it on a couple of hours before using. This past summer, 114 degrees in Indio, Ca it worked great! When shopping for our RV a 3-way was a deal breaker.
      Good luck!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        This was our first one. Going forward, an absorption fridge in an RV would be a deal breaker for us, too!
        (I don’t want to do this project a second time…)

        Reply
    3. AnneK

      This is fantastic and completely inspiring! I put a message out to Nova Kool and they suggested trying to get ahold of a RFU7300 as well, but it does sound like it is not available after market yet. Can I ask what channels you went through to get one?
      Also; I was hoping you would talk about your electric/solar system and the requirements needed to run the fridge?
      Thanks for the awesome mod idea! I am so tired of frozen salad…..

      Reply
    4. William

      I used a Nova Kool for a few years with my previous RV, a truck camper. It was usually efficient and it was quiet. Two downsides I found:
      1. When there are no hookups, you can eventually run your batteries down if you happen to camp in the shade. This seems to happen a lot in the summer, and occasionally I was forced to camp in the sun to keep my batteries charged.
      2. This isn’t necessarily a knock against Nova Kook, but against all “RV” refrigerators. They work well when stationary, but when moving (as often happens in an RV), items inside the refer get knocked around. My Nova Kool ended up with dents and holes in it because of items in the refer shifting around when driving. When will refrigerator makers come up with a better way to contain food items when under motion? I ended up using curtain rods to help stabilize food items, but it shouldn’t be too hard to have something like that built into the refer!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Glad to hear that your Nova Kool was quiet!
        I’m not too worried about battery capacity. We’re over-built in that regard now.
        We don’t have the food moving about in the fridge problem because we pack our fridge pretty full most of the time.

        Reply
    5. Craig

      Thanks for sharing your refrig upgrade series, James. Always love the details and your views on pushing the RV industry into current technologies. And, of course, we love the humor to keep the fun factor going. I can’t wait to get our Sprinter build started. Solar, lithium, composting, bicycle storage, and weight reduction materials are some of the starting points. More more more….

      Reply
    6. Tom Cahill

      Tried to send a joke that I copied and pasted but your comment monitor thought it was SPAM. Anyway with joke was a question. Is there a “RV Electrical System for Dummies” type book out there?

      Thanks for your site and newsletter.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Our comment monitor doesn’t have much of a sense of humor… 🙂
        There is a “Managing 12 Volts” book that I have (somehow) but haven’t read. I don’t know if that one is any good.
        Don’t have any personal experience with a RV 101 for dummies book though. And while there are plenty of videos to that effect on YouTube, you have to be careful where you get your information from there.
        Stef tells me I should write one some day.

        Reply
        1. Bob B

          I have “Managing 12 Volts” and IMO it is a good basic intro to 12v systems on RVs and boats. But it was published in 2002 (updated 2nd edition) and while the basics (amps, volts, batteries, etc. ) really have not changed, some of the info – especially when they refer to specific brands – seems outdated. And Lithium battery chemistry is not mentioned. A lot has progressed in the sophistication of RV/boat electrical systems in 15 years, so an update would be welcome.

          Perfect book for you to write, James! RV101 is a good working title – cover all the aspects of RV systems,(water, electric, waste, etc.) pros/cons. Maybe limit it to Class B’s?

        2. James - Post author

          Awesome! Stef’s always telling me I need to take on more projects… not!
          Seriously though, if I run out of projects, that’s certainly one to consider. I could certainly try to make it less “dry” than most of what I’ve seen out there.

    7. D. J. Heaton

      Never again will I (we) tolerate the boiled ammonia solution absorption refrigeration system. We’ve loved the NOVA-KOOL that is stnd. in the TRAVATO 59K. We’ve had ~ a year, 13k, and do love it. We’ve 260w of roof solar to aid with the 220Ah AGM’s that we all now have. However, I appreciate, James, that you did the huge eliminate genset lithium coversion, so your perspective on watts and Ah’s different then the rest of us.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        “Boiled Ammonia” Lol! It makes it sound extra awful if you say it that way!
        And yes, I admit, my perspective on amp-hours is a bit different from most these days.

        Reply
    8. David

      James, surprised it took so long to get to the refrigeration side of things in Lance. Our 2017 Travato 59K already comes with a compressor unit, small as it is. Also surprised good Ole Russ didn’t upgrade both floorplans. You might want to ‘talk’ with him about that. For all the reasons mentioned, why would anyone “want” the absorption system if there is a better unit available. I am with you on trying to push the industry out of the dark ages. When you are done with the technical side of things, go after the dreadful interior designs from the cave man era. The 59K is so advanced and ahead of all of its competitors regarding its systems. Wish you the best on your mod. You Da Man! Keep it up.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Well, if you look at the newer models from Winnebago – as they put out each new or refreshed model, you don’t see them including absorption refrigeration. I take that as a positive sign!

        Reply
        1. David

          I agree with you. Winnebago serms to be the leader in advancing technological improvements to their units. Thank God someone is receptive to common sense upgrades. Go Winnebago! Long live the 59K.

    9. Brian Prince

      Thanks for doing this James. I have been reading the Travato Forum for the last three months and the frig in the G is something I have grown to hate. I am like you, I just expect it to work. I am in my sixth week in waiting for my factory special order G. No TV antenna.

      I really want to remove the frig on day one. I guess I will have to wait a few days as I already have a 2k inverter and Sumo’s to install. Thanks for all your great information.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Now that I’ve gotten into it a bit, this is NOT a project for the average Joe. It’s challenging, so maybe wait until after day one before you tackle replacing it!

        Reply
        1. Brian Prince

          If I never use the frig, that would make me happy. Pull it out, put it on Craigslist and hope for a few bucks to cover a real frig.

          Could I bother you to get the dimensions of the vacancy left when the frig is out? Need to look at the possibilities 🙂 If not, no worries.

        2. James - Post author

          Sorry! I’ve already sort of demolished the cabinet where it was. I can’t get you the dimensions now. But I know it’s about 16 3/4″ wide!

    10. Dennis Gould

      I don’t drive a Travato but I do RV and dry camp a lot so I find your posts and projects quite interesting…and humorous! I’m not even sure I’d try anything you do (for fear of retribution from my better half) but I sure find your ideas interesting.
      Also, I should apologize, but I can’t get through a single video without chuckling and thinking of an idiom from my military days “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do (fill in the blank)!”
      Keep up the great work…and don’t tell the wife what you really need those new tools for!

      Reply
    11. D Ranger

      My Roadtrek Ranger came with a 12v fridge, uses only 3.2 amps when cycling, and I love it! I never need to park level or worry about propane. I have solar panels to keep it running. Love watching your mods. 🙂

      Reply
    12. Drew

      James,

      I’m with Bob on this one. I think there are a lot of us still happy with our absorption fridges. I think it’s fine if you want to try something else but I wouldn’t advocate it as an end all. I truly enjoy your blog and most of the projects you do so keep it up, we have a huge difference of opinion on this one though.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Well, if you like your fridge and it’s working for you, I’m not going to tell you it’s not!
        But I will say you should enjoy that absorption fridge while you can.
        I give it 5, maybe 10 years at the most, and there won’t be any new Class Bs that include them. Just my opinion of course, but I’d put money on it.

        Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Good question, Bob. I actually don’t know offhand, and it’s not in their spec sheets yet. I’ll ask.

        Reply
        1. James - Post author

          OK. Got the info from Nova Kool. Each compressor is 5.6 amps. Depending on humidity, temp, etc, I’m expecting a 50% duty cycle. There’s two of them, so if both are on, basically, 5.6 amps.

          I’ll be saving 1 amp from the propane solenoid. So net – 4.6 amps * 24 hours = 110.4 amp-hours per day. ish. If there were no solar, I could make that up with an hour’s drive (which we pretty much do every day anyway).

    13. Pete Jaeger

      I am building a custom box truck rv this year and have been going back and forth between Nova Kool and Vitrifrigo. Would you please tell me the model number of the fridge you purchased and what other makes/models you looked at and why you when with Nova Kool? No need to respond here if you include that info in a future post. Regarding Aaron’s comment about the existing vents, you may get consider leaving them in, as compressor fridges can also benefit from ventilation. But I’m sure you already know that. Looking forward to future posts/videos on this project. Cheers!

      Reply
      1. Pete Jaeger

        I just rewatched the video and you did in fact mention the model number. Doh! However when I tried to find the RFU7300, Google was not my friend. And no mention of it on the Nova Kool site. Please enlighten me. Thanks!

        Reply
      2. Ian

        I’m still working on finishing up my ProMaster custom build, chose a Vitrifrigo 12v/120v fridge and love it. Went with the 5.3cf size, it really does look massive in the PM, but it has worked great for the last year. The larger ones do use more power, but its been worth it to have the volume, AND a separate freezer (that is very well insulated). Been a year since I decided, but for me it was some recommendations from folks in the Sprinter van community and the physical size of the VF just worked better for my final layout. NovaKool was an early option that I was looking at, especially the side by side ones.

        Reply
        1. James - Post author

          I can’t think of any reason you would include an absorption refrigerator if you were starting your own build from scratch. Good for you!

    14. Andy & Kim

      Wow, great project!
      A year from now, will there be any “Winnebago” left in Lance?!?!?!?! ;-p

      Andy & Kim

      Reply
    15. BOB Garbe

      Your fridge still has manual start? Really. You do a huge disservice to the abs fridge and are woefully misinformed. The not propane fridges are unbelievably expensive for those not going from electric hook up to electric hook up. You already have 10′ grand in an expensive non renewal LI battery and inverter, and to switch this is a cost that most don’t understand.

      I look forward to the project but not the unfair diatribe against a proven technology that is inexpensive compared to you replacement all things considered.

      You probably won’t print this. HAHA

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Oh I’ll print it. Just don’t expect me to agree with it. 🙂

        Yes, absorption refrigeration is a proven technology. So is the steam engine.

        And we have no intention of going from electric hook up to electric hook-up. Today’s compressor driven refrigerators are incredibly efficient. So much so that Winnebago, Advanced RV, and others include them as standard equipment.

        I do realize that some of my mods wouldn’t be practical, possible, or cost effective for the average RVer. BUT! If I can create awareness and demand for better ways to do things, eventually these things will become standard equipment in new RVs and people won’t have to mod them.

        Cheers, Bob!!

        Reply
        1. BOB Garbe

          I will take your old one. And lest you think I am not into these 12v units, I have spent time on sailboats and the marine environment is where the real slick refrigeration stuff get done. Like 4 inch thick insulated top opening boxes with liquid cooled condensers and vacuum high efficiency insulation. My own sailboat has a Waeco (now dometic) one piece cooling unit and top opening box and consumes 24 AH a day at most. Nova cool stuff looks pretty cool but a marine box with a separate compressor and evaporator sections would probably cut your amp hours in half.

          For absorption frig safety look at ARPRV, who makes a temp sensor shutoff on the heater to prevent premature failure of the cooling unit when the unit operated unlevel.

          Looking forward t throats, you got quite a project going there.

          Everyone now wants a cookie cutter solution, it seems.

      2. Mark Roberts

        Bob, have you tried to live with the 3 way model… at altitude, in the cold? It’s the most frustrating piece of …. equipment I’ve ever owned, period. I have about a 50% chance of starting it on propane, and have already broke the cover tabs from opening it so often to start with a lighter. It draws over 200 watts from the battery when on DC… don’t forget about it, or you’ll drain your battery! It works fine on 120AC. We’ve gotten to the point of not using it for salad greens, and bring a cooler if we want something to stay frozen. It’s been my absolute biggest complaint about the Travato. Personally, I think James held back! 🙂

        Reply
        1. BOB Garbe

          I donno, I in Denver and go uphill from there, so I haven’t had your experiance. My dometic 2652 is 12 years old and going strong. I do clean the burner area every spring, along with the furnace and HW burners and maybe that helps.

    16. Aaron

      This is going to be an excellent project and series of posts; I can hardly wait!

      Have you decided what you’re going to do with the fridge vents they cut into Lance’s body?

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        I have some ideas about it. I’m waiting to make a final decision until I find out exactly what’s back there…

        Reply
    17. Steve Shaw

      Hi, I have an older 2004 RV with the good old absorption refrigerator. Over the years, it’s failed to keep food cold enough … to the point where I had to throw away food twice. Food poisoning is not something anyone should face on their travels.

      And, like you two, I like to boondock where leveling can be a challenge for the frig. I bit the bullet late last fall and purchased an ARB 12 V compressor frig/freezer which opens from the top (helps to keep the cold air in). No more frig issues.

      I know that your Lance is fairly new. Too bad the option to have the factory install a 12V compressor style frig was not available.

      Good luck on the install.

      Cheers,

      Steve

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Thanks, Steve –
        It was the perpetually frozen lettuce that sent me over the edge!
        Glad your fridge issues are sorted out. Hopefully mine will be too shortly.
        I think before too long, we won’t see much absorption refrigeration in Class Bs.
        Cheers!

        Reply

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