Modern home fridges use fancy-pants things like Freon, compressors, computers, common sense and electricity.
RV fridges use propane and, I assume, some kind of cosmic energy that makes Kardashians seem appealing to some people. Still, the propane or “gas-absorption ” fridge is a marvel of good old-fashioned mechanical simplicity – which is to say it doesn’t work that well .
Fortunately there are some remedies that will help this primitive technology work nearly as well as a regular residential refrigerator. The main problem? Lack of air-flow both outside and inside the unit is one of the primary causes of propane fridge crappiness. Also, the RV fridge has limited controls that let it know when to get cold or hot. It’s stupid.
The rear exterior of the fridge depends on constant movement of air across several sets of coils and fins.
The rear exterior of the fridge depends on constant movement of air across several sets of coils and fins. My own rear exterior also needs constant movement of air , as my wife will attest.
I won’t attempt to address this issue in any great detail, as many others have done so already – and quite well, at that. But here’s what I did: I added new external fans to the vent stack including one at the very bottom vent, which was nothing more than a 12v computer fan with a simple scoop made from plastic sheeting and silicone glue. This sucks in cool air from outside and sends it upward along the back of the fridge. I attached the fan to the lower access panel on the outside of the RV.
Heat goes up.
I added a few new fans in the stack to facilitate air flow all along the exterior of the fridge. Part of the problem with our fridge is that it is mounted inside the slide of our motorhome which means that there is no roof-vent. Heat goes up. If there’s no place for it go rise, guess where it goes? Right in to my frozen pizza and beer. So fans do a great deal to make the fridge remove heat from my food and send it out into the world to melt ice-caps or something.
Smart, right? I’m smart and so are you. However, the propane fridge is an imbecile that needs a real brain and maybe a few weeks at the gym.
A company called ARP RV (https://www.arprv.com) provides a great brain in the form of a simple microcomputer that controls fan operation, boiler temperatures and even affords a considerable degree of overheat/fire protection.
The ARP unit was intended to be mounted outside the RV in the fridge compartment, but I hate going outside so I extended the ARP unit wiring so I could mount it in the RV closet where I can monitor fridge functions while wearing my Hulk Hogan Underoos. I also added an LED, visible in the kitchen, so that I would know when the ARP unit was activating the fans.
Yet, another massive shortcoming of the propane fridge is the rather stupid circuit that senses internal temperatures.
Yet, another massive shortcoming of the propane fridge is the rather stupid circuit that senses internal temperatures. The upgrade is available from a company called Snip The Tip. This doo-dad allows a user to dial in a specific temperature without the fridge freezing up or, worse, deciding that life is not worth living and shutting off, this spoiling my pizza, eggs, Go-Gurt and my faith in a post-industrial America.
Even with the addition of extra fans, a computer brain and a new thermostat, the propane fridge still has a major shortcoming: the interior is a thermodynamic dead zone. Heat is slow to dissipate and cold is slow to propagate. Solution? Yet more fans, yet again adapted from 12v computer fans, in this case provided from a vendor on eBay.
The fans from eBay used a weird alligator clip to provide both mounting and grounding. This is shit. The fans fucking fell off. I added dedicated wires tied in to the fridge internal lights to provide a solid ground for the internal fans as well as a 12v power source.
The fans were mounted to the internal fins with 3M mega-stick tape.
How do I know all this foofery works? I added thermometers to both the refrigerator and freezer compartments. These allow me to monitor fridge temps without opening the doors. Propane fridges are slow to recover of you leave the door open too long.
So, to recap, my ten (10) steps to Fridge Happiness:
1: Propane fridges exist
2: They suck
3: They can be fixed
4: Add external fans
5: Add a brain
6: Replace the thermostat
7: Add internal fans
8: Eat a hot-dog, if you must
9: They still might suck
10: You do not suck. You’re awesome.
The result is a fridge that works just great nearly all the time. On crazy-hot 100-plus days the fridge hugs 31 degrees and the freezer maintains anything from 4 to 8 degrees.
BONUS, you bitches.
One extra thing worth mentioning is that our fridge began tripping the GROUND-FAULT-INTERRUPT for some fucking reason. I thought it was related to the installation of the ARP unit but it was entirely coincidental.
After some research, wine and forum wrangling, I found out that the fridge heating element (which does the job of the propane flame on 120v “shore power”) can get weird and degrade, causing the RV 120v circuits to panic and, worse, fail to provide the necessary heat to allow the gas-absorption system to operate properly. I am mischaracterizing this because I not only don’t I fully understand this but because I don’t care.
Once again, the heating element replacement is covered quite well by other internet sources. It’s easy and takes no tools whatsoever unless swear-words are a tool. Basically you yank the old one out and put the new one in. If I can do it, so can you.
Upshot. End-game. Conclusion. Go home.
I’m lazy or possibly stupid. I refuse to admit either other than this quite a specific admission, which is in no way an admission of anything, specifically. In other words, if you do anything I’ve outlined in this rather dubious article and you destroy your fridge and/or RV, it’s your fault. This is my disclaimer/
The stock RV fridge is a useless bastard but with some work it can be a useful bastard.
Good bless and god night.