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Old 10-03-2019, 09:54 AM   #1
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Propane refrigerator option

Our 15 yr old fridge needs to be replaced, (Oops on the defrosting activities in the freezer portion).
Our old Norcold is 120 VAC and 12 VDC.
As I am looking for the replacement I am seeing three way power options in campers. (120 VAC, 12 VDC and Propane). It got me to thinking, Uh oh.

Are propane fridges allowed on pleasure boats, with Diesel engines ? We have a compliant propane system on board for our fireplace so I understand the safety issues and have provisions for safety.

I would not plumb the propane into our current system, it would just be there if needed. We are year round liveaboards so flexibility is nice.
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Old 10-03-2019, 10:06 AM   #2
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I wouldn't do it. Those fridges are absorption fridges, not compressor driven. So they use a lot of power to run on either 12v or 120v (far more than a standard compressor fridge). They're really meant to be run on propane most of the time. And a lot of them also have to be kept fairly level to work correctly, so not a good choice for a boat.
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Old 10-03-2019, 10:08 AM   #3
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While not "illegal" that I have been able to determine for a pleasure boat....your insurance company may be interested at insurance survey time.


If it is the open pilot flame kind....I doubt it will be OK.


If it has an igniter system when it comes on, can be vented and plumbed properly...it might be OK....


If you plan to press ahead with an improved model...I would still run it by my insurance first as the modifications would probably be expensive.
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Old 10-03-2019, 10:22 AM   #4
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I've never seen a propane reefer approved by underwriting for marine use- when I was on the underwriting desk, propane/LPG was OK as a cooking fuel, and marginally passable as a heating fuel...but we'd either decline or make it a requirement to remove propane refrigerators.
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Old 10-03-2019, 10:32 AM   #5
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I have also heard that propane reefers are inefficient and consume a lot of gas to stay cold.
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Old 10-03-2019, 11:21 AM   #6
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I have also heard that propane reefers are inefficient and consume a lot of gas to stay cold.
On my RV they used very little gas. Just a little pilot flame heating the chamber.

I have also seen kerosene units on really old boats 1945 or so.

I would not recommend it the installation of a propane unit.

Besides you would have to install a exhaust chimney and install an intake that draws air from outside.

Much more efficient and cheaper in the long run to install a 12Vdc/120Vac marine unit.
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Old 10-03-2019, 11:25 AM   #7
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Awesome and clear information.
No propane fridge for us.
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Old 10-03-2019, 11:29 AM   #8
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No way I would do this. Besides being very expensive I think they would be hard to keep level enough to work properly. I suspect your insurance company will not like it. And leaving a propane refer unattended on a boat would make me very nervous. In our RV any leaks drop out of the RV and dissipate safely, not so on a boat.
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Old 10-03-2019, 12:15 PM   #9
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Dunno how relevant this is, but last year, when researching a replacement for my seized up 30 year old Norcold someone here recommended Truckfridge. They are apparently Isotherm units but several hundred less than specific marine units. The guy at truck fridge, after asking about my application, would not sell me a unit for boat use. While essentially the same spec'd unit he mentioned insurance issues and potential problems with insurance companies. He said their manufacturing specs were slightly different, though made by Isotherm. I eventually acquired a marine unit through West Marine and my buddies Port Supply account for not that big a price difference..
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Old 10-03-2019, 12:45 PM   #10
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Years ago we had propane fridges on RVs. They worked great. However, on an RV the exhaust was easily vented outside and any leaks would simply drain out onto the ground. Despite insurance issues, I'd not consider one for a boat even though I have propane for cooking.
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Old 10-03-2019, 03:48 PM   #11
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Propane on RV’s is a great fuel. It’s heavier than air so by default any leaks find their way out the bottom of the RV making the RV very safe. The safety requirements are very minimal and this makes stove, heater, and refrigerator installations very inexpensive.

When we get to boats, we end up in the opposite end. The fuel is dangerous, rules are strict and installation is expensive.

I like propane stoves. I don’t like propane heat systems, installation is simple and safe but expensive because of all the safety equipment needed. Propane is expensive to heat with, it’s one of the more expensive fuels per btu. I don’t like propane refrigeration as a safe and proper installation is more expensive than a high end refrigerator.
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Old 10-03-2019, 04:01 PM   #12
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a little pilot flame heating the chamber.

Besides you would have to install a exhaust chimney and install an intake that draws air from outside.
Most insurance companies will shut you down for these two reasons which make them non-ABYC compliant.
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Old 10-04-2019, 05:26 AM   #13
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We have a propane reefer , mounted outside on the sef bailing aft deck that has worked well for years.

In the past the units has to be fairly level, but today if you can stay in bed , thats level enough.

I have seen a number of units mounted inside above the WL , they are in a deep tray , vented over the side.

Yes there are simple exhaust vent requirements .

The "efficency" on electric is not great , but dockside that is meaningless.

Ice cream ,cold beer, no noise , no dead batts , for a month for the price of a single $12.00 bottle refill is efficient for me. Te same bottle powers the range oven.

With no 100A daily reefer demand on the house batt , a single 85W solar takes care of the usual anchored out loads.

Seems all the nay sayers have never experienced the pleasure of a silent month with no noisemaker.
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Old 10-04-2019, 05:40 AM   #14
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Here is another option for a frost free refrigerator.

My new Apartment Refrigerator

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Old 10-04-2019, 07:40 AM   #15
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^^^^ This ^^^





Some folks can abide a "marine" fridge just fine. Our luck is terrible with them. I've had the OEM Tundra, a DP2600 Vitrifrigo, another DP2600, and now, a NOVA-KOOL RFU9000. The NOVA-KOOL is by far a better solution, although our brand-new installed before we left for the Bahamas for 3 months, fridge went warm 3 weeks into the trip. UGH!!


Had to have a replacement module air shipped in, fortunately, I travel with spare modules, and one of them kept it cool till the part arrived. Since then, I've replace the box thermostat. That's within 18 months of new.



That aside, the NovaKool is the only fridge that consistently keeps temps at 38F or under. The VF's would struggle to maintain 42, and spoilage was just part of life aboard. Slimy deli meats, stinky milk, limp produce. No milk was used without first sniffing under the lid.



Nearly all the "marine" fridges use the Danfoss/SECOP compressor and its proprietary control module. The modules can be frail. The newer ones had a firmware glitch that made them temperamental, mine just quit. If you cruise away from quick shipping, you should travel with a spare module that has the latest software, that is NOT v.1.06.



The NovaKool is great with the freezer on the bottom, way better layout, and the air flow for condenser/fan is in front, so no issues with ventilation. Service is also from the front, so no need to remove the fridge to access the module or fan, the most likely points of failure. The thermostat is also a frequent source of problems, but accessible. The Danfoss compressor is intolerant of voltage drops, so it's imperative that you have a robust 12VDC source. My fridge supply is 8ga to insure that there's no voltage drop since the cabling is about 45ft round trip. Yes, the fridge only draws <10A, but - intolerant of low voltage. AND, it still must be defrosted every 2-3 weeks, particularly if you're in a humid climate. When ambients are in the 90s, the fridge struggles to maintain 38F box temps.

So, with all the foibles that go with a 12VDC/120VAC "marine" fridge for which you will pay absolute top dollar, you can purchase an apartment fridge that is frost-free, maintains temps that won't spoil food, and can be replaced with a new one from the local box store for a fraction of the cost the day it's needed. There is the issue with the inverter and standby losses, it might be worthwhile to use a small dedicated sine wave inverter for the fridge, you'll have to assess your inverter use and standby losses to make a decision on that score.
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Old 10-04-2019, 07:58 AM   #16
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The NovaKool is great with the freezer on the bottom, way better layout, and the air flow for condenser/fan is in front, so no issues with ventilation. Service is also from the front, so no need to remove the fridge to access the module or fan, the most likely points of failure. The thermostat is also a frequent source of problems, but accessible. The Danfoss compressor is intolerant of voltage drops, so it's imperative that you have a robust 12VDC source. My fridge supply is 8ga to insure that there's no voltage drop since the cabling is about 45ft round trip. Yes, the fridge only draws <10A, but - intolerant of low voltage. AND, it still must be defrosted every 2-3 weeks, particularly if you're in a humid climate. When ambients are in the 90s, the fridge struggles to maintain 38F box temps.
I put in that same NovaKool RFU9000 this year. I definitely like it better than the Vitrfrigo DP2600 I had before and the POS old school Norcolds that preceded that one. I agree that it struggles a little in 85+ degree weather, although it stays cold enough as long as you don't put anything in it that's not already cold and don't open it a lot. I normally keep mine set to maintain about 35* in the fridge so I've got a little more buffer.

I had a little extra space around my unit when I put it in, so I glued on some foam insulation as the stock box insulation on most of these fridges is only about R-10. I'm going to probably add some more this winter. I added a 1/2" of foam on the back, 1/4" on the sides, so probably about a 10% overall increase in insulation. I can add a bit on top and I'm going to try to add a 1/4" layer behind the trim panels on the doors too. Might be able to slide another 1/4" sheet in on each side (not glued on), I just couldn't do that before install as I'd never have gotten the fridge in the hole.

It does frost up, but it seems to tolerate a surprising amount of frost on the evaporator in the fridge without impacting its ability to stay cold.

I'm also going to investigate adding a fan to push air over the fridge evaporator while the compressor is running. From what I've seen for power draw, once it's been cycled on for a couple of minutes (during a normal temperature maintaining cycle, not trying to cool down from warm), the refrigeration circuit isn't heavily loaded. The compressor power draw is lower than I'd expect, so stirring some air around might get it to pull a bit more heat out of the box (shorter cycles at higher power draw, but also more total cooling capacity to keep up on the hot days).
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Old 10-04-2019, 09:10 AM   #17
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Installs may mean a lot.


Some models may require more air circ or surrounding dead space or......????


I had no issues with either the old Norcold or now Vitrifrigo keeping things cold (till the Norcold gasket just got hard as a rock.


Both would freeze lettuce and other things if in the wrong spot....so I never have needed to have either thermostat on full cold.


The Norcold freezer was a bit wimpy, but the Vitrifrigo with 80 degree cabin temp is currently -15 degrees (just measured it with a IR gun).


It has been running full time for 3 years without issue for a full time liveaboard.


Marine fridges are a PITA and expensive. I would gladly go homestyle but to get the cubes and fill the cabinetry...I opted to stay marine. Let's hope 10 more years is in the cards for the Vitrifrigo.


In all fairness tho...my sons $1500 LG kitchen fridge has 2X given him trouble in the last 5 years. Consumer beware anything costly and mechanical.
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Old 10-04-2019, 09:44 AM   #18
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Ventilation is more important than intuition tells us

If you feel hot air it is probably not moving fast enough. Temperature differences matter. Gotta keep the heat moving away from the system for it to work right. Whole lotta heat, get it outta there, clean coils and moving air.

All that electricity, or propane, makes heat. You gotta move that heat and the heat from the icebox too. It's a whole lotta heat you gotta keep moving. Most ventilation is inadequate for the job.

Spell check flags gotta and outta but not lotta. Huh? The Internet is a strange place.


Ventilation is tough on a boat because if air can get in or out, so can water.
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Old 10-04-2019, 01:22 PM   #19
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I have had great experience with propane reefers. They have been incredibly efficient.

However, in our trawler we have a no-name cheap apartment fridge. I have two 1 gallon OJ bottles full of water frozen in the freezer. When we go on a trip I move one to the fridge half an hour before we unplug (when I know that far in advance anyway Everything stays pretty cold for at least a few hours as long as the door doesn't get opened.

An inverter is on the list way before a new fridge. If money was no object I'd look for propane too.
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Old 10-04-2019, 03:21 PM   #20
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The previous owner installed a new Dometic Model 2662 110/Propane fridge the year before I purchased the boat in 2009. The unit has run around the clock ever since with less than 10% of that time on propane. The ventilation system is huge, encasing the entire back of the unit with a vertically rising exhaust port of something like 3” x 18” going through the upper deck and into a collection box fwd of the helm, drawing and exhausting air through separate 5” vents to and from the outside. The unit has given us flawless service for 10 years, and rarely requires defrosting, perhaps twice since we’ve owned it. The cubic space on this boat permits this kind of mod, but I can see how such a vent system would be obtrusive (if not impossible) for many designs. The PO spent 4-5 months in the Abaco’s each year, and such a system may have made sense.

All that noted, I should add that we haven’t cruised heavily on the boat, and even though we might suffer a couple of power outages each year, the fridge hasn’t needed to start from warm very often. It also isn’t opened nearly as often as one would experience with average use. It has, however, had to operate consistently in shut-up boat temps over 95 degrees. If the unit takes a dump, I’ll be going with 12v/110 on a new solar array.
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