Residential Fridge

When delivered, our rig was equipped with a Norcold 1210 4-door 12 cu.ft. refrigerator. For the first few months, it performed adequately, although ice cream was never really hard, and after purchasing groceries, it would take the Norcold a day before it cooled everything to a stable temperature.

Original installation
When the Norcold was one year old, it suddenly stopped working. I tried both electric and propane, and neither would make the fridge cool, even though heat was being produced in the boiler. I did some electrical troubleshooting, and determined that everything was operating normally from an electrical point of view.

After much online research, I found that this particular model of refrigerator was sometimes prone to an intermittent internal blockage in the ammonia cooling circuit, possibly caused by clumping of the chromate rust inhibitor chemical. I decided to try a fix that had worked for others. I took a block of 2x2 wood and a hammer, and I tapped firmly on the steel cooling piping at the back of the unit, just above the accumulator tank.
Amazingly, within ten minutes the fridge was starting to cool, and after an hour the freezer temperature was down to 10 deg.F. It continued to function properly for the next couple of months, so I put the issue to the back of my mind, and enjoyed the summer.

That winter, we hit the road to California, and within a couple of days, the fridge malfunctioned again. I used the block of wood trick, and it started working, but only for a while. Over the next six weeks, the refrigerator's tantrums became more frequent, and it was obvious that we could not depend on the unit. The original one year Norcold warranty had expired, but Jayco covers their RVs for two years, including appliances.

Notcold before removal, doors removed
We had two choices. Seek warranty repairs on the Norcold, or replace it with a residential unit, as many RVers have done. If we went the repair route, we would have to take our rig to a Jayco dealer, and leave it for a few days so a cooling test could be performed. If the fridge was having one of its "good days" and behaving itself when the test was done, it would seem to be operating perfectly, and no issues would be found. If it was having a bad day, the dealer would likely get approval from Jayco to do a cooling unit replacement. In that case, we would be without our home for several days or longer, living in a hotel in California.

After discussion, the choice was clear. We would replace the Notcold (Norcold) with a Samsung RF197, which would fit well into the available space. The RF197 is the unit which has been most often used for RV refrigerator conversions. We had never been happy with the Norcold. The things we didn't like were the poor cooling performance compared to a residential fridge, the small capacity, and the poor interior layout. These things made the Norcold a compromise for fulltime RV living. The reliabilty issues were the last straw, and we wanted a better solution.

Ready to go out the door
The Samsung is an 18 cu.ft. french door model, counter-depth, with bottom freezer drawer. We purchased the new fridge, in stainless steel finish, from Home Depot in Temecula, CA for $1100 on sale. I removed the doors, freezer drawer, and all of the shelves, and it then fit through the entry door of our Pinnacle. We
New Samsung waiting in livingroom
reassembled, positioned it in the living room, plugged it in, and transferred our food from the Norcold. I then started to remove the Norcold and prepare the opening for the new fridge. That evening, with the Samsung in the living room, we celebrated with the first truly hard ice cream we had eaten since selling our house and becoming fulltimers. It was Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk, and it was delicious.

Samsung finally in place
The only cabinet modification I had to make, was to remove a pots-and-pans drawer which was below the Norcold, because the new fridge was about 4 inches higher. The Samsung now sits directly on the floor, and the width of the original opening was exactly right to provide 3/8 inch of clearance around it. I filled in the gap at the top with wooden trim pieces removed from the bottom drawer, and it looks like an original installation.

I devised an arrangement of blocking and clamping at the back of the cabinet, to secure the new fridge from moving. I blocked off the vents in the original outside grilles, and insulated them with styrofoam. The fridge is in a slideout, so there are two wall grilles, and no roof vent. I capped off the gas piping with a pipe cap, and plugged the Samsung into the original AC receptacle behind the fridge, that the Norcold was plugged into.  We rarely use ice cubes, so I did not connect the icemaker.

The question that is asked whenever a residential replacement is contemplated, is "what about power when the RV is not connected to a shore power outlet?"
I purchased a Xantrex 1000 watt pure sine wave inverter, and installed it next to the two house batteries, and ran a dedicated 120 volt line from the inverter to the receptacle powering the fridge. The Samsung is always running from the inverter, and always sees a clean, constant 120 volts. It is protected from power interruptions and surges when plugging and unplugging at campsites. The batteries are of course kept charged by the converter when connected to shore power or generator.

We have two deep-cycle size 24 batteries, and I found that these two batteries will run the inverter/fridge for about 16 hours. We rarely dry camp, just the occasional overnight at Flying J or Walmart, when we run the generator most of the time anyway. Power has never been an issue for us. While traveling, the truck alternator puts enough charge into the house batteries to replenish what the fridge uses. Modern refrigerators are extremely energy-efficient. The Samsung uses less than 2 amps at 120 volts, which is around 20 amps from the batteries, but only when the compressor is running, which is about 30% of the time. During a defrost cycle, which occurs about once per day, it draws 6 amps at 120 volts (60 amps at 12 volts), but only for 20 minutes.

The pros and cons are as follows:

-18 cu.ft. instead of 12 cu.ft.
-Better looking
-Much better cooling performance
-Much better internal arrangement of shelves and racks
-Hard ice cream

-Cannot run on propane

We secure the doors with Velcro straps. For travel, we use white anti-skid material on the glass shelves to prevent items from sliding around. After two trips to California, the fridge has stayed in position, the doors are secure, and it has performed flawlessly.

This conversion is the single best modification we have made to our rig. We will never use another absorption refrigerator in an RV. In two years, power for the residential unit has never been an issue, and we spend two months per year on the road.

UPDATE (February 2016)

The refrigerator is now 3 years old, and has always functioned perfectly, except for a minor problem with the inverter wiring last year. It has never shifted position, and the contents have never spilled or caused any issues after about 30,000 miles of travel. We have never run short of power while traveling. Many of the fifthwheel models are now available with a residential refrigerator option, which I would highly recommend. If you are experiencing cooling problems with a Norcold or Dometic, don't waste time and money repairing it. Eliminate the problem permanently. If you dry camp frequently, consider a roof-mounted solar installation to keep the batteries charged.

UPDATE (June 2019)

It has been 6 years since our refrigerator installation, and the Samsung has performed flawlessly. We increased the house battery capacity by changing to four GC2 golf cart batteries, as the original 12v batteries had reached the end of their useful lives. 

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