RV Tech Tips with Mark Polk
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tips to make your RV fridge run more efficiently

If an RV refrigerator isn't running efficiently, in many cases it's something the owner did that affected its performance.

We can help the refrigerator do a better job. First and foremost, the RV must be fairly level for the refrigerator to operate properly. Older RV refrigerators required more precise leveling, but even newer models must be close to level for optimum performance. Over time, a cooling unit operated out of level will be permanently damaged. Traveling with the refrigerator operating will not cause problems because the liquids and gases in the cooling unit are constantly moving around. They don't collect and stay in areas of the cooling unit like they can in a stationary, out of level refrigerator.

The initial cool down process can take four to six hours. You should turn the refrigerator on the day before you plan to leave. When you put in the food, make sure it's already cold. Frozen food should already be frozen. Putting cold food in the refrigerator, rather than adding warm food, makes for less work for the refrigerator. One common mistake is to over pack a refrigerator. There must be space between the foods to allow for air to circulate throughout the compartment. On most RV trips, you will have access to a store to add to your food supply. So two to three day's worth should be enough.

To assist with air circulation you can purchase an inexpensive, battery operated refrigerator fan. Put the batteries in and place the fan in the front of the refrigerator compartment blowing up. Cold air drops and warm air rises. The fan will improve the efficiency by circulating the air and it will reduce the initial cool down time by half.

The heat created by the cooling process is vented behind the refrigerator. Air enters through the outside lower refrigerator vent and helps to draft the hot air out through the roof vent. Periodically inspect the back of the refrigerator and the roof vent for any obstructions like bird nests, leaves or other debris that might prevent the heat from escaping.

TO KEEP THE REFRIGERATOR OPERATING EFFICIENTLY in the LP gas mode, perform some routine maintenance. Remove the outside lower vent cover to access the back of the refrigerator. With the refrigerator turned off, ensure all connections are clean and tight. Turn the refrigerator on in the LP gas mode and look at the flame. If it's burning poorly, or is yellow-colored, or if the refrigerator isn’t operating properly in the gas mode it’s possible that the baffle inside the flue is covered with soot.

Soot, rust and other debris can fall down and obstruct the burner assembly. When this happens it's necessary to clean the flue and the burner assembly. Turn the refrigerator off again and locate the burner. Directly above the burner is the flue. The baffle is inside the flue. Wear a pair of safety glasses and use an air compressor to blow air up into the flue. After the flue is clean use the compressed air to remove any debris from the outside refrigerator compartment. Now, turn the refrigerator on in the LP gas mode to make sure it is working properly. Look for the bright blue flame. For a thorough cleaning of the flue and baffle it will be necessary to have your RV dealer do it for you. While it’s there have them to do an LP gas pressure test, too.

Another good idea is to install a 12 volt, thermostatically controlled refrigerator vent fan at the back of the refrigerator or at the top of the roof vent to assist with drafting the hot air away from the refrigerator. If you are mechanically inclined these fans are fairly easy to install, or you can have your RV dealer install one for you. Either way it’s worth it. The fan removes the heat built up behind the refrigerator improving the refrigerators performance by up to 40 percent.

Outside temperature affects the operation and efficiency of your RV refrigerator. When it’s cold outside you can lower the temperature setting and when it’s hot you can raise the setting. Some refrigerators are preset by the manufacturer. Extremely hot weather will directly affect the refrigerators efficiency. When it’s really hot outside try parking your RV with the refrigerator side in the shade. Periodically inspect and clean the refrigerator door gaskets. Check them for a good seal. Place a dollar bill behind the seal and close the door. It should stay there and not drop. When you try to pull it out there should be some resistance felt. Do this in several different places and have any damaged seals replaced.

Try to limit the amount of times you open the refrigerator or freezer doors and the length of time you leave the doors open. Every time the door is opened it loses a few degrees of heat. On a hot summer day it won’t take long to lose all of its cooling capacity. Last but not least you should always have a thermostat in the food compartment. Food will begin to spoil at temperatures above 40 degrees.

RV absorption refrigerators do a great job for RVers. They will do an even better job, and last longer, if we apply these simple tips to make their job easier and less demanding.

Learn more about using your RV and its operation with Mark Polk's best-selling DVDs, books and eBooks.


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