Goodbye Norcold, hello Frigidaire
Our relationship with our four-door model 1201 Norcold over the last seven years (and almost 75,000 miles of travel) has been a mixed bag. The interior layout of the fridge was very conducive for Jane to neatly and efficiently organize food and drink. The two small freezer compartments did chop up that space and made it a little difficult to store large packages, but overall, Jane was very pleased with food storage.
Other positives were the latching doors (as might be expected on an RV fridge) and the ability to run on propane/12V.
However. And there are a few however's. There are inherent safety risks involved with absorbed gas refrigeration as evidenced by numerous safety recalls by the two primary manufacturers of RV refrigeration. For absorbed gas refrigeration cycle to work, you need heat. Heat is either produced by a propane burner or electric heating element - out of control heat has been responsible for the several safety recalls. Absorbed gas refrigerators also need good ventilation to work safely and efficiently. Once RV manufacturers started to install fridges on slides, proper ventilation became more difficult to achieve, since ours was on a slide, there were two muffin fans to assist in air flow. (Our upper vent area I believe never fully met Norcold's very rigid specification.)
Our 1201 would struggle in hot weather to keep the fridge cold - sometimes we would need to run it on a setting of six or seven (out of nine). Then there was the problem where the unit would warm up while we were driving, sometimes the fridge would reach 45-50 degrees. After consultation with some tech folks, the diagnosis was air intrusion where the cooling unit (the entire rear of the box) attaches to the main part of the box. The entire fridge needed to be pulled out and that seam sealed with metallic tape, only an eight hour job (at $100/hr.)
And then when we left for our summer 2012 trip, we had to run the box on nine to keep the fridge at the proper temperature of about 35 degrees. After more tests and consultation, the conclusion was we had a bad cooling unit. Yikes! New cooling unit - $1,050. 8 hours of labor - $800, total repair cost: $1,850! NO WAY! Goodbye Norcold, hello Frigidaire.
Addendum: Don't have the tools, skills to do the job yourself? If you are in or near Texas, give Dave the Motorhomedoctor a call or send an email.
So now we have a set of problems to solve:
Removing the Norcold
Getting it out the coach door
Finding a suitable replacement
Getting the new fridge inside the coach
Installing the replacement
This mod required the most critical planning for anything previously accomplished on our Horizon. First, could we get the Norcold out the front door of the coach? Is it possible to find a household fridge to fit in Norcold space without major modifications? Since we were visiting our friends in western Virginia, were there adequate tools available? Will the new fridge weigh more than the Norcold? What about boondocking - powering the 110VAC fridge? Is it possible to secure a residential refrigerator to keep it immobilized while bouncing around the nation's highways? And the very big deal question was can we get a new fridge into the door and turn the corner without having to remove a window?
And the answered questions:
Could we get the Norcold out the front door of the coach?
Absolutely. Remove the copilot chair, the interior grab handles, screen door. Remove doors and anything else you can easily take off the Norcold. My buddy Bob and I got the Norcold out the door with little trouble (but it was a handful for the two of us)
Is it possible to find a household fridge to fit in Norcold space without major modifications?
Not a huge problem. Do a web search for apartment size (or counter depth) refrigerators to find smaller size units if you don't want to make any opening trimming or minimal trimming. For our 2005 Horizon 40AD, the maximum rough opening height possible (which required trimming the bottom and top face frame) was about 68" (but you need a little air space top, bottom, sides for ventilation - more on this later.) I found the Norcold is much wider than most of the replacement candidates I considered and the depth was also adequate for most replacement candidates. The Norcold is about 33 1/2" W, 65 1/2" H, and
36 3/4" about 26" D. The fridge we chose was a Lowe's unique model Frigidaire, model LGHT1837NF - 18.2 cu. ft.
Were their adequate tools (and help) available while we were on the road?
My buddy Bob had a nice shop and a small table saw, miter saw, etc., and having worked with Bob on other projects, I knew he was talented and resourceful, so no issue with tools or help
Will the new fridge weigh more than the Norcold?
About the same weight (200 pounds)
What about boondocking - powering the 110VAC fridge?
Newer Winnebago coaches with residential style fridges have up to six house batteries, we only have three. This was (and still is) a concern for us I will admit. When we boondock we're running the gen set for up to 10-12 hours a day so powering the fridge is obviously no problem with the genny running and I'm fairly certain the fridge will do fine overnight with no power. However if you are in a campground with restricted generator hours, keeping the batteries charged while you run the fridge from inverter could be a significant problem. It appears our new fridge is only pulling a couple of amps (or less) without the defrost cycle operating, so that is a good sign our batteries can support this added load, but I don't know for how long. The boondock answer might be 100-150 watts of solar panels on the roof
The other factors to consider when powering the fridge from an inverter are what kind of inverter do you have - modified sine wave (MSW) which is not kind to some electronics, microwave ovens, and perhaps some fridge compressors, and/or is your inverter large enough to manage the added load of the fridge (up to about 550 watts for our model of Frigidaire.) One of the very first mods we did to the coach was replace the Dimensions MSW inverter with a Xantrex RS2000 pure sine wave inverter, so we're good to go with the inverter
Is it possible to secure a residential refrigerator to keep it immobilized while bouncing around the nation's highways?
This really had me puzzled for a time, but the solution (temporary) was simple - three screws in the bottom, a wood cleat with velcro at the top, wood trim on the sides. We have traveled maybe 1,000 miles with the fridge and as far as I can tell, it hasn't moved a millimeter. Please note that the wood trim and the screws in the bottom are temporary - I'll come up with a more esoteric solution when we return home in the fall and have access to my shop. (The wood trim is currently cherry stained poplar, it will be replaced with cherry)
And... could we get the new fridge into the coach without removing a window??
You betcha! The fridge was only about 2" narrower than the door opening - it was a very tight squeeze, but we made it work. When The Lowe's delivery guys rolled up, I handed each of them a $20 bill and told them this delivery "was going to be a little different." They removed the fridge doors and hinge plates and walked it in the opening without too much maneuvering. The $20 tip worked miracles
The usual caveats:
This isn't a project for the tool novice, or beginner DIY-type. You need to be a resourceful problem solver, meticulous planner, have carpentry and/or cabinetry and some plumbing and mechanical skills. While I'm no spring chicken regarding age, I'm healthy and active. Man-handling the fridges takes a bit of strength (and it takes two physically capable people.) If you have any doubts about your ability to take on this project, don't proceed any further!
I have a bunch of annotated project progress pictures (like usual), so over the next few pages I'll step you through the job. Let's get started - on to the project!