Can You Run Your RV Fridge In Cold Weather?
The great thing about RVing is the ability to go where we want, when we want. My daughter said when she was around eight years old, “Dad, we are like turtles, our home is on our back.” When one is exploring, one will run into all kinds of weather, and when our home is on our back, we need to be prepared for the heat of the desert and the cold of the mountains.
What is surprising is that both of these environments can affect your Dometic or Norcold absorption fridge in different ways. In the heat or in the cold, the outcome is the same, no cooling or complete fridge failure. This article is going to focus on operating your RV refrigerator in cold weather and how to keep your fridge cooling.
How does cold weather affect a refrigerator?
If a person understands a problem, then they can find ways to deal with that problem. The video below describes the entire absorption fridge process. We want to focus on the fridge boiler assembly, found at about 1:30 minutes into the video.
The holding tank holds a mixture of ammonia and water. The ammonia mixed with the water prevents the water from freezing. Note that the boiler separates the two fluids in the cooling unit holding tank. Once the ammonia is removed from the water, the water freezes at low ambient temperatures. The water without ammonia is called the “weak solution” in the video.
What happens to your refrigerator in cold weather?
Returning to the video, note that the weak solution must flow to the absorber coils to remix the water and ammonia. If anything interrupts this process, the boiler overheats. This is what happens when the weak solution freezes and stops flowing.
If the ammonia can’t remix with the water due to it being frozen, it can’t keep cycling through the system, and the entire flow comes to a stop. This stops the fridge from cooling your food or medical supplies.
When the boiler of your Dometic or Norcold RV refrigerator is unable to keep the flow of fluids and gas moving, it overheats. This not only stops the fridge from cooling, but it can also destroy the refrigerator. The result of the destruction can be a dangerous RV fire.
Safety tips for RV refrigerator in cold weather
Similar to the Dometic and Norcold recalls, Norcold issued a cold weather kit option. But this kit does not address the root cause of the problem: the boiler overheating. In addition, this kit requires power to heat the weak solution. So, when you want your battery to be powering your furnace, the cold weather kit is draining the battery. This can be a problem.
The fridge boiler is already generating heat, and this heat can thaw out the weak solution line to restore flow in your cooling unit. The trick here is to know when the boiler is overheating and turn off the heat to the boiler before damage can occur.
This is exactly what the Fridge Defend does. It not only addresses the root cause of damage to the fridge, but it will help restart the fridge in cold weather by cycling the boiler heat. By cycling the boiler heat, the weak solution can thaw out, restoring the normal operation of the fridge.
Typically an RV may incur freezing at night and temperatures above freezing by day. The Fridge Defend solution is appropriate for this situation. We have customers that live in Canada and the Williston, North Dakota area, where the temperatures are extreme for long periods of time. In this situation, our customers have reported the following solution:
Use the Fridge Defend controller with its fan option to monitor the boiler temperature and the temperature in the cooling unit compartment. This consists of carefully blocking off the lower vent with cardboard, leaving only the Fridge Defend blower intake exposed to suck in outside air.
With this method, the boiler warms the cooling unit compartment so that the fridge can perform normally. If the temperature rises in the cooling unit compartment, the fan kicks on and sucks in the cold air from outside.
This cold air brings down the temperature very fast. This method should only be used when the boiler temperature is monitored by the Fridge Defend. If the fan fails or something else goes wrong, the boiler is protected.
Freezer thawing in cold weather
Besides the weak solution freezing in cold weather, some will experience the food in the freezer thawing out at temperatures around 50⁰F. This is due to short cycles of the cooling unit that will cool the fridge but not the freezer.
Dometic addressed this by a cold weather switch on their fridge. All this switch does is add heat to the fridge by leaving the fridge interior light on. Many folks have replaced their interior light with an LED. However, the LED will not generate enough heat to lengthen the cooling cycles. Once again, this solution results in more energy consumption, which we are totally against in our RV.
We simply put our warm food into the refrigerator without letting it cool when we are camping in cool to cold weather. The fridge has to work to cool this food, which in turn keeps the freezer down around zero in our Dometic fridge. This method works no matter the brand of fridge. A warm meal and a frozen freezer are perfect for full-time living in our RV during the winter.
This last method described should only be implemented with the Fridge Defend boiler protection. We cannot emphasize enough that boiler overheating is the root cause of Dometic and Norcold fridge failure in both hot and cold weather. The Norcold cold weather kit is one solution to this problem. However, it does not address the root cause of fridge failure in both hot and cold weather.
Managing the safety and performance of an absorption RV refrigerator in cold weather takes a little more effort, but it can be done. For RVers that like to camp year-round, knowing how to use your refrigerator in cold weather is essential. If you have an absorption refrigerator, and you are having problems with its performance or are concerned about your safety, check out Fridge Defend.