Betsy gets a refrigerator transplant

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installing a residential refrigerator

We arrived at Bonita Springs, FL on the first of the year, planning to stay here for a full month – the longest stop of our adventure so far.  Steve had a list of minor “Betsy” maintenance and fix-up to-do’s, and we thought this would be a good place to complete them.

One item that was not on the list – replace our refrigerator.  We have never been comfortable with the complexity or performance of our absorption unit, and Steve had been studying the feasibility of replacing it with a residential refrigerator for several months.  But now the issue had become a high priority, as our current fridge was obviously getting warmer and likely to fail soon.  After adding extra fans and defrosting the thing multiple times, we had two experts check it out and they advised us that we would need a new cooling unit – at close to $2,000 for the CU (either Norcold or an Amish unit) and labor.  Decision time!

Refrigerator Temps

Internal temps of the old fridge and freezer – with it cranked all the way up!

Although we haven’t boondocked a lot so far, we didn’t want to lose the ability to do so. And that was really our only opposition to moving to a residential fridge.  Since we have a good inverter and 3 coach batteries, plus our trusty generator, we think we’ll be able to make it work.

Being the handyman he is, Steve decided to take on the job himself.  He would have tackled this without hesitation before we started full timing, but now he was limited by a lack of tools and wondering whether the RV park would allow it.  As luck would have it, we are at Imperial Bonita Estates RV Resort, where construction within sites is allowed and the resort workers even haul away any debris left by the street once a week.  There’s also a Home Depot right up the street for needed parts and tools.  Let’s get to work!

Steve measured all dimensions of the old fridge, the compartment that held it and our door opening (the only window large enough to get a fridge through is the emergency exit in the bedroom – not an option).  We located a unit at Home Depot that looked good, a Frigidaire model# FFHT1817PS.  It was slightly narrower in width at 30″, but taller at 66.5″ – meaning we would lose the drawer that was under the old unit – darn!  The depth of 30″ meant it would stick out of the wall slightly, but not too bad.  The weight was about the same, around 200 lbs.  We ordered the new fridge, ate everything in the freezer as fast as we could, emptied all of the remaining goodies into ice chests (thanks Joe and Judy for loaning us yours!), and Steve got busy.

After removing the doors and hinges, disconnecting the propane, ice maker line, 12V and AC power, and removing everything that looked like a retaining screw at the front/back/top/bottom, he happily yanked the old unit out:

Residential Refrigerator in an RV

A triumphant moment – now let’s get this thing out of here!

Residential Refrigerator in RV

What in the world have I gotten myself into?

The next step was to get rid of the old bracing and other stuff in the fridge compartment to prepare it for the new unit.  Steve plugged the end of the propane hose, since there was no access to the metal gas line under the coach where he would have preferred to plug it.  He moved the electrical outlet from the rear of the compartment to a brace on the side wall to give us a little more depth – the new unit needs only one inch at the rear for ventilation. Fortunately, the outlet was already connected through the inverter so no additional wiring was required.

The new fridge was tall enough that even though we lost our drawer at the bottom, a base had to be built to get it at the correct height in the opening.

Steve knew we wouldn’t need both outside vents, so he sealed the top one from the inside with sheet metal attached with sealant and screws.  We’re not sure whether we want to seal the bottom vent or not and will decide later.  On hot days we think it might be good to have some outside air flow, but the new fridge has a vent on the bottom which is open to the inside of the coach.  That will allow some outside air into the coach, but we will monitor it for a while to see if it’s too much.  If we find the bottom vent isn’t needed, we’ll fill it with spray foam and close it back up to seal it.

Delivery day arrived, and it was time for Steve to “clear the runway” for the landing of our brand new baby.  He removed the passenger’s seat but left the base in, since he wanted to avoid pulling up the carpet to remove it and he thought the delivery folks could work around it.  Next, he removed the grip handles on both sides of the door to make the opening as big as possible.  Finally, he unscrewed the door stop at the top to allow the door and screen to swing completely out of the way.  Now we had a 28″ door opening to get the 27″ deep fridge through, once the doors were removed – no problem!

Residential Refrigerator in an RV

Delivery dudes removing the doors and installing the ice maker, project dude taking a break.

Steve was horrified when the delivery guys told him they were not allowed to deliver appliances into motorhomes or boats.  We pretty much begged them to help us out – these old people in the RV park can’t help us move a refrigerator!  By a stroke of luck, Steve happened to have some $10 bills in his hand as they were getting ready to leave and the guy saw them.  That did the trick!  Those guys had the old unit out of Betsy and the new one sitting in the galley in no time flat!  They told us they weren’t supposed to do it, so we carefully disguised their faces in the above image 😉

Back to our story, we slid the unit into its new home and Steve took careful measurements for the upcoming trim project.  Then he installed the doors and I put the shelves where I liked them.  We plugged our new refrigerator in, put a box of baking soda inside, and waited in anticipation.

Figuring out how to secure the fridge took some thinking, since there was very little access to the back and we didn’t want to put any screws into the unit – which would likely void the warranty if we have any future problems.  Steve decided to install the trim around the fridge with a strip of super-strong double-sided tape, then screw the trim into the cabinetry.  The guy at the hardware store thought it would work, and wow did it ever – this thing doesn’t budge a millimeter!

After two days of work and about $850 for the refrigerator and other parts, it’s just about done:

We love all of the space in this fridge, and we’re in the process of putting various storage trays inside to keep things from falling as we travel. Steve still has to devise retainers to keep the doors closed on the road, but he’s found some ideas using velcro that look simple and unobtrusive.  He’s filling the screw heads with wood putty now, and after a final coat of stain on the trim it looks like we’ll call this one a success!

Residential Refrigerator in an RV

OK, now that’s more like it! Honey, can I have a cold beer now?

Before starting this project, we talked with several people who had either performed a similar transplant, or who owned newer coaches that came with residential refrigerators. One couple who had done the transplant were John and Pam of Oh the Places.  Since they were staying nearby, we were able to visit them to pick their brains prior to starting our project.  Once we were done, they were nice enough to come over and do a “final inspection”.  I think we passed!

Residential refrigerator in RV

John and Pam came over for COLD drinks!

Now, back to that to-do list…

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42 thoughts on “Betsy gets a refrigerator transplant

  1. Hi there. My name is Ron and I am new to your forum but have been rving for a few years. We were in a 1995 class A 30 ft Damon Challenger for our first seven years. A lot of upgrades keeping that on the road. Banks, pan hard bar, larger frt sway bar, Koni shocks, saf-T-plus, airtabs,. Recarpeted and tiled. Now we have a 2000 monaco diplomat for our second year and in process of changing refer out. Had the 4 door Norcold 1200 LRM series and last summer just didn’t like the temp, never got cold enough. So after extensive reading and research pulled it out and replacing with residential. So we do not full time and are not rich by any means and not enough clearance for the ever popular Samsung rf197 had to settle on a frigidaire. We are saving money since we purchased it at a Sears outlet so only cost us $500, and has stainless doors. What an undertaking. Had to lower floor, but could only lower an inch so I could keep at least an 3/4 inch clearance above the furnace. Boy does that thing put out heat. Anyway ran a switch to the outlet so we can turn the power off to the refrigerator when changing power supplies. Inverter to shore, or inverter to generator, either way there is a stoppage in power, and is harder on startup and power usage on fridge. I did a test on this fridgidaire. I hooked up a amp, watt meter and monitored. On initial plug in refer drew 2.1 amps then dropped to about 1.6 for the duration. Then I would unplug wait 4 minutes plug back in and it would pull the same amount of power. Did this about 5 times with the same result, by waiting 4-6 minutes. Then when I would unplug and plug back in or change power from inverter to shore right away or generator the power use would spike to about 7 amps for a few minutes and slowly work down. So I have installed switch by fridge to power the receptacle. So we switch the power off when our power source is going to change for a minimum of 4 minutes. So when we pull in to a camp spot we shot off power at refer switch, go out plug in, jacks down,hook up water which takes about ten minutes or so, then turn switch back on to power refer. Second problem. Have a 2000 watt Xantrex freedom 48 filtered sine wave for power so don’t have to change. We have 4 100 amp hour AGM house batteries that need to be replaced. Can’t decide weather to go with 4 Trojan 6 volt or suck up the cost and go back with AGM. Purchased a 310 watt solar panel to help charge batteries, just don’t know how well it will work for dry camping powering the refer without having to use generator. Refer is not counrtdepth so it sticks out 3 more inches into galley which doesn’t sound like much, but in an rv is huge, because as we all know every inch counts.

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    • I like your idea of a switch for the refrigerator outlet. We leave our inverter on all the time now, so there aren’t any interruptions to our 110V system when we switch power sources. Been doing that for about a year with no issues. We don’t boondock often, but I decided to stay with the 12V batteries when it came time to replace. We use our generator as needed when boondocking, and our fridge can last all day or night between generator runs.

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      • So when you are driving in the heat, you only run on dash air from your engine. We usually have to start the generator and turn on the house air to cool things down in the coach when we drive the dash air in the Monaco doesn’t cool it all down, especially if kids are in the back. So when we turn on generator the system recognizes that power source and there becomes the switch in power supply which is enough to shut off outlets momentarily which would cause the refridgerator to cycle, just like when you stop at your destination and plug into shore power there is a momentary loss of power which causes the refridgerator compressor. So when our inverter is on, and we turn on generator, or plug into shore there is a short stoppage in power as it switches over, so that is the reason for the switch. I thought all motorhomes did that, unless you had a separate inverter for the refer only, because the xantrex freedom 2000 W converter/inverter in our motorhome will not run if shore power, or generator power is recognized.
        What is your philosophy on sticking with the 12v house instead of the 6v. Currently the 4 12v gives me total of 400amp/hours and going with 4 trojan T105 would give me 44o amp hours, which is only 40amp hours and you can only discharge to 50%, not sure it is the difference maker…. I guess the true answer is to buy a 12v Lithium 100amphour for $1200, because you can discharge lithium all the way down, so 2 12v Lithium would give the same total amphours as 4 12v. Would need wife to get a third job..

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        • We don’t boondock enough to warrant the modifications and cost of a change to 6V right now. If or when we do boondock more, we’ll consider it along with a major solar installation. By then the technology should be even better.

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  2. We have a residential refrigerator in our 2013 36 QSA Allegro Red. We have discovered, if you read your warranty, that the warranty is void unless installed in a residence. I called about extended warranty when ice formed in the bottom of the freezer and was told that there is no warranty for residential refrigerators in moving “homes” …….. anyone else know anything different?

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    • I’ve heard on RV forums that this may be the case. In our situation, we were
      desperate to get a new refrigerator, knew it was going to be residential, and
      just did the install. So far it has performed flawlessly, even during times
      when we weren’t very level. If it breaks, we’ll just have to deal with it
      then.

      I’m also guessing if ours fails, I’ll have to take it back out of the opening
      before anyone can work on it – not an insignificant project! A service
      person certainly couldn’t access the rear with it installed.

      Sorry I don’t have a better answer, I hope you have good luck with your unit.
      Perhaps calling Tiffin to see if they have any advice might be worth a try?
      They did install it, after all.

      ~Steve

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  3. Hmmmmm, stumbled onto your blog via a link from another referencing you… the name Mona Liza struck me as familiar then I remembered we saw your sign in front of your motorhome in IBE. We are just up the road from you. Will try to stop by sometime before we leave on Feb 1 and introduce myself…..

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  4. Trust me, we would not be RVing if we didn’t have a residential frig and a stacked w/d. Now I’m trying to persuade the red head to boon dock. Not a lot of luck yet. Nice job.

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  5. Terry is sitting here just amazed at what you accomplished Steve. He knows his limitations and could never think of tackling such a project. The new fridge looks wonderful…great job! 🙂

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    • Thank you, LuAnn – it feels good to have it done and not have to wake up in the morning worried about whether our food is still ok! ~Steve

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      • In our previous RV, we were plagued with electrical issues, beginning with our fridge, so we know how it is to watch that digital temperature gauge creep up. Our woes, we finally learned, stemmed from the rig being wired improperly at the factory, so after having a TV, microwave, all the parts of the fridge replaced, etc, etc, we finally got to the heart of the matter. Terry wishes he had the skills that so many of you do to take care of some of these issues himself.

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  6. Good thing there really was a fridge in that washing machine box 😉

    That’s quite the project you took on … good job. You’re going to love having a residential fridge.

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    • Thanks for your comment, we’re loving it already! I hope we feel the same way a few months down the road. ~Steve

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  7. Congratulations on a much nicer fridge. Does your inverter keep it cold while you are driving down the road? I’m not sure how these things work.

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    • Yes, it will always be powered by the inverter as long as we are plugged in or the engine is running. The only time we will be challenged is when boondocking. It pulls very low power (400 watts), so we’ll see how long the batteries last by “pretend boondocking” at a place where we can plug in when we have to. Hope it works! ~Steve

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  8. It all looks pretty good but are you sure it’s a refrigerator? The box indicates it’s a washing machine!

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    • You are so observant! I wondered if anyone would notice that and it had to be you. Take care and we hope both of you are doing well…Steve

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  9. Kudos….job well done. What a project to under take. Sure looks good. Hope you’re enjoying a cold one or two 🙂

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    • Hi Ingrid! Thanks for the nice comments. We’re continuing our scientific testing by constantly putting large amounts of beer and white wine in there to see how it performs. So far, so good! Say hi to Al for me! ~Steve

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  10. Boy Steve… I wouldn’t have the kahunna’s to tackle that job alone. Nice work! We had our residential frig installed last fall and it was the best update we could have done for our Phaeton. That Norcold was a piece of junk. We put a 22′ replacement in the exact same hole as the Norcold, we added a separate 1000w psw inverter dedicated to the new frig only, it works great.

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  11. Wow! I am impressed with your know how! The Norcold/Dometic fridges just can’t compare to the space of the residential’s. Would love to get a residential in my next coach….

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  12. Incredible job! Enjoy your new residential refrigerator. It looks cute in your RV.

    Tell Steve that Roberto Morelli retired today from Berkeley Lab. He bought 500 acres and a house in San Louis Obispo and Monterey counties. He said it is 6 valleys with different climates in the wine country. I’m going to have lunch with him in San Louis Obispo soon.

    Enjoy Florida!

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