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Old 03-31-2013, 10:15 AM   #1
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3-way refrigerator operations - when to use the various modes

It is amazing how many different thoughts are out there about how 3 way refrigerators work. Most seem to be the result of following advice by others rather that actual experience. Here I will mix theory and experience.

First, we will assume the refrigerator is not defective in some way. It should make no difference which heat source is used. It's just heat. Be it one of the 115 watt (110V or 12V) electric heaters or a propane flame. It's just heat.

Second, the refrigerator must be level to operate efficiently. If it is not level the liquid in the system can pool and restrict or even block circulation. Damage to the system can result if operated off level for an extended period of time. While traveling level does not matter because the liquids are "sloshing around" and do not get a chance to pool.

Next, The units do take time to cool when started. The normal rate of cooling is about 3 - 6 degrees per hour. Ambient temperature and having a fan to blow air across the condenser fins will affect this rate. I start the cooling about 18 hours before leaving. Also, the food placed in the refrigerator should be cold already.

Now, when to use which heat source and why.

110V - use this whenever it is available. The thermostat will control the temperature.

12V - use this when traveling. There is no thermostatic control. It is possible to freeze things. If you are traveling less than 6 hours it should not be a problem. If you stop for less than 1 hour you should not have any battery problems. If more than an hour switch to propane.

Propane - use when 110V is not available (dry camping). Normally it should be set to HIGH. Adjusted to MED or LOW if it gets too cold. There is also no thermostatic control in this mode. Contrary to what is generally said there is no "pilot light". It is just a constant flame. The refrigerator uses very little propane.

You may have seen the sticker that tells you to use only one heat source at a time. The system has been designed to use a specific amount of heat to produce the heat exchange cycle. Increasing the amount of heat will not lower the refrigerator temperature. In the case of the propane you are decreasing the amount of heat (MED and LOW) to increase the refrigerator temperature if needed since there is no thermostat control.

To monitor the temperature in the refrigerator I use a wireless indoor/outdoor electronic thermometer. (Acurite, About $10-$15 at Wal-Mart)

It hope this clears up some mis-information on the operation of these refrigerators.
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Old 03-31-2013, 10:20 AM   #2
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Do many units come with the 12 volt option? Mine only has propane and electric to my knowledge unless I`m missing something..
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Old 03-31-2013, 10:22 AM   #3
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Yep,
You are correct. The flame is consistent and looks like a pilot.
Actually, my dial had a Pilot position on the gas dial.
You had to hold it in to get the flame sensor to keep the valve open.
Hence the mention of pilot.

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Old 03-31-2013, 10:23 AM   #4
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Only 3-way units have the 12V option. It seems they are mostly in pop-ups. Travel trailers and 5er's are mostly 2-way: 120V and gas.
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Old 03-31-2013, 10:27 AM   #5
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Good stuff.....beats reading the manual!
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Old 03-31-2013, 10:43 AM   #6
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I'm glad mine has the three way power. I will turn mine on to 12VDC when we leave the house and it is good and cold when we get to the camp site. If the trip is longer I will turn mine on about three hours out.

Nothing worse then setting up camp and waiting and waiting for the fridge to get cold...

My 5-day ice chest sitting in the back on my truck of course is always ready... By the way I do something here that might be interesting for others. We always fill the ice chest with ice of course but use a smaller plastic container with a snap lid that sits on top of the ice for the lunch meats etc that you don't want to get water logged. We usually go to town about every two days to keep the ice chest full of ice.

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Old 03-31-2013, 12:38 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tnchuck100 View Post
It is amazing how many different thoughts are out there about how 3 way refrigerators work. Most seem to be the result of following advice by others rather that actual experience. Here I will mix theory and experience.

First, we will assume the refrigerator is not defective in some way. It should make no difference which heat source is used. It's just heat. Be it one of the 115 watt (110V or 12V) electric heaters or a propane flame. It's just heat.

Second, the refrigerator must be level to operate efficiently. If it is not level the liquid in the system can pool and restrict or even block circulation. Damage to the system can result if operated off level for an extended period of time. While traveling level does not matter because the liquids are "sloshing around" and do not get a chance to pool.

Next, The units do take time to cool when started. The normal rate of cooling is about 3 - 6 degrees per hour. Ambient temperature and having a fan to blow air across the condenser fins will affect this rate. I start the cooling about 18 hours before leaving. Also, the food placed in the refrigerator should be cold already.

Now, when to use which heat source and why.

110V - use this whenever it is available. The thermostat will control the temperature.

12V - use this when traveling. There is no thermostatic control. It is possible to freeze things. If you are traveling less than 6 hours it should not be a problem. If you stop for less than 1 hour you should not have any battery problems. If more than an hour switch to propane.

Propane - use when 110V is not available (dry camping). Normally it should be set to HIGH. Adjusted to MED or LOW if it gets too cold. There is also no thermostatic control in this mode. Contrary to what is generally said there is no "pilot light". It is just a constant flame. The refrigerator uses very little propane.

You may have seen the sticker that tells you to use only one heat source at a time. The system has been designed to use a specific amount of heat to produce the heat exchange cycle. Increasing the amount of heat will not lower the refrigerator temperature. In the case of the propane you are decreasing the amount of heat (MED and LOW) to increase the refrigerator temperature if needed since there is no thermostat control.

To monitor the temperature in the refrigerator I use a wireless indoor/outdoor electronic thermometer. (Acurite, About $10-$15 at Wal-Mart)

It hope this clears up some mis-information on the operation of these refrigerators.
Yes, there are a lot different thoughts regarding the operation of RV refrigerators, and this post is no different, nor is it 100% correct.

You can not control the temperature or the intensity of heat coming from the heating element. You can control the duty cycle, or how often the element turns on to maintain the box temperature. The reference to low, med, and high settings may be referring to thermostat settings, but not to actually heating element or flame control.

I personally have never seen any type of sticker warning to use only one heat source. The box selects a single source depending on how you have it set.
You can only select a single heat source and in the event that you have 12V, 115V, and propane all available, the box will have it's own default mode, usually 115VAC.

In RVs. you will occasionally run across an actual three-way fridge that can use 12VDC, 115VAC, or propane for heating the refrigerant circuit. Mostly you are going to see 2 way units that use either 115V for the heater or propane which still requires 12VDC for the thermostat control, sensing circuits, and the igniter. True three ways are not going to be very common because they will require 12-15 amps to run the heater, and if you start figuring amp hrs needed to operate the refrigerator, you'll find that it will draw most deep cycle batteries down to below 50% overnight with nothing else running.

There are dual electric units that operate on 115V or 12VDC, but these are not gas absorption units. They actually have a compressor and operate similar to the one you have at home, incorporating a condenser and an evaporator. The better versions of these use the Danfoss compressor system although, Norcold, having used Japanese compressors for years, is coming around and they are now manufacturing their boxes using the Danfoss system. These are still 12V units as the electronic module takes a 12V input and converts it to a dual phase low voltage AC current. I say these are 115V systems, but that can be a little misleading. The 115V is only used if there is a power converter that will convert it to 12VDC. it is then fed to the electronic module on the refrigerator where the DC-AC conversion takes place.The Danfoss is extremely reliable and in 15 years of doing marine air conditioning and refrigeration, i bet I haven't replaced more than 4 or five of these compressors.
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Old 03-31-2013, 12:52 PM   #8
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"The reference to low, med, and high settings may be referring to thermostat settings, but not to actually heating element or flame control."

The LOW, MED, and HIGH does, in fact, control the flame size. These are NOT electronic control refrigerators.

"You can only select a single heat source and in the event that you have 12V, 115V, and propane all available, the box will have it's own default mode, usually 115VAC."

Suburban units can, in fact, use all three at the same time. There is no "default mode".

This write up is based on the most common 3-way units found in pop-ups. Most do not use electronic controls as do the 2-way units.
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Old 03-31-2013, 03:56 PM   #9
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I have a 3-way Fridge in my 154BH - I love the fact I can run off 12VDC on the road to cool the unit down. 12VDC is free.....propane is not. Besides, a small camper has a small propane tank (20#) and I like to conserve propane wherever I can.
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Old 03-31-2013, 08:26 PM   #10
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This cleared things up for me. I should have read this thread before posting in mine. Now I have a course of action! Thanks, Daddy Rabbit
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