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Powering up and Pre-cooling the Norcold Refrigerator for travel


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In preparation for the rally next week, I've been organizing things to take back to my Oliver -- gathering tools, etc, as well as revisiting manuals, checklists and thinking about what I need to do before travel. This will be my first trip since bringing my Oliver home from the factory. I've had the fridge off, and open to air circulation while stored this past month. Sadly, my Oliver is stored about 35 minutes away from home, and without shore power available. 

I can't seem to find any clue how long it takes the refrigerator to chill and the freezer to reach freezing. I looked through my manual, and the forum. A friend suggested that I just turn it on and let it use the solar power, but I wasn't sure about doing that without being close enough to monitor what it's doing. 

Also, the manual seems to indicate DC power is needed to turn the Norcold on -- is that best accomplished with the truck hooked up and running?  I have everything turned off. Reading about other owners encountering problems I realized I had better at test the fridge sooner rather than later. 

Any incite is welcome. 

Oliver Elite II Twin   Tow Vehicle: Chevy Silverado 2500HD.

 

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Do the new Norcold refrigerator's not run on propane also? I assume you don't have 120 volts where your trailer is stored? You state: "I have everything turned off." I take this to mean the batteries are disconnected from the trailer. Turn the batteries back on, no need for the truck to be hooked up, Turn the refrigerator to propane. It does take 12 volts for the fridge circuitry to function properly. Do this a couple of days before you plan to leave and you'll be good to go. 

Or, if you have AC power and are plugged in, just turn the fridge to AC.

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Steve, Tali and the dogs: Reacher and Rocky plus our beloved Storm, Maggie and Lucy (all waiting at the Rainbow Bridge)

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Since our trailer is at home with us and we have both shower power and sewer hookups I would say our trailer is ready to go in a couple hours notice. Do note here it does take longer to get the food and all the camping gear ready. I would say we start about a day before we leave to go camping, that is plenty of time for us, I guess we just have had a lot of practice over the years. I do at least once a month fire up all the trailer systems just to check the out and being a trailer there are things that come up from time to time that need attention. You asked about the refrigerator and we usually turn it on 24 hours before we leave for camping, it probably doesn't need that much time, but it's just what we do and at that time I will also check out the gas appliances for operation, stove, water heater, A/C, furnace, just turn them on for a short time to see that they are operation correctly. I will say that trailers are pretty notorious for something not working correctly and I would rather take care of it at home vs. on the road. We do have camping friends that don't do a good job of checking these things before they leave home and they spend time camping working on there trailers at the campsite, not that much fun.

trainman 

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9 hours ago, Boudicca908 said:

I can't seem to find any clue how long it takes the refrigerator to chill and the freezer to reach freezing. 

Easily within 24 hours for both the fridge and the freezer.

Do what ScubaRX mentions or if you do not feel comfortable with having the propane on while you are not with the camper then wait until you bring it home the day before you leave to get to the Rally.  If you are leaving directly from your storage location to get to the Rally then have all of your food well chilled and/or frozen, turn on your propane and fridge as soon as you get to the storage yard and hit the road.

Another hint:  while you have your fridge in storage, keep both the doors (the fridge door and the freezer door) open and take some crumpled newspaper (10 sheets are more than enough) and place them inside.  The newspaper will keep odors from forming in the fridge.  Obviously, take the newspaper out before turning on the fridge and freezer for your trip.

Bill

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9 hours ago, Boudicca908 said:

In preparation for the rally next week, I've been organizing things to take back to my Oliver -- gathering tools, etc, as well as revisiting manuals, checklists and thinking about what I need to do before travel. This will be my first trip since bringing my Oliver home from the factory. I've had the fridge off, and open to air circulation while stored this past month. Sadly, my Oliver is stored about 35 minutes away from home, and without shore power available. 

I can't seem to find any clue how long it takes the refrigerator to chill and the freezer to reach freezing. I looked through my manual, and the forum. A friend suggested that I just turn it on and let it use the solar power, but I wasn't sure about doing that without being close enough to monitor what it's doing. 

Also, the manual seems to indicate DC power is needed to turn the Norcold on -- is that best accomplished with the truck hooked up and running?  I have everything turned off. Reading about other owners encountering problems I realized I had better at test the fridge sooner rather than later. 

Any incite is welcome. 

Hi, 

We just level and turn on the propane feature overnight before leaving, then pack the refrig in the morning before takeoff. No DC or AC necessary.

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7 hours ago, ScubaRx said:

Do the new Norcold refrigerator's not run on propane also

Thank you ScubaRx -- Yes, the Norcold runs on AC, propane and DC -- in that order, when set to "Auto". My delivery person recommended "Auto" and that is the only setting I've used so far. They also explained that the down-side of the Auto setting is that the panel doesn't indicate which system is actually being used at the time.  I don't remember ever seeing a flame or flame indicator on the fridge; I don't even know where to look for it. 

Parts of the manual are for components that may be similar to, but are not exactly what was installed. I understand that this is due to issues with shortages and availability. I know the microwave is one that is different, but I have yet to systematically go through, mark up my manual, and hunt online for the missing component manuals.

The Norcold manual states that the fridge needs DC power to start (to ignite the burner) in order to use the propane mode. It mentions the potential for air in the propane lines when it's been off or out of propane, and that this can create a fault code. They have suggested steps to work through bleeding the air, with cautions about fire and explosions if you hold the safety valve in too long (oh fun!) It states, "when a flame is present and the flame meter moves into the green area, wait about 5 seconds and release the safety valve." 

So if it's not working, I guess the flame meter won't move into the green area. Can you actually see the flame from the backside (outside) by removing the vent cover? 

Oliver Elite II Twin   Tow Vehicle: Chevy Silverado 2500HD.

 

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Bleeding air from the propane lines is simple:

1. Make sure that your propane tank(s) are turned on - the valve on the top of each tank)

2. Go inside the Ollie to the cooktop.

3. With a match of lighter in hand and flame at a burner on the cooktop, turn on that burner.  When it lights you have basically bled the system of air.

 

Many times you simply can not see any flame on the fridge.  This is particularly so during daylight.  When first turning on a fridge after a period of having it shut down, I'll make sure that it is turned on inside (auto or propane) and immediately go outside and place my ear near the lower fridge vent.  There will be "clicking" sounds and then when the burner lights you should hear a "woosh" sound as the burner ignites.  After that the fridge pretty much just does its thing.

Bill

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35 minutes ago, Dave Mazone said:

No DC or AC necessary

How does it ignite the flame without power? Maybe I'm not understanding the manual.... 

Hmmm. OH. So I see that I read from the wrong model paragraph, but still, this is strange, to me. From the manual:

Operating the Ref Controls

(N400 models) -- mine is "N412.3FUL" according to my delivery checklist... it doesn't have this paragraph that is under the .... 

(N510 models) -- "A 12 volt or DC power supply is necessary for the control functions of the refrigerator to operate. The refrigerator receives power from the 12 volt system of the vehicle; either an auxiliary battery, a converter, or the vehicle engine battery." 

HOWEVER, the N400 model instructions does read:

"Start up - AC operation: Make sure 120 volts is available. Turn the selector switch to the AC position. Set the thermostat.

Start up - DC operation (3-way model N400.3): Make sure that 12 volts DC is available. Turn the selector switch to DC position.

Shut down: Turn the selector switch to the OFF position."

 

Oliver Elite II Twin   Tow Vehicle: Chevy Silverado 2500HD.

 

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10 minutes ago, topgun2 said:

2. Go inside the Ollie to the cooktop.

3. With a match of lighter in hand and flame at a burner on the cooktop, turn on that burner.  When it lights you have basically bled the system of air.

I thought about that -- it's so easy to see the flame -- but I also wondered if air could be trapped inside the lines at the fridge. 

I'm going to first try by relying on the lithium batteries for the ignition, and see if that works; then I'll hook up to the truck, if need be. Seems like once I get it running, it only takes a day ahead of the trip to get cold enough to transfer frozen and chilled foods. 

I'll readily admit that I feel timid about using the lithium and solar power system without enough knowledge and experience; an increase in that knowledge is what I hope to gain at the rally. I watched the panels to see what was happening as the batteries were charging, but I haven't tried boondocking yet. There is a LOT I have to test and learn about yet. 

Oliver Elite II Twin   Tow Vehicle: Chevy Silverado 2500HD.

 

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Good grief. 

So I'm looking at the diagram in the manual for the N500 -- THAT diagram is what my panel looks like. It includes the "auto" setting. Supposedly, N400 model is 4+cf, while N500 model is 5+cf. And the "3" suffix on the model number indicates 3-way (AC DC Propane) functions. I don't know why, but the N400.x section of the manual doesn't show or talk about the Auto function. I guess that's why I was reading under the N500 paragraph, because it's diagram matches my fridge control panel. And that is where it states that it requires DC power for the control panel. Once I get it started, and on propane, does everyone agree that the control panel will be able to function using the lithium battery? 

It does have DC Operation Precautions and Guidelines stating to only use the DC 'mode' while in transit, with a battery in 'fully charged' condition, and only to maintain cold, not for initial chill-down of the unit. 

Thanks to all for the information -- I'll follow up after I test it out. 

Oliver Elite II Twin   Tow Vehicle: Chevy Silverado 2500HD.

 

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10 minutes ago, Boudicca908 said:

but I also wondered if air could be trapped inside the lines at the fridge. 

Once you have "filled" the main propane supply line with the method I suggested then there still could be a small amount of air in the relatively short line that goes to the fridge.  But, that air will be expelled by the propane without difficulty.

12 minutes ago, Boudicca908 said:

I'm going to first try by relying on the lithium batteries for the ignition,

Your fridge will ALWAYS use your batteries for ignition of the propane since there is no "standing" pilot light - the fridge and your furnace both use electronic ignitors.  Make sure that you are not confusing running your fridge on propane versus trying to run it on DC (straight battery power)  The electronic ignitors take very little battery energy BUT when you run the fridge on straight DC they take a bunch of power out of the batteries.  Easily - propane is the most efficient and best cooling for these fridges.

Bill

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28 minutes ago, Boudicca908 said:

Yes, the Norcold runs on AC, propane and DC -- in that order, when set to "Auto". My delivery person recommended "Auto"

 

As has been pointed out on this forum in the past, it is not really advisable to routinely use the "Auto" setting on the Norcold 3-way due to the risk of accidentally drawing your batteries to empty accidentally.  When set to auto and not hooked to shore power, the Norcold will automatically switch to propane.  If propane is not turned on, then the Norcold will switch to 12-volt and you won't know.  Even if set to Auto and you confirm that it is successfully running on propane, if the tank were to run out of propane and you didn't realize it, the Norcold would switch to 12 volt and once again, you would not know. The Norcold on 12-volt can draw up to 15 amp-hours per hour which puts a big draw on the batteries.

If one manually sets the Norcold to gas but gas is not available, the refrigerator will generate an error message alerting you if the gas is not on, or if it runs out, prompting you to investigate why the Norcold is not getting gas.  The choice of power source is best made as a deliberate decision.  An exception might be if you were away from the trailer all day and wanted the security of 12 volt backup should the propane supply be interrupted to the Norcold while you are away.

 

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One additional thought - 

Yes, the control board of the fridge also needs a small amount of battery power to keep the fridge running.  This control board is what allows the fridge to "know" when to supply power to the igniter, when to turn the ignitor off, when to alert you that something is wrong or right, etc.  But, again, like the igniter itself, the control board takes very little battery power.

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26 minutes ago, Chukarhunter said:

The choice of power source is best made as a deliberate decision. 

I agree with this statement. I suppose it could be viewed as simply adding 'fridge power switch" to the routine list each time one sets up or leaves camp... 

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When we have shore power I leave our current gas/electric fridge on Auto. As a precaution in case the shore power fails while we're outside the fifth wheel, or if we're sleeping, I bought one of these AC power alarms. If shore power fails, the fridge goes to gas and the alarm warns me. I plan to do the same with the Norcold in our Ollie. (If we're dry camping, I'll put the Norcold directly on gas.)

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You've had excellent advice so far. I'll try to consolidate,, in one routine, which was ours when we had 3ways.

I have a dc compressor  fridge now in our Ollie, but had two different 3ways in our Oliver, 3ways in other campers, and this was our experience, fwiw.

Your friend was correct. Solar is plenty to run your fridge on gas, even in crappy weather, if all that is running is the fridge. (Gas mode does require dc power, but very little. The fridge won't shut down for low battery til you're almost flat. ) check your battery level when you enter the trailer, to make sure you're all good before you begin, since you have no power at the storage unit, before you turn on the solar and battery disconnect  switches.

If you have the norcold, make sure you are set to gas, not auto, because if you run out of gas, it will revert to 12v operation on its own, and that not only uses a lot of battery, but is the least efficient (and most power greedy) mode of the fridge. It will run your house battery down, even with solar, imo.

In our experience,  we found the fridge cooled faster if we loaded a couple frozen water jugs and cold, non perishable items in the fridge after turning it on, in the fridge compartment,  not the freezer. (Cold water, beer, sodas, unopened chilled condiments,  etc.).  These cold items provide a steadying cold sink, just like your home fridge.

The frozen water jugs  went back in a cooler after fridge was at temp,  and we loaded the food we wanted to take, and we used the thawing jugs for drinking water on the road. Resist the temptation to jam the fridge to the max. You need air circulation to keep the fins clear of ice. Especially,  leave free space near the fins. Pack stuff close together, but not high items, there.

Before you turn the fridge on, turn your gas valve on  SLOWLY if you've had it turned off. Then, light a burner on the stove and run for 30 to 45 seconds, or longer,  with a clear blue flame, to insure gas line is free of air pockets. (If you have air pockets in the line, you'll see a lot of orange or yellow, or sputtery flame, but that's ok. Wait til it's all blue flames, none missing, with  tiny yellow tips above the blue, steady,  and then  you're all good to turn on the fridge. )

If you don't have one, I'd recommend a thermometer for the fridge. One with an outside wireless readout is great. 

After you've turned on the fridge, you'll hear it light off.  (It usually clicks a few times, that's the igniter, then you hear a little whoosh as it lights. (It may do this a couple times, with a pause between attempts.) I could usually hear this from inside the trailer, if I wasn't running fans, and there wasn't  a lot of ambient noise.

After the fridge lights, if you go out and put your hand near the outside upper vent, you'll feel some heat exhaust after a few minutes,  and you'll know it's running/flame is good. (Its hard to see the fridge flame, as its really small, even with the bottom vent off)

After five or ten minutes or so, open the fridge, put your hand on the freezer bottom, and you should feel it's cooler than before, though not super cold. That lets you know it's started the cooling process. (30 minutes in, you can probably sense a bit of frost on the freezer floor with your hand.)

Our gas fridge took about 6 hours empty to cool down to foodsafe temp of 41, three or 4 hours depending on ambient (outdoor) temperature if we preloaded with the frozen jugs and cold nonpershiables. Winter in Florida it obviously took less time. Summer, more.

Working with a 3way is very different from a home fridge, but you'll soon find it's easy and routine,   and a great asset for boondocking. It does require some getting "used to."

If your subdivision allows overnight in the driveway for loading, like ours,  I'd go get the trailer day before, start the fridge, and get on with enjoyment. It saves a lot of load tv/unload/ load trailer time. 

I'm sure others will find things to add. Steph and dubs alarm is great, if you camp with ac, which we rarely do. Fridge runs great on ac power, so if that's your plan, get their alarm.

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@SeaDawg -- thanks for the great summary! 

So here's my report: 

  • On entering, I checked my batteries; they were/are full.
  • I turned on the Xantrex Inverter and things came to life; many things, as proven by the many little lights twinkling everywhere. Plus I tried a light switch. 
  • Opened the house fan to vent.
  • Turned on the one propane tank (one was empty), and I used the gas cooktop to bleed the air out. Sure enough, there was air and it took a few tries to light both burners.
  • I followed the step-by-step in the manual for the N500 model (starts on pg 217 in the manual) -- even though mine is a "400", the controls match the "500" manual diagram and labels. This allows for selecting the mode from the 4 options (3-way for sources plus the auto mode, on the control). 
  • And.... It worked like a charm! I could hear it clicking about 3 different times and then heard it kick on. After 5 minutes I could tell it was cooling. YAY! 

Since one propane tank was empty and I wasn't sure of the level in the second, I decided to turn the fridge off for tonight. Got propane, checked my tires and lugs, took stock of supplies, loaded linens and a few dry goods. And then I left, feeling a lot more confident. Thanks to all of you!

I am sold on the idea of a remote temperature gauge -- actually I want to find the name/model/brand that Charlie Hall showed me when I met him at the factory -- Hey there Charlie! @Time2Go! -- Charlie & Cindy have a device that reads remotely (small hand-held reader) with multiple sensors that they have located in the fridge, the freezer, the basement and I think one is just in the cabin space. I think it includes a hygrometer, which would be great!  I'm going to attach a photo of it here (except it looks like a broken link?)

I also like the cold-sink idea to cut down on cooling time. And boon-docking is what I'm aiming for, as I work to get my legs under me on the process. 

Big hat-tip to the Oliver Forum for all the great discussion and advice. 

 

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