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Old 18-06-2006, 16:12   #1
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DIY refigeration: Pros & Cons?

I would like to canvass people's thoughts on the pros & cons of building your own refrigeration system?

I don't mean, building the entire thing from scratch...that would, indeed, be a job for the purist with lots of time and money. I'm talking about building your own insulated ompartment into your vessel, then installing (or having installed) the actual refrigeration system components.

Obviously, I could just buy a complete system, like an Engel, but I do kinda like the idea of building my own compartment, that will be designed & shaped to the shape of the boat, and at least 4" insulated. Would I just be making a rod for my own back, or is this a sensible idea?

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Old 18-06-2006, 16:32   #2
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That is a great question and I'm interested in the answers, too. We're having a new boat built next year and the factory installed options are not only expensive, but don't have a great reputation when it comes to tropical sailing. However, they will put in a box as the standard, without refrigeration. That leads to a sub-question: What gives the best performance, the DIY install of a compressor-evaporator-thermostat, or one of the drop-in full refrigerators, like the Norcold, Engel, etc.?


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Old 18-06-2006, 19:40   #3
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Yeah, did it myself but not from scratch.

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Old 18-06-2006, 22:18   #4
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A good explanation can be found in Nigel Calder's book Boat Owner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual. Also a couple of months ago in Cruising World there was an article on building a refer unit out of items that could be bought in a third world country. Interesting article though spare on details.
Fair Winds,


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Old 19-06-2006, 07:37   #5
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I strongly recommend you buy the Kollman Marine book. More than worth the price!!
Not affiliated - just bought one for myself... yadda yadda...
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Old 19-06-2006, 15:40   #6
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I just posted on the other refer thread next door, my account of how I made a decent large fridge (about 80 litres) from a beat up old engel 20 litre unit that worked perfectly for 8 years so far and is still going well. Average about 25% run time at 3.5 to 4 amps on a 12 volt solar powered system. The engel was regarded as a throw away and the materials salvage so the project cost me two days work installed.

It's not rocket science.

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Old 19-06-2006, 21:12   #7
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I converted our ice box in one of our boats using the Norcold conversion unit. It worked great. I have a location on the Challenger that I have been planning on converting to a freezer. Since we changed our plans to the trimaran, I am going to use the cold plate and compressor to build a refer into the tri. Still working on the location. I am a big fan of the top opening design, as it looses far less cold air than the front opening design.
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Old 20-06-2006, 05:54   #8
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Many years ago I installed a Grunnert Caribbean system which came a bunch of components and the installer had lots to do get the thing to work... including mounting the compressor (aligning pulleys and so on), running the refrigerant lines, vacuuming and filling them and of course mounting the Eutectic Plate which had to have circulation all around and weighed a ton and had to fit in the typical unreachable location. I recall installing the plate alone (4 bolts) took and entire day of fiddling around.

The you have the easy part... wiring in the power to the compressor clutch via the timer.

It has worked very very well for more than 15 years. Our plate can be used as a freezer if you run the compressor long enough, and as frig if you run it shorter... which is what we usually do.

I used the existing well insulated, but kinda small ice box which was top opening. No options there.

A 12v system would enable us to keep the box cold and not run the engine (with enough alt charging) and even leave it for days... But that is another story and doesn't make much sense for our boat.

Running the diesel not only does the frig, but makes hot water and recharges the batts. Not the best, but it works OK. We try to use the engine for things like going to the dock to top off fuel and water and so forth.

The frig install was the most challenging install on the boat and some of them were pretty challenging.

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Old 20-06-2006, 09:18   #9
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We had a large icebox(13cuft)to which we added insulation over the existing walls and covered with ABS plastic. Final size is ~7cuft(one third is a freezer). Installed a technautics cool blue which was the easiest part of the job. Haven't used it in the tropics but it it is working well. The job took about 40 hours(fitting and sealing took longer than I thought it would). The total thickness of the insulation varies from 4"-8".

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Old 13-08-2006, 00:10   #10
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im actually looking at doing this myself as i can then build a hopefully effiecient fridge freezerabout 70l freezer and 70l fridge
im looking at using a eutectic plate from
and a high density poly urethane panel that has a good r value 5.7 per 30mm all up this looks like costing me 2400, i ahve tryed to find other materials that have good r values but have only found the one, i want to build it out of hard panels because yhen its just case of laminating them togetherim looking at having 3 layers on the floor and 2 layers for the walls giving me an r value of 18 for the floor and 12 for the walls, im also looking at having a front opening door on the fridge with a thermo fan to push cold air into the fridge, this will also double as my sallonn table, the freezer will be top loading and the fridge will have a 115 mm lip to stop some of the cold falling out
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Old 25-08-2006, 02:00   #11
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I'm half way through building a 50 ft power cat [my own hands, not cuttin' cheques] As a new user to this site Im wondering if anyones done 240v with inverters etc instead of 12 v. It seems you can buy a bit of battery solar and inverter for the few grand difference[we want about 100l of freeze and 250l of fridge] as we WILL be liveaboards but we WON'T be attached to a marina.
I have had several yachts before [mono's and cats] and this is the second one we've built, just about all of it I can tackle myself but "electrickery" and plenty of cold has always been a bit out of my league.
Any tips would be good.
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Old 25-08-2006, 03:08   #12
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Mate, I might have an answer for you...

one of my advertisers is importing a high output alternator and inverter package that produces enough to weld with if you were so inclined.. he says he keeps normal househould fridges and whatever else on board with no problem on his cat. his phone # is 0418 772 601
you can check out the web site

no seperate engine for a genny and not too bad for bucks.. about $2600 AU all up.

Tell Chris Bob sent you so I can collect my slab some day!

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Old 25-08-2006, 03:45   #13
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Thanks for that Bob. I am a coastal passage reader and love it. Got onto it in Rosslyn Bay and seemed to spend a fair swag of time in Brisvegas trying to track it down.... dissapears pretty fast. Only got this magic box thingy a coupla weeks ago so no problems now.

I did see pixies ad and do plan on contacting.. I think Mcintyre marine may do a similiar product although I'd like to think pixies may be an Aus product so I may be able to batter someones door down if something goes wrong [like the smoke gets out.. it's very expensive to get back in] But ideally I'm a rag n stick boy at heart and don't think I could start those horrible stinky stink boat things unless I really have to, but your right, they do appear to be pretty good.

Keep up the good work

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Old 25-08-2006, 09:58   #14

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PRO: It's cheap!
PRO: It's simple!
PRO: You'll know how to fix it if it breaks!
PRO: It's cheap!

I'd highly suggest this route. Units you purchase to install are just standard, off the shelf items placed on a mounting plate (compressor, condensor, etc...). These VARs seem (to me) to Add no Value as Resellers. They just take off the shelf hardware and make it look like their own creations, affixing a nice little corporate logo over the original sticker the manufacurers have on the components. I couldn't believe it when I started to peel back stickers on mine.

You will have to get the design right. Llike other said, make sure to get Richard Kollman's book on DIY refrigeration. He has sections on just about every way to power one (AC. DC, engine driven). He walks you through all of the important steps and sizing of the equipment. He even has plans in there for various types, including part lists.

You can't go wrong doing this. I'm going to put together a DIY watermaker this winter, I think. So many things are so simple, yet people charge so much for them...

Plus, anything you build yourself, you will know how to fix if something goes wrong. If you have any questions as to charging and vacuuming the system, PM me. I bought a system in semi-rough shape and had to do a lot of work to get it back into operational shape. (No offense, Mark) Because of this, I gained a lot of experience in fixing holding plate refrigeration systems.
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Old 25-08-2006, 15:15   #15
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I purchased a system and installed it. SeaFrost. Not Cheap, but I'll say it went together well and support was great. The biggest problem in any installation is the laying out of all the stuff. We have 3 plates in the system with a 12v compressor and an engine driven compressor; all with dual valves. It's a lot of stuff and I doubt that I could have designed one and built one for the same price/time ratio that I bought and installed it myself for. My guess is I have about 100 hours when it's all said and done, maybe 200 if you count the building of the boxes in there two.

I would say that if you have the parts put together from a company that knows what theyre doing your better off. Even using Rparts they put much of it together for you and then you can install it.

Fair Winds
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