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Old 05-12-2020, 11:44   #1
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Propane Refrigerations ?

My brother spent three months on the beach in his RV using propane refrigeration. When I told him I'm about to invest in solar panels and new bimini so I can run refrigeration, he asked why I don't go with Propane Refrig. I haven't seen any marketed as "marine grade" but since they are popular in RV's why aren't they used in boats?
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Old 05-12-2020, 12:06   #2
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

I had one for years in my boat- made by DOMETIC. They are made to work on a flat surface. Mine was gimbaled, though I'm not really sure it was absolutely necessary. The only drawback was carrying a dedicated 20kg propane tank just for the fridge, which lasted about 30 days. Oh, and the hot air it vents in the cabin, but as you're in the NE, it shouldn't be a problem. Honestly, I would look at an Engel (or similar) 12v fridge and a few solar panels. Much simpler.
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Old 05-12-2020, 12:15   #3
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

The Propane fridges are usually multi fuel.
All they need is a heat source to separate the ammonia from the water.
The heat could be Propane, Kerosene, electric etc....


I would not run a propane one inside my boat.
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Old 05-12-2020, 12:36   #4
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

Only on multihulls. They don’t work on a slant.

I have one that’s been running for 5 years on my cat.

They use a bbq size propane tank every 3 weeks.

If you want up be really independent of land, go for the electric refrigerator and solar.

Getting propane frequently is no fun if you’re cruising.

Also, you need to install a “chimney” with air intake and exit for them to work. I did, but it was quite a bit more work than electric/solar which you’ll probably have anyway
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Old 05-12-2020, 12:40   #5
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

In addition to the downsides mentioned by others, propane fridges also tend to have worse temperature control than a good electric setup. As a result, they're not the best at cooling down a bunch of newly added food either.
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Old 05-12-2020, 12:50   #6
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

The eight cubic foot apartment sized refrigerator/freezer we use on our boat costs (today) $230 and uses 180 watts when actually running. A similar propane model costs $1,600.

Propane has the advantage for other uses on our boat for supplying a lot of heat suddenly, so one 15# bottle supplies the galley stove and another the fire place/heater. Supplying those with electricity would really up the power budget.

Given the initial cost of a propane refrigerator and the low wattage of an electric refrigerator, electricity from wherever you get it seems to me to win.
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Old 05-12-2020, 13:04   #7
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

They are very repair prone.
They eat propane very fast.
They reportedly dont like a non level surface.
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Old 05-12-2020, 15:56   #8
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

The point that they don't "like" slanted surfaces brings up the question: is there a danger of gas asphyxiation if the pilot light goes out because the boat is heeled too much? Wasn't this a problem with propane water heaters at one point?
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Old 05-12-2020, 16:06   #9
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by psk125 View Post
The point that they don't "like" slanted surfaces brings up the question: is there a danger of gas asphyxiation if the pilot light goes out because the boat is heeled too much? Wasn't this a problem with propane water heaters at one point?
My Dometic had a gas cut off if the flame went out. I would imagine most have this as well.
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Old 05-12-2020, 16:07   #10
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by psk125 View Post
The point that they don't "like" slanted surfaces brings up the question: is there a danger of gas asphyxiation if the pilot light goes out because the boat is heeled too much? Wasn't this a problem with propane water heaters at one point?
There haven’t been pilot lights on these things in decades. Several decades. Except the giant Amish ones.

The issue with heeling is that the plumbing routing the liquid ammonia around stops working. It’s dependent on being level or at least being level on AVERAGE over 5 or 10 minutes. This is why you see so many RVs carefully leveling their rigs. They can actually take a pretty uncomfortable tilt and still work, but not heeling boat levels of tilt.

They operate with a piezoelectric ignighter and heat sensor like a gas cooktop on board. Gas solenoid opens, piezoelectric ignition starts making sparks, gas lights and ignition goes off. Or on ERROR=NO_FLAME, the gas solenoid is closed and the refrigerator beeps alerting people it has no flame.
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Old 05-12-2020, 20:27   #11
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by RSB333 View Post
My brother spent three months on the beach in his RV using propane refrigeration. When I told him I'm about to invest in solar panels and new bimini so I can run refrigeration, he asked why I don't go with Propane Refrig. I haven't seen any marketed as "marine grade" but since they are popular in RV's why aren't they used in boats?
RSB333

I have owned two RVs for a combined total of over 10 years, having sold my Airstream just over a year ago. Both had propane fridges. I also have had several friends who had propane fridges in remote houses/cabins where electricity was unavailable in the 1980s and 1990s.


I see propane fridges as a technology whose time has come and gone. Today's solar panels make them obsolete.


Propane fridges do work. As noted upthread they are expensive. You can get several weeks out of a propane cylinder, more or less, depending on the size of the fridge and the size of a propane cylinder.


In the 1940s through 1990s before there were good, affordable PV panels they were a godsend for remote cabins, because with a standard 500 gallon propane tank you could run them year around, and they worked. For RVs, similar deal, usually smaller fridges, but again they did work and by the 1990s they had electronic ignition and electronic controls and really did work very well.


There are a number of problems. They are short lived and maintenance intensive. On an RV with motion and vibration and so on you might typically get 10 years out of them with regular use. In a house or cabin they last maybe 20 years. They don't cool as well as compressor systems and take a long time to start. On a hot day where you're opening the fridge to get stuff out fairly frequently the temperature might not get below 55 degrees F. If you put a load of groceries in that warmed up since they came out of the cooler at the store it might take several hours to cool them back down.


Gas fridges are convection systems that work best when level and are sensitive to wind which affects cooling and can also blow out the flame. Newer systems are less sensitive to this but are still affected. Some newer gas fridges are installed with pancake "computer" fans to provide a little extra air movement if a modest amount of DC power is available to run the fan. But the fridge as a whole puts out a good deal of hot air and has to have a large chimney and air intake to work properly.


Generally the space has to be designed around the fridge.

Quote:
Originally Posted by psk125 View Post
The point that they don't "like" slanted surfaces brings up the question: is there a danger of gas asphyxiation if the pilot light goes out because the boat is heeled too much? Wasn't this a problem with propane water heaters at one point?

Gas fridges have never had pilot lights.


The newer ones have electronic ignition and controls, using a spark to light the main burner, with a flame sensor to confirm ignition. Older ones had thermostats that would change the burner flame between "high" and "low" based on temperature; the "low" flame would still provide some limited cooling. There were thermocouple safeties so the gas would shut off if the flame blew out, which was common on a windy day.


The problem with off-level operation is that it interferes with convection movement of the refrigerant mixture. You get gas bubbles blocking the flow and then the boiler portion overheats leading to progressive blockage and failure. It is generally not a safety problem but rather one that leads to early, expensive repairs.
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Old 05-12-2020, 21:31   #12
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

I had a propane fridge made by Electrolux (now Dometic) on my last boat, a 50' motorsailer. Full time liveaboard for 9 years; I was constantly being told by "experts" that they don't work on monohulls, as they drank icy cold beer from my fridge!
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Old 05-12-2020, 21:48   #13
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

Propane fridges are bit of a problem for insurance companies who insist on ABYC Standards which prohibit pilot lights and require rool sealed combustion (both combustion air and exhaust must come from outside the vessel) and operate safely at angles of heel up to 30 degrees. I've never seen an LPG fridge that could meet these standards
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Old 05-12-2020, 22:18   #14
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by psk125 View Post
The point that they don't "like" slanted surfaces brings up the question: is there a danger of gas asphyxiation if the pilot light goes out because the boat is heeled too much? Wasn't this a problem with propane water heaters at one point?
The one that I had in a camper wouldn't go out it parked on a side hill. But the flame was no longer right under the little bulb thing and it didn't cool well.
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Old 05-12-2020, 22:32   #15
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Re: Propane Refrigerations ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jammer View Post
I have owned two RVs for a combined total of over 10 years, having sold my Airstream just over a year ago. Both had propane fridges. I also have had several friends who had propane fridges in remote houses/cabins where electricity was unavailable in the 1980s and 1990s.


I see propane fridges as a technology whose time has come and gone. Today's solar panels make them obsolete.


Propane fridges do work. As noted upthread they are expensive. You can get several weeks out of a propane cylinder, more or less, depending on the size of the fridge and the size of a propane cylinder.


In the 1940s through 1990s before there were good, affordable PV panels they were a godsend for remote cabins, because with a standard 500 gallon propane tank you could run them year around, and they worked. For RVs, similar deal, usually smaller fridges, but again they did work and by the 1990s they had electronic ignition and electronic controls and really did work very well.


There are a number of problems. They are short lived and maintenance intensive. On an RV with motion and vibration and so on you might typically get 10 years out of them with regular use. In a house or cabin they last maybe 20 years. They don't cool as well as compressor systems and take a long time to start. On a hot day where you're opening the fridge to get stuff out fairly frequently the temperature might not get below 55 degrees F. If you put a load of groceries in that warmed up since they came out of the cooler at the store it might take several hours to cool them back down.


Gas fridges are convection systems that work best when level and are sensitive to wind which affects cooling and can also blow out the flame. Newer systems are less sensitive to this but are still affected. Some newer gas fridges are installed with pancake "computer" fans to provide a little extra air movement if a modest amount of DC power is available to run the fan. But the fridge as a whole puts out a good deal of hot air and has to have a large chimney and air intake to work properly.


Generally the space has to be designed around the fridge.




Gas fridges have never had pilot lights.


The newer ones have electronic ignition and controls, using a spark to light the main burner, with a flame sensor to confirm ignition. Older ones had thermostats that would change the burner flame between "high" and "low" based on temperature; the "low" flame would still provide some limited cooling. There were thermocouple safeties so the gas would shut off if the flame blew out, which was common on a windy day.


The problem with off-level operation is that it interferes with convection movement of the refrigerant mixture. You get gas bubbles blocking the flow and then the boiler portion overheats leading to progressive blockage and failure. It is generally not a safety problem but rather one that leads to early, expensive repairs.
Google search turns up lots of how to light the pilot light on fridges.
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