By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Need a new RV refrigerator – or just tired of your old-style absorption unit? Dometic may have what you need. The new DMC4101 model tosses out LP gas-fired technology for an electric compressor cooling system. Unlike residential units touted by the RV industry, Dometic says it’s reevaluated and come up with a technology especially designed for RVs – one based on a 12-volt variable speed compressor.
Before we get into the cooling unit, let’s talk about the overall package. If you were replacing, say, a Dometic Americana model, the new DMC4101 will fit right into the hole where the old gas-fired bird once lived. But, swing open the stainless steel door and there’s a bit of a difference inside – two more cubic feet of storage space. A full 10 cubic feet of capacity gives a bit more room for both chilled and frozen foods.
No more steel industrial shelving – the new cooler has glass shelves and clear, see-through door bins. Down below, dual crisper drawers for the fruits and veggies and, up above, LED lighting to make it easier to see those fruits and veggies. Those glass shelves are said to be easier to clean, which, if the lighting is good, must be a good thing. Who likes to be embarrassed when guests reach in the fridge for a cold beer and stagger back when they see those Petri-dish-like shelves growing a crop of fungus unsuitable for use in food?
Outside, as we mentioned, the exterior cladding is stainless steel. That bright, shiny metal has been both praised and cursed by home designers and appliance manufacturers alike. But, like it or not, despite “new” ideas for appliance finishes, stainless seems to outlast them all. So couple your stainless fridge doors with radius curves and recessed side pocket handles, and these new kids on the block will still probably look fine for the life of your coach.
But the whole point of this new entrant is the cooling unit. Dometic says their compressor is “purpose-built for the RV industry with over-the-road durability and maximum efficiency.” One of the downsides we’ve pointed to with stuffing a sticks-and-bricks residential refrigerator in an RV is this: Who fixes it when it breaks? RV technicians won’t touch them, and home appliance techs are loathe to enter an RV to repair a refrigerator. Yes, there are exceptions among repair folk but, by and large, if your residential fridge croaks, it could easily be a “remove and replace” issue. Assuming that Dometic sees to it that RV technicians are given the necessary resources (and parts) to make the repairs, that problem wouldn’t be a problem.
One thing we ARE very much concerned about is power consumption. According to Dometic’s supplied specs, the DMC4101 chews up at least 15 amps. They use the mathematical symbol ≥, perhaps to obscure the true consumption, we don’t know for sure. But in any event, 15 amps from a 12-volt system is a lot of power. Of course, the real question is, how much time is that 15 amps drawn? The company provides no hint of the unit’s “duty cycle.” We tried repeatedly to reach someone at Dometic to ask this critical question, but never heard back.
An RV refrigeration engineer we asked fell back on the well-worn but true statement, “Depends a lot on circumstances.” Sure, like what’s the ambient air temperature outside the refrigerator? How much room temperature (or higher) food do you put inside? How often do you pop open the door to pull something out? How cold do you keep your refrigerator? And how does the “variable speed compressor” affect power consumption? Our engineer suggested maybe a 50 percent duty-cycle, that is, a compressor that runs half the time. If that were the case, and the refrigerator really does draw 15 amps, then a 24-hour-day operation of that fridge could call for 180 amp-hours from someone boondocking. Our rig is equipped with 420 amp-hours of battery capacity, and using that old “don’t let your batteries get below 50 percent of charge” rule, then we’d be able to safely operate the refrigerator for a day – but not a whole lot else. The typical, off-the-lot RV will have nowhere close to this battery capacity.
It begs the question: Is Dometic intending to market this concept to RVers who try and stay away from RV parks with utility hookups? If they are, this unit is a bomb. If their idea is for the RVer who spends most of their time in an RV park, well, perhaps they have something going. Even so, it also begs the question, how much are you willing to spend? Like the other questions we had for Dometic, the suggested retail price for this new food cooler remains a mystery.