Dometic’s new compressor-run refrigerator. Is it right for you?

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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.

Dometic photo

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?

Dometic photo

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.

##RVT945

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Philip H. Wood
2 months ago

Domestic refrigerators usually have only four problems. Door gaskets, start relay, thermostat, icemaker. Most appliance repairmen do not care where the fridge is located as long as it is assesible. The compressor operated fridge works so much faster than an absorption system does. The compressor types cost $800-$1000 and have more interior room than the absorption types that cost $3500 and up. My son just bought a new 5th wheel and installed a portable solar system on it and it has a compresor type fridge. With no hook ups, he turned the fridge on and in around four hours it was cold and the batteries were still up. Why would I even want slow, over priced, with small interior fridge. Most compressor type fridges only pull around 200 to 225 watts and have a duty cycle of less than 30%. With the addition of an extra golf cart battery (making three batteries) that will supply not less than 7200 watts of power (two in series and one in parallel) and with a 200 watt solar panel that should work just fine. If Dometic wants to continue to supply the RV (or any other industry) that are going to have to get competitive or they will cease to be a viable company. I have a MH and had to replace the cooling unit because it was fabricated from too light of steel tubing. I had an older MH for years and the fridge went out and I bought one from Sears for$135 (it was several years ago) and used it for years untill I sold it and never missed the old gas model fridge.

Billy Bob Thornton
2 months ago

Boondocking for a week with little to no sun. Campsite shaded (highly likely) unless your in the west. Insufficient battery bank, needing upgrade must be figured into the overall cost. This will have a limited market until the next battery storage technology (i.e. solid state, etc.) brings the price per kWh down to a manageable price.

Stephen Willey
3 months ago

Company in British Columbia called Nova-Kool makes the same thing, directelectric replacement for gas Dometics. They use European compressors that have lasted us over 20 years in full time solar powered off-grid home. And just about ANY 12 volt compressor uses less power than a 120 v AC residential unit.

Bob P
3 months ago

The Amish units available are great for both hookups and boondocking. I had my Norcold Model 1200 converted over several years ago and my ice cream is now hard! It only uses 1 amp and with my 4-6 volt battery bank, its no problem. Would highly recommend it. I used JC Refrigeration.

jane shure
3 months ago

At last a step in the right direction to get rid of those damn expensive junk gas refers. I have found with gas refers there are two kinds of them, those that give trouble and those that will give trouble.

Gary
3 months ago

Seems like the JC Refrigeration conversion is the better way to go.

Greg Illes
3 months ago

I also have the Novakool RFU9000 (see the JAL post in this thread). Love it. 5A draw, no troubles, great temperature regulation. I also love the freezer on the bottom.

I think Dometic’s high power consumption really missed the mark for anybody except those who travel hookup-to-hookup.

Casey
3 months ago

If they are anything like the ‘smart inverter compressor’ (AC input with variable speed DC compressor) fridges by LG and Samsung that are very common in Mexico but not so much in the US and Canada. The duty cycles of these use roughly: 50w (4a @ 12.5v), 125w (10a), 175w (14a), depending on the amount of cooling required at any given moment. Also the fridges will run a defrost cycle roughly once per day that pulls 250w (20a) for about 30 minutes. Average daily consumption for my 16cu/ft freestanding outdoor-kitchen fridge in Baja is 0.75kwh (60 ah) during winter (highs of 22C/74f) and 1.5kwh (120ah) during summer (highs of 36C/96f).

200w of solar panels and a pair of batteries can typically cover this use given all-sunny days, but, loading up the fridge with a lot of warm food/drinks all at once, such as grocery day, can easily 2x to 4x the power consumption for that day.

I have installed 10 to 12 cu/ft models of these fridges into trailers and they use a bit less power than my 16. Compared to the traditional propane fridges they have loads more usable space, cool warm-items much quicker, and reduce propane use to 0. FYI, a propane fridge on 120v mode pulls about 400w (32a @ 12.5v off an inverter) and consumes 2 to 8kwh (160ah to 640ah) per day depending on ambient temperature and usage conditions. Not ideal in any situation except unmetered park power. Additionally, the temperature of these fridges is far more stable, and items like vegetables last 2 to 8 times longer.

These new Dometic fridges seem like a big step forward as long as you have ample solar/batteries or another continuous source of power.

Patrick O'Flaherty
3 months ago
Reply to  Casey

The smallest that I could find in the states for an LG Fridge was 10 Cu. Ft. and the smallest Samsung was 18 Cu. Ft. I was seeking something in the 6 to 8 cu. ft. range. Besides NorCold, any other reputable brands to consider?

Philip H. Wood
2 months ago
Reply to  Casey

I worked in the HVAC and refrigeration industry for over 50 years. Variable speed compressors work great on larger systems and works fine on smaller systems but really adds little advantage over constant speed compressors on them. Modern equipment gets more cooling effect per watt than older systems did and has much better insulation as well. If you leave a system running with the rig not pugged in you will most likely come back and find the battery run down if you fail to set up your solar system. But, I have seen the same with gas systems. Just look at how long your home fridge works. I canot justify the cost of modern absorption systems in terms of costs for smaller applications.

Tommy Molnar
3 months ago

Never being one to jump on ANYTHING brand new, I’ll do the wait-and-see thing. Some folks love to get the newest stuff out, and that’s good. That way I can see what happens without suffering the consequences.

Philip H. Wood
2 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Compression systems are not new, They have been in homes for over a century.

Ann
3 months ago

Will it be made out of glass like our current one seems to be? Our 3 way fridge stays cool just fine, but the we replace a steady stream of very expensive plastic parts.

Dotty M
3 months ago

With the issues and expense of dealing with their heater I pass our RV wasn’t even two months old and had to replace the the circuit brain for said heater. Now at six months with RV we now have the expense of replacing the igniter for the same heater made by your company and forget the warranty for RV excuse aftet excuse to NOT re emberse out of pocket money to repair a 2019 heater by dometic

Barry
3 months ago

Given Dometics previous history, I think I will pass on anything they make wherever possible.
High prices and poor quality doesn’t encourage me to run out and try this product.

Firefly
3 months ago

Thank you for doing more than just regurgitating a press release. You do a nice job of explaining the pros and cons as well as the unknowns with this product. I certainly hope some day to be able to ditch the absorption fridge, but the alternatives just don’t seem to be there yet.

Dorrie Mullins
3 months ago

Besides a residential fridge I would love a RV fridge that keeps low temps when outside temps hit 85-plus degrees. And high humidity.

JAL
3 months ago

We have a 9.1 cu foot Nova Kool 12v compressor-driven refrigerator made in British Columbia Canada which replaced a 9.6 cu ft Norcold gas-absorption refrigerator originally installed in our 5th wheel. It was almost a drop in installation. Even though slightly smaller, the Nova Kool definitely holds more food because of the greater shelf depth.

The Nova Kool uses a Secop (Danfoss) BD35F variable speed compressor. The operating duty cycle is roughly 40-50%, but it depends on ambient air temperature, number and duration of door openings, temp of food placed inside, etc. Power consumption runs 4.8 to 5.5 amps depending on the compressor speed. Total Ah’s consumed per day is about 50-60.

Pros:

Secop compressor driven refrigerators don’t need to be level and can tolerate being off level up to a max of 40 degrees.

The Nova Kool doesn’t require venting outside of the RV so the old refrigerator openings were sealed off and the cabinet well insulated. Hot sun on that side of the RV is a non-issue. Cabinets next to the refrigerator stay cool.

The Nova Kool refrigerator is about 50 pounds lighter than the Norcold it replaced.

Cons:

The Nova Kool refrigerator isn’t self-defrosting so I have to do that manually about every 3 to 4 weeks when in continuous use. It takes me about 30 minutes using a hair dryer on low temp.