Two of my Norcold RV refrigerators have failed in the past year—one was 11 years old, the other was two years old. The first one I replaced with a Dometic—after fruitless months and dollars spent trying to fix it. That did not go well (the door handle kept breaking).
(Let me just pause here and admit I was an idiot to get a whole new fridge when all I needed was a cooling unit. I believed the RV repair shop that recommended it.)
When the second Norcold in my “new” B-plus finally bit the dust, after working part-time for a month and being checked by several repairmen, I was not going to buy a standard new cooling unit. A: I was done with Norcold. (And Dometic.) B: Two certified repairmen said the cooling unit I needed was on backorder. Of course. C: Several repairmen told me they just don’t build Norcold or Dometic like they used to; many are failing much earlier than in years past.
Forget Norcold RV refrigerators: Go Amish!
A friend of mine had gotten an “Amish fridge” at JC Refrigeration a few years ago to replace the cooling unit in her Class A and she raved about it. So, I made an appointment at the factory in Shipshewana, IN, (145 miles away from “home”) and got an appointment in a week.
FYI, in my good ol’ Google search I only found one other outlier company that replaces just the RV cooling unit—ATCO America Galvanized.
JC Refrigeration started rebuilding propane refrigerators and then got into the RV market. The owner, JR Lambright, added a 12-volt cooling unit to its line in 2017. This fall they are enlarging their “Dutch Aire” facilities to build their own RV refrigerators for larger rigs.
They will join a half dozen other alternative companies that build 12-volt RV fridges, like Furrion, GE, Contoure, Everchill, RecPro and Haier.
But JC Refrigeration is a relatively small operation and JR doesn’t want to overexpand. Right now, the factory employs 11 men, builds 41 cooling units a week, and installs about 15 a week. The rest go to RV repairmen or shops.
The big question: What type of fridge is best and how much will it cost?
The big question was: Should I replace my fridge/freezer innards with the standard propane/electric model or leave propane behind and join the future: 12-volt RV refrigerators?
A knowledgeable friend advised me against the latter: I would need a lot more solar, better batteries, and a different charger.
Being the rebel I am, I went with the 12-volt. The actual cooling unit and installation cost me exactly the $1,100 price quoted for just a Norcold cooling unit.
This price included a three-year warranty; I extended that warranty by three more years just because it was so cheap.
What wasn’t cheap is what came next. JR said I would need at least 600 watts of solar to run my fridge/freezer. (I had 300 watts and a 1,000-watt inverter.) So, the company sold me 400 more watts of solar, installed it and installed Battle Born lithium batteries. That plus a new charger and battery monitor cost me nearly $5,000 more.
After the initial cost, 12-volt refrigerators are cheaper to operate because you are using less propane. Yeah, that’s a lot of propane, I know. But what I like best is I don’t have to keep my RV level anymore or worry about the No. 1 cause of RV fires. Plus, my cool cabinetry remains intact.
The only thing I’m not crazy about is that if my rig is in 40-degree or lower temps, I have to turn on the light bulb switch. It’s a long explanation why.
Installation only took a few hours but I stayed a couple of days longer at the Dutch Aire factory to make sure everything was working right. It turns out my fridge was “overcharged” and they had to adjust it. Since then, it’s had zero problems, although it is a tad noisier.
I always know what temp my fridge and freezer are running with a portable thermometer that is outside the unit. I can read how my batteries are doing in an app on my phone. Very reassuring.
I realize that with the Norcold RV refrigerator body, I am still exposed to the risks of latches breaking, which my research says happens a lot.
I also realize there are few RV repairmen who instantly know how to repair my Amish fridge if anything goes wrong, although JC Refrigeration will advise anyone. But the fact I return home twice a year where I’m just 145 miles away makes me feel better about that.
Am I glad I got an Amish cooling unit? Absolutely!
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