Thursday, March 17, 2011

Our Almost Stumbling Block

I had indicated in the first article that as we were going along shopping and in planning our purchase of the Roadtrek that something happened health-wise in April 2010 that became an issue in purchasing a Roadtrek - as it comes. What I found out that April was that I had to begin a nightly insulin for my Type 2 Diabetes and the unstarted insulin pens had to be kept at about 40 degrees at all times until they were started. An insulin pen once started lasts me for about a week and a half and those can remain at room temperature. On short trips there was no problem, but on longer trips - several weeks - I would need to have several insulin pens - unstarted pens with me in the Roadtrek.

Now anyone who knows these vans will say what is the big deal. The Roadtrek comes with a refrigerator as standard equipment. And yes, that is very true, but the type of refrigerator that is standard to Class B vans and most RVs is an ammonia gas refrigerator - known as a three-way. It will run on propane, battery power from the on-board battery bank, or plugged into 110 volt AC current supplied by the campgrounds. See - three power sources - three-way. This is a problem in that it when we take the RV out to touring attractions, amusement parks, festivals, etc. we will have to have that refrigerator running all of the time when there is insulin inside. It will run fine on the propane - burning propane by the way - but the nature of the cooling mechanism on these types of refrigerator's requires that the refrigerator be kept very close to level at all time for it to work properly.

Let me explain the difference in this refrigerator to the common one that you have in your kitchen. Many, many years ago when the idea of refrigerators was new, the first refrigerators worked on a principal of the exchange of heat through heated gas - in particular and in the case of the three-way fridge - ammonia gas. There is ammonia flowing through the walls of these refrigerators and that ammonia must be hot. It is heated either electrically or by the burning propane gas. Now that is pretty much the extent of my understanding of these refrigerators in how they work and please do not ask me to explain the physics of it all. For this system to work as it is supposed to, it must be kept level for the ammonia to flow as it has to. Running on battery or electricity it still must be kept close to level. If it is not it will both not cool properly and the system will burn out eventually. Also the system will drain batteries quickly. Now, your house refrigerator runs with a condenser. There is still a substance flowing through pipes in the walls but it does not have to be heated. And it is such that it does not need to be level. A condenser refrigerator would work fine in an RV if there is sufficient battery power or you are plugged in. But at that point - way back in 2010 - I did not know if such a thing existed for an RV.

Let me throw in another issue about the 3-way and leveling the RV that would be a problem for us. We travel to a lot of places where the parking is either on a hill or you are directed into a space on a field where many cars are being parked at one time. There is no way to pick a space more level than another and no opportunity to take time to start placing blocks under tires and moving back and forth to get level. We tend to go to many places like this and this had to be a consideration for any use of the Roadtrek.

I quickly learned, through the help of some very helpful folks on an on-line RV forum, that of course such a thing existed - it is called a "two-way" and it will run on 12 volt battery power or 110 volt AC. These units are common on boats - because a boat is rarely level. And I learned that it was possible to retro-fit one into an Roadtrek where the original refrigerator goes.

At that point, I thought, problem solved. But it was not that easy. First, I could not install this myself. Second, I had to make sure that whatever dealer I went to was going to get me the refrigerator and install it - without adding more to the price of the RV than I could afford.

When we headed off to the first dealer, I presented what I wanted. A two-way to replace the three-way refrigerator in the stock Roadtrek. He was not thrown by this, but raised the concern that the battery bank might not be enough to keep the fridge running between battery recharges. He suggested adding two additional six volt "golf cart" batteries to the battery bank. (An aside, golf-cart batteries are not small as one would imagine given the size of a golf cart, in fact they are larger than car batteries. Also two 6 volt batteries of this type give longer lasting power than two 12 volt batteries of the same type.) He suggested a model AC/DC refrigerator that he could get. When I got home I looked up the specifications and found out that it was about half the size of the Roadtrek fridge and would leave a large gap in the cabinet that it would be installed into. This was not good. I had to look on my own for what would fit and not lose much if any capacity.

I discovered - again with the help of great people at - that a company called Nova Kool makes an ac/dc refrigerator that is almost an exact outer dimension match the Roadtrek's fridge with just fractions of an inch smaller difference and it has a large interior capacity. I got the model number. One of the Roadtrek owners on the forum had recorded the installation of his refrigerator in his Roadtrek in photographs and a text narrative and I printed this all out to bring to the dealers with me to show them what needed to be done and what the best way to do it is.
The second dealer, also, had no problem with the switch, told me he could install it and it would be an even exchange for the stock fridge that would come with the Roadtrek. He also suggested one 12 volt battery instead of the two sixes. Now, no one was quite sure where to put these extra batteries.

The third dealer - the dealer we purchased from - also had no problem with the plan - at first. The minor problem came later. Just before it was getting to be the time to order the Roadtrek so that we would have it in mid-April after the thaw, I started emailing in detail to the dealer about planning for the refrigerator. I explained again the suggested need for the additional battery and asked him to find out from their service center where it could be installed. He went one better than that and went directly to the Roadtrek engineers. He was told by Roadtrek - NO, NO, NO! They told him that adding batteries into the battery bank would create a fire hazard and that the existing wiring could not handle it. He told me this and I went, "Oh, boy - now what?" If the refrigerator needed that extra battery to run what were we going to do now?

Again, I went back to the forums and started asking questions. Would the two six volt AGM batteries in the Roadtrek battery bank that power the interior of the RV carry the refrigerator for a full day when parked and still be of any use to us at night if we could not use our generator or hook up to land power? I got a number of opinions and several calculations to do to figure this out. Most important I had others who have a similar set up tell me that the batteries should carry for three days. That is more than enough and my concerns were once again put to ease.

Another bump came when the dealer suggested that I should obtain the Nova Kool refrigerator on my own, have it shipped to him, and he would put it in. I started a search to find one and discovered that retailers were not anywhere near by and that dealers would ship but I would be buying something from an unknown source and if there was any problem with the unit that was sent out, it would get complicated and costly to return it for another. I contacted the Nova Kool company directly and found them to be very pleasant and cooperative. They told me that they would work with my dealer and get a unit to him without the dealer needing to open a business account with them. I put the dealer and the Nova Kool salesman together and they worked out the details to get the refrigerator. All of the parts were now in place.

When we went to order the Roadtrek I asked about the original refrigerator that was coming with the RV. I had been told that I would be credited for the unit. I was told that Roadtrek agreed to ship the RV without any refrigerator but completely prepped for one with all connections in place. The price I had now from the dealer included the credit for the original fridge. Fair enough.

We are now all set. When we are away for any extend time I can put the insulin pens in the refrigerator running on battery power while we travel and while we are parked. When we have land power we can switch it to 110 volt AC power and at the same time the batteries will recharge. The insulin will stay at the necessary below 40 degrees F - and anything that we want to remain cold in the fridge will also get the benefit. No need to level (I was not looking forward to leveling this anyway.) A permanent solution that would not take up any valuable space inside - as opposed to stand alone, 12 volt powered ice chests as some had suggested.

Several experienced RV'ers who I have told about this refrigerator are impressed by the idea. The condenser fridge cools down faster than a three-way. This all seems good!


  1. I gather that a cooler and ice was out of the question. Couldnt you have used a thermometer and ice blocks in a coleman type cooler to keep the insulin at 40 degrees? Can the insulin be kept at a colder temp?

  2. The insulin cannot go near freezing temperature or above 40dF. A cooler is inconsistent and the temperature inside is very dependent upon the outside temperature - which in a closed vehicle can get high even on a moderate day. They never really go down to the temperature range required and fresh ice would need to be added through the day. Even one of the small car plug coolers that have their own cooling element cool based on the outside temperature - 60's, maybe 50's inside on a mild day. In addition there is such limited room inside a Class B RV that there would be no place to put even a small cooler.

  3. Your writing impresses me, Robert. Somethings never change, I guess. Either way, keep up the blogging so we have a good idea of what's going on with you! What are your plans now?

  4. I wish that I had known about the 2-way fridge before. It would have been something that interested me so I could avoid the levelling issues. So far I have not had an issue ... but once I start my major trips?? Who nows? If and when the time comes to replace the fridge ... I will definitely look into one.

  5. Not having such a refrigerator, I use the system below to store my insulin on trips. You might want to keep it in mind as a back-up system.

    I put the insulin inside a quart slider or double-zipper bag and put that inside another such bag. This, along with my symlin pens go inside a gallon double-zip bag which, in turn, is inside another double-zip bag. I DO NOT squeeze out the air, letting this be something of a balloon. The air insures the bag will stay afloat on top of the melt-water.

    I then place the bag of medicines on top of the stuff inside the cooler. I replace the ice regularly (usually once a day). I think I'll put a thermometer inside with it on my next trip and monitor the temps.

    My search of the web showed the insulin must not *freeze* and this cannot happen in a cooler with melting ice. How warm it will be in there, I need to measure. Still, my insulin seems to continue to work.


    1. Thank you for your suggestion, Ed. The Nova Kool has been working well at keeping the additional pens that I carry below 40 degrees. There is little room in a Roadtrek to carry a cooler but we do have a bag that has gel inside that will freeze. We start out using this with additional blue freeze blocks to keep the insulin cold while the fridge gets up to temperature which takes a little under two hours. My insulin is a once a day insulin and once a pen is started it does not have to be refrigerated but I always want to have a spare on a short trip and also several with me on longer trips. Again, thanks!