Sunday, August 25, 2013

1971 Scamper Upgrades - Propane Regulator and Norcold N300.3 Fridge Install

Most people hate it when things break and need fixing. And with a 42-year old RV, things often need fixing or upgrading. However I only hate the costing money part. The fixing and upgrading part, I absolutely love and it has become another hobby of mine. I actually think I would be bored if we had a new camper...there wouldn't be anything for me to do. There is always something to do on the Scamper, and if I run out of things to do, I find something. lol

This post will probably only be of interest to anyone looking to do the same things to their camper.

After bringing the camper out of winter storage this spring, one of the first things I wanted to upgrade was the propane regulator to a two-stage automatic changeover and the pigtails that go to the propane tanks.  I had to screw a block of wood against the back wall of the cabinet so the bracket could be attached.  The old regulator did not have a bracket.


So after that upgrade, I tested all the appliances and everything seemed to be working well.  Then as we headed out on our first trip of the season, the fridge wasn't cooling.  We stopped in at Leisure Days RV in Truro and a technician came out and adjusted the regulator for us at no charge, and the fridge then seemed to start cooling again.  However at the end of our trip, we started to smell ammonia.  In an RV fridge, that means that the evaporator has rusted through, and it's time for a new fridge.

RV fridges are absorption fridges, and they work by heating up the ammonia until it vaporizes (heat being generated from the propane burner or electric element).  The fins in the fridge cool the ammonia vapor and it condenses into a liquid, which then flows to the evaporator.  The evaporator is supplied with hydrogen which evaporates the liquid ammonia.  The evaporation of the ammonia extracts heat from the fridge interior, and that's how it cools.  

I started to shop around for a new fridge.  The fridge we had to replace was a Dometic from the mid-70's.  Naturally I looked for a modern-day Dometic and they had a chart on their website that told you what model fridge would fit in the cabinet that the old model fit in.  Norcold also made a fridge that fit this space (N300.3).  However upon doing lots of research, I found that the Dometic used 12v power from the house battery to power its circuit board, so it would always be drawing a small amount of power from the battery even when running on propane.  Jeff and I love to boondock (dry camping, not in campgrounds) and I read that for boondockers the best fridge to buy is the Norcold as it uses no 12v power when running on propane.  So I called around numerous RV dealers in both NS and NB and found that Fraswerway RV in Halifax gave me the best price, and said it could be here in less than a week.  I got the fridge for around $900, but was quoted as high as $1250 for the same fridge at a dealer in NB and it would have taken them three weeks to get it.

The Norcold N300.3 is a three-way fridge, whereas our old one was two-way.  In reality it was only one-way as the electrical outlet behind the fridge was corroded and didn't work.  So we only had propane as a power option.  With the Norcold, we have propane, 12v from the battery (when the vehicle is moving) and AC for when it's hooked up to shore power.

The next shocker was the price for the install.  I was quoted approximately $400 for the installation by an RV dealer in NB.  It is a labour-intensive job because the fridges have to be removed and replaced through the back window of the RV.  I watched some youtube tutorials on how to remove and replace windows, and how to install fridges, and Jeff and I decided we were going to tackle this ourselves and save $400.  I got the RV dealer to add in a roll of butyl tape for the window install and some rubber roof coating as the roof coating was starting to get some cracks in it.

The new fridge arrived by courier, and Jeff and I set out to start taking out the back window of the Scamper.  We first removed all the screws, then cut through the old putty tape with an Xacto knife.  Next we gently pried the window out with putty knives and flat-head screwdrivers.  Then we carefully lifted the window out and set it aside.


The lower left corner had a bit of rotting wood from a leak.  There wasn't a lot of wood damage so I mixed up some 5-minute epoxy and filled it in.


We set an old rug across the window frame so the fridges wouldn't damage it as they were being slid in and out.

Got the old fridge out (heavy bugger) no problem.  It just BARELY fit through the window, and left a pile of rust and dust in the camper.  Below is the back of the old fridge, compared with the new one in the pic below.


The new fridge was a tad smaller in dimensions than the old one, so I had to add some 1x1 pieces of wood to the inside of the cabinet frame to make it smaller.  In the Norcold instructions it suggested creating a baffle from the rear of the fridge up to the exhaust vent in the roof, to prevent any warm air from accumulating in the dead air space above the fridge and reducing its efficiency.  I had an old piece of foil-backed insulation in the shed so I used this to create the baffle, and used foil duct tape to secure it.


Next, the new fridge was put into place, shimmed to make it level and then screwed down.  The Norcold instructions also suggested that there be no space between the fridge and the walls for maximum cooling efficiency, and if there was a gap that it should be filled with fiberglass insulation.  We definitely had gaps on both sides so it was filled with insulation.  Next I hooked up the propane and 12v, and leak-tested the propane fittings all of which were good.  Lastly, as these fridges come without decorative panels (you have to purchase them separately), I removed the panel from the old fridge and trimmed it to fit the new one and installed it.  Below is the fridge, installation complete.




Now that the fridge was installed we had to replace the back window.  We first cleaned around the window frame with alcohol so we had a clean surface for the new butyl tape to adhere to.  Next we placed new butyl tape around the window opening, doubling it up where the siding ridges created gaps.  Then we placed the window back in its place and fastened down all the screws in the frame.  Then we replaced the interior aluminum window frame trim. The process of screwing the window back in compresses the butyl tape which makes a tight seal.  Any excess that squished out was trimmed with an Xacto knife.  The pic below shows the window re-installed.  There is still some squished out butyl tape along the bottom that needs trimming.


The next thing I had to do was test the fridge.  We parked the RV on a level surface (very important for fridge operation for RVs to be level - the fridge can be ruined if ran not level), fired it up on propane and let it run overnight.  In the morning I was very pleased to see ice cubes!


Now that was a great way to save $400, and it wasn't difficult at all, just time-consuming.

Below are links to all of my posts about the Scamper: