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Thread: Need some refrigeration help, please

  1. #1
    1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
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    Need some refrigeration help, please

    Our Norcold refrigerator still runs and the LED light on the thermostat is lit, but the refrigerator does not get cold at all. It has worked fine in the past, though in recent months I had a suspicion that it wasn't cooling as effectively as before, though it was definitely working. I think the unit was installed sometime in the 1990s, because it wasn't mentioned in a 1989 survey of the boat, but was listed in a 1999 survey. The previous owner replaced the thermostat in 2001.

    I have done a search and read all the "refrigeration" posts on this site, as well as checked several marine refrigeration websites for information and trouble shooting tips. But I need some basic information to get started.

    Our boat is a 1984 E30+. The refrigerator is a top loading fibreglass box beside the sink on the port side of the galley. The refrigerator has an evaporator plate screwed onto the left side of the box which curves to cover part of the back of the box, looking in from the top. There is a single black wire coming from the back of the box to the thermostat at the front right of the box. There is a white vent in the port cockpit locker directly behind the galley, which I think vents the refrigerator (air intake and exhaust, I think). Aside from that, I haven't seen any other parts like the compressor, coils, etc.

    There is a bulkhead between the refrigerator and the engine compartment, as well as between the galley and the port cockpit locker. The galley counter top looks solid and doesn't allow any access on either side of the unit.

    So I'm looking for help, especially from any E30+ owners, as to where the compressor and associated mechanics of the fridge are located, and how I can get access to them. Also, I'm thinking that maybe the coolant/gas has escaped due to a leak of some kind, and maybe the unit needs to be recharged; but I need to know where access to that might be.

    Unfortunately, the RV and Appliance Repair people I have talked with have said that they can likely fix it, but only if I can bring the unit to them. I can't see any way to get it out of the boat, without totally dismantling the galley counter top, which others have said in posts on this site is a major job that I don't think I can do.

    Any advice or guidance would be much appreciated.

    Frank

  2. #2
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    Smile

    Hi Frank
    Climb down into the lazarette (cockpit locker) and look there. If your refrigerator has a seperate compressor that is the likely place,look for insulated lines going through from the box to anywhere outside of the box,try to follow the refrigeration lines from the evaporator ( cold plate) in the box,if they point aft then the compressor is likely in the lazarette. I have never heard of a Norcold refrigerator with a seperate compressor but it's possible I guess.
    Try to take some pictures and post them if possible,I worked in the marine air conditioning refrigeration business for a good while,so check back if you are still stumped.Once you have located the compressor you need to determine that it is actually running when the T-stat light is on,also check your battery voltage,if the voltage is below 12 vdc your compressor will not run,you also need to check the voltage under load,sometimes it will look okay at rest and as soon as a load is put on it the voltage will drop way down. If the voltage is fine and the compressor actually turns on then refrigerant is most likely the problem. If the compressor is not running a faulty T- stat will also cause this. The two T-stat connectors at the compressor can be jumped together to see if the compressor starts. First check all the above once you have located the compressor. If low refrigerant is the problem I would not advise trying to charge the system yourself as they are super sensitive to overcharging and hold only a few pounds of pressure. Hope this helps somewhat.
    Lloyd
    Last edited by selous; 11-06-2009 at 07:27 PM.

  3. #3
    1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
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    Thanks for your reply. I just returned from the boat where I spent a couple of hours checking it all out, with some success. For any future owners as well, I found only one electrical wire going from the thermostat box inside the refrigerator to the back behind the evaporator plate. There was an insulated copper tube at the back of the refrigerator, right behind the evaporator plate, leading out of the fridge through the bulkhead into the port cockpit locker.

    Inside the locker, I found four vinyl louvred plates which I removed. I found a shelf cavity behind them, which contained the compressor and the copper tubes. I was able to read the model number--a Norcold SCQT 3407D. When I checked the web, it shows that this unit is a conversion unit for converting an ice box into a refrigerator. That's why the compressor is separate from the fridge/ice box.

    The compressor definitely runs when turned on, and the thermostat light is lit, but the evaporator plate does not get cold. I can only guess that the unit has developed a leak somewhere and the R134a liquid/gas has leaked out.

    I phoned Norcold customer service and they told me that this unit is pre-loaded and cannot be recharged. A new unit is listed in the 2009 West Marine catalogue for $679 US.

    I suspect that my unit is about 15 years old, so I'm thinking it would likely make sense to replace it, rather than paying a repair technician to diagnose the problem with the likely outcome that they can't fix it anyway if the liquid/gas can't be recharged.

    But if anyone has any other advice or tips before I spend the money on a new one, I'd love to hear from you. I briefly considered switching to a better brand, (eg. Sea Freeze in Washington), but found them all to be more expensive, and at least with the Norcold, it will be easier to replace the existing unit without further modifications. But if I've missed something, let me know.

    At least I know now that I can access all of it without having to rip out the galley counter. And I will be able to get a working fridge, either repaired or new, without having to buy a new boat!

  4. #4
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    Don't throw that Norcold away!!

    Frank, Consider as a last ditch effort, getting in touch with a marine refrigeration guy to discuss having him sweat a pair of quick disconnects the the refrigerant lines at the compressor and a filling valve like my Adler Barbour has and I'm sure other makers do. That way he can then recharge your system and look for the leak if any. In the long run should the leak remain undetectable and need a top up a few years down the road, he can easily come back and shoot some juice to your unit. Good luck, Glyn Judson, E31 hull #55, Marina del Rey, CA

  5. #5
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    Frank
    Just saw your reply. In my honest opinion Norcold is not a good brand because of not being rechargeable,Norcold is known as a throw away system in the trade,there is a way to do it but it involves specialized equipment and does not always last.The kicker is that you will unfortunately most likely have to replace the evaporator as well if you go for a different brand name which will push the cost up closer to $1200 or more.
    I would recommend junking the Norcold and investing in a quality system like a Frigoboat or Adler Barbour,I prefer the Frigoboat unit because it can be user installed because of the pre - charged lines and connecting system,it is also infinitely rechargeable but if the installation is done very carefully it should not ever need to be recharged.
    Lloyd
    Lloyd Forrester
    E27 - Wave Dancer

  6. #6
    1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
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    Thanks, Lloyd. What do you think about Glynn's suggestion of having a marine technician add the valves so the Norcold can be recharged?

    Would that be a reasonable less expensive fix? If not, does the Frigoboat system look similar to the Norcold, so the installation would be fairly simple?

    Thanks,
    Frank
    Last edited by Frank Langer; 11-06-2009 at 08:35 PM.

  7. #7
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    I would give it a try if it were me.It will cost you a couple hundred at least and isn't guaranteed to hold a charge especially if the leak is in the evaporator(cold plate). If there is a leak there it cannot be fixed but you may be lucky.There is a chance that the charge has slowly leaked out over many years to the point where there is just not quite enough and possibly a small charge will fix it for years. Try to examine the evaporator plate very carefully for pinholes or cracks! Sometimes they are impossible to see. If you do find a leak in the evaporator the system is trashed! If you go the technician route make sure he puts a trace charge of r22 into the system and then pressurizes it with nitrogen first and then leak checks it before doing any further work.This will hopefully pinpoint the leak,it's no use just adding a fitting and charging the unit without at least attempting to find the leak. Good luck.
    Lloyd Forrester
    E27 - Wave Dancer

  8. #8
    1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
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    Lloyd, thanks for your reply and suggestion. And Glynn, thanks for raising the possibility of recharging this system. I think I'll try that first, and then if that fails, I'll look into a replacement system.
    I really appreciate the help!
    Frank

  9. #9
    Principal Partner Tom Metzger's Avatar
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    Manuals

    You will find the manual & parts list here for the SCQT 3407D:

    http://www.thetford.com/HOME/PARTS/N...0/Default.aspx
    Tom Metzger
    E-34 Xanthus

  10. #10
    1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
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    Thanks, Tom. I'm still waiting for a call from the refrigerator technician to see if my unit can be fixed. In the meantime I'm reading up on comparisons of various refrigeration systems and makes to see what I'll do if it can't be fixed. The easiest fix would be to replace the Norcold compressor, but there are very mixed opinions on the quality. But others like the Frigoboat are much more expensive, and we're on a fixed income so that's a consideration.
    Boat repairs are always a challenge!

    But I really appreciate the help on this site. Thanks again!
    Frank

  11. #11
    1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
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    More refrigeration complexities...

    Thanks for all the help so far, but another complexity as arisen. I had mentioned that the compressor was working. Today, I decided to test again whether the fridge might be working. I was plugged into shorepower, and after two hours, the evaporator plate temperature had not changed. For some reason I decided to unplug the shorepower, and the compressor increased speed noticeably (maybe doubled), but then the breaker switch tripped.

    I know from the specs that the compressor will shut down if the batteries are too low, but that isn't the case because they were fully charged from shorepower. Unless the compressor was drawing so much electricity that it sucked the battery voltage below the 11.8 volt threshold to stop the compressor.

    I have a refrigeration technician coming for a service call next week, but would like to problem-solve this as much as I can myself, and maybe save myself a service call if I can really figure out what's going on. I had thought that with the compressor running, but no cooling, that it must be a loss of refrigerant; but now I'm not understanding why the compressor temporarily sped up when I unplugged the shorepower (ie. was it running too slowly on shorepower to produce cooling?) and why it tripped the breaker even though the batteries had been fully charged. The batteries are older and may be needing replacement (I haven't done a load test), so maybe they are getting drawn down too much. I have two eight year old group 27 deep cycle gel house batteries, which are due for replacement, plus a new starting battery on a separate circuit. Or maybe there is some other electrical problem, though everything else on the boat is working fine and I haven't had electrical problems in the past.

    Does anyone have any explanation for what's going on?

    Thanks,
    Frank
    Last edited by Frank Langer; 11-08-2009 at 12:22 AM.

  12. #12
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    Frank
    If the breaker is tripping it has nothing to do with the state of the batteries,when you turn off the a/c power the system changes over to dc and trips the breaker? That probably means there is a problem between the battery and the compressor such as a short or the DC SYSTEM CANNOT HANDLE THE AMP DRAW FROM A DAMAGED COMPRESSOR,you need to examine the DC wires all the way from the batteries or dc panel to the compressor and look for loose connections,frayed wire etc... also the wire should be at least 10 awg. In other words if the compressor runs fine on A/c power but not on dc then there is something causing RESISTANCE in the DC circuit. RESISTANCE =
    higher amp draw. If you have a meter set it to amps and put it inline on the + side of the circuit,then turn on the fridge and check the amp draw at start up! It should not be much more than 8 - 10 amps DC The compressor will trip the breaker if it has an internal short,like wiring burned out.
    Also I think you have partly answered your own question because if the compressor ran for two hours and the evaporator did not get cold (it should frost up in 30 minutes or less),either the compressor is shot or it is low on refrigerant. If it is low on refrigerant it will not get hot when running (compressor). Use a/c power and run the compressor,after about ten minutes put your hand on top of it,if it is not hot then likely there is no refrigerant!
    Lloyd Forrester
    E27 - Wave Dancer

  13. #13
    1984 Ericson 30+, Nanaimo, BC
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    Thanks, Lloyd. I'll check those things next time I'm on the boat in the next couple of days. The one additional question I have is why the compressor ran at a much higher speed when I unplugged the AC shorepower, before it tripped the breaker? I thought a Norcold compressor was either running or not, but have no idea why it would run more slowly on AC than on DC.

    When I ran it on AC yesterday to check it one more time, the compressor felt warm to touch, but not hot, and the copper tubes were neither hot nor cold--I think they were at outside/boat temperature.

    Does that give more clues?

    Thanks for your help.

    Frank

  14. #14
    Senior Moderator Loren Beach's Avatar
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    Unhappy The cost of new Cool...

    I looked at my actual cost for all the parts for my Frigoboat keel cooler system in 2004. My out of pocket cost was $1139. early that year. The air-transfer heat exchanger option would have been less expensive and no haul-out would have been needed. We have the size 50 compressor, too.

    Per a US Bur of Labor web site that measures cost of living changes this should be $1302. now.

    Most of the web sites for specialty stuff like this do not list price... but on one that does...
    http://www.great-water.com/pages/Fri.../fb_keel.shtml

    The prices listed are a magnitude higher. Yikes.

    I do not know if this is due to a further fall in the value of the US$ in the interim or some other factor. One would really have to get a true cash price again from a local dealer.

    (Cold) Food for Thought.


    LB
    Last edited by Loren Beach; 11-08-2009 at 11:06 AM.
    1988 Olson 34 #8
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  15. #15
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    Frank
    The fact that the compressor was only warm tells me it is low on refrigerant,it should be hot if it is pulling sufficient heat out of the box,as should the return refrigerant line to the compressor.As I mentioned before this could be a sign of a damaged compressor or low on refrigerant but I would lean more to a damaged compressor because of the breaker tripping. As for the running faster on DC power it could be a number of reasons,I'm not sure,the control box on the compressor could even be bad,you could run it on AC power and then put your meter on the + - terminals on the compressor and see what sort of voltage is actually getting to the compressor.Hope this helps.

    Loren,the keel coolers are great systems,especially where you guys are with cold water! They are even efficient here in Florida with high eighties water temps in summer.Amazing really,what the density and heat exchange capabilities of water can achieve.
    Lloyd Forrester
    E27 - Wave Dancer

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