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#68 - 02/23/11 09:38 AM Norcold 1200 LRIM Cooling Unit Repair
Muniac Administrator Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 11/12/08
Posts: 247
Loc: Livingston, Texas
Some have decided to replace their Norcold with a domestic refrigerator which is understandable given the potential fire issues associated with the cheap OEM cooling unit. I've had little luck getting pictures and specifics that document a domestic conversion. Cabinet work, AC power feed and cost remain important details. Domestic refrigerators will also lose their warranty if put into mobile service. For us, we decided to replace our cooling unit.

In Jan of 2011 the Norcold 1200 LRIM installed in our bus crapped out. Although the cooling unit didn't fall within the first recall it still developed a dangerous leak. Recently Norcold has extended their recall pretty much to all cooling units. That to include a recall to the original recall group making the first cooling unit group a double recall.

This has been a very dangerous situation because it can result in a devastating fire. Norcold's advice is to unplug the refrigerator immediately and stop using it. Short of replacing the entire cooling unit with a properly designed one, you're SOL as they say.


Norcold's cooling unit shown above rusted through right at the cartridge heaters. The OEM insulation sleeve didn't include a sheet metal casing. The failure point isn't visible until you cut away the insulation right above the propane burner. Notice the dull yellow sodium chromate rust inhibitor that has leaked out. This leak can cause a combustion event of devastating proportions.


A cargo strap is a big help when trying to slide out a heavy (270 Lbs) refrigerator. Doors were removed first. A platform was made which greatly helps by eliminating any lifting. Don't use casters as they may crack tiles.


If you use the Pines RV Refrigeration cooling unit, you'll need to drop the AC outlet about 4". The Pines unit has another tier of cooling tubing that hits the outlet.


Keep the refrigerator on its platform and tip it horizontal to access the rear and install the new cooling unit. It just clears the ceiling. You can lay on your back and slide under to access the freezer compartments and install the 8 screws needed to hold the cooling unit in place.

The Pines RV Refrigeration cooling unit appears to be well made and they claim to use thicker walled tubing. It will set you back about $1K and has a 5 year warranty. It took us some 15+ hours to effect repairs and I'd rate this a difficult job. If you reverse the brackets you can mount the fans over the left coil tier. It's a bit like a puzzle. As previously mentioned, you'll need to drop the AC outlet down about 4 inches to clear the extra coil. Also the plastic drip pan needed to be relocated and our burner box needed some tweaking to accommodate the gas nozzle.

Larger photos w/captions are below:

Pulling Refrigerator
Failed OEM Cooling Unit
Mounting Space
New Cooling Unit Installed

A document covering the details for the gas absorption cooling unit's combustion event is HERE.
Norcold's service manual is HERE.

Concluding Remarks:

It's really frustrating that Norcold can't make a reliable cooling unit. It's down right maddening their irresponsible design has left so many people with an imminent fire danger which can just happen at any time. I certainly would like to see a class action lawsuit against Norcold to allow innocent owners of their product recover the costs of repairs. I also question whether the recall procedure and bandaid really solves the root cause of the problem. My advice is to check your refrigerator very carefully on an ongoing basis. Good luck!
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#114 - 08/24/12 04:46 AM Re: Norcold 1200 LRIM Cooling Unit Repair [Re: Muniac]
Muniac Administrator Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 11/12/08
Posts: 247
Loc: Livingston, Texas
8/24/2012 Update:

Since the repair documented above, our refrigerator has seen continuous service (we full time) and the cooling unit has performed well. It cools better than the OEM cooling unit ever did. Its coils and burner also run just comfortably warm. You can place your hand on any of those parts.
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#123 - 09/15/12 09:48 AM Re: Norcold 1200 LRIM Cooling Unit Repair [Re: Muniac]
Muniac Administrator Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 11/12/08
Posts: 247
Loc: Livingston, Texas
9/15/2012 Update:

Good Sam Highways Magazine (August-September 2012 Issue) has some information about gas absorption refrigerators on page 28 with Gary Bunzer, the RV Doctor. For those that don't have access to this publication, I've summarized some of the content below and added my own thoughts.

Cooling units consist of the following four major components:

1) Boiler (heated by electric or propane)
2) Condenser (finned tube at highest point in the cooling unit)
3) Evaporators (what cools freezer/refrigerator compartments)
4) Absorber (coils and vessel visible from access panel)

Contained within the tubing system are water, liquid ammonia, ammonia gas, hydrogen and sodium chromate. Sodium chromate is a rust inhibitor which lines the inside of the steel piping to protect it from the corrosive effects of ammonia. It doesn't play a part in the refrigeration cycle, however, but it can become a problem if it crystalizes.

The refrigeration cycle starts when heat (electric heaters or propane) is applied to the boiler (long vertical tube shielded with insulation). Water and liquid ammonia begin to boil and ammonia vapor rises up into the condenser. Water reaching the condenser condenses and is returned back to the boiler. Ammonia vapor also condenses and is combined with hydrogen gas in the low temperature evaporator (located in freezer). Heat is absorbed through the evaporator piping during this process which creates the freezing cold (0-5F).

Next, the mixed hydrogen vapor and liquid ammonia pass through the high temperature evaporator (located in refrigerator compartment). More heat is removed at this point but at a higher temperature. This cools but doesn't freeze. The weakened ammonia liquid flows through the absorber coils where the hydrogen gas rises back to the evaporator sections. Liquid ammonia mixes with water in the absorber vessel where it is held until flowing into the boiler for the next cycle to begin. It's actually a continuous process driven by the application of heat.

Gravity plays an important part in moving fluids downward from the condenser to the absorber vessel. Off level operation impedes the flow and causes overheating of the boiler section. Continued off level operation in an overheated state crystallizes the sodium chromate which blocks the internal tubing. Blockages result in further heating, damage, piping failure and potential fires. Once sodium chromate crystallizes, the damage to the internal piping is permanent. An exceedingly hot absorber vessel is an early warning sign of excess heat build up. Our Pines RV Refrigeration cooling unit absorber vessel can always be touched without discomfort to the skin.

Out of level operation pertains to stationary vehicles only. Driving creates enough agitation to move fluids through an off level cooling unit. I personally would avoid running your refrigerator while parking in off level spots say during a lunch stop. Be extra safe and turn off your refrigerator during these times. Service stops are another potential problem if your vehicle is jacked up out of level. Be careful about this. The "take away" is to make sure you are perfectly level when operating a gas absorption refrigerator.

Another failure is condensation in the cooling pack that rusts out the evaporator piping. Cooling units see pressures in and around 350 PSI so anything less than perfect piping can develop a leak. An ammonia smell means a leak and should be a call for an immediate shut down of the refrigerator. This failure doesn't create excessive heating and won't present the same fire hazard risks as an overheated boiler.

Cooling units can be rebuilt or re-manufactured and depending on who does the work, results are mixed in my opinion. I think it's best to replace a defective cooling unit with a brand new one. Buy from a company that is in touch with quality, safety and their customer base. Also make sure the company stands behind its products. In short, do your homework before the purchase. A good new aftermarket cooling unit for a full sized refrigerator will cost $1K+.

Inspect your cooling unit often and make sure everything is tight and securely fastened. Norcold committed another boner on our refrigerator by not fastening the condenser assembly properly. One of the screws pulled out leaving the piping to swing back and forth. This was found by accident when I needed to remove the refrigerator roof vent cover to run wires.

It's my opinion that gas absorption cooling units can be used safely providing the manufacturer puts in the required quality. Norcold dropped the ball on this one which has caused untold amounts of damage, loss and hardship. DON'T BUY JUNK!! Stay in touch with your cooling unit's operation and install additional safety devices if you feel the need to. And remember that safety is no accident.
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#168 - 11/04/12 10:37 AM Re: Norcold 1200 LRIM Cooling Unit Repair [Re: Muniac]
Muniac Administrator Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 11/12/08
Posts: 247
Loc: Livingston, Texas
As of Nov 4, 2012 our new cooling unit has failed. I'm not sure about the details yet but have lost about $200 worth of food so far. Sodium chromate is evident on the base plate. I'm guessing there's a leak somewhere as we've lost cooling capacity. The unit came with a 5 year warranty so I'll need to see how this is going to work out. More details will be forth coming.

Complete slide show HERE. (25 frames w/captions)

Resolution Log:

Sun 11/4 Evening - Sent an email to rvcoolingunit-info@comcast.net to begin a dialog.

Mon 11/5 8:25a MST - Called RV Cooling Unit Warehouse in Memphis, TN @ (901) 337 - 9948 Received an outgoing message and their phone mailbox was full so I couldn't leave a message.

Mon 11/5 10:45a MST - Received a call back from David at RV Cooling Units. They will send a new cooling unit out to me immediately no charge. They will also pay for the old cooling unit to be returned for inspection. David was very nice and I was pleased with my conversation and level of service. It seems the failure is a "one off" fluke situation. I need to yank the frig and look closer at where the leak is. An easy job to procrastinate on.

Mon 11/5 1:52p MST - Send RV Cooling Units an email with the shipping address and instructions for receiving things on this end. Also requested confirmation and tracking information.

Tue 11/6 7:52p MST - Received email from RV Cooling Units that they shipped the new cooling unit FedEx freight. It will arrive here on Tue 11/13.

Tue 11/13 10:40a MST - Received new cooling unit from FedEx freight. Box appears to be in good condition.

Completed the 2nd cooling unit installation HERE.
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#169 - 11/06/12 09:28 AM Re: Norcold 1200 LRIM Cooling Unit Repair [Re: Muniac]
Jay Offline
stranger

Registered: 11/02/12
Posts: 3
Loc: FL
Sorry to hear of your misfortune Scott. You are handling it in your typical fashion... no whining, just rolling up your sleeves and getting to work. And sharing the experience with the rest of us. I thank you.

I mentioned that my Norcold/Pines goes back to the shop for a removal/reseal/reinstall of the cooling unit. This has nothing to do with the unit - only the learning curve for a first-time install by a very experienced and capable RV tech.

You mentioned the frustration with the foam sealant provided by Pines. My tech was overly concerned that it would expand and set before he could get the cooling unit in place. The foam does become tack free in about 10 minutes, but the expansion is minimal.

Just for giggles, I ran a bead of the sealant and let it cure. The next day I ran another bead alongside it, and I could barely detect any expansion. This photo shows the new bead at the bottom, only seconds after spraing it.



David Force from RVcoolingunit told me to use the foam liberally. The instruction in red at the bottom of the cutaway side view graphic that comes with the unit is misworded: It should say [/i]"You can not use TOO much spray foam."
[i]


Resealing the unit will cut down on my run time and keep me from losing cold air from the box when I drive.

I'll be interested to see your photos of the bad spot in your coils. Best of luck!

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#170 - 11/06/12 09:39 AM Re: Norcold 1200 LRIM Cooling Unit Repair [Re: Jay]
Muniac Administrator Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 11/12/08
Posts: 247
Loc: Livingston, Texas
Jay - Thanks for the information. As for images, you need to use Photobucket's IMG Code option. I fixed this for you so your photo displays. Just paste it in and the board's software will process it as an IMG tag.
_________________________
Evolve and simplify!
Scott Bridgman, Why not join and post your own comments??
scott@muniac.com (email me)
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#171 - 11/06/12 09:54 AM Re: Norcold 1200 LRIM Cooling Unit Repair [Re: Muniac]
Jay Offline
stranger

Registered: 11/02/12
Posts: 3
Loc: FL
Did I mention a learning curve?

Thanks professor!

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#172 - 11/06/12 12:29 PM Re: Norcold 1200 LRIM Cooling Unit Repair [Re: Jay]
Muniac Administrator Offline
enthusiast

Registered: 11/12/08
Posts: 247
Loc: Livingston, Texas
Jay - You're doing fine. Here's to keeping the information flowing with the best possible tools.
_________________________
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Scott Bridgman, Why not join and post your own comments??
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