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Old 07-02-2015, 10:58 AM   #1
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Unhappy Propane Refrigerator In Mountains?

We have an ArcticFox travel trailer with a Norcold Refrigerator. We love to camp in the Rocky Mountains, but whenever we get up to higher elevations the fridge works only sporadically on propane.

The Norcold manual says propane may not work above 5,500 feet and a call to their customer service confirms that. They say that above that elevation we should be running on electric. No help at all and no suggestions for us. The problem is of course, state parks and national forest campgrounds don't typically offer that. I don't care to camp in private campgrounds.

Do any of you camp at 9-10,000 feet with a Norcold Refrigerator? We have talked to many other campers up where we are, including some with Arctic Fox trailers and Norcold refrigerators. Nobody else we have found seems to have this problem.

We stopped at a dealer and they checked our regulator pressure and found it at just over 12, which is where they say it should be. They blew out and cleaned the ignitor and vent. We are as careful as we can possibly be to make sure we are perfectly level both side to side and front to back.

So what is the deal? High elevations are full of rigs similar to ours. Those we talk to have no trouble using their Refrigerator on propane. What is our problem? And if you can't use it on propane in the mountains how do dealers in the west stay in business and why are all these people camping by us without running a generator constantly?

I am very frustrated and about ready to give up trying to camp in the mountains. Are these things really built to only work east of Denver????

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Old 07-02-2015, 11:09 AM   #2
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I have a norcold as well and use the propane power feature often. I never fully trust it although I like it when it works. This probably isn't the answer you want to hear but it's how I solved the issue of being unsure if the fridge will work. We added a 12v freezer\fridge that can be used as a coffee table too. I installed solar on the camper now so the batteries are topped off easily and I have continuous power for the fridge. I also use it when camping outside to keep stuff cold. It's got a flash freeze feature to make ice quickly. Excellent unit...well built too. I have no affiliation just my 2 cents as an owner.
Let's see if any forum members can figure out how to make the norcold work at altitude. I'll write it down if it works.

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Old 07-02-2015, 11:22 AM   #3
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I've never had a problem when I travel in the mountains that I know of. However, when I stop to camp, I usually don't camp in primitive campsites, which means I've always got electricity. So, don't know if my propane refer would work or not. Never worried about it, so never tested it much. I have driven for hours through mountains but never noticed my refer having warmed up after the trip.

If it were me though, what I'd do first is what you did, talk to the neighbors. Than I'd take the cover off the burner and check it out. Is the flame the right length and color? Is the thermocouple well inside the flame? Are all the connections tight? Are the wires crimped by those connector barrels all nice and tight? Are all the connectors clean (especially the two for the thermocouple)?

Check that sort of thing. I think there's something wrong in your burner assembly that the dealer's tech either missed, didn't look for, or didn't understand could be a problem.

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Old 07-02-2015, 12:10 PM   #4
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We did not have that problem with our trailer an Aerolite. This year we bought a new trailer an Outdoor RV with a Norcold in it and camped at the same spot as last year in the mountains. Like you said the fridge would run for a x amount of time and then quit. After trying to restart it, it would run and then stop whenever it felt like . It is Very frustrating wondering if you will be enjoying a cool refreshing beverage.
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Old 07-02-2015, 12:14 PM   #5
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Never heard of that or had a problem with refrigerator using propane at high altitude.
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Old 07-02-2015, 12:38 PM   #6
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A generator will not be very efficient at 5-10k without modification either.
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Old 07-02-2015, 12:48 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Jim_HiTek View Post
Check that sort of thing. I think there's something wrong in your burner assembly that the dealer's tech either missed, didn't look for, or didn't understand could be a problem.

It's not something wrong. It doesn't work by design.

The propane appliances in RVs are generically jetted to work at sea level, and up to 5,000 feet above sea level.

Most RVs manufactured in the United States are assembled in the State of Indiana, and are made to work fine at the elevation of the towns and cites where the activity takes place.

If the hub of RV manufacturing had been in Colorado, chances are all propane appliances would work fine at high altitudes, but burn improperly at lower altitudes, (without the purchase of a low altitude "conversion kit" for extra cost and profit, of course)!

The appliance manufacturers do sell high-altitude conversion kits for propane water heaters, furnaces, and refrigerators. It's usually just a burner tube and/or an orifice. The higher the altitude, the smaller the gas orifice needs to be to get a proper mix of gas and air.
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Old 07-02-2015, 01:02 PM   #8
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Propane Refrigerator In Mountains?

With at least some refrigerators, it is simple to adjust the propane pressure regulator to compensate for altitude. The Dometic fridge in my old VW Westfalia camper worked great for weeks at 9000 feet once adjusted to 11 inches of water column with a makeshift (made with clear vinyl tubing) manometer at the higher altitude.

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Old 07-02-2015, 01:03 PM   #9
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Beachdude has it right, the high altitude is just a slightly smaller orifice. The lower barometric pressure, and subsequently lower oxygen, make it burn a bit rich with low altitude calibration. However I have not noticed a problem with mine at 7100 ft at my house. Although I typically have it on electric when at home, I have left it on propane when returning from a trip.

Maybe your problem is the flame going out from a different problem than just thinner air?
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Old 07-02-2015, 03:19 PM   #10
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I know this doesn't help you but our experience with our fridge on propane has been consistent without issue. We have been boondocking at 7,000 feet for several days at a time without any issues. Fridge worked flawlessly but my lungs didn't I adjusted though!
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Old 07-03-2015, 07:42 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by dagmandt View Post
I know this doesn't help you but our experience with our fridge on propane has been consistent without issue. We have been boondocking at 7,000 feet for several days at a time without any issues. Fridge worked flawlessly but my lungs didn't I adjusted though!
X2 on this.
We've camped close to 10k feet with no issue.

Maybe a few hunks of dry ice packed in the fridge could be a solution.
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Old 07-03-2015, 09:20 AM   #12
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We have not had a issue at all. But since we live at 5000+ ft elevation may be ours was adjust different for trailers at lower elevation?
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Old 07-04-2015, 02:03 PM   #13
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Like gazingm42, we live at a reasonable altitude, just under 4300 foot. I also agree that our trailer may have already been adjusted since the refrigerator has never had a problem with altitude (though I have had others that did!). We were camping at 7500-8000'foot just a few weeks ago, and the frig ran on propane the entire time. It even kept the ice cream frozen!

The biggest problem we have had with propane refrigerators in the past was poor venting. One had the vents on the side where the sun hit it all the time! That one we had to baby a lot. Our current trailer vents out a cap on the roof and is much more efficient.
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Old 07-04-2015, 02:31 PM   #14
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As stated check the flame for proper color (Blue not Yellow) at the higher elevations
and adjust the flame for the proper color.
Next take a air hose and blow out the cob webs and dust real good.
A little known fact is there is a small spider that loves propane and will set up house.
Both of these suggestions cover the major reasons for poor or no cooling.

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