Tag Archives: rv refrigerator

What’s a dual-fuel refrigerator worth?

If you could purchase a propane-only refrigerator and save $200 or $300 off the price of a dual-fuel one, would it be worth it? Or, if your refrigerator stops working on electrical power but still works great on propane, what’s it worth to make the refrigerator work on both fuels again? We assumed the cost was worthwhile to restore our fridge to work on either but, after careful analysis, we’re not so sure. It depends upon whether you pay for electrical energy (not everyone does), your energy costs (propane and electricity), and your cost to buy or repair the dual-fuel capability.

We replaced, finally, the refrigerator’s power control board last month. Our fridge operated only on propane for four months, August through November. It wasn’t too much a problem since it still worked so well but we felt it should work the way it was designed, on either fuel. And, we were waiting for the other shoe to drop and we might lose use of the refrigerator completely.

Also we so often get our electric included in site rental costs, we thought we could benefit from selecting between gas and electric. What’s more expensive, operating an appliance designed for propane on propane only, or paying for the electric heater to operate the gas cycle in your refrigerator? We’ll get back to this.

The refrigerator worked fabulously on propane. At $120 for a control board we might save enough propane by using free electric (where we get it) to pay the control board cost. Oh, but we paid $75 in Balzac, Alberta at Bucars RV to have them tell us there is nothing wrong with our refrigerator and we paid another $75 to have Camping World in Boise, Idaho tell us we needed this control board. We knew one repair service was wrong, and thought the other was right. We’d already sunk $150 in diagnostic charges, and figured we might as well buy the board too. How long will it take to save $270 worth of propane?

This sounds a lot like the gas – diesel comparison we used to discuss. Funny, we haven’t heard people talking about this as much in the past year or so. Do you suppose it’s because diesel price just won’t come down and stay down below regular gasoline price? And you pay a lot more for the diesel powerplant and drivetrain (and might mind the noise and smell of Detroit diesels in your campsite). Then there’s the maintenance costs. Diesel only pays if you must have the torque. I’ll try not to talk about this later.

Back to the subject, if you could choose to have a propane-only refrigerator versus paying an additional $300 to obtain a dual fuel propane/electric refrigerator, are you sure the latter is worth the extra dough? I decided to work on this the way we did at work years ago. And, after working on the calculations all evening, I could probably have come to this answer in the first place. The answer is, it depends.

The most important variable is whether you pay for electrical energy (not everyone does), or for what percentage of your RVing months you pay for electrical use. The relative energy costs (propane and electricity) matter greatly, if you pay for electrical some or all of the year. Finally, what is your cost to buy or repair the dual-fuel capability?

If your electrical supply is included the price the campgrounds charge you for a site, then your refrigerator will run at no cost to you whenever your trailer is plugged into campground power (Psst — don’t tell your friends whose house you courtesy park at about this, okay?). If your electrical supply is metered, as ours sometimes is, then you won’t see such high savings from electrical power for your refrigerator.

The next most important variable is the cost of the two energy inputs, propane and electricity. Small changes can have large impacts, if you are paying for all your electrical usage. For example, if electricity costs you 12 cents per kwh (Florida’s average residential rate for 2009) and the current local price for propane is $3.85, electricity is much cheaper to run. At these prices, we could save a modest $17 per year by paying for electricity instead of propane for the refrigerator. The December 2009 prices in Mesa, Arizona, would save us $32 per year burning propane instead of paying for electricity for the refrigerator.

The picture changes completely if electrical service is provided, at no extra charge, with your campsite. Every time you run the refrigerator on free electricity, you save money, and your savings might be $120 per year if you use your refrigerator year around like we do. That’s worth it, for sure!

Propane is very rarely free to RVers. But electricity is provided, in many campgrounds, at no added cost. A dual-fuel refrigerator saves money whenever the electricity is provided at no additional cost. But if you are paying for your electrical service and for your propane, it might be worthwhile to compare the relative costs and burn the better priced energy.

Is a dual fuel refrigerator worth a few hundred extra bucks (for first cost or cost to restore capability)? The short answer is, it depends. We’re glad we fixed our refrigerator to run either propane or electricity. And, going forward, we’ll pay more attention to the local energy rates before we decide which fuel to use for the refrigerator. It may be worth watching the local energy prices, if you want to control your costs.

Jim and Debbie
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©2010 Dreamstreamr, Jim Cocke

What else can we do?

We often marvel, as we sit cozily in our not so big house, how comfortable and complete our 25′ Airstream trailer is. The compact design is complete with almost every feature we could want inside. Last night we were musing about improvements we could make to our house. This is really easy to do — we can see the entire interior from any vantage point within.

More difficult, though, is determining what would improve on this wonderful RV. We can easily generate this list of changes we think we would like:

  • 1. A larger refrigerator,
  • 2. a walk-around bed,
  • 3. card-playing space for six,
  • 4. better insulation all-around,
  • 5. a two-inch lower toilet seat,
  • 6. a gravity floor vent for fresh air venting
  • 7. firmer sofa cushions,
  • 8. more LED lighting for boondocking, or
  • 9. more battery capacity would improve our RV’s liveability.
  • 1. Would you like a larger refrigerator than the supplied 6 cubic foot one? This refrigerator has been sufficiently large for over two years. If and when it fails we could opt for the 7 cf replacement Dometic refrigerator — it fits in exactly the same space. Don’t know, we might be able to tell a difference. We sure wouldn’t get rid of a perfectly good fridge to increase capacity by only 16 percent.
  • 2. A lot of people we talk to say they just couldn’t survive with a corner bed. It’s all we’ve had in our two Airstream Internationals (Our Argosy had a pair of twins, but we never slept in it). Their concerns are very justifiable — your partner knows if you try to get out of bed from the wall side, and there is no making the bed without climbing onto and all about it. While this may be tough for some people, we love it. A corner bed makes great use of the limited space we have in our RV’s 8′ X 23′ interior. A walk-around bed would be nice but we’re not willing to sacrifice what little floor space or closets we have to gain it.
  • 3. We’re fortunate and grateful our friends invite us to their larger RVs or park models to play cards. It’s nice to get together as three couples for card games or board games. And we just cannot do this in our Airstream trailer. We might gain enough table and chairs space if we removed our L-sofa and a dinette bench. We love the sofa and appreciate the storage under it, too. We’ve told friends we have room for drinks for six, dinner for four, and sleeping for two. Unfortunately, this Airstream isn’t going to have three couples playing at one table.
  • 4. Airstream trailers (and not all, but many other brands, too) have only two inches insulation in the walls and ceiling. We can tell distinctly we are lacking more insulation several times a year, notably in very hot and very cool climates. More insulation would increase our comfort in very warm climates and would reduce our heating energy during cool spells. While we don’t suffer indoor condensation problems others complain about, better insulation all-around would be nice but this isn’t an improvement we’ll see on this travel trailer.
  • 5. The 2005 Airstream 25, apparently in both the Classic and the International, has a bit of a high toilet seat. Short people need not apply — they might be jumping up and back down and it just doesn’t seem safe. Jim is 5’10” and his feet don’t rest on the floor sitting on this toilet. This feature seems an engineering goof by the designers. We can remedy this one without too much ado by adding a small section of raised floor. We’ll have to be careful where we draw the line for the 2″ raised floor. It would be pretty ugly to stub your toe and fall headlong into the shower.
  • 6. A gravity floor vent would allow us to make up the needed combustion air for our oven, stove, or catalytic heater. A floor vent would be guarded from inclement weather. A floor vent would reduce drafts from opening windows. And, it would provide the needed make-up air very close to the combustion. Wally Byam apparently thought it was a good idea for his own trailers but, for some reason, didn’t get them into the production units. We can do this and may at some point.
  • 7. Our RV’s bed mattress failed after a year of full-timing. We replaced it with a wonderful solid latex rubber mattress, a lot more supportive and, unfortunately, a lot heavier. The manufacturer’s sofa cushions seem to be similarly poor for the purpose. Since the sofa lacks any innersprings and the cushions sit on plywood forms, we need higher density foam cushions. Several of you have reported your success in doing this and we’re looking forward to this improvement.
  • 8. We boondock somewhat regularly in the summer and fall when we enjoy visiting state and national parks. Some of these parks allow camper savings by opting out of utilities and others just don’t have the utilities. Either way, we benefit by using as little battery-powered stuff as we can. We have LED lighting in the washroom, our wardrobes, and on the porch light. We will, this year, install an eighteen inch LED strip over the kitchen sink and counter. We may find other applications as well to extend our battery power when off grid.
  • 9. Almost two years ago we replaced our two group 24 12v marine/rv batteries with a pair of Interstate 6v 2200s, golf cart batteries wired in series for 12vdc. We gained more battery capacity and might be at a good match with our two 120 watt solar panels. Last fall, while boondocking at the Sun Valley Jazz Festival, we enjoyed great sunshine most days. And we really only had enough battery for one day at a time. It seems we could, with another pair of 6v golf cart batteries, gain all the battery capacity we could want for nights and weekends. This may be something we can easily accomplish.
  • These potential changes aren’t, any of them, must haves. Some aren’t feasible at all in this RV. But these are the biggest things we can imagine would improve this almost ideal space. Some of these changes are included in other, larger, RVs. All these options are available by some means in many RVs. If we find ourselves in the market for another RV we would include these as important criteria.

    You can probably think of more important changes you would want. We’d love to hear what you think — let us know?

    We’ll talk about our favorite improvements we’ve made to our travel trailer in our next post.

    Jim and Debbie
    visit our website
    locate us here

    ©2010 Dreamstreamr