As regular readers will know we have been grappling with getting refrigeration that works with the way we use our motorhome. We seem to have finally cracked the problem.
Just a quick recap: we originally accepted an all-electric compressor fridge in our Mandale Liberté but found it flattened the leisure battery too quickly unless we spent at least two hours a day driving or had mains hook up, Our travel approach is slow and we rarely use sites, especially in France, that have mains. So our travels were being driven by the energy demands of the fridge. We did consider solar panels but in the summer we camp in the shade whenever possible, and of course, they would be of dubious value on a grey autumn or winter's day in the UK.
Last winter we had the all-electric compressor fridge replaced with a three way (gas, 12volt and mains electricity) absorption unit. It is slightly higher capacity and larger so we lost our cutlery drawer, hardly an insoluble problem. It cost about the same, or a little more, than a comprehensive solar panel installation.
I am pleased to report that we can now use our motorhome as we originally intended. We rarely stay more than two or three days on the same site. When we do it is usually a long weekend in the UK and as a result we do tend to have hook up. We made two trips to France this summer and in a total of seven weeks we only used the 'van for one night with mains electricity. We often stayed two or three nights in a place and our travel days typically involved no more than two hours driving. We had no battery problems, unlike the previous two summers.
As a result I would never consider a motorhome with an all-electric refrigerator again, at least for our motorhome lifestyle. For those who stay mainly on camp sites with mains electricity available an electric compressor fridge makes sense, they are more efficient, work in higher temperatures but they are noisier. Our new three way fridge is silent but it did struggle when we had a heatwave with temperatures around 40C, it was just a cool box at that point.
To cope with such occasional heatwaves and to improve efficiency we intend to fit an extractor fan kit to remove the hot air from behind the fridge. Dometic, the fridge manufacturer, do a thermostatically controlled fan kit which we will wire through a switch so that we can disable it if it is noisy or we need to minimise the current draw on the battery. Talking to a couple of other motorhome users who had done it they said it made a huge difference to the fridge's performance.
Even without the fan the refrigerator works fine, except in the sort of high temperatures we try to avoid for our own comfort. We are happy, we can now travel slowly and remain off grid pretty much indefinitely. Just need to top up with gas and diesel as and when necessary.
I do have a small concern though. At the NEC Caravan and Motorhome Show in October we started looking at the choices we will have when we come to change our motorhome, at least a year hence, and it was noticeable that there is an increasing assumption by motorhome builders that people will have access to mains electricity as they are increasingly fitting: microwave cookers, compressor fridges, even electric hobs and other equipment. When the time comes for us to change I hope there will still be motorhomes available that are suitable for those of us who want to spend most of our time off-grid.
Anyway, I hope my obsession with refrigeration is now a thing of the past and this my last article on the topic!