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Dometic & Norcold Refrigerator Fires/Explosions


hbss1918

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A law firm is going after Norcold and Dometic for RV refrigerator fires:

Hagens Berman is investigating Norcold and Dometic for these companies' defective gas-absorption refrigerators that can explode or catch fire. The defective refrigerators have been installed in thousands of motorhomes, trailers, fifth-wheels and pop-ups, as well as boats. We believe Dometic and Norcold should be held responsible for this public safety hazard.

The defective refrigerators jeopardize the safety of RV and boat owners and damage property. Norcold and Dometic's gas-absorption fridges contain a cooling unit with a steel boiler tube that can crack, allowing highly flammable gases – including hydrogen gas – to escape. Experts discovered that a seam in the tube corrodes relatively rapidly even as the rest of the metal appears in good condition.

More here -- http://www.hbsslaw.com/cases-and-investigations/cases/Legal-Investigation-Norcold-RV-Refrigerators

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We having been monitoring the temps in our Norcold for several months now. We are saying farewell to our Norcold on Wednesday that has had multiple recalls and continues to run at temperatures too high to keep food safe. We are replacing it with a residential for peace of mind and ice cream that doesn't melt.

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There is a really simple device out there which some of us have added to our refrigerators to solve the problem permanently. I saw it mentioned here on these forums and later got one at an Escapade. Mark also uses one and endorses them. Check out the ARP-RV.

 

It is interesting to note that both Dometic and Norcold have been approached by the owner of this device and they rejected his approach as not needed, probably because they don't want to pay him for it. But if you do a little bit of digging, both companies have applied for a patent on a very similar designed control and both were rejected because this device was previously patented by the owner/designer of it. They do know about this fix and that it will work, but refuse to pay to get it.

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I do not see how the ARP-RV device will prevent fires from gas leaks or extend the life of the welds in the cooling coils or tank???

 

When our Dometic cooling unit leaked, the gas leaked directly down the burner flu. You could not see the yellow tracer without taking the heat shield off and looking down the flu. The technician told us that we were lucky that it was not running on gas when it leaked or we could possibly have had a fire. Between this flaw and the fact that absorption refrigerators constantly require defrosting, we also switched to a residential fridge. There are allot of apartment size refrigerators available at much lower cost than RV fridges. We found one the would fit in the same space without any modifications and has more interior space than our previous RV fridge.

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I do not see how the ARP-RV device will prevent fires from gas leaks or extend the life of the welds in the cooling coils or tank???

Did you read their website information? It simply controls the temperature of the boiler and if it never gets that hot it won't develop the leak and it don't get hot enough to start a fire. If you are a member of Escapees you can also go to the Escapee's magazine archives and look up the column by Mark Nemeth about the device in the May/June, 2014 issue where he reviews the device. Mark was impressed enough that he not only uses one but he also talks about it in the classes he teaches in RV Boot Camp.

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And reading the OP, where is the hydrogen?

There is extra hydrogen in the refrigerant. The refrigerant is a mixture of ammonia, water, and anti corrosive chemicals but the process of boiling and then condensing of the refrigerant can drive off excess hydrogen which is then absorbed again in a normal cooling process. The leaks usually come from the stresses of over heating which can be caused by any number of things and prevention of that has been proven to make the unit last longer and be much safer to use.

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I wonder what the ratio is between the number of owners that have been notified of the recalls and the number that have actually had the recall done.

I don't know Mark...that would be interesting. I do know some people that have had multiple recalls done. I'm not sure what the second was, though.

 

Personally, despite the fact the the number of fridge fires is likely very small as a percent of units in the field, there is enough not to like about these fridges that if I could I'd go to a compressor fridge (residential). That is just my personal opinion, and likely not worth much.

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Our Norcold 1210, a little over two years old, failed while in Quartzsite in January, due to a plug in the system. Had cooling unit replaced the end of January in Las Vegas. It has failed again, a couple of weeks ago, this time due to a leak. A new unit is supposed to be delivered to the repair facility in Carson City by the end of this week. I purchased one of the ARPrv devices, to be installed when the cooling unit is replaced. The tech said it didn't appear that the Norcold module that is supposed to protect the cooling unit had worked, but at least we didn't have a fire.

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To the best of my knowledge, none of these failures have occurred while the frig was operating on 120VAC or 12VDC, only on propane. "There are approximately 4,000 (total) RV fires a year" per http://cjbfire.com/RVRef-Fires.pdf

source: If the recall has not been performed,

"Immediately switch your refrigerator's controls to AC power (or DC power, if available, while in transit). No LP gas power operation should occur because it could create an unsafe condition."

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To the best of my knowledge, none of these failures have occurred while the frig was operating on 120VAC or 12VDC, only on propane.

The only person that I know personally who has lost an RV to a refrigerator fire was at the time a volunteer at Lavon Lake, TX for the COE and her fifth wheel was connected to 50A shore power and the refrigerator was in auto mode. Since it happened at night it is possible that for some reason it was on propane but I highly doubt that.

 

When we had a Norcold fail due to loss of refrigerant, we were fortunate that no fire resulted, but it was on electricity and when it failed it did melt all of the wires to the heating element due to the electrical short, I would presume. We were not in the RV at the time but returned to find it not cooling. I opened the rear and found the resulting mess and it was very obvious that it had been extremely hot and we were very lucky.

 

This is one of the reasons that I talked with Mark Nemeth about the ARP-RV, which I now have installed on my RV refrigerator.

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The problem stems from Norcold and Dometic cheapening the unit to the point that they fail in short order. They have cut back on the tubing thickness and the amount of coils. In order to make them work, they are pushing the boiler temperatures up and the units run hotter.

 

The recall from Norcold is a patch and not a repair. They install a safety lock out if the unit starts getting too hot....shut it down and no cooling and no heat. The excess heat stresses the metal and will lead to an early failure.

 

There is a small amount of hydrogen in the unit to maintain pressures and correct ammonia and water balance to maintain the interior temps.

 

Ammonia absorption is an old concept and is a relatively simple chemical process. All the manufacturers need to do is drop back a few years in the design and build a quality unit.

 

We had good success with the older refrigerators; our food was cold and no problems. The more recent units did not cool well and failed early. My recommendation is to change to an electric/compression unit and install batteries and an inverter.

 

Ken

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Hagens Berman purchases advertisements on search engines, social media sites and other websites. If you send us information, note that does not create an attorney-client relationship with the firm.

What percent do you think they get of any settlement?

 

Hagens Berman is investigating Norcold and Dometic for these companies' defective gas-absorption refrigerators that can explode or catch fire.

Are the refrigerators exploding or the LP tanks in the RV's after the fire starts?

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I asked the question over on another forum about a month ago for a response from anyone with personal experience of an actual "save" by the little halon refer fire extinguisher..... Not ONE example, verifiable or not. I have 2 of the units, wish I had spent the $$ to change to a compressor type refer.

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I asked the question over on another forum about a month ago for a response from anyone with personal experience of an actual "save" by the little halon refer fire extinguisher..... Not ONE example, verifiable or not. I have 2 of the units, wish I had spent the $$ to change to a compressor type refer.

I don;t know of any "save's", either, Dave. But when I had an absorption refrigerator I had a had the Halon extinguisher, and would again. Peace of mind is worth something. I have no reason to believe it would not work as designed. It is pretty well know technology.

 

We will likely pull out the absorption fridge that comes with the small motorhome we will buy this summer and replace it with a compressor type. Just have to get the solar on first.

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  • 8 months later...

just found this site because I googled "Norcold Refrigerator fires". Yep, just had one (explosion & fire) while on shore power.Total loss..Fridge was set to "auto". Inverter and house batteries also on as back-up with automatic transfer switch so propane never an issue.

btw, propane tanks did not explode and no damage occurred below the floor. our rig was a 2000 Monaco Windsor. Fridge a 4-door Norcold 1200 that had been serviced in 2010 due to the recall.

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  • 8 months later...

When I inspect an RV that is older than 2008, I ALWAYS look for the Dometic or Norcold recall. I note the model number, serial number, cooling unit serial number and then go to the Dometic or Norcold recall web page to see if the unit is subject to the recall. I inspected a very noce 2007 Winnebago Journey 36 L DP with a Norclod fridge, Model N814. Yes, subject to recall, no kit installed. I immediately recommended that the unit is not used on LP Gas and that the seller have the recall completed before the new owner took delivery. Fridges made after 2008 already have the safety kits installed. BTW - first mod I did when i bought my 2001 Nemwar Mountain Aire 4095 DP was to get ride of the Dometic and replace it with a Whirlpool residential fridge. Solid ice cream and cold beer ever since.

 

If you rrig is older than 2008 and you have an RV adsorption style fridge, check that the recall has been installed!! If not, call your local Mobile RV Tech and have it done.

 

Now for the safety statement: Yes, this applies to you even if you are not buying an Rv.

 

No matter what used RV you are buying, whether or not you are using an inspector, make sure you do the following. It could just save your life!

 

1. Check the manufacture date of the Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector (on the back). They are good for 5 years only. If in doubt replace. Some rigs don't have one. Be sure yours does. Use only those units approved by UL for RV Use.

2. Check the LP Detector. They are good for 5 years from manufacture date (on the back). Replace if in doubt. Find it close to the floor. Use only those units approved by UL for RV Use. Suggest a combined unit LP and CO

3. Smoke Detector. Good for 10 years. The new Smoke/Fire detectors, approved by UL for RV Use, at about $19.00 would be ideal.

4. Change the batteries on all battery operated detectors.

5. Open the emergency window(s). Make sure you CAN get out in an emergency.

 

These are all life safety issues we find when doing inspections. New LP and CO Detecotrs have End Of Life (EOL) alarms. You cannot turn off the alarm. UL Requirement. People are cutting the wires or removing the batteries to silence the alarm. Check yours TODAY.

 

 

Please post when you find you have an issue to encourage others to check their rigs.

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