Saturday, December 6, 2014

What if: System's wrap-up

The only two systems left on the list are the refrigerator and the toilet. Two items not usually lumped together, but this post will cover them both.


As mentioned before, the refrigerator is a compressor driven unit that can be run off either shore power or 12V.

The downside to this is that the compressor is not silent when running. Nor it is completely vibration free which can set the contents of the fridge to rattling. In a small space the noise can be noticeable and annoying at times.

The upside is that I don’t need a propane system to keep it running out in the boonies, just a good battery and a little sunlight. And speaking of boonies, unlike the propane fridge which must be within 3 degrees of level to operate properly, this fridge will operate at up to a 30 degree angle. I don't know about you, but that's an angle that far exceeds anyplace I would chose to park!

I originally envisioned using the same 3.6 cu. ft. fridge I've had in the last two rigs, but I got to looking more closely at Norcold's newest 2.7 cu. ft. fridge and changed my mind.

3.6 cu. ft. version, image from Norcold web site

2.7 cu. ft. version, image from Norcold web site

Yes, the smaller fridge is definitely - well - smaller but I have never used the freezer in the larger fridge for anything other than frozen water bottles to help stabilize the temperature, I never have a gallon jug of milk along and, being strictly a water drinker, I never carry 1 liter bottles of anything.

Combine that with the fact that I recently figured out how to consistently run the fridge so that the freezer section is just above freezing and the fridge area around 38 to 40 degrees so that I can use the freezer area as additional fridge space and the smaller fridge will serve me just fine.

The smaller unit is also about 25 lbs. lighter and I expect that it will use correspondingly less power.

By the way, the trick to running the freezer at fridge temps while still keeping the fridge area at fridge temps involves a wireless, two sensor, freezer/fridge thermometer (Because the control knob provides absolutely no temperature feedback and the fridge is sensitive to ambient temperature so a setting that works when ambient is in the 80's is way too cold when ambient is down in the 50's.) and one of those little air-circulating fans set in the bottom of the fridge. I used to think these fans were more gimmick than not, but after trying one out for a while I've changed my mind. The internal temperature stays more stable and the fridge actually seems to cycle on less.

I've also decided it's not worth the cost and complication of wiring the fridge compartment for 120V and will just run the fridge off 12V all the time. This is what usually happens with my current fridge anyway. (Because 120 for the fridge and micro are wired to the same breaker, I usually just leave it off so the LED readout on the micro isn't bugging me.) It's not really a game changer because if I have shore-power to run the fridge that means it will also run the charger which gives me plenty of 12V power anyway, even on the cloudiest of days

The smaller fridge, there on the bottom left in the image above, also leaves a little more room above it for the pantry. This new version of Norcold's lineup was designed to fit into the same recess as the original DE-0051 model, but that requires the new unit to extend beyond the cabinet face a couple inches. (The new model is a complete redesign with a different compressor technology and airflow path that altered the overall depth.) Fortunately it was also designed to flush-mount into a slightly deeper cabinet which is what I've done here. That makes the shelves above just a little roomier and eliminates the fridge projecting into the aisle where it might (Painfully) catch a hip-bone or two.


The toilet is a self-contained portable unit with bowl, water supply and waste tank all in one.

With this setup I’m free to move the toilet wherever it needs to be, including out of the way into a storage area when not in use, which is the vast majority of the time. And when it comes time to dump I’m not limited to dump stations but also have the option of using any handy toilet, flush or pit, to dump into.

In my opinion every household, whether campers or not, should have one of these units in a closet or a corner of the garage with water in the supply tank ready to go.  They cost less than $100 and when water pressure is lost due to a storm or system failure and the flush toilet isn’t working anymore, it will come in pretty handy. It also works great if someone in the household suddenly has mobility issues due to an accident or illness and can’t quite manage the long trek from bed to bathroom for a few days. 

You can get these toilets in 5 gallon versions, but I prefer the 2 or 2.5 gallon version. If you’ve ever hauled a 5 gallon can of water you know it’s pretty heavy, like not much less than 50 lbs. heavy! Not something I want to be hauling and dumping when it's full of - well - you know! And it's surprising how long a 2.5 gallon waste tank can go before needed dumping, so unless a large number of people are using it (And in that case it would probably be better to have more than one anyway.) I see no advantage to the 5 gallon version.

The smaller units are shorter than their bigger brethren, which might seem like a disadvantage when it comes to using it because this puts the seat awful dang close to the floor, but I build a pedestal to sit the unit on  and bring the seat height back up to a more traditional level.  A square of that non-slip stuff designed to go under rugs has successfully kept my toilet in place on top of the pedestal for years now.

I use the pedestal itself to store toilet paper, bowl liners (Essential for neat, hassle-free solid waste deposits!) a small spray bottle of distilled white vinegar (My cleaner/deodorizer of choice.) and a spare container of septic-safe, biodegradable tank deodorizer. (There's an internal compartment for storing the bottle that's in use and in my experience these bottles last quite a while so a single spare is plenty.)

My current toilet has been in use for years now without a hitch, but if it ever does fail I can quickly find a replacement at a sporting goods or large department store and be on my way again in minutes instead of getting caught up in the 3 day wait for parts and a maintenance bay followed by a serious hit to the wallet at the always busy RV service center.

Finding a place for the toilet is where the complication of widening the floor of the camper shell aft of the wheel wells pays off. If it wasn’t for this widening of the floor the toilet would either have to go under the bed in place of my chair, or be perpetually underfoot out in the aisle way.

  If you remember, I made the closet area 5 or 6 inches deeper than strictly necessary to fit clothes on hangers. This sacrificed a little aisle width back there near the door but still leaves over 30" of moving around room (Buses have 18"!) and allows me to tuck the toilet completely under the closet with no toe-catching projections.

The generously width of the closet from end of counter to rear wall of camper also means there's room left over under it for a few other things to fit along side the toilet such as boots, extra fire extinguisher, and/or Mr. Buddy propane heater.

To use it, the toilet is simply pulled out into the aisle and is pretty much as far from the bed and counters as possible in such a small place.

Without a cabinet door to keep it corralled, there will have to be some sort of strap that can be clipped around the toilet to ensure it stays in place when underway but I find that just as easy to use as a cabinet door which always seems to be in the way when open.

OK, I think that pretty much exhausts the design, layout and systems so the next step is to get out the tape measure and calculator to figure out how much this thing is going to weight and whether the center of gravity is acceptable or not. 

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