Reefer Madness part 1

This being Washington and all, you know how we love our reefer.  Whether its Norcold, Cool Blue or Isotherm, we just can’t get enough of that stinky R134A refrigerant and the intoxicating effects of eating food free of mold and salmonella.

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Melissa really exploring the space as we re-insulate our reefer box.

Thus begins a large and critically important project on the long list of large and critically important projects aboard Galapagos.  There was no refrigeration system on the boat when we bought her but it did have a seemingly huge insulated box  (approximately 13 cubic feet).  To our eyes, it seemed very well made and would require only a properly sized refrigeration system to allow us to store all manner frozen foods, cold drinks and fresh vegetables.

The box.  You can see the  lower (freezer ?) door at the bottom

The box. You can see the lower (freezer ?) door at the bottom

If only any boat project were so simple.  A former owner of  Galapagos follows our blog and privately emailed me that the refrigeration system was a constant source of aggravation and expense for him.  He could never get the system to work efficiently.  His suggestion was to gut the entire arrangement and build up a new system.

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The lower door. While well made, it seems a bit awkward to access.

After looking at various drop in units at the Seattle Boat show, Melissa and I thought perhaps we should buy a nice drawer type unit made by Vitrifrigo. We even drove up to Sure Marine in Seattle to have a look at their systems.

Interestingly when we showed the salesman photos of the existing box, he was impressed and thought it unlikely we could do much better.  He believed a little extra insulation and a good holding plate system would be superior to anything we could buy off the shelf.  That was music to my ears as my vision of a huge freezer/refrigerator was revitalized.  I have mentioned Melissa’s insatiable lust for power in a previous post. A lot of that power goes into keeping food cold and I tend to perseverate on our batteries and their condition.

So now we started in earnest to improve the existing box and install our own cooling unit. At this point, I don’t need to remind you of how much we like doing things ourselves. We never let a little thing like complete ignorance on a subject stop us from forging ahead, making mistakes and figuring this stuff out as we go along.

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You could climb inside this box.

One of the more highly touted holding plate systems we have looked at is called CoolBlue by Technautics. We have met Rich Boren, The owner, two or three time at the Seattle Boat show, flogging a very efficient holding plate and air cooled compressor.  Every time I’ve met the guy, I came away impressed with him and the product. Reassured by our visit to Sure Marine, I emailed Rich with some photos of our existing box and asked him for advice.

Rich, although busy flying from one boat show to another was quick to reply to our email asking for his opinion on how to proceed.  In short, Rich saw the large size of the box and the freezer door opening at the bottom as being the two biggest problems.  Every time that freezer door was opened, the cold air would spill out and be replaced by warm, moist air.  Besides having to re heat all that air again, the moisture would cause a rapid build up of frost on the plate which would further reduce its efficiency.  His suggestion was to build a new insulated bottom with three or four inches of well sealed  polyisocyanurate insulation and cover it with plastic or fiberglass panels.

So for about a hundred dollars, I bought a sheet of one inch R-Max Insulation, a sheet of FRP panel and a roll of Extreme Temperature Metal Sealing Tape. Along with some adhesive and caulking, I proceeded to create a new, better insulated top loading box. Once committed to the project, my only worry was what the final volume of the box would be.

Cutting the panels.  Use a razor knife to score the back of the panel (the smooth side) and then bend it slowly over an edge. This makes a straight line without a saw and the attendant dust.

Cutting the panels. Use a razor knife to score the back of the panel (the smooth side) and then bend it slowly over an edge. This makes a straight line without a saw and the attendant dust.

Polyisocyanurate insulation has a higher R value than the commonly used extruded polystyrene (R6 vs. R5 per inch) but it does need to be carefully sealed as it will absorb moisture more readily,  The foil tape I used was very heavy duty and has a really tenacious adhesive.  I can see keeping a roll of that aboard for other projects.

Taping any exposed insulation is important.  Check for punctures in the foil backing and cover those too.

Taping any exposed insulation is important. Check for punctures in the foil backing and cover those too.

In order to get some of the larger pieces of insulation through the door, I had to cut one side of the foil and break the insulation in two.  Once inside the box and ready to be glued down I would tape over this exposed insulation.

In order to get some of the larger pieces of insulation through the door, I had to cut one side of the foil and break the insulation in two. Once inside the box and ready to be glued down I would tape over this exposed insulation.

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The back wall of the box has a bit of slope that needed some extra fill. I used the spray foam for this and other small gaps.

 

Once we had four inches of insulation on the bottom, we went around the entire perimeter with another round of tape.

Once we had four inches of insulation on the bottom, we went around the entire perimeter with another round of tape.

It was nice to see the fresh new panels going in. It makes the whole box look brand new.

It was nice to see the fresh new panels going in. It makes the whole box look brand new.

After laying in the new bottom, I started adding insulation to the sides.  At this point I was starting to count cubic inches. Adding an inch of insulation to the side of the box has the affect of reducing the volulme of the box by another third of a cubic foot.  But I knew that if this system was to work efficiently it would be better to add more insulation.  I ended up adding another inch to the two of the sides of the box and using Reflectix on the other two sides.

I added an additional inch to the sides that would be facing the hull and the in the new freezer section.

I added an additional inch to the sides that would be facing the hull and in the new freezer section.

All glassed in. Just need to caulk the edges.

All glassed in. Just need to caulk the edges.

A high contrast shot of the caulked edges.  In person, you can hardly tell the difference in color.

A high contrast shot of the caulked edges. In person, you can hardly tell the difference in color.

In the end, the box has a volume of about five cubic feet and it looks like a million bucks. The new FRP panels totally transformed the interior of the box.  In addition to this main box, we still have  the lower section with the door.  Hopefully this area will remain cool without robbing too much  energy from the refrigeration system.  We think this area will be like a crisper and at about two cubic feet, it represents a pretty sizeable space.

One result of the extra insulation is that the stock holding plate for the Cool Blue system would be slightly too large. The stock plate is also 2.5 inches thick which I worried would steal more volume.  Fortunately Rich Boren will provide a smaller plate that will just fit.  That will be delivered next week.  Stay tuned for the next episode of Reefer Madness.

 

4 thoughts on “Reefer Madness part 1

  1. Wow! Very nice. We did a similar conversion on a Cheoy Lee we once owned. The old ice box with 4″ of insulation worked great. The fridge backed onto a bulk head and on the other side was the bunk where we slept. It caused condensation where the mattress met the bulkhead and eventually the teak delaminated. It might have been then I realized when one project gets checked of the list, two more are added.

    Mark

    • A good tip about the condensation. I can get to three side of this box but one side faces the hull. That is the side I am most concerned about as it will bear the brunt the sun. Adding the extra insulation will help of course and I have heard that cruisers will hang a tarp or sunbrella over the side to shade their ice box in warm weather.

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