There’s no doubt about it. RV boondocking wouldn’t be half as fun without the creature comforts provided by today’s modern RV. The gas/electric absorption refrigerator plays a big role in these comforts. Unfortunately, it’s poorly understood by a vast majority of RV owners. One question I often see online is, “how level should my gas/electric refrigerator be when I’m camped?” I will address this question and a few others in this short article.
First, it will be helpful to understand a little about how the gas/electric absorption refrigerator works. Cooling is accomplished using ammonia, water, and hydrogen gas. When propane fired heat (or electric heat) is applied to the refrigerator’s boiler the ammonia turns into a vapor which rises to the condenser fins at the top of the refrigerator. Here the ammonia vapor cools and turns into an ammonia liquid (the more liquid the better the refrigerator will cool). Once the ammonia liquid is created, gravity drops the liquid down into the evaporator coils inside the refrigerator’s cooling unit, where, along with hydrogen gas, the cooling process takes place. There are additional steps in the refrigeration process, of course, but the most important elements—heat, airflow, and gravity—have been addressed. For the purposes of this article, we’ll take a look at gravity only.
As mentioned, gravity is critical to the RV refrigeration process. Without it the ammonia liquid will not properly flow to the evaporator coils to cool the refrigerator. Having your rig off level not only disrupts the proper flow of the ammonia, but it also allows ammonia crystals to form inside the refrigerator’s tubing. Over time, these crystals accumulate until flow is restricted or blocked. The problem with these crystals is that no amount of vibration will cause them to dissolve–they are permanent–like plaque inside our arteries.
So to answer the question, “how level should your refrigerator be?” Well, fortunately, today’s refrigerators have greater tolerances than those owned by our parents or grandparents. Their RVs had to be almost perfectly level to operate well. Today, Norcold recommends that their refrigerators operate within 3 degrees off level side-to-side and 6 degrees off level front-to-back. What does this mean for you when leveling your rig? Half a bubble on your RV level should be good enough for an overnight stay, but if I’m going to be boondocked for several days or a week at the same location then I like to get my rig as level as possible. Taking a few extra moments to properly level your rig will enable your refrigerator to cool better and last longer by preventing ammonia crystals from forming.
What is the best way to level an RV? Well, if you’re lucky enough to have electric or hydraulic automatic levelers, that’s the best and quickest way. But if you’re like me you have to resort to more primitive methods. Truck camper owners are limited to air bags, leveling blocks, and power jacks to level their rigs. Of these, I prefer to use leveling blocks. As a proponent of the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method, I think a good set of leveling blocks is the quickest and easiest way to level your rig. Just don’t forget to pick them up before leaving your campsite. As for what to use as leveling blocks, it really doesn’t matter. Some like to make their own out of scrap pieces of wood, while others, like me, prefer the use the plastic “Lego” style of leveling block. You can buy a set of 10 with a storage bag, like those sold by Camco and Tri-Lynx, for around $30.