The immediate culprit is the one major system we did not replace before we left and ironically is the highest amp-consuming appliance: our 20yr old Adler-Barbour refrigerator / juice hog.
Searching for solutions online Brian offhandedly remarked, “Maybe we should defrost the fridge?” “Why?” I asked, hoping for a logical explanation for undertaking that onerous chore... none given. Well, it looks the same as it did yesterday, why would freezer burn suddenly double its inefficiency?
So while he frantically pored over keywords “boat + refrigerator + efficiency”, I decided to look up “boat + refrigerator + defrosting + WHY”. Meaning WHY would I ever want to do this? I’ve been living on the boat for 6 months now… defrost avoided so far. Why now?
All that snoooww, let it groooww, til it’s one block of ice in my booaat. (my Frozen theme song)
Well, thank goodness for Carolyn Shearlock and her Boat Galley website which details the how-to’s and the why for’s just about everything you’d want to know about cooking, eating, cleaning & storage solutions on a boat. Apparently, people DO defrost their fridges, some as often as every month or more. Whaaat??!! The frequency depends on how much humidity gets inside from higher outside temps, frequent openings, poorly sealed doors, etc…causing that frosty buildup.
Now that it’s April, we are suddenly sporting temps here in La Paz in the mid-90’s for the first time since we moved aboard. Connection? Hmmm.
After doing some more research and seeing a few scary pics of monster frosties taking over an entire freezer, I inspected my own freezer with a keener eye. It’s not horrible… OK my ice cube trays are permanently frosted to the freezer and I can’t shake loose that bottle of tea. Maybe it really does need to be cleared out. Can’t hurt. OK fine. I’ll do it. For you babe.
So here’s how I defrosted my top-opening boat freezer/fridge, combining techniques found online from boaters and RVers…
- Turn off fridge breaker and empty fridge. I loaded up all expensive perishables (cheeses and meats) into my insulated bag. I put the remainder (veges, drinks, condiments, eggs) under a couple blankets to temporarily insulate.
- Clean fridge. Better to Clorox the bottom of a dry fridge before melting in case there is anything gross in there you don’t want mixed with a ton of ice water. IE: I found an exploded roll of refrigerated pastry I’d had since October. (Noooo it wasn’t exploded since October. It’s been a month, or OK maybe two, since my last fridge cleaning…leaking chilies in adobo sauce…talk about gooey messy.)
- Melt. I placed a standard kitchen trash bag under the freezer to collect at least some water. Then I used my hair dryer on low setting, aiming it at the cold plate. Not too close though…don’t want to accidentally damage any wires or the cold plate. As it quickly melts, I gently pulled away large chunks of ice and threw them in the sink. This was the best piece of advice I found and kept me from having to sop up and wring out a gallon of icy water later.
- Sop & dry. Get the remaining water out with a good thick bilge sponge. Wipe dry as best as you can, Shamwow works great. I turned on my kitchen fan and directed it towards the fridge to help. There will be more that melts in a bit from the back where you can’t reach. So while you are waiting…
- Clean parts. Shelves, baskets, ice molds, etc. Let dry in sun. Here in 90 deg weather it doesn’t take long.
- Final dry and reload. Get the inside as dry as possible. Then wipe dry every beer bottle and coke can to reduce moisture back into the environment. Reload.
A week later:
After several days of monitoring the amp hours we have concluded that defrosting the fridge did in fact help… a little. The amps are still higher than normal; now about 6.5 per hour instead of 5, but better than 8. Brian reads that higher amp usage could be the result of the compressor dying in conjunction with having to run more often in the now hotter weather. It doesn’t help that the air-cooled compressor is inside the cockpit locker where there is zero air circulation for proper cooling.
As a test we added some 1” foam insulation (used on walls in houses) to the bottom section of the fridge, reducing the amount of space needing cooling by about 1/3rd, and rendering my entire beer/wine cellar useless. Sigh. While that is certainly a bummer, our amps seem to be further reduced, but still not back to prior usage.
So…we are torn as to whether to bite the bullet and get a new fridge. As many of you boaters know, it isn’t as simple as driving to Sears. There’s no easy direct replacement. Boat fridges are expensive, there are delivery concerns in Mexico, re-wiring, routing copper tubing, and installing of a new cold plate inside the fridge itself. We may need to build an additional base plate for the compressor if we decide to move it from the cockpit to inside the boat. Depending on the fridge type we decide upon, it could require a new through-hull which means an expensive haul-out. If the fridge dies suddenly we could go weeks or longer without refrigeration due to delivery and installation time.
So… do we just wait for the fridge to die, hoping it has a longer life expectancy than we think? Or do a pre-emptive strike and buy/install? Stay tuned.
The following photos show the small fridge/freezer space I have to work with. And now an even smaller space! Keep in mind there are many cruisers out there without refrigeration; it is cheaper and more energy efficient – but I just can’t do without my cold iced tea! FYI most of these photos will be boring unless you have a boat and deal with your own refrigeration issues.