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Old 06-19-2017, 02:50 PM   #1
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Refrigerator operation on propane at high elevation

I recently dry camped for a week at 8000 feet elevation. The frig was set on auto so with no AC, it switched to propane. It quickly became apparent that the frig was flaming out and restarting rather frequently. Checking the manual, it was clearly stated that propane should not be used above 5500 feet elevation. Thinking that DC would run down the batteries and not adequately keep frig at appropriate temperature, I chose to limp along on propane. I made it through the week OK but I'm wondering if there was any damage done to the frig and if there are any better options for high elevation operation?? Anyone with similar experience?
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Old 06-19-2017, 03:10 PM   #2
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I recently dry camped for a week at 8000 feet elevation. The frig was set on auto so with no AC, it switched to propane. It quickly became apparent that the frig was flaming out and restarting rather frequently. Checking the manual, it was clearly stated that propane should not be used above 5500 feet elevation. Thinking that DC would run down the batteries and not adequately keep frig at appropriate temperature, I chose to limp along on propane. I made it through the week OK but I'm wondering if there was any damage done to the frig and if there are any better options for high elevation operation?? Anyone with similar experience?
We have a 17 (2015 model) with a 3.0 cu.ft. frig. We run it on "auto", which means, unless we're plugged in to 120V-A.C., it runs on propane from the time we leave our driveway, until we return home. Some trips are 3 weeks. It stays on setting #4.
We regularly camp/fish at 6,000 to 10,000 feet elevations, and have had zero problems.
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Old 06-19-2017, 03:12 PM   #3
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Well, that is concerning because my home is at 5440 ft. elevation and all my local camping trips will be up from there.
Seems like that would be a orifice size issue with the design and a higher elevation modification could be designed. Still, surely there are others who camp at high elevations without a problem.
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Old 06-19-2017, 03:21 PM   #4
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Couple of days back country skiing at Lolo Pass (5233) without issues two years ago.
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Old 06-19-2017, 03:56 PM   #5
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I recently dry camped for a week at 8000 feet elevation. The frig was set on auto so with no AC, it switched to propane. It quickly became apparent that the frig was flaming out and restarting rather frequently. Checking the manual, it was clearly stated that propane should not be used above 5500 feet elevation. Thinking that DC would run down the batteries and not adequately keep frig at appropriate temperature, I chose to limp along on propane. I made it through the week OK but I'm wondering if there was any damage done to the frig and if there are any better options for high elevation operation?? Anyone with similar experience?
There's less oxygen at altitude of course, and thus the caveat from the fridge manual. I might suggest checking to see if you have adequate low pressure propane being supplied, which should be at or close to 11" of WC pressure. Manometers can be had cheaply, or you can make your own out of plastic tubing.

If you find as we did, that the stock pressure regulator doesn't provide the needed 11" of wc pressure, you might consider switching it out for a better one. We did, and have had zero problems since, regardless of altitude. If the pressure checks out, it might be something to do with the burner orifice, as others have mentioned.

https://www.amazon.com/Marshall-Exce.../dp/B00KTSBXJU
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Old 06-19-2017, 03:59 PM   #6
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We run our fridge almost exclusively on propane and have experienced similar issues at elevations around and above 9000 feet or so.

Close to 9000 feet, I can hear the fridge struggling to light, but to date it has still worked ok at that elevation (other than waking me up with the click-click-click noise).

But when camped closer to 10,000 feet last summer, the fridge flat out refused to light and the red error light went on. I switched to 12v power, but you are right that it runs down the batteries quickly. I think that 12V only works for brief periods during cool weather, with the assistance of good solar charging.

We have many more nights in the trailer between 5500 at 8500 feet with none of these issues at all running the fridge on propane.

Curious to hear if there is any good solution for high-elevation propane operation, as we have multiple trips coming up this summer where we'll be camped at 10,000 feet.
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Old 06-19-2017, 04:05 PM   #7
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Curious to hear if there is any good solution for high-elevation propane operation, as we have multiple trips coming up this summer where we'll be camped at 10,000 feet.
It's going to be difficult to keep the propane burner lit. Lack of oxygen. I'd suggest you nix the fridge altogether at such high elevations, and just use a cooler. No battery depletion from DC, and no struggling to keep it lit. Just ice. I highly recommend an RTIC cooler. Cheaper than the most popular brand the Yeti, and actually outperforms it.

https://www.rticcoolers.com/
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Old 06-19-2017, 04:20 PM   #8
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We're parked most of the summer over 7000 feet at our cabin and just got back from 5 nights over 9000 ft. Fridge on propane with no issues. I'd recommend a regulator replacement, especially if you have the one ETI was using for awhile with the two windows on top of each other with red/green flags. Wasn't a good regulator.
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Old 06-19-2017, 06:11 PM   #9
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Propane

On our recent excursion we had one afternoon and
evening where the refrigerator struggled to stay lit. It
was running on a less than half full tank of propane. I switched over to a full tank and got the partial filled the next day. Stayed lit on the full tank the rest of the trip. Once home I closely examined the whole propane system and while it had been working ok, for peace of mind, I replaced the regulator, pig tails and feed line down to the copper line that feeds the trailer. The new regulator has a 5 year warranty and the lines are all American made so I figure I'm good to go now for some time again. By my calculatio, we used 33 lbs of propane in our 4768 mile, 19 day journey and we were on propane for the refrigerator all but the 4 nights at Osoyoos. Lots of cool nights where the furnace ran where we could not plug in the electric heater and three propane campfires about an hour and a half or two hours at a shot. Very little indoor cooking. From my experience, a full tank works better than a low one.
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Old 06-19-2017, 06:18 PM   #10
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From my experience, a full tank works better than a low one.
You may be right Dave, but theoretically it shouldn't make a difference. The auto-changeover on the regulator should switch it once it senses a drop in pressure below the set amount.

We cured all ills with an upgraded Marshall Excelsior MEGR-253HP regulator. Seems to empty the service tank more thoroughly is the weird part.


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Old 06-19-2017, 06:38 PM   #11
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Regulator

Quote:
Originally Posted by rbryan4 View Post
You may be right Dave, but theoretically it shouldn't make a difference. The auto-changeover on the regulator should switch it once it senses a drop in pressure below the set amount.

We cured all ills with an upgraded Marshall Excelsior MEGR-253HP regulator. Seems to empty the service tank more thoroughly is the weird part.


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Hi Robert,
The Marshall is the one I purchased also. I took a couple days off to go hunting with my dad when I took high school physics. Missed out on Boyles law, Charles law, Lavoisier, all them guys. So I'm pretty weak on the pressure, temperature, sublimation, volatilization concepts but I did stay in a Holiday inn once.
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Old 06-24-2017, 02:21 PM   #12
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We're going to try our 2015 vintage RMD 8555 at ~ 9,100 feet (Dillon Reservoir) in a few weeks. I just switched to propane for the first time parked in front of our house at 5,280 feet, so we'll see how that goes. Has anyone had experience with this regulator made by Fairview?
Chuck
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Old 06-24-2017, 04:32 PM   #13
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Has anyone had experience with this regulator made by Fairview?
Chuck
Yes, that's the stock one we replaced with the MEGR-253H.

Give yours a shot, It may not be a problem. If it is, they're quick and easy to swap out. By the way, if you haven't measured the pressure with a manometer, it's very easy to do. I have a store bought manometer, but there are lots of homemade versions, like this guy did:



And a very good basic explanation of how a manometer works, here:

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Old 06-24-2017, 04:36 PM   #14
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Yep similar to the one that didn't work on our way home from pick up. Reace sent a replacement that was a different brand, I believe it is a Marshall and has worked great since.
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Old 06-24-2017, 06:09 PM   #15
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[QUOTE=rbryan4;203425]By the way, if you haven't measured the pressure with a manometer, it's very easy to do. I have a store bought manometer, but there are lots of homemade versions, like this guy did:



Duhh!

Robert, I forgot how simple manometers are to make and bought a test gauge. I wish I had seen this post before I did.

I regularly use a homemade water level to make level measureless over a distance, this is exactly that used a little different.

Thanks for the reminder.

Rich
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Old 06-24-2017, 06:46 PM   #16
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I'm speaking beyond my knowledge here, but I, too, believe the problem lies more with the supply of fuel through the regulator rather than lack of oxygen. Lots of people living above 10,000 feet elevation (Leadville, Colorado, for example) heat their homes through the winter with propane without losing pilot or burn flame. Or is that one of those comparing apples to oranges things?
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Old 06-24-2017, 08:27 PM   #17
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We're going to try our 2015 vintage RMD 8555 at ~ 9,100 feet (Dillon Reservoir) in a few weeks. I just switched to propane for the first time parked in front of our house at 5,280 feet, so we'll see how that goes. Has anyone had experience with this regulator made by Fairview?
Chuck
My results from today:
75 degree ambient temp, fridge set to max bars on 110V (5) fridge 37 deg F freezer 17 deg.
Switched to Propane, same ambient, temps rose to 39 and 19.
I'm obviously concerned about performance on a 90 degree day. As far as I can tell, I don't have a supplemental fan. Any logical first steps to improve the overall performance? I will check the propane pressure as well. I have read several of the threads on the 8555, but I'm somewhat overwhelmed on where to start. I'll be glad to start a new thread if this drifts from the original high altitude topic.
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Old 06-24-2017, 08:56 PM   #18
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My results from today:
75 degree ambient temp, fridge set to max bars on 110V (5) fridge 37 deg F freezer 17 deg.
Switched to Propane, same ambient, temps rose to 39 and 19.
I'm obviously concerned about performance on a 90 degree day. As far as I can tell, I don't have a supplemental fan. Any logical first steps to improve the overall performance? I will check the propane pressure as well. I have read several of the threads on the 8555, but I'm somewhat overwhelmed on where to start. I'll be glad to start a new thread if this drifts from the original high altitude topic.
I'm going to throw you a curve ball here. You have less oxygen at high altitude. But, your regulator is factory set to deliver 11" of water column pressure. So, same amount of propane being delivered by the regulator, but less air to mix with to provide combustion. That means you may need LESS pressure coming from your regulator at high altitudes - not MORE.

Most of these regulators can be adjusted. There's a screw cap cover that you remove, then adjust the pressure with a screwdriver. It means you need a manometer to determine how much to adjust it however, unless you want to try hit and miss, which I would not advise. Many people who RV at high altitudes (say 8000 to 10,000 feet) suggest that you may need to drop the pressure to as low as 7 or 8 inches of WC pressure before your combustion (and therefore your BTU output) is around the same as at lower altitudes.
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Old 06-24-2017, 09:15 PM   #19
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Makes sense. Just like you need to lean the jets of a naturally aspirated carburetor on a gas combustion engine at higher altitude. Less fuel per volume of air to better match the less oxygen within that volume of air. I use that same rationale as an excuse to do less physical labor at high altitude.
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Old 06-24-2017, 09:19 PM   #20
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I use that same rationale as an excuse to do less physical labor at high altitude.
And who said science wasn't practical?


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