15 steps to a New Fridge Upgrade

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 1. The galley as it was. Inset: here’s the original coolbox—insulation? What insulation?

1. The galley as it was. Inset: here’s the original coolbox—insulation? What insulation?

The coolbox on our Norlin 34 was scarcely worthy of the name. You could almost watch the ice melt inside it, and if we wanted to be sure of cold drinks on our weekend cruises we had to tote a cooler aboard. I’d long played with the idea of adding more insulation to the box and retro-fitting a 12-volt refrigeration unit to it, but when I sat down and worked out what was involved in such a project—and how long it would take—I quickly started thinking about other options.

[advertisement]More and more new production boats are appearing with drop-in or slot-in, self-contained fridge/freezer units—much like the small bar fridge I have in my office. Why shouldn’t I install one of those? The promised ease of installation appealed to my innate laziness.

Some quick research unearthed more options than I would have thought possible. I could buy a portable 12-volt fridge in any one of a number of sizes, and stash it under a bunk. I could have an icemaker, or a front-opening fridge or one with pullout drawers. Or I could install a good old-fashioned top-opening coolbox with an evaporator or cold plate, either with an integral compressor or one that could be installed remotely. I had plenty of room under the galley island for a compressor, so this plan began to sound sensible.

 2. The new coolbox/compressor combo weighed in at 44 pounds

2. The new coolbox/compressor combo weighed in at 44 pounds

The first step was to remove the galley countertop and existing coolbox so I could determine how much room I had to play with. That coolbox had less than half an inch of cork “insulation”—no wonder it wouldn’t keep ice! I found the sink was rusted out around its fixings, so decided to replace that also—which would mean making a new countertop.

After taking the relevant measurements, I spent a couple of hours with my old friend Google, researching my options. It didn’t take long to narrow them down. Measuring 24.6in x 13.4in x 19.7in, Indel Marine’s Isotherm BI 41 build-in coolbox fitted the available space almost perfectly; with a capacity of 1.5 cubic feet it would be plenty adequate for weekending and coastal cruising, and it was made of stainless steel both inside and out (not true of all makers), with the evaporator concealed in the wall of the box. It came with a trusty Danfoss BD35 compressor (common to most marine refrigeration systems) that could be installed up to six feet away. With quick-connect fittings on the piping so that even a ham-fisted type like me could hook compressor to evaporator without wasting the refrigerant, it looked like an easy DIY project.

 3. Most modern refrigeration systems use the compact and reliable Danfoss compressor—this is the BD35 model

3. Most modern refrigeration systems use the compact and reliable Danfoss compressor—this is the BD35 model

However, after consulting SAIL’s systems guru, Nigel Calder, I decided to add an extra layer of complexity by specifying Isotherm’s SP (Self Pumping) watercooling system. For the kind of use my fridge would get, Nigel strongly advised an evaporator over a holding plate, and told me the water cooling would be a boon should I ever take the boat into southern waters. The SP system is basically a heat exchanger contained within a through-hull fitting, which meant I would have to remove the existing galley drain seacock and through-hull. Oh, and it would require a larger hole.

 4. The box is a snug fit under the galley counter. After cutting the divider to slot the box in, I blocked it in place with 1in x 2in pine battens

4. The box is a snug fit under the galley counter. After cutting the divider to slot the box in, I blocked it in place with 1in x 2in pine battens

So the steps in the project would be: strip down the galley island and remove the old coolbox; install the new box and fix it in place; mount the compressor; remove the galley drain through-hull and seacock and replace it with the SP unit; hook up the tubing; connect the compressor to the power supply; replace the galley countertop, the sink and its plumbing. Easy, right? Actually it was, if a little more time-consuming than I’d bargained for.

 5. Using a holesaw, I cut an opening big enough to run the tubing and wires under the the galley

5. Using a holesaw, I cut an opening big enough to run the tubing and wires under the the galley

 6. There was enough room on either side of the box to add 2 inches of closed-cell foam for extra insulation

6. There was enough room on either side of the box to add 2 inches of closed-cell foam for extra insulation

8 The existing through-hull had to come out to make way for the larger-diameter SP unit. Enlarging a hole is a tiresome business, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I hammered a wooden plug into the through-hull and sawed it off flush. The plug gave the saw bit something to bite on, enabling me to use a holesaw of the correct diameter for the SP through-hull to cut out the entire existing assembly9 The new through-hull slotted into its hole nicely. I bedded it in 3m 4200 after epoxying a fiberglass backing plate to the inside of the hull, which is nearly an inch thick in this part of the boat. Then I bolted on the new seacock supplied with the SP assembly10 Quick-connect couplings are supposed to retain the refrigerant charge during assembly

7. I mounted the compressor under the galley cabinet, close to the box and the galley drain (removed in this pic)

 8. The existing through-hull had to come out to make way for the larger-diameter SP unit. Enlarging a hole is a tiresome business, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I hammered a wooden plug into the through-hull and sawed it off flush. The plug gave the saw bit something to bite on, enabling me to use a holesaw of the correct diameter for the SP through-hull to cut out the entire existing assembly9 The new through-hull slotted into its hole nicely. I bedded it in 3m 4200 after epoxying a fiberglass backing plate to the inside of the hull, which is nearly an inch thick in this part of the boat. Then I bolted on the new seacock supplied with the SP assembly10 Quick-connect couplings are supposed to retain the refrigerant charge during assembly

8. The existing through-hull had to come out to make way for the larger-diameter SP unit. Enlarging a hole is a tiresome business, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I hammered a wooden plug into the through-hull and sawed it off flush. The plug gave the saw bit something to bite on, enabling me to use a holesaw of the correct diameter for the SP through-hull to cut out the entire existing assembly9 The new through-hull slotted into its hole nicely. I bedded it in 3m 4200 after epoxying a fiberglass backing plate to the inside of the hull, which is nearly an inch thick in this part of the boat. Then I bolted on the new seacock supplied with the SP assembly10 Quick-connect couplings are supposed to retain the refrigerant charge during assembly

9. The new through-hull slotted into its hole nicely. I bedded it in 3m 4200 after epoxying a fiberglass backing plate to the inside of the hull, which is nearly an inch thick in this part of the boat. Then I bolted on the new seacock supplied with the SP assembly

9. The new through-hull slotted into its hole nicely. I bedded it in 3m 4200 after epoxying a fiberglass backing plate to the inside of the hull, which is nearly an inch thick in this part of the boat. Then I bolted on the new seacock supplied with the SP assembly

10. Quick-connect couplings are supposed to retain the refrigerant charge during assembly

10. Quick-connect couplings are supposed to retain the refrigerant charge during assembly

 11. After checking and double-checking the instructions, I joined the tubing together

11. After checking and double-checking the instructions, I joined the tubing together

12. After running the new galley drain hose to the seacock, I started tidying up the assorted wiring and plumbing

12. After running the new galley drain hose to the seacock, I started tidying up the assorted wiring and plumbing

13. I used 14-gauge cable to hook up the compressor to the 12V power supply and sealed the terminals with liquid plastic. Then I connected the wires from the thermostat (inset). Isotherm recommends hooking up the power feed directly to the battery using the supplied fuse. The on/off switch is on the thermostat inside the box

13. I used 14-gauge cable to hook up the compressor to the 12V power supply and sealed the terminals with liquid plastic. Then I connected the wires from the thermostat (inset). Isotherm recommends hooking up the power feed directly to the battery using the supplied fuse. The on/off switch is on the thermostat inside the box

14. It’s nearly all over—I just need to finish off the raw plywood edges of the cutout for the fridge lid. I had already filled in part of the sink cutout to take the smaller, deeper stainless sink I was installing. Then I epoxied formica to the worktop and cut it to size with a laminate trimmer. I had a piece of mahogany left over from a previous project, and decided to use that as a cutting board. The extra weight also keeps the fridge lid firmly shut

14. It’s nearly all over—I just need to finish off the raw plywood edges of the cutout for the fridge lid. I had already filled in part of the sink cutout to take the smaller, deeper stainless sink I was installing. Then I epoxied formica to the worktop and cut it to size with a laminate trimmer. I had a piece of mahogany left over from a previous project, and decided to use that as a cutting board. The extra weight also keeps the fridge lid firmly shut

15. Confession time—I had to unbolt one of the connectors in order to reroute the tubing to make room for water plumbing under the galley. With a hiss, the refrigerant vanished. I eventually bought a refill kit from an auto parts store and recharged it myself. It works beautifully—here you can see frost forming on the inside of the box. Power consumption averages out at just over an amp

15. Confession time—I had to unbolt one of the connectors in order to reroute the tubing to make room for water plumbing under the galley. With a hiss, the refrigerant vanished. I eventually bought a refill kit from an auto parts store and recharged it myself. It works beautifully—here you can see frost forming on the inside of the box. Power consumption averages out at just over an amp

Contacts

Defender, defender.com

Dometic, dometic.com

Engel, engel-usa.com

Indel Marine, indelwebastomarine.com

Norcold, thetford.com

Waeco, waeco.com

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