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SAFETY AROUND PROPANE FIRED REFRIGERATORS

 

Absorption refrigerators use extremely pure ammonia as a refrigerant. Ammonia has pungent, sharp and irritating odour to it. In high concentrations it will burn the eyes often causing blindness. If inhaled in high concentrations it will burn the lung tissue. In sufficiently high quantities it will cause death. If a refrigerant leak is suspected in an absorption refrigerator leave the area immediately.

 

Never cut or drill into an absorption refrigerating mechanism. The refrigerant can be under extremely high pressure and is very toxic (see above).

 

Never use an open flame to check for propane leaks on any gas appliance. A non-ammonia based soap and water solution should be used. Bubbles produced around a fitting after soaping indicates a leak. Any leak found should be repaired immediately before attempting to light the burner.

 

The flue on your propane refrigerator should be inspected and cleaned at least every two months minimum. Any time the refrigerator has been idle with the burner off the flue and burner should be checked before lighting for the presence of spider nests and webs. ( see troubleshooting guide )

 

Only approved materials and fitting should be used to install a propane appliance. Generally speaking most jurisdictions require a two stage regulator with full relief capacity between the propane tank and supply line to the appliance. Rubber hose is normally not permitted inside a residential or commercial structure to supply propane to the appliance. If in doubt about the safety of the installation contact a qualified licensed gas fitter or your local gas safety inspection branch.

 

Never block the flue on a propane refrigerator. If the flue is to be extended outside the building use only an approved flue extension kit and follow the manufacturers recommendations.

 

If the propane refrigerator also uses a 12 volt or 120 volt heater make sure the electrical supply  for the refrigerator is installed to electrical codes in your area. Please consult a qualified licensed electrician or your electrical safety officer.

 

Never use a sharp object such as a screwdriver, chisel or pick to chip ice from the evaporator inside the refrigerator box. You risk puncturing the sealed system and causing the ammonia refrigerant to leak out ( see notes above )

 

Do not store flammable liquids near the refrigerator. Your absorption refrigerator uses an open flame which could ignite any flammable liquids placed nearby.

 

If you smell gas open windows, do not touch electrical switches, extinguish any open flames, shut off gas supply at bottle and call your nearest service company or gas supplier.

TROUBLESHOOTING PROPANE FIRED ABSORPTION REFRIGERATORS

 

 

 

MANUFACTURERS RECOMMENDATIONS

 

The items below are of a general nature. Always consult the owners manual that came with the appliance for manufacturers recommended installation and troubleshooting procedures.

 

FLEX CONNECTORS

 

It is strongly recommended to install the refrigerator with an approved shut off valve and an approved stainless steel flex connector of the appropriate size and length. This will allow the refrigerator to be moved should something fall behind it or maintenance must be carried out.

 

ABSORPTION REFRIGERATORS ARE DIFFERENT

 

The absorption refrigerator does not have an electrically driven compressor like the refrigerator you have at home does. As a result it is noiseless in its operation. You cannot tell if it working simply by listening. Within about one hour from the time it is lit the freezer compartment temperature should start to noticeably drop. To reach proper operating temperature often takes from six to twelve hours depending on the size of the refrigerator and the ambient temperature in the room. Leaving the refrigerator empty for the first few hours will decrease the time required for the refrigerator to reach operating temperature. See also troubleshooting guide on loading your refrigerator with food.

 

GENERAL TROUBLESHOOTING TIPS

 

 

Check the gas supply is on. It’s amazing the number of times we miss the simple things !

 

Make sure the refrigerator is level. Absorption refrigerators must be level to operate correctly. Most cabin type propane fired refrigerators have adjustable leveling legs that can be screwed or unscrewed from the four corners of the body of the refrigerator. Use these to properly level the refrigerator.

 

Check the door gaskets and doors for a proper seal. Door gaskets can tear and door hinge screws can loosen causing doors to not close properly. A partially open door or torn door gasket can lead to reduced cooling and excessive consumption of fuel. Check the door hinge screws to make sure they are not loose. If they are loose square the door to the body of the refrigerator, make sure it closes properly and retighten the hinge screws. If the door gasket is torn contact your dealer for a new gasket.

 

 

Excessive ice buildup in the freezer compartment. Your absorption refrigerator must be manually defrosted on a routine basis to prevent excessive ice buildup in the freezer compartment and loss of cooling ability. If excessive ice has built up in the freezer compartment the refrigerator should be shut down, empty the freezer compartment and door left open. Never use a sharp instrument to chip away at the ice as you risk puncturing the sealed system. (See safety around propane refrigerators). Never use an open flame, heat gun, boiling water etc. to melt ice. Allowing the ice to melt naturally, while more time consuming, is the safest way to defrost the refrigerator. While the ice is melting a maintenance check of the burner system should be carried out and the flue cleaned as required. If you defrost the refrigerator on a regular basis before the ice becomes too thick defrost time and propane consumption will be minimized.

 

Make sure the flue is not blocked. Sometimes something may be rested on top of the refrigerator that will block the flue ( a book for example ) or the refrigerator may have been placed under a shelf which is blocking the flue gases from exiting the flue. Something may have fallen off the top of the refrigerator into the flue and cause a blockage.

 

 

Make sure the flue (chimney) on the refrigerator is clean. If the propane burner on your refrigerator is working properly there should be virtually no soot in the flue. If soot is present the burner requires servicing. Soot would also indicate the production of carbon monoxide. If this is the case use of the refrigerator should be discontinued immediately until the sooting problem has been found and repaired. When cleaning the flue it is important the burner assembly be off ( no flame present ). The burner should be covered to prevent rust etc. from falling into the burner. Most propane fired refrigerators come with a long handled brush to clean the flue. If you do not have this brush you should obtain one at your local propane refrigerator parts depot. Sometimes the flue is in two pieces. You must remove the top portion of the flue as the flue cleaning brush is often not long enough to completely clean both pieces of the flue at once. Always make sure the flue is reassembled correctly after cleaning. Carefully remove the protective cover from the burner, making sure you do not drop and rust etc. into the burner when doing so. Relight the burner as recommended by the manufacturer.

 

Check flue baffle for correct position. The flue baffle is an auger shaped piece of sheet metal about 6 inches long that hangs in the flue by a wire attached (usually) at the top of the flue. Should the flue baffle fall down it can block the burner passage to the flue. If this is found to be the case recover the flue baffle and install it in the correct position in the flue. See also procedures for inspection and cleaning of the flue.

 

Check for spider webs and nests. Spiders will often build webs or nests in both the refrigerator flue and burner orifice holder. They can accomplish this task often in just a few hours. Any time the refrigerator burner is not working for any length of time an inspection for spider webs and nests should be carried out. If a web or nest is detected it should be removed before lighting the refrigerator burner. A spider can build a web or nest in a matter of a few hours. The web or nest can block air into the burner assembly causing poor combustion that leads to carbon monoxide. The webs will also prevent flue gases from exiting properly from the flue so it is important to be vigilant for spider activity in and around the burner and flue area of your refrigerator.

 

Make sure the fins inside the refrigerator box and on the back of the refrigerator are clean. If the fins are dirty poor airflow will result around these components. This leads to inefficiency in cooling.

 

 

Check gas supply pressure. Typically a propane fired absorption refrigerator requires a propane inlet pressure of 11 inches water column ( W.C. ) pressure. Testing the pressure requires use of a manometer and knowledge of gas fitting. If in doubt about the gas pressure supplied to the refrigerator contact a local licensed and qualified gas fitter to check the pressure. When operating correctly the burner should have a blue flame with no yellow tipping or soot being produced.

 

Tilt the refrigerator to remove a possible blockage in the sealed system. If the refrigerator burner is lit and the refrigerator is not cooling tilt the refrigerator to the right for about 30 seconds then tilt it to the left for about 30 seconds. Do this three or four times then put the refrigerator in the upright and level position. If the refrigerator does not cool you may have a fault in the sealed system.

 

Check the pipe on the back of the refrigerator to the condenser for overheating. If the pipe is overheated excessive blistering of the paint and possibly corrosion will often be evident. If  overheating is suspected shut off the gas supply, disconnect the refrigerator from the supply line and make the gas supply line safe from leakage. Turn the refrigerator upside down to put the fluids in the sealed system in their proper place. You may have to do this several times. Reconnect the refrigerator to the propane supply once this is completed. Leak test all joints and make sure no propane joints are leaking. Relight the burner and restart the refrigerator with a lower heat input to the boiler (generator).

 

Check for leaks in the sealed system. Absorption refrigerators use pure ammonia as a refrigerant. A yellow deposit will often collect at the source of a possible refrigerant leak and an ammonia odour will be present. Ammonia is extremely toxic and corrosive. If a leak is suspected the refrigerator should be disconnected immediately and removed to a well ventilated area. The propane supply line should be made safe.

 

Gas supply line kinked or clogged. Older installations often left a loop of copper propane supply line behind the refrigerator to allow the unit to be moved away from the wall for cleaning etc. This type of installation is prone to kinking of the supply line. A stainless steel flex connector in place of the loop of copper will solve this problem. There is also a possibility that oil has migrated with the propane causing regulator diaphragms or control valves to stick open or closed. Generally speaking if oil has found its way into the propane supply replacement of the suspect part is usually advisable.

 

Overloaded cabinet. Placing large quantities of very warm food or putting hot cooking vessels into the refrigerator to cool them will have an adverse effect on the refrigerators ability to cool.

 

Frozen gas pressure regulator. It is possible for the diaphragm in the regulator that regulates the pressure to the propane appliances to freeze. The regulator has a vent opening in it. If the regulator is mounted on the outside of the cabin or house with the vent pointing “up” it is possible for water to get into the regulator. If the temperature outdoors drops below freezing the water inside the regulator will freeze causing the regulator to lock up. If this happens the gas supply should be shut down and the regulator disconnected from the system. The open lines left after disconnecting the regulator should be capped so no dirt can enter. The regulator should be taken into a warm area and gently thawed. Once thawed the water can be shaken out through the vent opening. The regulator should be thoroughly dried before reinstalling it. Never try to thaw the regulator while it is still attached to the propane system. Never use an open flame, heat gun or similar device to thaw the regulator. It should be allowed to thaw at room temperature. Using excessive amounts of heat to hurry the process could warp the regulator casting causing the regulator to leak. If, after thawing, the regulator freezes again you should replace the regulator with a new one as there is still water in it. Regulators are normally not field serviceable so never attempt to service one. Make sure when reinstalling the regulator the vent is pointing “down” so water cannot enter it.

 

Check the thermocouple. Most propane appliances use a thermocouple as part of a flame safety device. A thermocouple is a device that has two dissimilar metals, that when heated, produce a small DC voltage. The output of a single thermocouple is very small – in the order of 30 millivolts. A millivolt is one, one thousandth of one volt ! The thermocouple has a tip on it that looks like the end of a large finishing nail and normally is mounted on the appliance burner where the flame from the burner can heat the tip of the thermocouple. If the thermocouple has moved for any reason and the burner flame cannot impinge on the tip of the thermocouple the gas valve will not be held open allowing gas to flow to the burner. When you depress the gas valve to light the burner it will light but as soon as the valve is released the burner will go out. This could be an indication that the thermocouple is not getting hot enough. If the flame is impinging on the thermocouple properly then check the connections to the gas valve and make sure the end of the thermocouple going into the gas valve is clean and snug. If this is all correct then possibly the thermocouple has simply failed due to age – at which point it must be replaced.

 

Check the safety device. Most modern propane refrigerators are equipped with a carbon monoxide detector. The purpose of the detector is to monitor room air for the presence of carbon monoxide. If it detects the presence of CO it will shut the refrigerator down to stop further production of deadly CO. Never ignore the warning given by the CO detector or bypass the CO detector feature. If the CO detector goes sounds an alarm immediately shut the refrigerator off. . Check the battery in the CO detector to make sure it is not weak. Replace the battery as required. Follow the manufacturers recommendations included with the refrigerator and/or CO detector. Follow the troubleshooting guide for incorrect combustion. Never restart the refrigerator until any problem has been found and corrected.

 

Cleaning the orifice. If you should decide to remove the burner orifice for inspection never try to clean it using a drill bit, wire etc. The orifice hole is extremely small, often less than 13 1/1000th’s of an inch in diameter ! If you pick at it with a metal object it is very easy to enlarge the orifice hole significantly which can lead to over fueling and possible carbon monoxide production. If you must attempt to clean the orifice a piece of straw from a straw broom is soft enough to clean the orifice but not enlarge the hole. If the orifice is of the ruby style be careful you do not push the ruby out of the orifice holder.

 

Inspect the temperature thermostat. On most cabin type propane refrigerators the thermostat is an analogue type of control. This type of control regulates temperature by sensing the temperature inside the refrigerator box and automatically reducing or increasing the flow of fuel to the burner. This type of thermostat is generally not field serviceable. Before condemning a thermostat always make sure the capillary tube is attached to where it should be in your particular refrigerator. If the capillary tube has been moved it may not be able to sense the temperature properly thereby causing the refrigerator to freeze everything or run too warm.

 

Troubleshooting Chart

 

Trouble                                             Possible Cause                                  Possible Remedy

 

Burner flame does not stay lit                      Thermocouple out of position                        Adjust thermocouple

                                                   

Dirty or loose thermocouple                              Clean and tighten  thermocouple                                                      connection to gas valve

 

                                                                        Thermocouple failed                             Replace thermocouple

 

                                                                        Safety device failed                             Replace safety device

 

                                                                        Defective orifice                                  Clean or replace orifice

 

                       

Thermostat at “max” but                 Door gaskets not sealing              Repair or replace gaskets

Fridge not cooling well

                                                                        Thermostat failed                                  Replace thermostat

 

                                                                        Thermostat out of calibration                     Replace thermostat

 

                                                                        Supply gas pressure too low             Check gas supply & regulator

 

                                                                        Gas supply cock closed              Open supply cock

 

                                                                        Defective orifice                                  Clean or replace orifice

 

                                                                       

Thermostat at “min” but                 Thermostat failed                                  Replace thermostat

Interior temp is below

Freezing                                                     Thermostat out of calibration                     Replace thermostat

 

                                                                        Thermostat capillary out of               Install thermostat capillary

                                                                        Position                                                correctly

 

 

 

Burner flame is soft or                      Burner air passage clogged                        Clean air passage

yellow                                                         

                                                                        Flue clogged                                                Clean flue

 

                                                                        Improper orifice function                        Clean or replace orifice

 

                                                                        Burner not centred under flue                     Centre burner under flue

 

Burner flame is hard                          Improper orifice function                        replace orifice

 

                                                                        Incorrect gas pressure (too high)            Check gas pressure

 

                                                                        Baffle missing in flue                            Replace baffle

 

Refrigerator not cooling                    No fuel                                     Check propane level in tank

 

                                                                        Refrigerator not level                             Level refrigerator

 

                                                                        Leak in sealed system                           Check for leak

 

                                                                        Liquid in sealed system in                      Tilt refrigerator or turn

                                                                        Incorrect position                                 upside down