After much thought, I have decided upon the solution needed for refrigeration. Earlier this year I tried a large ice cooler with a hose running through the floor of the van. It didn’t work out well. The ice was expensive and the drain hose seemed to accelerate the melting (by introducing warm air).
The topic of keeping food and drink cold was on hold for some time because it was necessary to do some research. There were concerns including the amount of current draw, what technology was available, how reliable the various units are, etc. After exploring different options, I purchased a model that will be a big help in the coming days… It is a Canadian-made, Koolatron P20 thermoelectric cooler. Most campers have been exposed to this technology but the following article is still worth reading: Thermoelectric Overview
Though I think this model will work just fine, there are limitations to thermoelectric coolers. Such a device is not like a refrigerator that uses a compressor and freon. This type of unit uses a fan to pump heat energy out of the cooler and it takes longer to get cold. Food and beverages are chilled to about 40 degrees colder than ambient air. On an 80 degree day, that means things the contents will be at 40 degrees… That’s acceptable. As long as the Koolatron is operated before the start of a really hot day, the insulation will keep everything chilled enough on those 100 degree scorchers.
Another limitation to this design is that you cannot dump ice or liquids into the Koolatron. Liquids can get into the fan, short things out, and cause the unit to fail. Ice must be kept in sealed containers such as Rubbermaid storage boxes, etc. Properly stored ice or frozen items (such as a package of spinach) will also help lower the temperature quicker. I’ll bet a small bit of dry ice would help out a lot in the initial cooling… The manufacturer advises that if you do wish to store ice, it will last much longer in the Koolatron vs. a conventional cooler.
The Koolatron takes a while (several hours) to chill its contents. I plan to pre-cool it overnight before a trip. Beverages will be purchased cold, if possible. Food leftovers will be allowed to cool a bit (perhaps even using the van’s own air conditioner) before being placed in the unit. Most cooking ingredients will already be cold (i.e. fruits, veggies, meats, fats) before being packed for an outing.
So with all of these limitations, are there any identifiable advantages?
1) Ice savings – It was costing me about $5 for ice on each hot day
2) Thermo electric coolers are affordable – about $99.99 including shipping
3) Highly rated – over 4 stars on Amazon – higher if you factor out the bad posts
4) Nice size – 18 quarts. For a single person that’s plenty of space. The cooler can go between the seats or behind a seat.
5) Flexible power – The Koolatron can be run from the 63AH starting battery with a special adapter to shut off the cooler should the charging battery drop below 11V. It can also powered from the house batteries or with a 110VAC to 12VDC shore power adapter.
6) Easy to repair and maintain – Should the fan crap out, it is possible to get a computer CPU fan and adapt it to repair the unit. Other than the fan, there’s nothing to service. Just vaccum the dust out of the fan once in a while.
7) One of the biggest pluses….Cold Diet Coke.
I am excited to add this cooler to the van. It will be helpful even during winter camping trips. The van stays at 75 most of the time with the heater running on 110V shore power. That means the Koolatron will be around 35 degrees, perfect for cold Diet Coke.
I am curious what others are using for refrigeration. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment.