A New Way to Chill Out

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

The Koolatron unit has very good reviews on Amazon.  That is important to me because in general most customer comments are pretty accurate, minus those from people who have an axe to grind.

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 brad52317@aol.com or post a comment.

Take care!

Brad

About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"
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12 Responses to A New Way to Chill Out

  1. This is interesting; I had no idea such things existed. So, under ideal conditions, a 60W solar panel would accommodate one of these? Just trying to figure out the neighborhood of battery draw.

    Roxanne

  2. Bradford says:

    Hi Roxanne! Thanks for commenting. If it was a perfect world, sixty watts would run the cooler.

    I would recommend a larger array – at least double. Solar panels don’t usually live up to their ratings. Some of the less expensive panels are way overrated. I’m planning on doing the 130 watt system. It won’t be adequate for running the fridge 24 hours a day but will help out with maintaining the batteries, especially on two or three day trips, etc.

    Have a good one!

  3. tippy says:

    So glad you reviewed this as I was interested in the Koolatron too. Im still working so I can bring it into the office during the day and bring it “home” during the night.

  4. Bradford says:

    Great idea, Tippy. The Koolatron might work well for you because it is lightweight and portable. Once the cooler has been tested a couple of weeks, I will post some impressions on the blog.

    Thanks for commenting. Take care!

  5. Pleinguy says:

    Sounds like a good choice. Consider using an Ice-Pak that you freeze ahead of time to assist in the cooling.

  6. Bradford says:

    Great point… I hadn’t even thought of that. Each trip to the pharmacy for insulin brings home a free ice pack. They are known to rupture occasionally but a freezer bag will help. A couple of those will do wonders. Thanks for the idea!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Speaking for the driver’s seat. AHHHH!!!
    Bob

  8. Anonymous says:

    11.5# Great
    Bob

  9. Bradford says:

    Yep, the driver’s seat will be happy that this driver’s “seat” is getting smaller. *grin*

  10. barbara says:

    I am in the process of becoming a van Dweller, one of the things I wondered about was a way to keep things cool. This sounds great.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Just got one P20 Koolatron last summer in a garage sale for 30$ and would never get rid of this ever! It really save my travel trips this year,wouldn’t be without it now.