Amish Made Refrigerator Cooling Units

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April 1, 2016 – The more I research about Norcold refrigerator failures and fires despite the numerous recall retrofit fixes, the more convinced I am that I must share this information with other RVers.  This page is about the Amish built alternative cooling units.  See all pages I’ve done on this issue linked in the column to the left and below.

When my four year old Norcold refrigerator quit cooling and needed a new cooling unit (the most expensive thing you can replace – over $1,000), I discovered how many different recalls over many years Norcold has done on several different models of these refrigerators and how ineffective they have been.  It was obvious the units kept failing, kept catching fire but Norcold continued with their cheap bandaids instead of spending what was necessary to completely redesign the units with stronger materials that would resist leaking under normal usage.

Amish made cooling unit

Amish made cooling unit

I read about cooling units made by the Amish on RV forums and saw how many respected RV service people and safety experts insisted they would use nothing else. I saw other positive feedback about them and that’s just further proof to me that these things can be built better, but Norcold opts not to.

At first, the RV service that had been working on mine was hesitant since the Amish units were not within their normal experience and an earlier model had problems.  And when the Service Manager called Norcold, she was told no way, shape or form are they ok with the Amish units and that if it was put into a Norcold refrigerator, they won’t warranty anything else on that refrigerator.  She said Dometic told her the same thing.  Well, of course they would say that since they want to keep selling their own products, but I think it may be illegal for Norcold to try to enforce that warranty threat.  In any case, from the extensive research I did, I’d rather take my chances with the better quality Amish built cooling unit since that’s the most expensive component and the one that keeps failing when made by Norcold, no matter how many retrofits they did to it.  Like my tech savy friend, Tab, told me, it’s a no-brainer decision and if the control box or thermistor went out, they are not expensive or hard to replace.

My friend, Marcus, an RVIA Certified Master Tech I have come to trust, told me that if I had any say in the matter, I would opt for a new Amish built cooling unit. His experience has shown they are much better quality than the Norcold and they cool much better.  He directed me to RVCoolingUnit.com and I then contacted David Force there who patiently answered my questions by email.  He also sent diagrams and pictures about installation and labels are on the units shipped out with complete instructions.

Good Question? He said the one question you need to ask is why would you purchase a Norcold made cooling unit when 100% of all their built coils have a recall, and the Amish units have zero recalls.  Also look at the differences in warranty offered.

Warranty differences:  The Amish cooling unit would have a 3 year replacement and a 5 year pro-rated for leaks.  The Norcold cooling unit would only be a one year replacement warranty. Both labor warranty is for 90 days.

Installation:  The change out for the Amish units and the Norcold is done the same. We make notes to have the foam pack sealed with the spray foam we ship with the cooling unit so it’s confirmed to be sealed.  Norcold uses thermal mastic to seal with, which is not made for sealing; it’s for cold transfer.  We send foil back tape to give a finished look around the backer same as Norcold.  The fans have a pre-made mounting rather than clamped to the coils of older style.

Other differences:  Per David: Norcold will not send you the replacement parts – they will only send to a dealer.  We will send the replacement parts straight to you.  I have been in the RV repair business for over 47 years, I have installed many cooling units of both Norcold and Dometic and the Amish by far has been the best, coldest, and better quality than any Norcold or Dometic OEM built coils.

Technical:  I reviewed the info in the Original Petition in a still-pending class action lawsuit (Etter vs. Thetford), that explains a lot about the technology and where the problems stem from.  Apparently the steel tubing used in the Norcold cooling units is not adequate to endure the stresses during normal operation.  Cracks happen causing flammable ammonia and hydrogen gas under high pressure to leak, resulting in fires.

The consensus I’ve gathered is that the Amish made units use stronger material that withstands these pressures better.

So I was determined that I would not accept another Norcold product if I could help it.  See  the installation process and pictures of both the old Norcold and new Amish made cooling units here:  My Amish Built Cooling Unit Install.

If I hadn’t been convinced before, I certainly was after talking with Mac The Fire Guy, a nationally known and respected RV fire safety expert.  He said you might as well refer to them as Norburns – it’s not a matter of if it will burn, but when.  His own Norcold failed four times before the final fail and he and another friend recommended Leon Herschberger in Shipshewana, IN.  I talked to Leon, but since that was not at all a convenient location for me to travel, he gave me the following information about sources for the Amish built units:

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Sources for Amish Cooling Units:

JC Refrigeration actually builds the units at their warehouse in Shipshewana, IN and you can buy factory direct and have it installed there.  I talked to JR and he said they started manufacturing refrigerators, gas fired fridges and freezers for the Amish community in 1994.  In 2004, Larry at Pines RV Refrigeration took over the refrigeration part.  They started building the RV cooling units in 2008 due to so many failures and fires caused by the Norcold models since the 90s.  One of the improvements they made was using thicker boiler tubing that withstands the pressures of operation better without rupturing and leaking.

JR said they are still a small company and not a huge robotic production line organization.  All units are individually tested and tried in a heat room before they leave the factory.  He said there were some issues in the first models, but mostly to do with mounting issues and not fitting in some spaces right.  The biggest failure rate is still when it is not installed correctly, despite the detailed information they send.  They started doing installs at the factory in 2010 to put their superior hands-on experience to good use.

Pines RV Refrigeration is the distributor who sells only to dealers and wholesalers.  Larry (who is JR’s brother in law) answered the following questions:

Q:  Did they start making these after seeing how defective the manufacturer brands were and how did they figure out what to do different than Norcold?
A:  We were uncomfortable to rebuild the Norcold 1200 because we thought the unit wasn’t big enough to start with, then we also started making other models.

Q:  How are Norcold problems different from Dometic?
A:  From what we can see both Norcold and Dometic have the same issues anymore, mostly leaking in the boiler area.

Q:  Price difference between Norcold cooling unit and what needed to replace with Amish (parts, labor estimate).
A:  It’s kinda hard to judge that because they are such big companies they can get their materials a lot cheaper. They have robots to do a lot of their work and we don’t.

(My note:  From everything I’ve seen, the Amish made units are less expensive than the original manufacturer. To me, that reflects even more badly on Norcold.)

Q:  David Force sent me list of service centers who install them near me at the time, but is there a more comprehensive nationwide list?
A:  We don’t have a comprehensive list of all the dealers and service centers that we supply at this time.  Maybe if we get we enough people asking for one, we could put something together.

Below is info from dealers and service centers who install them.  Here’s the info on my installation.

National RV Refrigeration – Leon Herschberger was recommended to me by a couple of RV friends.  He is a local install guy also in Shipshewana, IN, but basically all units come from Pines RV Refrigeration. Leon said the Amish built units are so well made, that 90% of the issue is about how it is installed and if not done correctly, it would not cool properly.  Most important that it’s level and no air can be drawn into the box.  He said it’s all about the contacts and getting it seated and sealed properly.  He said that if any installer is careful about these matters and reads the instructions, there would be no problems.  He did say it’s a little different since when replacing with Norcold, the holes are in the same place, pre-drilled, etc., but that’s about it.  And of course, what you’re getting there is another product made by Norcold that seems to be designed or at least destined to fail.

RV Cooling Unit Warehouse (RVCoolingUnit.com) – Leon said that David Force there doesn’t install, but is their online sales and customer service and is extremely helpful and knowledgeable with install issues.  As I said above, I found David to be really helpful to me and my friend, Tab, ordered a unit from him and said the same thing.  He can steer you to service centers who order and install these.

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More Info on Amish Cooling Unit:

Our Norcold to Amish Built Cooling Unit Change-Out (10 min. YouTube slide show detailing the process)  – These RVers replaced their Norcold Model 1200 series themselves with an Amish built one from David Force. Has pictures of yet undiscovered charring in the upper cabinet from the old burner flue exhaust and heat/condensation damage.  Related forum post from them with more info.  Their comments:  This was the second Norcold cooling unit in our fridge and this one could have not only burned our coach down but killed my wife while she was sleeping in the back of the coach! Then all the recall inconveniences and Norcold just says “Shut your unit off immediately” until the new or latest recall is performed,  like that is easy/convenient. After multiple recalls and a near fire, I just don’t trust them! We are full-timers. Not that this can’t happen with the Amish unit but at least it’s a different design, heavier duty, and has a standard 5 year warranty. We are willing to take the chance on them. So far, I haven’t heard of them causing one fire.

The Only Real Cure for a Norcold RV Refrigerator Problem – IRV2 forum post with YouTube slide show on installation of an Amish made unit.

IRV2 forum post:  My Norcold 1200’s cooling unit failed about two months ago. I installed an Amish cooling unit and could not be happier. I did the install myself … It was actually pretty easy to do. The cost was a little over a grand. If you want to keep your absorption fridge this is a viable option.

Another Norcold Warning (IRV2 forum) – Talks about the installation process and how important seating and sealing is.  Conclusion: Knowing what I know today – would I do it again? Yes I would. Especially since I don’t have to worry about leaks any more, but also because the performance of both the freezer and the fridge has improved substantially.

Why Cooling Units Fail (RVRefrigerator.net) – Has detailed pictures of Norcold boiler that overheated, showing the sodium chromate leaking from a fatigue crack in the boiler tube.  He says the Amish built units are not only heavier, but designed better.

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two-cents

Malia’s 2 Cents:  I’m so glad that my extended warranty company (XtraRide a/k/a Protective Asset Protection) approved the replacement of the failed unit with an Amish made one instead of insisting I go with Norcold factory made.  But many others are at the mercy of Norcold if they can’t afford to  pay out of pocket and feel they must accept the Norcold bandaid when they’re on the recall list.

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See pictures and details about my install on 4/7/16.

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All Malia’s Miles Norcold pages:

Norcold RV RefrigeratorsRecalls not Working

NHTSA & Norcold Class Action Lawsuit  ♦ Amish Made Cooling Units

  • Leslie Whitt Comer

    Girl, you are ROCKIn’ this one! Thank you so much for all your information, really. Any thoughts on what I should do about making my used motorhome purchase, other than hope I get lucky enough to stumble upon someone who’s gone a different route with their frig? Do you by chance know if I’ll be able to purchase XtraRide on an older motorhome, say 2000 or so?

    • Thanks, girlfriend! I just added a link to XtraRide so you can contact them. I bought mine with my motorhome and got the best deal available for a new unit (even though I was second owner it was still considered new enough to qualify). So I’d check with them about your circumstances,but also shop around.

      As for alternatives to Norcold or Dometic gas absorption type fridges, I understand more manufacturers are offering residential fridge option, but they require more house battery power, bigger inverter and solar power if you want to boondock. I’ve also heard from one friend who likes his 12 volt Danfoss compressor marine fridge.

      I’m still researching all this and hope to hear from others in comments if they have any suggestions or experiences to share.

      • Leslie Whitt Comer

        I poked around looking for one of these refrigerator/freezers online, and it was quite a game of hide and seek. When I did finally find one, it was what seemed really tiny to me (about 6.5 cu ft/ 2.5 cu ft) on sale for $1777 with a 5 year limited warranty on the compressor. I guess the extra money is worth risking, considering the odds. Norcold only offers a 1-year warranty but will be very happy to hook you up with extended coverage…ha!

        • Ha is right. That’s been their answer to compensate some of the other people who were on the recall list and lost food, disrupted travel plans, etc. several times when the same cooling unit keeps failing over and over again. They don’t take responsibility for anything except continuing to hawk their cheap defective products on the mostly unsuspecting public.

  • Thanks Rob! Like I said, I’ve kinda become obsessed because I know in 15 years of fulltiming, even with several recalls done on my older Norcold refrigerator, I was just not aware of the scope and true nature of these problems. It has been time consuming and a lot of work, but I’m glad to know people like you are finding it helpful. 🙂 I had just answered Leslie’s comment above before I read all of yours, but it looks like you’re talking about basically the same thing my other friend that I mentioned in my comment told me about. Thanks a bunch for this info!

    • Rob

      Yep, sounds like the same. Marine stores and companies that specialize in off grid living deal with them. Ours is a Nova Kool RFU9000. After installing it on our boat we do like it a lot! The fridge temp is very good, although the freezer temp could be a bit colder, but not a problem for our needs. It makes ice fine but the ice cream can be a bit soft. Power consumption is very low relatively speaking and I should be able to mostly power it off of our 280 watts of solar (two panels). However, there are issues with any manufacturer! Check out our post from last summer: http://myquantumdiscovery.com/chillin-or-not

      • Rob, I got a kick out of your question, “isn’t anything labelled with “marine” or “RV” always expensive?? True that! And I see you found out it wasn’t easy getting a new fridge in/out of a boat the same way it’s a big issue in an RV. And you’re so right on that there can be problems with any product from any manufacturer, and I’m glad your initial problem got settled relatively quickly. However, I still insist that Norcold has crossed the line between what any reasonable person would consider reasonable in terms of problems, reliability and service! 😉

        • Rob

          Yes I totally agree! It’s right up there with Ford and the Pinto gas tanks. It’s frustrating how some corporate cultures can foster this degree of negligence where people’s lives and property matter less than the bottom line. In the marine world consumers have some product safety representation by agencies like Boat/US, but besides the organizations you mentioned, it seems there is no similar representation for RV consumers? We have only a small readership on our blog, but if you think it will help I’ll do a post highlighting the issue and referencing your posts.

          • And I agree that it is right up there with other, more well known examples of corporate greed causing incalculable loss of property and life! I still don’t understand why we haven’t heard more about this, but I’m on a mission to get this word out to the very best of my ability no matter what. I have started with the NHTSA who I understand is the agency responsible for the public safety in this matter. But as my research continues, I will be contacting many other agencies and manufacturers to get some answers. And absolutely I’d appreciate your sharing this info with others on your blog or anywhere else. We may be starting small, but that’s the only way change happens in this world – when people care enough to stand up and say enough is enough! Thanks again for your support, Rob!

  • Daves nothere

    I finished the install on mine today, total time was a little over 3 hours from pulling it out to putting back in and starting up. 4 hours on gas and freezer was down to 3 degree on back wall and starting to freeze some gel packs I have in there to 38 degrees in the Lower box. Letting it run overnight to get a good solid temp reading of ambient temp. So far I am really happy to have this changed out and the Norcold coils out. I have the 611 fridge and my coils were $700 with shipping. Nothing was wrong with my other coils and honestly I have never had a fridge problem in 20 years of rv’ing but I am also not a good gambler. The $700 for the piece of mind when my wife and our dog along with me are in the RV is worth it. For those that can’t swing the cash outlay at a very minimum I would install a Halon fire suppression system. They are only about $175. Halon is an excellent system, we used them in race cars. Tab,

    • That’s great to know, Tab, thanks! Since I had a Norcold in my older 2000 motorhome for 12 years and it never quit working even with all the recalls, I am just now becoming aware of all the issues. It took this one going out in 4 years and it not being on the recall list (yet!) to make me start investigating more. Definitely the newer, larger 1200 series have the most problems and fires (which of course is what I have). It’s so easy to be complacent when it doesn’t concern you personally, but I’m pretty shocked at what I’ve found and that there hasn’t been more publicity or public outcry about it. Oh well, I’m trying… 🙂 Kudos to you for taking a proactive stand!

      • Mike Mobile

        Thanks for all the great information, I contacted David and ordered a set of rebuilt coils for my Dometic 2852. The installation was quick with a great fit and excellent instructions. We are in the first week of using the newly repaired fridge that is packed to the gills the fridge is maintaining 38 degrees F while the freezer is at -3 F.

        • Yay – thanks a bunch for sharing your experience!

  • Don Templeton

    I purchased a cooling unit from David Force aka rv cooling unit warehouse and it recently failed. I contacted David and they don’t stand behind there product. He offered only a few dollars discount and a reduced warranted on a replacement. The original unit from the manufacture Dominic lasted 7 years the cooling unit from Rv cooling unit warehouse lasted 5 years and 6 months.

    • I appreciate your feedback, Don, but ‘m surprised to hear that since others have remarked on how helpful and responsive David was. Have you tried contacting JC Refrigeration? They are the builder of the units and that info is provided above in Sources. Follow up would be appreciated, thanks!

      • Don Templeton

        Thanks for the suggestion. I just emailed JC Refrigeration. David offered a replacement for 575 including shipping.

        • Thanks for letting me know that!

          • Don Templeton

            I contacted the Manufacture JC Refrigeration and they took care of me.
            They pro rated a replacement unit. There support was great…
            I emailed them and they got back to me right away. I had a replacement unit in a few days. New unit is installed and Fridge is working perfectly again.

          • Don, from my communications with them, I would have been surprised if they had not fully satisfied you, so I really am glad to hear this. Thanks so much for letting me know!

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