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Author Topic: Norcold Refrigerator Fires  (Read 10700 times)

Duner

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Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« on: April 06, 2013, 04:48:25 PM »
A little over a year ago I saw the remains of a burned out motorhome caused by a Norcold refrigerator.   I have a Norcold 1200 that had the recall done in Oct 2010 and I was searching the internet to see if this last recall has been effective in stopping the fires.    What I found out is that the fires continue.  So what can I do to detect the problem before a fire, suppress a fire if started, or replace the cooling unit or entire fridge?  My goal with this thread is to relay some info I've garnered.

I spent an hour on the phone with the lawyer that represents a couple from Northern CA, whose Norcold caught fire in the middle of the night, burned the rv, which was next to their house that caught fire.   The husband that was seriously injured trying to save his Harley Davidson in the garage.

In court depositions this lawyer has interviewed Norcold engineers & management and was given copies of quality records of reported customer rv fires.   Since 1999, over 2000 customer complaints of fires.  And he said Norcold continues to use the same design in the burner where the tubing wall thickness is too thin and develops cracks over time which leaks out the highly combustible ammonia and hydrogen gas.
 
Additionally he said, Norcold continues to install recall ineffective kits which detect high temps, that is too little too late.  The rv fires keep on happening (even with the latest recall).  He said a more effective way to prevent a fire is to detect abnormally high pressure and shut down the fridge and set an alarm before the temps get too high.   Of course the best recall would be to replace the burner tubing with a more robust design, but that would be very costly.
 
He said there are two tell-tale signs of a cooling system leak, besides the acrid smell of ammonia.  One is to look for a yellowish white powder residue around/under the burner area.  The other is to listen for a gurgling sound when the Norcold is running.

I hope this helps folks understand the issues related to a very serious fire potential.
Bill   


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Jim Godward

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2013, 04:55:53 PM »
Thanks, and don't forget Dometic has the same issues.

BTW,  I can remember absorption refrigerator fires from when I was a small boy over 70 years ago.  This is and has been a problem with these refers all this time.  My dad would not have one in the house.  I remember we had an ice box on the back porch but we had a GE refer in the kitchen, one with the coils on top.  I think I understood that dad got it about the time I was born, or at least before I have any memory of anything else.
Jim
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Gary RVer Emeritus

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2013, 10:00:33 AM »
For those who are concerned about a fridge fire, install an automatic fire extinguisher system in the cooling unit area. Or better yet, replace it with a residential type fridge (requires an inverter to power it).
Here are a couple that should work:
http://www.rvcoolingunit.net/servlet/the-Halon-Fire-Fight1-Extinguishers*****/Categories
http://rvcoolingunit.com/SS-25-Halon-Extinguisher-Auto-Deploy-P1872182.aspx

Quote
He said there are two tell-tale signs of a cooling system leak, besides the acrid smell of ammonia.  One is to look for a yellowish white powder residue around/under the burner area.  The other is to listen for a gurgling sound when the Norcold is running.

While those are indeed signs of a cooling unit leak, you probably won't have a fire if it reaches the stage where those signs are evident. In other words, the coolant has already leaked out if you see/smell that. And you have probably also noticed the lack of cooling inside the fridge.  If you think your fridge isn't cooling well, that's probably a warning that you should be inspecting for other signs of a coolant leak, but your chances of actually seeing or smelling something in time to prevent a fire are slim, in my opinion.  A more proactive method is to periodically inspect the metal boiler tubing for rust, since that is likely where a pinhole will develop and allow a jet of coolant gas to escape. That's the time of the fire danger - it can ignite if it contacts something hot enough. Once it has escaped without igniting, the danger is pretty much over.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2013, 10:05:14 AM by Gary RV Roamer »
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Mopar1973Man

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #3 on: April 07, 2013, 08:09:39 PM »
Like Gary pointed out its all about the hydrogen leaking out into a open flame that will typically get the fire going. Like myself I typically take a quick peek at the burner on the fridge and make sure there is no signs of rust and water entry in the burner area. But there is a difference between someone that is full timing and some one that RVer. Like my fridge might get used 5-10 times a year.  Other than that the RV is parked in the yard and not used.
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BigJohn

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #4 on: April 07, 2013, 09:24:16 PM »
I have two questions re. The halon extinguishers. One we have used halon for protection in enclosed computer rooms for yrs, how would halon work in an area that is well vented? (The rear of our refer) Two I have very little free space in the rear of the refer, so the ext could not be mounted adjacent to the combustion chamber. I do have considerable space under the unit but I think any fire would be too advanced by the time the ext activated. Where would the ext be mounted under these circumstances?
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Gary RVer Emeritus

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2013, 10:33:46 PM »
John,
Like you, I have almost zero space in the fridge cooling unit area and what little there is is right at the bottom. However, it is adjacent to the burner area, which is where the ammonia is heated to vapor and the process starts. I think it would be ok as far as triggering the extinguisher in a fire, but I don't think I have enough room for the units I have found.

Mac The Fire Guy,  an RV fire expert and retired Oregon Fire Marshall, recommends the SS30 halon unit for Norcold fridges. That's good enough for me. I guess the area is sufficiently enclosed that the halon works to extinguish the fire before it is overwhelmed by outside fresh air.
Gary
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bucks2

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2013, 11:07:11 PM »
Has anyone heard, even third hand of one of Mac the fire guys extinguishers stopping a fire? Either refer or engine compartment? My theory is that anyone who is proactive about preventing fires isn't likely to have one. These are the folks that know what the back side of the refer looks like because they look at it with a preventive maintenance eye. These are the folks that already look at their engine compartments, keep them clean, well maintained and have little risk of fire.

After 31 years responding to fires I don't recall many Mercedes (generally well maintained cars) burning on the side of the road. The exact number is 1. It was 22 years old when it burned. I do remember lots of $50.00 barely running cars that caught fire. In the higher priced neighborhoods we seldom had structure fires. More often we had apartment fires, abandoned buildings, and lower income homes that caught fire.

Well maintained equipment seldom catches fire. It does occasionally happen, but not nearly as often as poorly maintained.

Ken

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #7 on: April 08, 2013, 07:48:49 AM »


Well maintained equipment seldom catches fire. It does occasionally happen, but not nearly as often as poorly maintained.

Ken

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Gary RVer Emeritus

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #8 on: April 08, 2013, 08:44:23 AM »
Quote
I spent an hour on the phone with the lawyer that represents a couple from Northern CA, whose Norcold caught fire in the middle of the night...
Additionally he said, Norcold continues to install recall ineffective kits which detect high temps, that is too little too late.  The rv fires keep on happening (even with the latest recall).  He said a more effective way to prevent a fire is to detect abnormally high pressure and shut down the fridge and set an alarm before the temps get too high

While I don't want to defend Norcold's execrable record in correcting the deficiencies in their product, I also have little faith in a lawyer's opinion of how to correct the situation. Especially a lawyer making money from a lawsuit against them. Not exactly an unbiased source!

One thing that troubles me is why the Consumer Product Safety Commission hasn't issued warnings or a recall if this is indeed such a dangerous product. And since many of them are in vehicles, what about the NHTSC as well? They routinely issue recalls for things that only in weird situations can cause vehicles to injure people, yet a flaming 10 ton is of no concern? Either these agencies are derelict in their duties (a possibility, I am sure) or there is much more to the situation than readily meets the eye.


I'm not sure I buy the need for preventive maintenance either. There is very little one can do to prevent chemical corrosion from the inside out (which is basically what happens), though one can keep an eye out for impending problems. However, the general population is pretty much oblivious to maintenance needs anyway and  these days it is gospel that consumer products have to be able to survive the lack of it. Maybe not fair to the manufacturers, but it's a fact of modern life.

Ammonia-based absorption refrigeration technology has been around a long time and has always had the risk of fire in the event of leaks. The largest models (the 12 cubic footer) seems to be most prone to fire. The culprit in the seeming recent increase in refrigeration fires may be that it has been stretched to its limits in terms of refrigerator volume and temperature, coupled with installing it into a small space with inadequate ventilation. I don't know if that's the case, but it seems a possibility. It may also be that we simply see a lot more news about it via the wonders of the internet.
Gary
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bucks2

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #9 on: April 08, 2013, 10:41:34 AM »
"I'm not sure I buy the need for preventive maintenance either. There is very little one can do to prevent chemical corrosion from the inside out (which is basically what happens), though one can keep an eye out for impending problems."

Gary, if you could show me that there is no discoloring, rust spotting, deformation or other change visible anywhere prior to a fire, then I'd have to agree with you. I don't believe that is the case though. If the problem was just corrosion from the then the solution would be an easy fix too wouldn't it? I think it's more likely a combination of things, some of which should be obvious, like metal deformation as the corrosion eats away inside. Discoloration and distortion of weakened metal from overheating should also be visible.

Ken

ironrat

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #10 on: April 08, 2013, 12:06:26 PM »
I do believe in the take care of you equipment. That being that I'm not sure I believe all refer fires were started from a leak in the unit. I mean I have seen while looking used RV's that the refer compartments in a lot of them are really dirty with leaves and webs and such all very flammable. I believe these are the cause of at lease some of the refer firers.
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Mopar1973Man

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #11 on: April 08, 2013, 07:05:36 PM »
Quote
Well maintained equipment seldom catches fire. It does occasionally happen, but not nearly as often as poorly maintained.

Ken

So very true. Like all my vehicles, RV, and even my stick and bricks home. Everything is maintained and checked and double check every month. I've never had tire blow out, engine fires, or like wise on a vehicle. As for the RV fridge this is my second RV and even my first RV worked flawless from many many years ans long as you took the time to maintain and inspect it.  Like my stick and bricks house is heated with firewood and I never have issues with chimney fires. Once again I get out there and run a brush down it every year. So back to the RV the only reason you might have issues is because of getting complacent and not inspect the burner area or heaters for damage to the heating tube. Is the refrigerator vent on the roof keeping water/rain out of the tube? Corrosive environments like the beach might impact it more and require more inspections of the burner.
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JerArdra

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #12 on: April 10, 2013, 02:05:40 PM »
Here is what I did because of the  possibility of a Norcold refer fire in our MH.  We have a Norcold model 1210.

http://www.rvforum.net/SMF_forum/index.php?topic=40919.msg378908#msg378908

JerryF
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cliston

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #13 on: April 10, 2013, 04:56:12 PM »
Here is what I did because of the  possibility of a Norcold refer fire in our MH.  We have a Norcold model 1210.

http://www.rvforum.net/SMF_forum/index.php?topic=40919.msg378908#msg378908

JerryF

That is brilliant.  Never saw that link before, thanks for reposting.

Duner

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #14 on: April 10, 2013, 05:13:44 PM »
Here is what I did because of the  possibility of a Norcold refer fire in our MH.  We have a Norcold model 1210.
JerryF

Jerry, one question.....
Putting a smoke detector on a stick behind the Norcold is a great idea and very cheap life saver.  It's been over one year since you posted, have you had any trouble with false alarms???
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JerArdra

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #15 on: April 10, 2013, 06:49:20 PM »
Duner,

Originally I was concerned about this so I am pleased to say that I have not had ANY false alarms, not even one.  We do test it every so often.

One reason might be that it's an Ionization detector and not a Photoelectric detector. 

Also, I put a Lithium 9V battery (X-PEN-SIVE) in it because they work better in cold (especially freezing) weather as well as last longer.

JerryF
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jblondon

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #16 on: December 30, 2015, 09:34:23 PM »
I just ordered the Amish built cooling unit for the 1200 Norcold. Too many fires, recall issues, etc.  My unit is currently working fine after the 3rd recall temp sensor. The last one melted at the 12V input, good ground and 12V tested, no one can seem to figure out what happened other then it being defective.

I have read posts and forums for hours, seen the pictures and did the research.  I believe it's money well spent for the Amish unit for the safety of my family. Also, lots of good feedback on the cooling efficiency of the Amish built unit vs. the OEM Norcold. 

Got the unit on ebay and will be installing it as soon as it comes in. There are a few videos and  I'm pretty handy.

Don't be a victim of a burned up RV or put your family at risk, I'm seeing alot of recent activity of fires after the recalls due to failed recall temp sensors and whatever else.

Gary RVer Emeritus

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #17 on: December 31, 2015, 08:28:43 AM »
Other than the advertising claims, what makes you believe the Amish unit is so much safer? I see RVers all over the internet telling each other to go Amish for safety and reliability, but where is the data to support that contention? I personally know of two people who have had Amish cooling unit failures.  Once there are a lot of Amish cooling units in use for several years, will we see failure or fire reports on them as well?   They are susceptible to the same issues, i.e. overheating when off-level, deterioration of the sodium chromate corrosion inhibitor,  heat stress on the critical welds of the tubing, and plain old rust. And unless an ARP module is installed, the Amish unit gets the same mediocre temperature sensing and management as factory standard cooling units.

I'm not saying the product is no good, but it seems naive to me to assume that swapping to a different brand of cooling unit eliminates all safety and reliability concerns.
Gary
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Sun2Retire

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #18 on: December 31, 2015, 09:22:16 AM »
That is brilliant.  Never saw that link before, thanks for reposting.

X2 thanks
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jumblesticks

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #19 on: June 15, 2016, 09:43:19 PM »
So I'm seeing that these fires typically start while running on propane. Is the risk any lower if the fridge is on AC and never or almost never on propane?

ironrat

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #20 on: June 15, 2016, 11:45:59 PM »
You have a fire risk with any item that generates heat, propane/electrical/. Heat + fuel+ air you could have a problem. If your unit is full of leaves or any other kind of fuel you can have the problem, is propane/flame more likely to catch fire than an electrical heating unit in the refer, probably, but does not completely eliminates the dangers.   
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Gary RVer Emeritus

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #21 on: June 16, 2016, 08:00:20 AM »
Quote
So I'm seeing that these fires typically start while running on propane. Is the risk any lower if the fridge is on AC and never or almost never on propane?

That's a misconception - the fires occur in either operating mode and there is no appreciable risk difference in LP vs electric. If the cooling unit cracks or gets a pin hole leak near the super-hot boiler, a fire is a strong possibility. If not near the boiler, probably no fire. The boiler operates normally at about 350 degrees (F.) whether on LP or electric, so hot enough to ignite escaping hydrogen gas. And when a cooling unit failure occurs, the boiler can readily go to 800 degrees, hot enough to ignite nearby wood even if the escaping gas doesn't hit the boiler.
Gary
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Rob VanVoorhis

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #22 on: June 16, 2016, 10:28:05 PM »
I did the same as Gary - 86'd the norcold and installed a residential fridge, larger battery bank and power inverter.
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John From Detroit

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #23 on: June 17, 2016, 07:13:02 AM »
Used to be we would hare a lot about fires.. Today it's kind of rare.. Oh, it can still happen, but we are not reading nearly as much as say 10 years ago... Both Norcold and Dometic took steps to reduce the danger.. Perhaps it's working,, Perhaps not.. I do not know  I just know I no longer read about it all the time.
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Gary RVer Emeritus

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Re: Norcold Refrigerator Fires
« Reply #24 on: June 17, 2016, 08:22:38 AM »
They are indeed fairly rare. They just tend to be catastrophic if they do happen, so get attention.
Gary
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