Fridge R134a gas issues. - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 22 Old 03-09-2020 Thread Starter
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Fridge R134a gas issues.

Micro DC powered fridge systems need to operate with extremely clean gas (usually R134a) and oil. In many countries so called R134a can be purchased over the counter in small canisters. The problem is that these cans of gas are aimed at the Auto air con market and auto air cons are vastly different and less 'refined' than your typical tiny marine fridge unit. Many of these R134a cans contain additives.
Recently an overseas cruiser with an Ozefridge system had a gas top-up using a product that is only 50% R134a and the rest is 'sealant additives'. Couldn't be anything worse! The system is now contaminated having to be replaced, so just a warning that if your marine system needs re-gassing be sure to only have pure R134a added and not anything with additives.

Cheers OzePete
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post #2 of 22 Old 03-09-2020
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Re: Fridge R134a gas issues.

It certainly is nice of you to try to educate folks like this.
What I don't understand is why anyone would try to do any work on their refrigeration system (or any system, for that matter) if they don't even know the basics, such as using the correct gas.
How is a boat owner saving money by destroying their equipment rather than paying a professional to do what they are trained to do without damaging the equipment.
What is it Forest Gump said, "Something is as something does"?

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post #3 of 22 Old 03-09-2020
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Re: Fridge R134a gas issues.

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Originally Posted by ozepete View Post
Micro DC powered fridge systems need to operate with extremely clean gas (usually R134a) and oil. In many countries so called R134a can be purchased over the counter in small canisters. The problem is that these cans of gas are aimed at the Auto air con market and auto air cons are vastly different and less 'refined' than your typical tiny marine fridge unit. Many of these R134a cans contain additives.
Recently an overseas cruiser with an Ozefridge system had a gas top-up using a product that is only 50% R134a and the rest is 'sealant additives'. Couldn't be anything worse! The system is now contaminated having to be replaced, so just a warning that if your marine system needs re-gassing be sure to only have pure R134a added and not anything with additives.

Cheers OzePete
Looked at some of the automotive 134A for sale online and many mention leak sealant additives but several don't. BUT that doesn't necessarily mean they don't contain some kind of additive.

Other than additives is there a difference? If you can get 134A from an auto supply without additives would it be acceptable? If not, where might one get the right stuff?
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Re: Fridge R134a gas issues.

I've always thought the best skill to have to barter in a remote anchorage, is refrigeration and the right tools/gas. Most cruisers know how to work on their own diesel, electrical, plumbing, but not refrigeration. Folks will be awfully grateful to have cold food and beer back. You probably wouldn't have to buy beer the entire cruise.


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post #5 of 22 Old 03-10-2020
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Re: Fridge R134a gas issues.

People work on their own reefer systems because many of them have already experienced "marine reefer professional" work. Among all the trades, this species of "marine professional" is about the least qualified and most harmful to allow around one's boat. If one can even find this trade in many cruising grounds.

Reefer systems are one of the least complicated systems on a boat. It certainly isn't rocket science, and easier than most electrical or diesel systems. After all, it is a hermetically-sealed system with fairly rugged components, particularly the main compressor unit. If you make sure your box is sufficiently insulated and the compressor has proper power (90% of all problems, those two), then one either has a leak, or a bad control board. The control board is a simple swap out component, and a leak not caused by a seal oring generally means a replacement of the evaporator or cold plate - another swap out component.

Adding refrigerant is dead-simple, but if it has come to this, it will only buy some time - the problem will need to be fixed eventually.

One does need to be careful grabbing a 134a bottle off a hardware shelf. As stated, many contain leak sealant. What makes this more difficult is that some don't mention this in any obvious way, or are very obtuse about contents - for example: "fixes low charge level to make like new", and wording like that. It can be easy to make a mistake here, even if one knows what they are doing. If it isn't starkly obvious that the bottle contains ONLY pure 134a, then one should keep looking. One should also keep a couple bottles of known good stuff around, even if one has a perfectly working system and will never use them. They are cheap and store easily.

Mark

Edit: Also among possible problems is contaminants in the system, that mostly affect Isotherm systems with the keel coolers.

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Last edited by colemj; 03-10-2020 at 07:51 AM.
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post #6 of 22 Old 03-10-2020
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Re: Fridge R134a gas issues.

Did a little online research and it sounds like the good stuff is Dupont/Chemours Suva 134a.

No additives and probably top quality,
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post #7 of 22 Old 03-11-2020
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Re: Fridge R134a gas issues.

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Originally Posted by colemj View Post
Among all the trades, this species of "marine professional" is about the least qualified and most harmful to allow around one's boat. If one can even find this trade in many cruising grounds.
What a scary thought!!! I have only used anarine professional once in 10 years and if the species is worst that is truly a horror story.

Meanwhile I have been thinking my system was "low". But it never gets worst and works pretty good (8 degrees in freezer) and I keep fighting off the "add to it" thought. In threads I can tell from the replies that these systems are like voodoo, even among the "experts" and "professionals".

Don't blow air up my rear, be useful and blow it at the sails!
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post #8 of 22 Old 03-11-2020
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Re: Fridge R134a gas issues.

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Originally Posted by skipmac View Post
Did a little online research and it sounds like the good stuff is Dupont/Chemours Suva 134a.

No additives and probably top quality,
Lay worry beads over the evap plate.
One n done...fixed
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post #9 of 22 Old 03-11-2020
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Re: Fridge R134a gas issues.

I must agree that I have found few really competent refer technicians, though most can add gas to a system without destroying it. It is always advisable to have the manual available to any tech who comes aboard your boat, anyway.

If one feels they absolutely must do work on their refer or A/C system, there is certainly plenty of good info available on the web about how to do it and the proper tools to use. For adding gas to either a refer or A/C system one should have a set of gauges (one for each system) and understand what one is seeing on them. Doing so by following the instructions on an auto A/C top up kit is a sure way to destroy a marine system. Without gauges, using the sight glass only, it is very easy to overfill a system which can cut the life of any refer/A/C system drastically.
As with most systems on a boat, if one chooses to DIY, then it is very important to educate oneself completely before jumping into the project.

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post #10 of 22 Old 03-11-2020
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Re: Fridge R134a gas issues.

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Originally Posted by capta View Post
Without gauges, using the sight glass only, it is very easy to overfill a system which can cut the life of any refer/A/C system drastically.
For larger reefer systems (and A/C) this is true. For the smaller evaporator plate systems found on many boats, gauges don't help much at all, and just following the frost line is all one needs. These systems don't have enough refrigerant to weigh accurately, and usually don't even have a high side port for gauges. So the auto top up kit is fine for them.

Mark

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