The Unique Refrigerator
By Rick West
Manufacturer: Unique Gas Products
Greater Toronto metro area, Canada
Sold by Kamps Propane in Northern California
The new Cloud 9 came out to The Meadows the first of May 2001. She had two 8 cubic foot Norcold refrigerators aboard. Despite proper installations with heat venting fans, cabinets, airflow baffles over the coils and continued maintenance, they were replaced once and all four had failed by the spring of 2014.
The third one failed after repairs in 2009 and was replaced with a Unique 13c the following spring. The fourth and last Norcold we will ever own failed after repair while prepping the boat for The Meadows this spring and was replaced immediately with a Unique 10c in the same cabinet. It was decided after the summer of 2010, considering the performance and simplicity of the Unique refrigerator, we would go with the off-the-grid design by Unique when the last Norcold reached a point of repair intolerance.
Unique Gas Products is a large but unassuming company with an expansive line of off-the-grid appliance products in freezers, ranges and refrigerators. Download the small PDF files for the various models for specifications. They have units from 2 cubic feet to 18, the largest propane refrigerator in the world.
These units are simple and well made. There are no electronics, circuit boards, thermistors or digital temperature thermostat settings. The main cabinet light is powered through a door switch from a small rack of D-cell batteries.
Temperature control is manual which changes the flame level in the burner box like we have all seen in propane refrigeration. This means that because we have swings in ambient temperatures (night, morning to mid afternoon) remote monitoring is needed. The number of door openings and meal preparations affect this too. We have learned a setting that produces 33-34° over night and 42-45 after dinner on 100°+ days works well. When unused, like away for a few days, it is sub 40° and not freezing. During normal mid 80’s days it hovers around 34-37 degrees all day.
Because we use the Fridge-Fix (another article) circulation device, the flame setting is very low and burns far less propane than the hard working Norcold units of old. There is only a fraction of the heat generated over the Norcold. Only one inch is recommended clearance at the rear and no fans or baffling is recommended by Unique Tech Support. In fact they have asked me to shutdown the Fan-Tech on the roof that draws air from under the boat through the refrigerator cabinet in the galley. That fan used to run 24/7 during the 5 months in The Meadows. Further, they have asked me to cover the intake air vent from under the boat into the cabinet. That suggestion is still being considered.
Ventilation has been a major priority for RV refrigerators in boats. Cloud 9’s system was designed to make a Norcold happy. Unique’s Tech Support indicates that while the burner box is protected, ventilated air movement around the box can snuff out the flame because it is so low and with low pressure. Cold unit temperatures and low fuel use is a nice problem to have but the 10c had shut down on us several times. It is very quiet now in the back of the cabinet and no shutdowns since the roof fan was turned off.
The Unique 10c fits in the cabinet that housed the Norcold. It is 5-1/2” taller, which was available, and two inches deeper. The width is the same. The increase in capacity is far greater especially in the freezer.
The cost of refrigeration has been high with RV products and repairs. It was considered the fare for being here on the water. With one Unique into summer four with low temperatures and huge capacity plus zero service issues, this appears to have changed. It is for certain now that RV units are not all that are available for our style of boating.
Unique indicated that shipments to California were weekly and our 10c arrived in Elk Grove in a week. The costs are higher, about 10% when comparing an 8c to a Norcold. The 10c is AC/propane and costs closer to 2k delivered. It is worth the price in various ways. The units are not stocked here and there is no real competitive market yet. Kamps’ order was on demand and got their price. There are rebates from Unique while they are pressing for a higher market here on the West Coast.
The Servel, that we have known for years, survives as a museum piece on the Gero’s Meadow Muffin. They have had it for decades in many places including a barn. Servel is now owned by Dometic and the 400 (8c) sells for around $1400. Mike Gero would not sell his for that or any reasonable price.
We do not expect the Unique units to last like the GE household AC units that go on for generations, but it will have long life with little service hassles.