Refrigerator Failure (wk 26,2011)

    Looks Like This Whirlpool

    At Levco we normally repair other peoples problems and rarely have time or give much thought to care for our own problems. Here is a situation that happened to me recently that probably happens often to others.

    My wife noticed that the refrigerator side seemed a bit warm and the freezer side was definitely not freezing.  I suppose a thermometer would have been a more scientific method of determining a problem, but I digress. The first thing I hear is ” I turned the refrigerator up because it isn’t cold enough to freeze everything”

    This caught my attention because of an old Flying Pie Pizza story about the Oven Moron. When the oven wasn’t able to keep up with the volume, someone would always suggest we turn the oven up to a higher temperature. The joke is, once it is on… there is no more on, ergo the “Oven Moron”. My wife was now the “Refrigerator Moron”

    Flying Pie

    Our GE refrigerator is a 15 years old side by side, frost free unit that has been trouble free. Rather than call for the appliance repair man I attempted to diagnose and repair the problem myself, after all what did I have to loose. This is a big ticket item that deserves some troubleshooting, if I failed I would have to call the repairman anyway. My suspicions were two fold.

    First, I recall that I had not done my usual spring cleaning in a few years that includes a cleaning of the grills beneath the unit. This is from the dust that accumulates there because the fan is constantly drawing air across the coils. This is also a good place to recover crayons, refrigerator magnets and cereal.

    Second, was that a door had been left open of either side as we were full to the brim with extra food for a celebration which can cause massive frosting internally decreasing air flow over the cold coils.

    Right away I removed the bottom grill and saw the obstructed fins, Ah Ha I found the problem.  With the help of a vacuum, a long thin brush and some compressed air I was able to remove enough debris to let the machine breath again. (I inadvertently got dust all over the kitchen too.) Much of the heat generated in the cooling process is dissipated below in the fins. I assumed that once cleaned, the freezer would easily freeze water. After emptying the freezer to a backup unit, I set the glass of water on a shelf in the freezer and went to bed. The following morning the same darn glass of water was there in it’s liquid state.

    Frost on the Coils

    The plan B for this operation was to defrost. Frost is usually melted off during a defrost cycle. However if a door is left open, for example, so much frost can build up that the defrost cycle is not able to deal with it.

    I placed a fan in front of the fridge and got warm indoor air pouring onto the freezer walls and the water began to roll off quickly. I mopped it up to avoid overfilling the evaporation tray that lives below the unit. The ice seemed thick and I realized that there was  a back panel that could be removed from the inside of the freezer. After removing 11 screws the panel was off and some of the shelve brackets and the panel was out, exposing a solid wall of ice over the cooling coils. After an hour and a half the job was done. I put the food back once I could verify that the freezer could make ice cubes.

    Oldie but Goodie

    Viola!! problems solved, no food lost. The machine was back running smoothly and doing all those cooling duties we normally ask of it without thinking twice. It dawned on me that appliances have a huge appetite for energy and those that are not operating at peak performance are even worse. Think about what progress this appliance has made in the last 50 years.

    So, in review, cooling for the entire unit occurs on the freezer side and those fins must remain free of ice to function. Heat is exchanged beneath the unit and those fins must remain free of dust and debris too. This is worth calendaring especially if you do other things like swapping out air filters every 6 months. Although not the case on my unit, many refrigerators have built in water filers that could be changed on a similar frequency depending on it’s use.

    We are back in business and operating far more efficiently than before. Temperatures have stabilized and the ice tray is full up again. I realized that every time I walk past the fridge I pay a little more attention. I can now notice periods of total silence now that the fan motor and compressor are getting a break from time to time. for more reading on the subject .

    As a post script…The darn temperature started to creep up two weeks out. Upon taking the unit apart I was disappointed to discover that it had frosted up again. Since I placed a thermometer inside the box, I noticed the problem before we lost any food. I discovered that the defrosters were bad, so after forking out $80.00 the new units (always replace both at the same time) were installed we are in chillin’ again FFN ” Forever For Now”. Sorry family if I falsely accused you of leaving the doors ajar.