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Stop my runaway fridge!
August 17, 2011 12:06 PM   Subscribe

My fridge is running and I can't catch it!

Last night, while we slept, the breaker for the refrigerator tripped. We didn't realize this until the morning. We re-set the breaker, and all seems fine. Except...

The fridge won't stop running now.

It's plenty cold in both the freezer and the fresh-food sections. But, that's the problem. No matter how low I set the temp controls, the thing just keeps running.

I pulled it away from the wall, and cleaned-out the dust bunnies from around the compressor, fan, and whatever the fan is blowing onto (it's covered by a metal plate that I can't seem to remove.

On thing I do notice...in the fresh-food compartment, at the top-center of the back wall, there's a molded-in "bulge" in the top panel that joins the back wall. There appears to be drops of water weeping from this area. Here's a photo of it. That doesn't look good, though I don't know if it's done it before. I know there are coils in the deck between the fresh-food and freezer compartments.

Anyone have enough experience with old fridges to have an opinion on this? Fixable by me? It's dead, Jim?

FWIW, it's an old-as-the-hills 19cu.ft. Admiral. We really don't need to be dropping $700-800 on a new fridge right now.
posted by Thorzdad to Grab Bag (17 answers total)
 
Question...Could the period when the breaker was tripped, have caused the evap coils to frost-up. And, now that it's running, the fridge is working to defrost the coils, causing the water dripping?

Yeah...I'm grasping for straws.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:31 PM on August 17, 2011


It's not worth fixing, I've been through this. You're going to save so much on electricity if you buy a new fridge that you'll make your money back within a year. Unless you have a large family you probably don't need one quite that big. You can probably find a decent one for less than $500.
posted by mareli at 12:40 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Probably the continuous running caused the breaker to trip, not vice versa.

Bet your thermostat's the problem.... if the fridge is continuing to cool.
posted by jamjam at 12:50 PM on August 17, 2011


Disclaimer: I work for a major appliance manufacturer.

I can't see your picture because Photobucket's blocked at work, but the description of the bulge bothers me. I don't know how old your refrigerator is, or whether the freezer's located on the top, but on top-freezer no-frost models that's typically where the cooling coils are on a lot of models.

If ice is collecting on the coils, as the refrigerator is running constantly...it's not good, and is likely indicative of a larger problem, anything from the temperature control to the coolant system.

If the refrigerator is more than twelve years old, it won't be worth fixing.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:54 PM on August 17, 2011


There are places in Los Angeles that deal in second hand fridges.
posted by effluvia at 1:00 PM on August 17, 2011


Mareli...I've been looking around, and haven't been able to find anything the same size for under $650. We currently have four adults living here. I do a lot of cooking and we keep the fridge pretty full. So, I think we'd need to stay the same size, or go up to a 20c.f. I hear what you're saying about the energy savings. But, it's coming up with the initial lump that's difficult right now.

Mags...The bulge is molded into the plastic. It's supposed to be there.

Effluvia...Thanks. But, I'm a few thousand miles outside of LA.

jamjam...That's the weird thing. I don't recall it running continuously before the breaker tripping. I'm not saying it wasn't...just that we didn't note it. It's been running continuously all afternoon now, and the breaker hasn't tripped. Both sections are cooling perfectly.

Where would the thermostat be located? Is it something I could replace?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:41 PM on August 17, 2011


I wouldn't freak out yet. Depending on how long the fridge was off it could take quite a while for the fridge to stabilize from being off for a few hours especially if it is hot and/or humid and you keep opening the fridge door to check on it. The condensation on the bulge is somewhat normal. If water is flowing over the top of the bulge and then down you probably have a plugged drain which isn't anything you should replace a fridge for as clearing it is fairly simple.

Thorzdad writes "Could the period when the breaker was tripped, have caused the evap coils to frost-up. And, now that it's running, the fridge is working to defrost the coils, causing the water dripping?"

It works the other way around. The fridge losing power will defrost the coils. The compressor causes frost on the coils and during the defrost cycle only the heating elements are powered and they don't make any noise. This could explain the excess water.

The thermostat is located under your temperature knob (note not the air flow or temperature differential knob). However it isn't really user serviceable and as long as your fresh food isn't being frozen it isn't the cause of your problem (if you actually have one).

Continuous running shouldn't cause the breaker to trip as your breaker should be rated to handle that load continuously. Do you know if your fridge is on a dedicated circuit?

So wait for at least 24 hours to see if the problem persists. If you don't have them already a fridge thermometer and a freezer thermometer would let you know if things are really ok or not (humans can't generally tell the difference between everything is OK 36F and a food spoiling 41F by touch). Put the thermometers in the fridge (you should have them anyways) and then let it do its thing overnight without opening the door.

Finally unless you are specifically sitting there listening to the fridge run it can be tricky to notice when the fridge shuts off. You are aware of the hum when it is running; that hum blends into the background and then quits; and then when it starts again you notice that the fridge is still running. Most fridges are going to stop running for 20-30 minutes every 6-8 hours, even if you leave the door open, in order to run the defrost heaters. Which means either you have two separate problems in to separate systems or it should have shut off at least once since this morning and you didn't notice or your lettuce should be frozen.
posted by Mitheral at 2:37 PM on August 17, 2011


If you buy a refrigerator I recommend buying new. Having a little experience in the second hand appliance business I can pretty much guarantee that there are cockroaches in it. Buying a new one helps you to avoid this and use electricity more efficiently at the same time.
posted by snowjoe at 2:56 PM on August 17, 2011


Do you know if your fridge is on a dedicated circuit?
Yes, it is. Or, rather, the wall it's on is on a dedicated circuit, and nothing else is plugged into that circuit.

Put the thermometers in the fridge...
Already one in the fresh-food space. It's sitting steady at 35˚. Don't have one for the freezer, but I'm pretty sure it all ok up there. There's a 4-lb pork shoulder that's hard enough to go bowling with.

Finally unless you are specifically sitting there listening to the fridge run it can be tricky to notice when the fridge shuts off. You are aware of the hum when it is running; that hum blends into the background and then quits; and then when it starts again you notice that the fridge is still running.
My studio sits just off the kitchen, and I'm pretty aware of the fridge's activity. Being an old fridge, you can hear the muffled whooshing of the fans when it's running. It's been doing continually all afternoon.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:17 PM on August 17, 2011


Continuous running shouldn't cause the breaker to trip as your breaker should be rated to handle that load continuously. Do you know if your fridge is on a dedicated circuit?

True; in fact, maximum current draw may come when the compressor starts up, but many fridges have an internal breaker that trips when they overheat, which can be caused by continuous running, and on some older models that breaker does not automatically reset. You have to do it by hand. Because it was running continuously I thought it was more probable that was the breaker Thorzdad was referring to--- but on preview, it seems that was wrong.
posted by jamjam at 3:27 PM on August 17, 2011


Thorzdad writes "Don't have one for the freezer, but I'm pretty sure it all ok up there. There's a 4-lb pork shoulder that's hard enough to go bowling with."

Meat freezes easy. How is your frozen OJ or ice cream?

At any rate I'd still wait until morning to see what happens. If it stops running all the time then great. Otherwise if your lettuce isn't frozen you probably have a problem that isn't worth fixing.
posted by Mitheral at 4:59 PM on August 17, 2011


Just to be clear...when you say that you set the temperature controls as low as you can go, you mean you set the temperature as high as it can go, right? At least in the fridge at my house, which has settings from "1" to "7", 1 means super duper cold and 7 means not so cold. Not to nit-pick your wording or anything, but make sure you haven't reversed the scale and set it on the coldest temperature when you meant to do the opposite.
posted by wondercow at 5:36 PM on August 17, 2011


Wondercow...On my fridge, the temp adjust is 1- 9, with 9 being the coldest setting. So, when I say "No matter how low I set the temp controls..." I mean I turned the dial to 1, which would be the warmest setting.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:51 PM on August 17, 2011


I'm happy to report that the old fridge finally started cycling normally yesterday evening. So far, all seems to be back to normal. I'll still be keeping an eye on it, though.

Thanks to all for the help and support!
posted by Thorzdad at 6:07 AM on August 18, 2011


Addendum...Fridge still running fine. We've noticed now, though, that the drain is very audibly emptying itself into the pan under the fridge several times a day. Weird.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:16 AM on August 31, 2011


That's normal. Frost forms on the freezer coils whenever the fridge is running and remains there because the coils are in the freezer compartment. 2-4 times a day heating elements come on to melt the frost and the water created drains into the pan.

If the noise is bothering you sometimes moving the pan around slightly will quiet it.
posted by Mitheral at 3:03 PM on August 31, 2011


Not bothering us, at all. It's just that neither of us can recall ever hearing the fridge "pee" that loudly before.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:13 AM on September 1, 2011


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