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Revive an impaled refrigerator
January 1, 2007 4:37 PM   Subscribe

So, I just skewered my refrigerator. The buildup of ice in the freezer was so awful I had to use something sharp to chip it away. Imagine my surprise when a small eruption sprays white, chemical-smelling gas at me!

Okay, I know. Stupid.

Moving on...

My three questions:

1) Was the gas Freon, and does it pose any harm to me or the food in the fridge?
(It smelled awful and filled the whole apartment)

2) Can I fix any of the damage myself? I'm in a furnished apartment and my landlord doesn't love me.

3) How much will the repair probably cost from a professional? I'm guessing it wouldn't be worth it since it's a crappy old refrigerator but I'm too broke to buy new one.
posted by conch soup to Home & Garden (26 answers total)
 
1) If the fridge was made after the late 80s, it probably wasn't freon, but something like it. When this happened to me (I think it happens to everybody) I was told to open all my windows and go outside for a bit, and if I felt bad to go to a doctor.

2) I really doubt it, there was pressurized gas in there and you ruptured the plastic or metal lining keeping it in.

3) Can't answer this well but when it happened to me i bought a new fridge.
posted by neustile at 4:42 PM on January 1, 2007


Buy a frost free refrigerator/freezer and never worry about it again.
posted by wierdo at 4:49 PM on January 1, 2007


This is one of those things where the total cost of the repair will rival the cost of a complete replacement. But if you do replace it, you'll be replacing it with a model that is significantly more trouble-free and efficient. Over time, the power savings you will realize will offset the cost of the replacement vs. repair question.

Oh, and if it was freon (it's questionable), try not to think about the severe damage you just did to the ozone layer all by your lonesome. ;-)
posted by frogan at 5:05 PM on January 1, 2007


Depending on how old it is, it could be any of several slightly different refrigerants - Freon, R134a, or a couple of newer ones.

They're all mildly bad to breathe but shouldn't kill you. Like huffing paint or something like that. It's volatile so will evaporate completely and shouldn't harm the food. Though of course the food is now thawing. Eat fast!

Can you fix it yourself? No. It's supposed to be a sealed system. You unsealed it. I can't imagine that it would be cheap to disassemble the whole fridge, try to patch the aluminum tubes, fill it back up and hope it works, as opposed to just buying a new fridge.

A "new" fridge can be used, of course. Pretty cheap on craigslist. Maybe you can find one that looks the same as the current one, then the landlord never need know. :)
posted by jellicle at 5:12 PM on January 1, 2007


You can check the back label for what kind of refrigerant your unit uses, though it's probably R-134a. You technically can fix punctures, I did the same thing recently and called around about a solution. It will cost several hundred dollars (I was quoted $400-500) to repair even a tiny hole, and refill the coolant. However the repairman most likely won't warranty or guarantee the work due to the difficulty inherent in the repair. A good used, or even a new, unit can be found cheaper.

Fixing it involves sealing the hole(s) with a weld or special epoxy without blocking the coolant's flow. Refilling the coolant will probably require cutting and welding a copper tube as a lot of home units are not designed to be refilled.
posted by Science! at 5:26 PM on January 1, 2007


Oh, and so you don't get the wrong idea, I DID NOT get my unit repaired. I bought much larger, much more efficient newer one. (The repair cost was ~2X the purchase price of the unit I broke)
posted by Science! at 5:28 PM on January 1, 2007


In the meantime, unplug the fridge. You don't want to burn out the compressor by churning air.

Review your lease agreement, if you have one, and see if /superthere's any discussion about accidental damage. That might inform your next move since bringing in a new fridge might still leave you liable for the existing unit, even if you paid for everything out of pocket.

Depending on the tenant laws in your area, the landlord may be required to replace the fridge regardless of fault. You will kiss any hope of seeing your damage deposit ever again, but at least it won't hit your pocketbook right now.
posted by mochi crunk at 5:39 PM on January 1, 2007


1) Yes the puncture released refrigerant along with an oil. The oil is the whte frothy stinky stuff. Refrigerant in domestic units is an odorless and colourless gas. Enough of the stuff can smother you by displacing oxegen but you'd need more than is in your fridge in most kitchens(you might be in trouble if your fridge is in a bank vault or something). (FYI: they used to use freons as propelants in deoderants and hairsprays. Freons are awesomely wonderful stuff except for that ozone thing.)

2) No you can't fix it. We used to replace the entire freezing compartment rather than patching the hole but that is no longer cost effective unless the fridge is an antique with sentimental attachment or something.

3) The repair cost would be the same as complete replacement of the unit give or take.

FYI (in the interest of the archives): the best way to defrost a manual fridge is just to shut it off for 12 hours every month. Just turn it off when you pay your rent every month and turn it back on when defrosted. The tray under the evaporator is designed to catch the water from a modest amount of frost and the fridge runs better if a 1/4" or less frost is present. Some evaporators even have a little plastic nubbin that when covered by frost indicates defrosting is required.

If you need to defrost a neglected fridge in a hurry use hot tap water poured on the frost build up (place a few towels in the bottom first to absorb the water). In short order the ice will release from the evaporator and you can remove the ice in sheets. Alternavitely you can use a hair dryer if you are careful to avoid melting the plastic by keeping it moving (or furtive's kettle). Pay attention though, I've replaced many a melted fridge/freezer door. The hot water is safer.

wierdo writes "Buy a frost free refrigerator/freezer and never worry about it again."

And pay twice as much up front, 2-5x for electricity every month and 2-5 times for repairs once out of warranty over the life of the appliance. Frost Free units incorporate an electric element that comes on 2-4 times a day to melt the frost along with assorted control and safety devices all which don't come cheap. Plus they dry out your fresh food and freezer burn your frozen.

mochi crunk writes "Review your lease agreement, if you have one, and see if /superthere's any discussion about accidental damage."
Note your landlord and the courts will see this as willful damage.
posted by Mitheral at 5:42 PM on January 1, 2007 [2 favorites]


Mitheral, I haven't seen a new fridge/freezer that doesn't automatically defrost itself for years. That, and the energy efficiency of a new fridge will almost certainly more than make up for any losses due to whatever automagic defrosting it does.

My last one cost $500 and sipped electricity (according to the Killawatt) compared to the 10 year old model that was in my last apartment. I sold it to the owner of the house for $400 a year later. :p Whether or not it was technically "frost free," I don't know, but it never built up any frost. But I'm just speaking anecdotally, so ignore me if you like.
posted by wierdo at 5:54 PM on January 1, 2007


Mitheral, this guy disagrees with your point regarding manual v. frost free: "An old manual-defrost is more efficient than an old frost-free. But an old manual-defrost uses more energy than a new frost-free. I bought a used manual-defrost fridge because I knew that manual-defrosters were more efficient. But when I got it home and tested it I found that it uses about 1000 kWh a year. That's way more than the 425 kWh or so for a modern EnergyStar-compliant frost-free model."
posted by monju_bosatsu at 5:55 PM on January 1, 2007


I did the exact same mistake about a year ago. The guy from the fridge joint told me that it can't be patched because it's very likely that moisture has gotten in through the hole, and into the pipes and the compressor, which, I gathered, would make it useless.
posted by Anything at 6:05 PM on January 1, 2007


Yes, old fridges used more power than new. But a new manual defrost will use less power than a new frost free. It's not a mystery why either. The frost free models all incorporate a heating element that first draws hundreds of watts of power and then once the defrost cycle is over the compressor has to remove all that heat. Large side by sides' heaters draw more power than microwaves.

For example manual defrost refrigerators in the 16.5 - 18.4 cu. ft. range currently energuide listed on NRC's site have a rating of 335 ($35 a month) (17 and 18 cu foot). Frost free units with freezers range from 409 - 553 ($55). If you go with an all fridge cold plate model you can get the rating down to 273 ($27). My range was off, they've obviously made strides since I was doing this professionally but 25-75% is still a pretty big hit. Especially since you pay more initially for a FF unit and they have more things to break down.
posted by Mitheral at 6:23 PM on January 1, 2007


Just to add to your not feeling like the only idiot in the world, I too did exactly the same thing back in college. Everybody is right. Don't worry about the gas, you're fine, your refrigerator is permanently boned and your landlord is going to take your damage deposit. That argument about how much less than the cost of replacement the actual fridge you ruined was worth? Good luck with that.
posted by nanojath at 6:24 PM on January 1, 2007


Just did this to my freezer last month. I would just replace it with a comparable used fridge. Standard size fridges are cheap cheap cheap on craigslist and the like.
posted by greatgefilte at 6:38 PM on January 1, 2007


You can find used fridges on Craigslist for cheap. Like $50 cheap. Hell, I would give my good-condition surplus fridge away for free if someone would come haul it away (you're not in AZ, by any chance?).
posted by gokart4xmas at 6:39 PM on January 1, 2007


Had this happen "helping" a friend. Do you really need to use a hammer? Look, I know what I'm...FFFFT!

She sweet talked the building super into replacing it on their policy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:48 PM on January 1, 2007


But a new manual defrost will use less power than a new frost free.

No doubt, but good luck finding one. Kenmore, for example, makes precisely one refrigerator without a frost-free system of some sort.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:00 PM on January 1, 2007


And now that I look more closely, the Kenmore non-frost-free refrigerator is a 9.5 cu. ft. apartment model. Also, it's rated as using nearly the same amount of electricity at the 10.5 cu. ft. frost-free model.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:04 PM on January 1, 2007


I did the same thing in college, many years ago.

The fix would have cost $300 (1979) dollars!

My roommates and I swapped the dead fridge with a working one from the empty apartment across the hall. Changed the stove as well, ours was filthy.

This was wrong.

But the statute of limitations has run out.
posted by Marky at 8:01 PM on January 1, 2007 [3 favorites]


"Note your landlord and the courts will see this as willful damage."

Well, when we did this to a fridge (accidentally from being stupid and trying to chip the ice out), our landlord replaced the fridge without a quibble. I was shocked actually.

Whether the deposit was eventually returned, I don't know (I moved out before my roommate did), but at least not every landlord is going to be a complete jerk about the fridge.
posted by litlnemo at 11:47 PM on January 1, 2007


The most effective way to defrost an old freezer is to place several pans of boiling water in the freezer, close the door and wait. It´s probably a good idea to also unplug the freezer at the same time!
posted by JJ86 at 1:04 AM on January 2, 2007


Y'all are way behind the times in how to defrost a freezer!

Listen up! In these terribly modern times the world is full (yes, FULL!) of plastic bottles. You know, the ones that have spring water? Turn off the fridge, fill those bottles up with hot tap water, pack the freezer (as close to the walls and top as possible) with those full bottles. Close the door (put a towel in front, maybe inside on the bottom) and go away a couple hours. Presto!

No boiling! Short waiting! No chipping!

(I've never punctured a fridge, but I've chipped plenty of frost out. But I had a tennant do it to mine. That fridge was turned into a smoker by the tenants mom, and he bought a new one)
posted by Goofyy at 5:48 AM on January 2, 2007


Do you have a FreeCycle group in your area? People give away lousy fridges similar to yours (and a few not-so-lousy ones) on mine all the time.
posted by kmennie at 6:02 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you do go through your landlord, keep in mind that you don't have to buy a new fridge. You damaged a fridge that was pretty old and are only responsible for replacing it with a model of similar value.
posted by electroboy at 9:35 AM on January 2, 2007


Alas, when I did the same (with a microfridge, fortunately), and anything jerry rigged never did cut it. Granted, I'm not on the level of soldering or anything, but superglue, duct tape, styrofoam, and permutations therein all failed. Alas.

Let us all tell our kids - chipping the ice out of the fridge will only bring you unhappiness.

Good luck.
posted by gbinal at 2:02 PM on January 3, 2007


Thanks everyone! A fridge superhero from Santo Domingo fixed it for $90USD, and even replaced the burnt-out compressor like mochi crunk said. Sorry to take so long to update
posted by conch soup at 11:11 PM on April 3, 2007


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