Refrigerator repair or reefer madness?
July 14, 2011 2:36 PM   Subscribe

My refrigerator runs too long, methinks. What might be the problem, and would it be madness to try to fix it ourselves?

I have an Amana bottom-freezer fridge that's about 12 years old. It keeps everything cool/frozen just fine and there's no ice visible anywhere, but the compressor runs a lot longer than it used to, about 20 - 30 minutes at a time before stopping. My impression was that it used to run for about 10 - 15 minutes when it was new.

I've cleaned the coils on the bottom with a brush several times and it helped a little, but it still runs long enough to bug me. The freezer compartment is pretty full and the fridge is a little emptier but there's still plenty of thermal mass in there. I open the freezer door maybe 2x a week, the fridge door several times a day but it stays open maybe 15 seconds at most. I never put hot things inside.

I haven't changed the thermostat set point in years, the door seals are still tight, my house is pretty chilly all year round here in the fog belt, and the off-time between compressor runs is about 30 - 45 minutes, which is about what it used to be as far as I can remember.

How can I diagnose the problem and is this something a fearless handyman and his lovely assistant might be able to fix?

Previous questions tagged with "refrigerator" were about fridges that don't cool any more, or other unrelated problems. Send up the Mitheral beacon!
posted by Quietgal to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
Refrigerators have gotten much more energy efficient in the last decade. You'd be better off buying a new one than trying to fix it. I'm all for fixing things and I live frugally but fridges are worth replacing. I had one a few years ago that cooled fine but ran a lot. Got a repairman out, he said it wasn't worth fixing. Got a new one and electric bill went way down.
posted by mareli at 3:02 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I work for a major kitchen appliance manufacturer (not Amana).

It the refrigerator actually keeping things cold? That's going to be your main signal as to whether or not it's working correctly. If it's keeping things frozen in the freezer section, and chilled in the fresh food section, you probably don't have anything to worry about.

Here's what we tell consumers: for a freezer to maintain a desired temperature of 0 degrees F, or a combination refrigerator-freezer to maintain a 5 degrees F freezer and 35 - 40 degrees fresh-food temperature, the compressor will usually run more than 50% of the time on older refrigerators. On newer ones (roughly 10 years or less), the compressors are designed to run 80 % to 90% of the time.

Factors that contribute to run time:

*In extremely hot, humid areas, run time may approach 100%.

*Loading the refrigerator or freezer with a large amount of food, especially warm or hot foods, will also add to the run time. Hot foods should be allowed to cool before being placed in the cabinet.

*Another significant factor that contributes to run time is an empty or lightly loaded freezer. Because no insulation material is perfect, air alone does not retain cold. An empty refrigerator or freezer must run more to maintain temperatures low enough to satisfy the temperature control and turn the compressor off. A freezer should be at least 3/4 full to maintain proper temperatures and reduce time.

*Door openings contribute significantly to the run time of any refrigerator. When the door is opened, some of the heavy cold air slides out of the cabinet, pulling warm air in at the top.

*Make sure that ALL bins and shelves, in freezer and fresh-food section, are properly seated in the refrigerator. Ensure that large trays, platters, and food items (like pizza boxes) are arranged so that they do not interfere with the door closing. (If freezer door, make sure no ice is behind the ice bin, and if present ensure bottom freezer basket is on its rollers)

*Check for blocked air vents in freezer section (any grill work on back wall).

*Be sure the refrigerator is installed with proper air clearance.

*Make sure interior lights are off when door is closed.

Now, if the refrig is running AND you see signs of warming in it (ice cream unexpectedly soft, milk warmer than usual, that sort of thing), you might want to start looking into a replacement, since most people replace their appliances at the 12 - 15 year mark. Rather than spending $100+ for an authorized servicer to come out, just put that money towards a new unit.
posted by magstheaxe at 3:37 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had the same feeling with our old basement freezer, so I took a kill-a-watt meter and actually measured the total power consumption.

In our case the amount of electricity used was not worth the expense of buying a new freezer.

The total draw when it was closed and just running was very small in comparison with the draw after opening and closing the door for example. So even if you think it's running too much, it may not be using a significant amount of power.

If it is in your case, you have a quantitative measure of the payback period for replacement or repair...
posted by NoDef at 6:14 PM on July 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your answers. Looks like I need to start saving up for a new refrigerator, alas.
posted by Quietgal at 4:02 PM on August 14, 2011

« Older Good short prose samples on the web?   |   Bike routes and travel tips from Vancouver, BC to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.