My refrigerator is buzzing loudly. I rent. What can I do?
October 1, 2012 8:52 AM   Subscribe

The refrigerator in my apartment is buzzing loudly but otherwise works. I rent. What can I do about it?

I recently moved into a new apartment and the refrigerator makes a loud buzzing noise but is otherwise functional as far as keeping food cool. But the buzzing is annoying -- I can hear it from across the room or even in the other room if the door is not closed. It starts and stops throughout the day but is buzzing more often than not (I think the only time it isn't buzzing is when it's not running). I am able to make it stop by turning down the cooling level to low or off but it always starts up again after 10-15 minutes.

From my Internet research on the issue it sounds like this may be due to a problem with the fan and/or compressor. The refrigerator is 15 years old (manufactured in 1997).

I asked my landlord about this but she said that it "should be fine," and to let her know if it starts to lose functionality.

I would feel better if she at least had a repairman come check on it, but given that it's technically functional, does she have the right to refuse to do this? If so, is there anything I can do on my own?
posted by Asparagus to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
FWIW, this used to happen to our refrigerator when I was a kid, and it was the plastic piece at the bottom under the door vibrating. We would kick it and it would stop.
posted by amro at 8:57 AM on October 1, 2012

Best answer: You can make sure there is nothing loose on the bottom or back of the fridge that might be vibrating and can be tightened up or wedged to make it stop.

Beyond that, it needs to be fixed or replaced. The place to start is to go back to your landlord with a firm message that the refrigerator noise is unacceptable and is preventing your "quiet enjoyment" of the apartment (something to which you are legally entitled, look it up). And that the fridge has, in fact, "lost functionality" — it is no longer do its job with minimal running noise. And that you expect this issue to be addressed.
posted by beagle at 8:58 AM on October 1, 2012

Some component is vibrating. If you can find that component and dampen the vibrations, the problem will potentially go away. E.g., my refrigerator buzzes when it gets too close to the wall and vibrates against it. Some gentle pushing on the refrigerator makes that go away. By listening and putting some pressure on different parts of the refrigerator (not that compressor itself, but just any other large pieces), you might be able to find the culprit and fix it with some gentle force.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:59 AM on October 1, 2012

Best answer: I have had a similar problem in my place. First thing, which you've probably done, is to make sure the fridge isn't flush up against a wall or some object that could be blocking the fan/causing the vibrations. Secondly, check for anything under the fridge. Even just a bunch of dust bunnies can cause problems. Thirdly...maybe kick it a bit? I'm only sort of kidding, that is what works on mine basically.

If nothing works, then I would just write a polite note (or leave a message) with your landlord that the noise is very bothersome and you're going to have someone look at it. If they find something wrong, then you'll have to notify her again and try to work something out from there. Not perfect, but more effective than just sitting around listening to a fridge buzz.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:59 AM on October 1, 2012

Perhaps mention the $500 worth of food that is in there that you would expect reimbursement for if the fridge were to stop working one day?
posted by Grither at 9:09 AM on October 1, 2012

Perhaps mention the $500 worth of food that is in there that you would expect reimbursement for if the fridge were to stop working one day?

That seems really passive aggressive to me. If my tenant said that, I might fix the fridge, but I would also (a) not renew their lease, and (b) provide feedback as to why to any future landlord who called me for a reference.
posted by ellF at 9:11 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mine does this when the plastic drip pan (underneath the fridge behind a removable grill) touches the compressor motor assembly. Take off that grill and shift the pan around a little to make sure that's not the problem.
posted by jamjam at 9:31 AM on October 1, 2012

Try shifting the fridge. Does the noise stop temporarily? If so, you can probably use a little tape or a foam pad to solve the problem. Move the drain pan under the unit a bit, and see if it takes care of the noise. Or, the plastic grill on the bottom of the unit may be loose.

I have used foam tape to stop some buzzing on my fridge. It takes a bit of experimentation and is kind of dirty and awkward, but the noise has gone away.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:42 AM on October 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. As far as remedies involving moving/shifting the refrigerator, it's very heavy so I don't think I'd be able to do that own my own. But my landlords said that they would come over to look at, and then we'll go from there.

I'm a little worried that there will be no cheap solution for this, but we'll end up having a disagreement as far as what is an acceptable level of noise, where they'll say, "Oh this is normal" and well, I don't think it is. I would certainly pay to have it repaired or replaced if I owned the apartment, but if I'm only living there 1-2 years, that would be a waste of my money. But if they think it's acceptable, am I SOL?

I suppose in that case I could take the route "like_a_friend" suggested and pay for someone to check it out and provide a "second opinion"... but hopefully it won't come to that, and it'll either be easy to fix or they'll be willing to take care of it. I will keep you updated!
posted by Asparagus at 10:12 AM on October 1, 2012

A new fridge isn't that expensive. If kicking it isn't an acceptable solution, you may find repair gets to a large % of the replacement cost. Generally 15 years is on the backside of fridge lifetime expectancy (depending on who you ask and what sort it is, lifetime is 12 to 20 years). I'd advocate for a new one. If you're in DC, you're probably paying decently high rent anyway.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:20 AM on October 1, 2012

Best answer: Don't accept "oh this is normal" from them. Be there when the repair person shows up, and get them to agree that it is not normal. You both know what a refrigerator sounds like, and it doesn't sound like this. Insist that the landlord come and listen, as well, if he doesn't agree to repair or replace. Stick to your guns. Remind the landlord that your lease agreement includes their provision of a working refrigerator, and this refrigerator is not working correctly. Yes, it cools the food, but it is not supposed to be that noisy, and the noise is not acceptable to you.
posted by beagle at 10:49 AM on October 1, 2012

ellF: "That seems really passive aggressive to me. If my tenant said that, I might fix the fridge, but I would also (a) not renew their lease, and (b) provide feedback as to why to any future landlord who called me for a reference."

I'm sure if you went to this apartment and heard the noise, you would have fixed this without requiring any additional incentives. For landlords that just don't care about their tenants at all, putting things into terms they DO care about (How much will this cost me?) can help to get them to see things your way.

Of course, this is coming from someone who rents in NYC where the landlords are huge leasing agencies with no soul, so OP'sMMV.

And references here are simply "Did they pay their rent on time?" with a Y/N answer and that's it.
posted by Grither at 11:04 AM on October 1, 2012

This exact thing happened to me, with a 15-year-old fridge. It was so loud you could not have a conversation in the kitchen. I called my landlady and she did send over a repairman, who said that it was the drip pan. He shimmed it, which worked for about 18 hours, after which it was louder than ever. (He also charged about $100 for the fix.) I got the repairman to say that it would cost less to buy a new fridge than it would to call him back to the landlady. After it started making unacceptable amounts of noise again, she bought me a new fridge.

A low-end but functional new fridge only costs about $300, so work the repairman as your ally.

posted by athenasbanquet at 12:50 PM on October 1, 2012

Do you have a level? Your refrigerator is likely tilting one way or another. We got a new fridge at work that was super loud out of the box. Someone leveled it and now we can barely hear it.
posted by reeddavid at 3:47 PM on October 1, 2012

Response by poster: Well, I moved the refrigerator away from the wall to get a better look at it (it is very dusty back there- blegh!). And that hasn't stopped the noise... there don't appear to be any visible loose parts (e.g. pan) either. It sounds like the noise is coming from INSIDE the fridge, on the bottom. Oh, and I also hear some kind of dripping sound... but I don't see water anywhere. Does that affect the likely diagnosis?

Thanks everyone for your help! I'm glad to find out that I'm not making a big deal out of nothing.
posted by Asparagus at 4:25 PM on October 1, 2012

So... did you level it?
posted by reeddavid at 8:43 PM on October 1, 2012

A buzzing noise from inside the fridge is usually the fan hitting something or in some cases the defrost timer. Because the sound is intermittent in this case the fan is likely cause. This generally isn't something that is easily user serviceable as it'll require taking the fridge apart at least a little. I'd keep bugging your landlord as a noisy fan is sometimes an early indicator of a defrost problem.

Grither writes "Perhaps mention the $500 worth of food that is in there that you would expect reimbursement for if the fridge were to stop working one day?"

It's pretty unlikely your landlord would be on the hook for this unless you can show negligence; you've got renter's insurance right? You should buy a thermometer for your fridge so you can keep an eye on the temperature.

Asparagus writes "Oh, and I also hear some kind of dripping sound... but I don't see water anywhere. Does that affect the likely diagnosis? "

All frost free fridges drip. If you don't have water on the floor it's normal.

PS: your fridge should only be level left to right. Front to back the front of the fridge should be higher than the back so that the door will swing shut by itself.
posted by Mitheral at 10:17 PM on October 1, 2012

It's a bit late, but I just moved into a place with an overly-noisy buzzing fridge. When I press lightly on the evaporator tubes it stops, so I'm going to bolt the evaporator on a little more tightly (there are some holes where it looks like bolts are missing). I think the evaporator and its mounting brackets are rattling against each other.
posted by asperity at 6:58 PM on October 26, 2012

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