New fridge blues - plus apparently I have dog hearing
March 17, 2017 4:10 PM   Subscribe

New fridge makes high-pitched whining noise whenever compressor kicks in. Who do I call and what do I ask for? Complicating factor: partner can't hear it and isn't bothered by it.

Your help is needed in navigating the shoals of new appliance repair and replacement.

OK, so recently, our 25 year-old workhorse of a Whirlpool fridge died. A new one just arrived, to much jubilation. It's a Samsung unit, and lovely in every other way, BUT it emits a high-pitched whine on top of regular fridge noises. The whine starts about 3 minutes after the compressor kicks in. To me, since apparently I have dog hearing, it's like fingers on chalkboard. It is about a G# in the high registers of a glass harmonica or musical wine-glasses.

My partner is cheerfully unaffected. I cannot live with this noise. He doesn't want to inconvenience the salesperson/repairpeople. I don't want to have to leave the room every half hour.

We did some basic troubleshooting: the noise is the same with the fridge nestled inside, or pulled out of the alcove. The noise is reproducible and consistent, and always within a few minutes of the compressor starting. There are no loose parts around the compressor. The compressor mount has thick rubber isolation washers. My best guess is some thin metal part is resonating with the compressor vibration when it reaches full load, or maybe something within the compressor, or maybe even the refrigerant fluid flow. I know nothing about fridges, I just want them to work, quietly!

While technical troubleshooting would be appreciated, the main question is about the logistics of getting refund/repair/replacement.

One complicating factor is that we ordered it from a friend who's the manager of a local electronics/appliance superstore. FWIW, it was with minimal upfront fuss - here's the SKU, here's the credit card, no rush, we'll be home on delivery day.

In general, my partner is very self-sufficient and tries hard not to inconvenience people, and very few things bother him. I am way more sensitive to sounds and smells, and I can't live with this thing.

I'm looking for help from people who have been store managers or technicians, or have had similar appliance issues :
- Who do I call first? What do I say?
- Will they try to minimize this as "all fridges are that way" or "it's your tile floor and open floor plan"? What would I say?
- Are there genius technicians that can wedge some foam or carpet here and there and fix the noise?
- Should I just go ahead and just request a replacement unit?
- Or should I go ahead and return the whole thing, and order something else? Are there fridges with overengineered fridges that are less likely to make this noise?
- Can I ask for an extension of the refund window if they want me to wait 2 weeks to see if it goes away?
- Are there special people to talk to? The manufacturer or the retailer?

Any help is appreciated (even if only to say that I'm overthinking this). You guys are the best!

(Yes, I do realize this is a first-world problem, and that if this is my biggest problem, life is pretty darn good.)
posted by metaseeker to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't have specific knowledge about the Samsung, but it is likely that your compressor motor is powered by an inverter. Old technology compressor motors were powered by 60 Hz AC power. Newer units are powered by inverters, which convert the 60 hz to a higher frequency. This frequency may be 10,000 to 30,000 hz. The 3 min could be explained by the time that the inverter takes to ramp up to full frequency.
It could be that your partner is older and their hearing is less sensitive to the given frequency. Your hearing is more sensitive. I'm sure it is small comfort to know that in a few years you may not be able to hear the noise either.
You can talk to Samsung, but I doubt that they can do anything about the noise. Some inverters have adjustments for the frequency and modulation pattern, but, as this is for a fixed application, it is not likely.
posted by H21 at 4:38 PM on March 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Just call email fax tweet Facebook Samsung customer service. Tell them your story. It's possible that other people have reported the same problem. They might have a fix, they might give you your money back, they might give you a credit towards a different model, who knows.
posted by fixedgear at 4:49 PM on March 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

I suffer from the same dog hearing problem and encountered something a bit like this a while back. Annoying high frequency noise in my bedroom that I could almost always hear. Tore my place apart trying to find the culprit...

It turned out to be a low quality USB wall plug; something adjusting the voltage in there (or whatever it was doing) was producing this whine. I swapped it out for a better one (the old one was some giveaway piece of junk) and haven't had the problem since.

So. Perhaps your issue is something at the power level, as H21 said? It might be as simple as replacing the cord and inverter.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:38 PM on March 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am following along because I really want there to be a solution for this other than losing one's mind.

I've always just unplugged whatever it was or, for sleeping purposes, got a good white noise machine, but my next line of defense was always, in theory, smothering the offending item in carpet swatches. Or encasing it, somehow.

I also sometimes want to break into restaurants and put carpeting on the undersides of all their tables, but that is neither here nor there.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:04 PM on March 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Just posting to sympathize with the dog hearing problem. SO ANNOYING those high pitched noises.
posted by bluesky78987 at 8:53 PM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

In the interim, a pair of earplugs should help with the nuts-driving factor.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:43 PM on March 17, 2017

What happens if you plug it in to a different outlet? There's some chance a bad AC outlet could cause problems.

I fear this may end up being frustrating and a "normal" operational sound. I googled the issue and people complain about this with various brands. You might have trouble recording or documenting it.

Things to try: raise the fridge temp and be super careful about opening the doors as little as possible so the compressor doesn't kick in as often. Also make sure it is perfectly level and has space for air to circulate behind it and on top.

In addition to a rectifier the other thing that could produce such a high pitched tone would be a fan motor. But I doubt there is a bad bearing on a brand new fan (or there may be multiple fans, but I don't think they'd run at such high speeds anyway). I have definitely heard high pitched drones from the compressors themselves on older refrigeration equipment and ACs too.

I'm a 50-something guy and I can still hear CRT squeals and the like, so I sympathize. Living in the city is like having tinnitus for me.
posted by spitbull at 5:47 AM on March 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this is helpful to the discussion but I had a new fridge with a weird noise issue (different one than yours) and I just called the people who delivered it who sent out a guy who ... tried some things and said that usually people get used to a new fridge after a few weeks.

What I said was "I just purchased this new fridge and it's making a noise that is bothering me (described noise) and I've tried all the things that I can think of and the noise is a problem. I can send it back or you can send someone to take a look at it first" If your partner doesn't care, your partner doesn't have to make the call but it's not-ok for him to place inconveniencing strangers over your own peace of mind (if there are related anxiety issues at play here--as there often are with me--make sure you are treating your anxiety and/or your partner's as you manage this)

I found this not at all helpful and really was set to send the whole damned thing back but I actually mostly did get used to it. Now, I am NOT saying that to tell you "Hey you will get used to it!" but just to say that it's easy enough to get a person to come out and take a look and if it's really making you feel terrible then you should go through that process and see how it goes. It is 100% acceptable to send a fridge back because it makes a noise that you can't live with.
posted by jessamyn at 7:11 AM on March 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your friend will not take this personally. Really! Call the store and/or manufacturer and start the repair or return process.

I also suspect this is electrical. I hope you can track down the issue. No, it shouldn't be doing making this noise, and if it is designed to make the noise (like its a feature of the inverter) then that is a poorly designed fridge and you should return it.

Just call them. You've got this!
posted by jbenben at 7:52 AM on March 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with H21 that the sound you are hearing is related to the inverter compressor. These are designed to save energy by being able to vary the speed of the compressor motor according to the needs of the refrigerator. The motor will start off slow, around 1000 RPM and gradually speed up to 5000 RPM, depending on the cooling needs. This is a higher speed than traditional refrigerators which operate at a steady 3600 RPM. This would explain why you only hear the sound after a few minutes of operation when the motor gets up to high speed. The smarter refrigerators even vary the speed depending on how often and how long you leave the door open, whether you open the fridge or the freezer door, and whether the icemaker is in the middle of a freezing cycle. So your annoying noise could come and go in an even more maddening semi-random way.

What you are probably hearing is the 5000 Hz of the motor or some multiple of that. Then there may be some quirk of geometry of motor mount and sheet metal that is resonating to make the noise louder.

I doubt it is a defect in your particular refrigerator, but you may find a different model that will be quieter. Not all inverter compressors may sound the same. Most high end refrigerators use inverter compressors these days because of their energy saving feature, but even Samsung has models that still use traditional compressors. Your best bet may be to trade your refrigerator for a different model. Best case you could find a floor model and have them plug it in for a few minutes to test the sound.
posted by JackFlash at 8:24 AM on March 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thank you everybody! All's well that ends well.

It really helped to understand that it's the compressor inverter, that it happens only at higher loads, and that this is the prevalent design. It was also really nice just to feel heard (so to speak), and to know that I'm in good company.

Here's what helped:
  • I placed a few small pieces of carpet under, above, and next to the fridge.
  • I also turned off the rapid-chilling option and adjusted the fridge/freezer thermostat, to decrease the need for higher loads and frequencies.
  • In addition, it is day 3 of the fridge's operation, so possibly some sort of burning-in process has occurred, or perhaps the the thermal mass of the contents have stablized.
  • Just in case, I contacted Samsung support and they were very helpful, so now I know how to request a technician if it acts up again.
We are halfway through a movie and I have not felt a need to leave the room.

I still miss the Whirlpool, but in time I will come to accept the appliance-ocalyse, where toasters spy on you and fridges emit sonic screeches, and all bugs are really features.
posted by metaseeker at 8:07 PM on March 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Get an app or machine that'll show the sound so it becomes real to your partner and the Samsung people.

Contact an acoustical consultant.
Ask Julian Treasure.
posted by at at 8:21 AM on March 19, 2017

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