frozen alcohol, warm cheese
August 8, 2006 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Paging Mitheral! A fridge question, and you'll find...

My fridge has a similar problem as found in this thread but with a twist: 3.5 year old Maytag side by side freezer, the freezer side gets extremely cold, while the fridge doesn't keep to the proper cool temperature. It's been manually defrosted once already this summer, I've had a technician come in to look at it (twice) and he couldn't find anything "mechanically wrong with it." There obviously is something wrong, though. What's going on here?
posted by ashbury to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
 
Defrosted? Anything made in the past, oh, 20 years or so shouldn't need defrosting.
This is a longshot...double-check the way you have items stored in the fridge compartment. Make sure nothing is sticking out just enough to keep the door from closing securely.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:11 AM on August 8, 2006


There might be separate thermostats for the two sides - if you aren't setting both..
posted by Chuckles at 10:48 AM on August 8, 2006


Also check to make sure you don't have food right up against where the cold air is supposed to come into the fridge. It's probably either a separate thermostat issue (check to make sure that when you change the thermostat the temactually changes) or food blocking the air vents or the door not sealing properly.
posted by jessamyn at 11:35 AM on August 8, 2006


Hmm. Defrosted.

Thorzdad: What I have done in the past is turn the unit off for a number of hours (say maybe 10), which generated a fair amount of water under and around the fridge, so I'm assuming that I'm defrosting it. After it "defrosts", the fridge works just fine, until it starts getting wonky temperatures again ( in this case after about a month and a half). Also of note, I had the same problem last summer, but only once, and never was there a hint of an issue during the fall/winter/spring.

I have two kids, and we're always in and out of the fridge, and it's been pretty humid this summer here in southwestern ontario, so there could be an ice buildup due to increased summer fridge activity and humidity. Yes? Maybe? Enough to cause my problem?

chuckles and jessamyn: check and check. There are two thermostats and I've tried adjusting them both. Also, the gaskets seem to be sealing the doors properly, and we have nothing blocking any vents in both sides.
posted by ashbury at 12:02 PM on August 8, 2006


Do you have proper venting for the fridge's fan? Is it hot to the touch on the outside anywhere?
posted by Eringatang at 1:10 PM on August 8, 2006


The common arrangement for a refrigerator/freezer is that there are two controls: a thermostat, that controls how long the compressor runs, and a diverter control, that determines how much of the freezer temperature air is permitted into the fridge compartment.

Your flap valve might be misadjusted, or broken.
posted by baylink at 2:09 PM on August 8, 2006


Just so you know, Mitheral was exactly right about my fridge. The problem re-occured about 3 weeks later, I called a repair guy and he diagnosed a broken heater, which he replaced for ~$200.

There must be some sort of internal fan that moves air from the freezer to the fridge, but if a tech has looked at it to no avail, my only suggestion is to get a second opinion, or get a new fridge.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:24 PM on August 8, 2006


I always hear about the 'dollar bill test', where you put a piece of paper of a bill between the door gasket and the fridge frame. If you can pull it out freely then the seal isn't very good. Of course you would have to test select spots all the way around the door.

What I have done in the past is turn the unit off for a number of hours (say maybe 10), which generated a fair amount of water under and around the fridge, so I'm assuming that I'm defrosting it. After it "defrosts", the fridge works just fine, until it starts getting wonky temperatures again

Well, non frost-free fridges produce a lot more water than that :P

I think there is definitely a service problem.. Can you identify where the temperature sensor is? Can you identify where the icing is occurring? Off hand, this low refrigerant charge issue seems relevant. Although it was referencing air conditioners, low refrigerant would cause a strange distribution of cooling capacity in a fridge cooling coil too.

You probably need a different service technician.
posted by Chuckles at 6:42 PM on August 8, 2006


Did the tech come when the fridge was misbehaving or was he there shortly after a defrost? If the latter it can be really hard to diagnose a defrost problem if the fridge isn't currently malfunctioning.

You report that the fridge is warm and the freezer cold. Have you used a thermometer to check the temperatures or are you just going by feel?

A frost free fridge that works immediately after manually defrosting and then starts to get warm in the fresh food section after a few days is usually a defrost problem of some sort. If the freezer continues to keep ice cream and OJ frozen my initial guess would be frost blocking the air passage between the freezer and fresh compartments. Often this is caused by a plugged defrost pan drain.

Did the tech detail what he checked on your invoice?

Do you have any unusual frost build ups? Any new noises?

Do your temperature controls have digital readouts? Some newer refrigerators have microprocessors that control doors to regulate the airflow between compartments. It is possible you have a failure in this system.

I hate to say it but if the tech saw your unit while the fresh food compartment was too warm yet declared the unit OK it's time to find a new tech. As with anything there is a certain percentage of the trade that isn't wholly competent.
posted by Mitheral at 7:06 PM on August 8, 2006


You report that the fridge is warm and the freezer cold. Have you used a thermometer to check the temperatures or are you just going by feel?

No, no thermometer was used, but the indicator I always use is bad milk/how long it takes to warm up the milk in the microwave - yeah, pretty non-technical but it's always been right in the past.

my initial guess would be frost blocking the air passage between the freezer and fresh compartments. Often this is caused by a plugged defrost pan drain.

I don't think that there is any blockage between the compartments, BUT when I checked the drain pan, it was mostly dry and kinda sticky, which makes me think that the pan drain tube IS blocked somewhere. The tech mentioned bending the drain pan tube/pipe thing-y into a U shape in order to create a trap of some sort, which seems dodgy to me.

Anyway, if it's the defrost pan drain that is getting blocked all the time, how do make it so that it stops getting blocked?

And Mitheral, thanks for stopping by. It's much appreciated, as are all the responses.
posted by ashbury at 8:47 PM on August 8, 2006


Oh, and no new noises, but there has been a frost build-up towards the bottom front of the freezer. At the back of the freezer at that level there is a vent of some sort, and I believe a drain pan as well.
posted by ashbury at 8:50 PM on August 8, 2006


ashbury writes "I don't think that there is any blockage between the compartments"

You won't be able to see it, the passage is inside the walls.

ashbury writes "BUT when I checked the drain pan, it was mostly dry and kinda sticky, which makes me think that the pan drain tube IS blocked somewhere."

That's normal in the evaporation pan. It usually doesn't take long for the moisture collected there to evaporate, especially if the pan sits on a condenser coil or is in the air stream of a fan.

However the drain pan I was referring to is an internal component that catches the frost melted off the cooling coils and then directs the water outside into the evaporation pan. When either the pan heater fails or the tube gets blocked, ice will form in the pan. This can cause a warm fresh compartment symptom if the ice build up blocks part or all of the ducts connecting the fresh and frozen sides.

ashbury writes "The tech mentioned bending the drain pan tube/pipe thing-y into a U shape in order to create a trap of some sort, which seems dodgy to me."

You may require a U shaped trap in your drain tube to prevent warm air from infiltrating the interior.

Can you post pictures (or email them to me) of the frost build up?

It would be a good idea to quantify the temperature of the two compartments. You can buy fancy fridge thermometers but a simple alcohol exterior thermometer will do. It's best to calibrate it before use by submerging it in a pot of ice water and then adjusting it to 0C/32F. Your fresh compartment should be in the 34-40F range. The best way to check is insert the thermometer and then wait 12 hours. Then check it immediately after it shuts off. Try to keep the door closed during the test.

Finally check your condenser coils if they are visible on the back or underneath your fridge. They should be clean of dust and hair. A vacuum equipped with a crevase tool and a long handled bottle brush will make cleaning the under fridge coils a breeze. This is something that on forced air condenser models should be done every three months (same as your Furnace and A/C filter). More often if you have hairy pets (especially cats who love to lay in the warm breeze coming from under the fridge).
posted by Mitheral at 7:03 AM on August 9, 2006


Sorry mitheral, but the fridge has been turned off and manually defrosted, so there's no more frost build up. If/when it happens again, I'll take some pictures. I'll also clean off the coils and take your other advice. But I can't email you because you don't have an email in your profile.

Thanks again for your help.
posted by ashbury at 7:21 AM on August 10, 2006


Sorry, my email is my description block, not the header.
posted by Mitheral at 8:02 AM on August 11, 2006


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