Fridge Dead?

Fridge warm? Freezer Cold? When you have a cold freezer warm fridge situation it could be many, many things. However there are 2 that are by far the most common.

1st Maybe a defrost problem… Snow on the walls is a sign of a problem with the auto defrost system. This would make your freezer compartment unable to shed the snow which would then insulate/block the evaporator coils from the air in the fridge/freezer compartments. Check for frost/snow on the back wall or floor of the freezer compartment. If your freezer has snow on the back wall (or in some freezer on top models bottom floor) then that is a sign that you may have frosted coils. Melting that frost until the coils are down to bare metal again would temporarily restore the function of your fridge/freezer. If you feel up to the task you can empty the freezer and melt the snow by leaving the power off or unplugged for 24hrs. Just remember that when that snow melts it often makes litres of water come out from underneath/behind so be ready to catch it and clean it up. Keep in mind the auto defrost system would still need repairs otherwise the snow will build up again. A fridge which is unable to get cold enough will run almost all day. This puts wear on the expensive sealed system compressor (the heart of the fridge). It is important to prevent wear on the compressor.

2nd common problem is broken/blocked fan. This is sometimes forewarned by some loud noises. To see if that is the problem listen for fan sounds. Open doors too see if its in the fridge or freezer compartment. *Note that some models turn the fan off when you open the door. With those models you need to spot the door switch/button which gets pushed by the door when its in the right position. Push it in so it thinks the door is closed.

If your fan is not working it could be blocked by something like food or ice. It may be a burned out motor, a broken fan blade or lack of power supply to the fan. You may need a repair person to solve this problem.

If your fan is working check the vents for air flow. Sometimes snow/ice/food may block the vents. If you can unblock the vents you may restore the function of the fridge. If not, you may need a repair person.

There are also fans underneath many modern fridges. If they stop working it would make it unable to shed heat from the condenser coils. This would make the fridge very inefficient. Constant running may harm the compressor.

–Tips for making due in a pinch…

For items you need every day use a cooler. Put the cooler in the coldest place you can. In colder weather put it outside. To prevent animals from getting in put something heavy on top.

For anything in the freezer or fridge that you do not use everyday but wish to keep long term…call/visit your local supermarket and ask to speak to the manager. Tell them of your situation (maybe even add that you just bought a whole bunch from them recently and worried you’ll lose it) and politely ask if you may bring a couple boxes, sealed and clearly labeled on all sides. Perhaps they will let you put some in their fridge and freezer, provided they have space.

And/or…contact your neighbors or strata council to see if anyone can share some space in theirs. Good excuse to build a relationship with a neighbor you don’t know, which could be handy in future too.


Fridge Maintenance

One of the most common causes of early death for modern fridges is dust and pet hair. Vacuum your condenser at least every year (may need to unplug it first if there are any spinning fans, or if you need to remove the cover around back of the machine to clean in there). Check it 6 months after the first time you do it. If there are dust bunnies then you may need to vacuum every 3-6 months.

A fridge works by moving heat from inside the freezer/fridge to outside the machine. It gives off the heat to your house so that it can “steal” more from inside the machine.

The condenser (link wiki?) is the “grill” looking black tubes under or behind the fridge (usually the size of a pencil and/or the “lead” in the pencil). The condenser is the part of the fridge that releases the heat into the room. If it cannot release that heat (like when it is covered in a blanket of dust) the heat stays in the system. I usually use the analogy that it’s like fetching water from a well (inside the fridge). Then you carry the water home from the well (outside the fridge –condenser) but only empty half the bucket before going back to the well for a second trip. This would take more trips to get the same amount of water. This excessive running (trips) makes the fridge less efficient and makes it runs longer and respond slower when trying to cool food you put in. This means the fridge will last less time in years and cost you more in electricity to get the same job done. If a fridge is made to last for 15 years running 1hr per day, how long will the same fridge last with a dirty condenser, running 3 hrs per day and running hotter than normal?

Remove the grill on the front near the floor. Are there black tubes there? If so, clean them using the method below. If not, check the back of the fridge. You may have to remove a cover near the bottom of the back if you do, make sure to turn off the power at the breaker box or unplug the machine.

The best tools for this are a flashlight, a long soft bristled bottlebrush and a vacuum. Insert the brush and rotate/roll it 90-180 degrees. Pull it out slowly and vacuum off the brush. Shine the flashlight to see where to clean and repeat. I keep the vacuum running nearby on the floor to suck up any dust that breaks loose into the air.


When buying a fridge you should always look for one with condenser tubes that are easy to reach/clean. Ask the salesperson to show you, or just remove the cover yourself and have a look. The plastic cover on the front of the machine, right near the floor. Also look for mechanical controls (avoid electronics). A good old plastic dial wth numbers painted on it beats a digital display screen (when its time to get it fixed).

In olden times and on older style models they still have those black tubes running top to bottom, side to side, on the back of the fridge. Those kinds of condensers need less dusting. But some new designs put the condenser under the fridge. They sometimes put a fan (raising power consumption) under there to blow air over the condenser. This will pick up dust from the floor and deposit it on the condenser. This means the fridge is now very inefficient. It will consume lots of energy then die prematurely and end up as waste in a landfill.

Get to know what it does when it is working properly, so that you have something to compare it to when it breaks down. Does your fridge have a fan under/behind it? Is there one inside the freezer? The fridge? In-between? Listen and feel for fans blowing when the fridge is running. Look for ducts in the fridge where air should come in. Do you feel the cool air coming in through the vent/duct? Is the duct blocked by food or snow/ice? If you want something to chill quickly put it near a vent.

Keep heavy items off the fridge door shelves. These days they make fridges so light weight that the doors can’t hold as much weight as they used to. Use the door for small containers of left-overs, bread, celery, peppers and anything else that is not heavy, glass or fluid. If your fridge is not performing well or you get lots of condensation check to make sure the door is sitting square and level with the rest of the cabinet. Make sure the door seals tightly with no gaps or air leaks.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recommends that refrigerators be set at or below 4C (40F). Food kept above this temperature for two hours or more may grow pathogenic bacteria and should not be eaten. Use a refrigerator thermometer to routinely check the temperature of your appliance. Keep in mind that these thermometers can be notoriously inaccurate so if it gives you an unusual reading go buy another one to get a second opinion (usually cheaper than a repair call for a problem free fridge).

Freezer Tips:

-Never over stuff your freezer. It needs proper airflow around the items to keep them cold. This is why the shelves are often made of bars of thin metal rather than solid plastic. Plastic bags bunch together and block the airflow completely. Remove any bags or cardboard boxes whenever possible. Put bags on the shelf with spaces between them to allow air to flow all around it. Never block the fan or duct/vent. If you want something to chill quickly put it near a vent.

Clean out the freezer regularily. Even I find ancient artifacts deep in the back of my freezer sometimes.