By MyPros Staff
Like other modern appliances, refrigerators have “gone digital,” updating many components with more advanced ones as technological progress continues. Despite these changes, the way refrigerators work has not changed much, except that the coolant is no longer chloro-fluoro-carbons (like Freon) but the new, eco-friendlier HFC (tetrafluoroethane).
It would certainly behoove you to read a good article on basic refrigerator operations, as well as the manual and user guide that came with your appliance. When you understand how the machine operates, and are particularly familiar with the specific model sitting in your kitchen (or wherever), you will be much better prepared to notice when things are going awry.
Without getting into the material that you will study about your specific refrigerator, or spoiling your “intro to refrigerator” reading fun, let’s review the basics of the appliance.
Essentially, you have an insulated container (the “box”) that uses chemical and electromechanical methods to draw heat from the interior. It is important to understand that refrigerators do not “make things cold” so much as they remove and dissipate heat.
The chemical, HFC, changes from liquid to gas in a process called “vaporizing.” As it travels through a series of coils, on the back of the fridge and around the inner compartments, it changes forms from liquid to gas (and back again), draws heat from the compartments and then dissipates it. This is why there are warm spots behind and beneath the appliance.
Leaks are not as common as in the old days, but can still occur. Any hissing sounds, liquid spots or loss of cooling efficiency might be attributable to either a leak or a valve problem.
Electrical gremlins and moisture
It may seem obvious, but power supply issues begin with the plug. If you are losing power intermittently, check that your plug is inserted all the way, that you have not defeated the grounding plug and that you are on the appropriate house circuit. Numerous problems can ensue when the power situation is not “copacetic,” such as when you try using a standard extension cord for the fridge. This is a fire hazard, as well as being a bad thing for the appliance.
If you notice condensation on the outside and/or inside walls, and accumulating under the bottom drawers (on certain models), there may be a problem with the timer or thermostat that help control the defrosting cycles. Do not just mop up the evidence without checking further to find the cause(s) of the moisture.
Another accumulation that you should watch for in frost-free models (all modern units, in other words) is – frost! If your freezer compartment is not staying clear of ice and frost, which occurs often enough to mention here, then it is much more likely that you are dealing with a “programming” problem (timers, circuitry) than a chemical one.
Door insulation is your friend
Perhaps one of the most common problems with refrigerators of all ages is the door insulation losing its flexibility and efficacy. If this material gets dry and begins to warp, crack or harden, it will not keep the room air out as well. This, of course, will lead to a rise in the interior temperature.
Check your insulation regularly, and wipe it down with baking soda or a “silicon conditioner” available at the hardware store. You want to ensure that you get a nice, tight seal when you shut the doors to the fridge.
As any modern appliance, you will “get to know” your refrigerator and become familiar with the sounds it makes, the way it looks and the amount of heat and (transient) condensation you will notice here and there during normal operation. When any of these indicators changes, particularly when they do so quickly, you can safely assume that something is amiss.
Just remember to use common sense. You are dealing with a machine that uses electricity, electromechanical components, chemicals and certain construction materials. These all have normal operating ranges and conditions, any deviation from which should cue you to check the various systems. If you are not knowledgeable enough to diagnose and repair the problems, make sure to get someone who is!