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All the Things That Commonly Break in Your Refrigerator


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Written by TechVill Appliance Repair Ltd. Editorial Contributors

A broken refrigerator is a huge pain and can cause all sorts of problems, including leaks and spoiled food. As a homeowner, it helps to have a solid understanding of how your refrigerator works, and what its basic components are just in case something goes wrong. 

The Parts of a Refrigerator

Refrigerators contain both internal and external parts. The internal parts control the actual functions of the refrigerator (in this case, keeping our food cold). The external parts are what we see when we open the door and include things like the crisper. 

Internal Refrigerator Parts

  1. Refrigerant: Refrigerant is the liquid that is used to keep our refrigerators cool. It travels through the internal parts of the refrigerator (called the evaporator) and absorbs the heat from the items we put in the refrigerator. After it has collected the heat it moves to the condenser, where it is expelled. The refrigerant is constantly circulating throughout the internal portion of the refrigerator in order to keep your food cold.
  2. Compressor: The compressor is located at the back of the refrigerator near the bottom. The compressor sucks the refrigerant through the evaporator and sends it to the condenser, where the heat dissipates. Your compressor is run using an electric motor and consumes most of your refrigerator’s electricity.
  3. Condenser: On the back of your fridge there is a thin coil of copper tubing. That is called the condenser. Once the refrigerant from the compressor enters the condenser the heat is dissipated, making the inside of your refrigerator cooler than the outside.
  4. Expansive Valve or Capillary: After the refrigerant leaves the condenser it goes to the expansion device, which in ordinary refrigerators is usually a capillary tube. This thin piece of copper tubing snakes back and forth across the back of your refrigerator. When the refrigerant passes through it the capillary action causes the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant to drop suddenly, making sure it is cool for the next pass through your refrigerator.
  5. Evaporator: Once it is cooled the refrigerant enters either the freezer compartment or the evaporator compartment (the main portion of your refrigerator). The evaporator itself is made up of several turns of copper or aluminum tubing. When the refrigerant enters the evaporator or freezer, it collects heat from the items in your refrigerator and makes its way back to the evaporator, continuing the cycle.
  6. Thermostat: The thermostat controls the temperature inside both the main portion of your fridge and the freezer section. Once the internal temperature in these compartments cools to reach the temperature set using the thermostat control the electrical supply to the compressor stops. If the internal temperature in the refrigerator rises (likely because you opened the door) the thermostat turns the compressor on again and the refrigerator begins to recool its contents.
  7. Defrost System: Most modern refrigerators are frost free. This is because the defrost system helps remove ice that builds up on the evaporator. The defrost system can be operated manually using the thermostat controls, though depending on the model of your refrigerator there may be an automatic system in place. Automatic systems are made up of an electrical heater and a timer.

External Refrigerator Parts

The external parts of your refrigerator are more straightforward and consist of the areas of the refrigerator you interact with every day.

  1. Freezer: The freezer compartment is used to store foods that need to be kept frozen. This compartment is kept below 0°C. The edge of the freezer door is lined with a long flexible rubber strip called a gasket. The gasket helps keep the cool air from escaping and reduces the amount of energy your refrigerator requires to run.
  2. Drain: The water that condenses in your freezer needs to go somewhere. While older models simply allowed the water to build up as frost newer models include a drain. The drain consists of a drain pipe and a plug.
  3. Thermostat Control: The thermostat control is used to control the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer.
  4. Refrigerator Compartment: This is the main section of your refrigerator and is kept above 0°C but this compartment needs to be kept cold enough to ensure your food doesn’t spoil. This large space is often subdivided using shelves and drawers.
  5. Crisper: The crisper is the warmest part of your refrigerator, and consists of two drawers located at the bottom of the refrigerator compartment. This slightly warmer area is ideal for storing items such as fruits and vegetables.
  6. Refrigerator Door Compartments: On the inside of your refrigerator door are several narrow shelves and other subsections and is used to store items such as dairy, butter, and eggs. The edge of the refrigerator door is lined with a long flexible rubber strip called a gasket. The gasket helps keep the cool air from escaping and reduces the amount of energy your refrigerator requires to run.
  7. Switch: The switch controls the lightbulb in your refrigerator. When the door is closed the switch turns the light off, and when the door is opened the switch turns the light on.
  8. Vent: The vent is located at the bottom of your refrigerator, below the door. It is covered by a vent panel, which is designed to keep dust and debris away from the vent.

Common Refrigerator Problems

Refrigerators involve a lot of components, which means there are a lot of different things that can go wrong. In this section, we will discuss several common refrigerator problems and what causes them. 

Ice Buildup

If your normally frost-free freezer is suddenly full of frost the problem may lie with your gasket. Over time gaskets become less flexible and may warp, reducing their ability to properly seal your doors. To test your gaskets place a high powered flashlight inside your refrigerator and rotate it so the beam is pointed outwards towards you. Close your door and turn out the lights in your kitchen. If you see any light leaking out from around the door then you know it is time to replace your gasket. 

Water Pooling on the Floor

This problem usually occurs in refrigerators with built-in ice machines. If the icemaker line has sprung a leak it will cause water to pool beneath your refrigerator. To temporarily stop the leak you will need to cut off the water supply to the refrigerator. Look for a shutoff valve, which is usually located either under your kitchen sink or in your basement beneath your refrigerator. However, this is only a temporary fix. To solve the problem you will need to either replace your refrigerator or call in a professional and see if it can be repaired. 

Water Pooling in Your Refrigerator

If water is pooling in your refrigerator (and a leaky bottle stored inside isn’t the culprit) then your drain plug may be blocked, causing the water to build up and drain into your refrigerator’s main compartment. Remove the contents of your freezer and check to make sure your drain isn’t clogged. If it is, you may be able to unclog it yourself by giving your freezer a good clean and flushing the drain with hot water. If flushing the drain doesn’t solve your problem, it is time to call in an expert. 

The refrigerator is Constantly Running

If your refrigerator is running constantly, and using more energy than usual, the problem may be the condenser coils. Condenser coils both disperse heat and attract dust. If your house is particularly dusty, or you have pets, your condenser coil is more likely to get dirty enough that it no longer functions properly.

Use your vacuum to clean your condenser coil thoroughly. In order to make future cleanings easier, you may also want to consider placing a section of pantyhose or another piece of lightweight filter material inside the vent panel. When the pantyhose or filter becomes clogged, simply swap it out for a new one and give your vent a quick once over with the vacuum. 

When to Call in the Experts

While some common refrigerator problems can be solved without the help of an expert, some problems are serious and require a professional touch. However, the refrigerant is toxic and is kept under pressure within the system, meaning that some problems really do need to be left up to a capable and licensed repair team.

You should call a professional right away if:

  • Your refrigerator is hissing, and not cooling as effectively as it should be.
  • You feel an oily residue on the floor of the freezer compartment.
  • Your condenser coils are damaged.
  • Your refrigerator is leaking a lot of water and you can’t find the source.
  • The outside of your refrigerator is sweating.
  • Your refrigerator continues to turn itself on and off even after you have cleaned your condenser coils.

These symptoms are signs of much bigger problems that can only be safely handled by a professional. TechVill Appliances have been keeping Calgary’s refrigerators and other home appliances humming along happily for years. Our business is built on the promise that we will always be honest and truthful. We will never inflate the problem or the price. For more information about our refrigerator repair services, please visit our website.

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