It’s often better for the environment to keep an appliance running efficiently than to buy a new one. And do-it-yourself repairs are a great way to save time, money, and practice self-sufficiency. Before you replace your current refrigerator/freezer with a sustainable, energy-efficient model, you may be able to repair it yourself without paying a professional.
Understanding how to fix common appliance problems, as well as when it’s time to buy a new one, can help you maintain a sustainable home. Let’s take a look at how you can repair your refrigerator to improve energy consumption and get a few more years out of it rather than wasting new resources.
Understand Common Problems
Some of the most common problems with your refrigerator might be the easiest ones to fix. Those issues often include the following:
Water Leaking Onto the Floor
The most common culprit of refrigerator water leaks is a clogged defrost drain — located inside the back of the freezer near the bottom. Sometimes this drain gets clogged by food or other debris. Clear the drain and your problem should be fixed.
Assuming the problem isn’t the thermostat settings, dirty coils, vents, and fans could be the issue. Also, you’ll want to be sure your door is sealing when shut.
Refrigerator Is Freezing Food
The thermostat settings could be set too cold. Or, you may need to check that the coils, vents, and fans are clean and functioning.
Refrigerator Is Cycling Frequently
If your fridge is short cycling, it could be because of a faulty defrost timer, and that might be the first place you should check. You can check the defrost timer by locating the advance screw — find it on the back of the timer — and turning it clockwise. Wait for the click, which advances it to the next mode. Wait about 35 minutes and then check whether it has moved to the next mode. The compressor will have turned on, you’ll hear it. After that, take a look at the regular suspects: the coils, vents, and fans.
Take the First Steps
Often, the first step in repairing a refrigerator is to give it a good cleaning. One great way to improve the energy efficiency of your appliances is to clean out their filters. If you’ve never removed the back panel to take a look at your compressor, it could be filthy from dirt, dust, and debris.
Cleaning everything thoroughly can fix the problem. First, make sure the refrigerator is unplugged. Then, use a narrow vacuum attachment and brush to clean the condenser coils and fan. Hot soapy water and an optional mix of water and bleach can be used to clean the interior of the refrigerator as well.
But don’t just clean surface areas. If your fridge is leaking water, for example, you might have a clog in the drain hose. The drain hose is typically located at the bottom of the fridge. Remove anything that’s in the bottom shelves or drawers of the refrigerator and look for a hose opening that is about half an inch in diameter. It should be in the lower part of the fridge cabinet. Use a screwdriver or pipe cleaner to remove any particles and warm water to remove any ice, if it’s in your freezer instead. You can also use a turkey baster with water and diluted bleach to flush the drain after removing particles.
If you have a broken fan or compressor, replacement parts are easy to find and much cheaper than replacing the entire unit. To check if your compressor is faulty, follow these steps:
- Pull your fridge away from the wall.
- Unplug it.
- Find the compressor panel.
- Use a flathead screwdriver to remove the screws holding the panel on and then remove it.
- Locate the starter relay switch and unplug it from the compressor. It will look like a small home printer ink cartridge.
- Shake the relay switch. If it rattles, then it has gone bad. You will need to replace it. If there’s no rattle, the compressor itself is likely the issue, and that can cost more to replace than a new fridge might.
If you can get a good-as-new used part that means less waste and less energy used on the production and transportation of a new one. Even if you feel more comfortable hiring a professional to repair these problems, you’ll be relying on fewer resources than you would if you purchased a brand new refrigerator.
If the fan isn’t working, it’s likely just ice build-up. All you need to do is clear the ice off the fan, and it should start working again. If not, it could be a blade needs replacing, which you can do according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Or the fan itself might need to be replaced.
Know When to Let Go
Unfortunately, an old refrigerator or freezer that isn’t functioning properly can end up wasting a lot of energy. The average refrigerator lasts about 10 years when well maintained, according to Asurion. If yours is older than that and it keeps breaking down, it might be more sustainable to buy a new, energy-efficient model.
However, throwing out your old refrigerator or having it dropped off at the local dump leaves the recyclable components to rust and decompose for centuries. And it may even do more damage if it’s leaking certain chemicals like Freon or oil.
Thankfully, there are several ways you can safely recycle your refrigerator. Many utility companies are part of the Responsible Alliance Disposal (RAD) program and will come to your home to haul away your fridge and dispose of it in an environmentally responsible way. Some organizations/businesses might even pay you for it. You can also keep an eye out for trade-in offers from manufacturers.
Feel Good About Your Efforts
While repairing a refrigerator may seem like a daunting task, it’s well worth the effort. Purchasing parts and supplies from small repair businesses helps support the local economy. Repairing appliances yourself instead of replacing them means you consume fewer resources required for new appliance manufacturing. By consuming less, you reduce the carbon emissions associated with appliance manufacturing and transportation. You’re creating your sustainable home, one clogged defrost drain at a time.
About the Author
Sam Bowman writes about people, the environment, tech, and how they merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house.