Everyday Living Tips | Handy Hints

How To Repair A Refrigerator That Won’t Cool or Freeze

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Refrigerator problems are common for just about everyone whether you own a home or are a landlord and with that comes potential extra costs to your budget unless you can solve the problem on your own.

We own an older Frigidaire refrigerator that is about 12 years old and has been fabulous apart from this one problem. The refrigerator came with the house when we purchased it back in 2009 and is basic white without any fancy gadgets.

The freezer for this model is on the bottom which seems to be common in many kitchens around Canada. You may also have your freezer on the top or have side-by-side doors on your refrigerator where the freezer is right next to it.

No matter what your refrigerator looks like they all do the same thing, keep the cool stuff cool and the cold stuff cold.

Last week I woke up in the middle of the night for a cold glass of milk and a snack while the family was sleeping. Boy was I surprised to find that the freezer wasn’t freezing and the refrigerator not cooling.

Just my luck and I had to work in the morning. I went into the garage to find any boxes I could and started to empty the refrigerator into the boxes.

I also filled our large freezer in the basement with the freezer contents and anything else that was safe to freeze. Luckily it was still very cold outside and our garage held on to that cold temp nicely.

If you are reading this and it’s summer time, I feel for you but I still won’t buy a second fridge just for emergency break downs or to fill with beer, pop or extra food.

It’s not worth the extra hydro costs or headache for us unless of course we had a basement kitchen where a second refrigerator is needed.

At this point I left the freezer/refrigerator defrost for the rest of the night to see if that would get it working. After cleaning the puddle of water out of the bottom of the freezer in the morning, success was at hand.

Mrs. CBB got monitored the fridge/freezer during the day, only to tell me that nothing was happening. As I was working, all I could do was hope for the best and wait until I got home to investigate the problem more.

Troubleshooting broken refrigerator

removing ice buildup around the refrigerator freezer fan

Without waking my wife and son I proceeded to trouble shoot some common refrigerator problems such as checking the temperature and internal air-flow.

I also listened to make sure that the fan was running and it was not which prompted me to jump into action.

This had happened once before and Mrs. CBB knew that something was going wrong with the refrigerator as days prior she said she heard it making weird noises.

The noise you will hear with a frozen refrigerator fans is that of a blade slicing through ice or skating on the ice. The first time it happened we had no idea what the sound meant.

Troubleshooting a cool refrigerator and freezer was something I’ve done once before with our refrigerator as it seems ice build-up is a common theme. When the fan stops running the entire refrigerator comes to a halt because nothing is cooling or freezing any longer.

The first time it happened I had no idea what was going on so the first thing I did was unplug it since it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to anyways.

Anytime you plan on a refrigerator disassembly like I knew I was facing it’s important to keep safety in mind especially electricity.

I pulled the refrigerator out from the wall and with the round brush attachment on our central vacuum I cleaned the condenser coil at the back as it can build up with heavy dust.

Depending on your model of refrigerator you may or may not have to remove a fridge plate in front of your condenser coil. Cleaning the condenser coils will only take a minute or two and once you are done you can plug your refrigerator back in and away you go.

I knew cleaning the condenser wouldn’t solve my problem but it’s part of refrigerator maintenance that you will want to do every few months to make sure optimal air-flow continues.

The condenser is a heat-exchanger, the cleaner the heat-exchanger the less restriction the fridge/freezer has to fight against therefore keeping electricity costs down.

Since I had already determined that the light was working inside of the refrigerator and that there was no air-flow once I put my hands on the inside vents I knew I had a major appliance repair service job on my hands.

Or did I?

DIY or Refrigerator Service Repair Technician

Calling in an appliance repair technician can be pricey especially if it’s something simple a handy homeowner can fix on their own.

I’m one of those guys who likes to troubleshoot and read about why things break so I can learn how to fix them but I know that there are times where calling in the pros is necessary.

If I can’t find the problem or repair a problem to code or satisfaction then I will make that call which is why having an emergency savings handy is critical.

In some events when a home appliance does break down whether it be your refrigerator or washer and dryer you may end up having to purchase them again.

This can get costly whether they are new or used and you aren’t promised that your appliance problems will be solved. In other words appliances are a major headache for everyone.

Since we are in the middle of renovating our house and we know we are putting in a brand new kitchen the last thing we wanted was to spend money on buying a new refrigerator.

Not knowing what your new kitchen will look like means what you buy may not even fit into the plan. I often suggest buying appliances after a renovation but planning them into the renovation plan for the purpose of knowing what will fit in the spaces.

How to fix a fridge with a frozen fan

I don’t know about the model type of refrigerator you are working with however I can run you through what I did that got our refrigerator up and running in about 10 minutes.

After work I came straight home because I knew I had to deal with our refrigerator problem one way or the other or my wife was going to send me to the deck for the night. Haha!

Our Frigidaire refrigerator was not cooling or freezing so I pulled out the drawers and shelving which needed to be cleaned anyways. Funny, this happened on the first day of Spring which was timely for spring cleaning I suppose.

Next I had to remove the refrigerator door in order to get into the bottom panel which was a bit of a pain but fairly simple to do.

Once I had the panel off this exposed the fan and the major ice build-up that surrounded it. Clearly the refrigerator stopped because the fan was unable to move so my chore was to get it running again.

Neither of us use a hair dryer however we do have a cheapo one that we bought for my mum when she was visiting us from the UK. We’ve always kept it in the upstairs bathroom and not for hair drying but for everything else.

My wife ran upstairs to bring me the hair dryer and in about 10-15 minutes I had the ice melted from the fan. When I plugged it back in to see if it was working I noticed that the fan blows the water back up the drain meaning that it causes a dam effect.

I thought that was strange and wondered if perhaps the fan was in backwards. Nope, that’s just the way it goes which seems odd as it will continue to have ice build-up which means I’ll be needing that hair dryer for years to come or at least until this refrigerator kicks the bucket for good.

Instantly we could feel the cool air coming again so I put the refrigerator back together and we cleaned it inside and out (including the dusty top) along with all the shelving.

I let it cool and freeze for about an hour before we started to put everything back inside so we could get on with our life.

Refrigerator Repair Frozen Fan Recap

One tip that I was given about a fan that was freezing up was to not only check air flow around the inside and outside of the refrigerator making sure no boxes are blocking any vents but to check the door seal gaskets. What you do is close the door on a dollar bill and then try to pull it out.

You should feel resistance which means the gasket is doing what it is supposed to. If it pulls out instantly then you likely have another issue you will have to deal with. Also, inspect the gasket for any cracks that might be causing warm air to leak into the freezer or refrigerator.

Don’t forget to adjust the temperature gauges inside your refrigerator for the fridge and freezer so you have optimal temps for each. Ideally you’ll want your refrigerator dial at 4 degrees or 40F and your freezer dial at -18 degrees C or 0 F to make sure they are doing their jobs.

You can also use a freestanding internal thermometer if your refrigerator or freezer doesn’t show temperatures but rather dial numbers.

Check your refrigerator manual to see what the dial numbers mean for your model as they can differ from fridge to fridge. Typically 9 is the coldest temperature setting where 1 is the warmest.

  1. Unplug
  2. Remove contents
  3. Troubleshoot
  4. Repair
  5. Put it all back together again
  6. Enjoy cold beer and a happy wife.

So, that’s our refrigerator repair adventure that saved us some money because we didn’t have to call a technician out to look at it. If you’re not sure I’d suggest you make that call or call someone you know who is handy.

A few minutes of your time may end up saving your pocket-book some cash you can use for another rainy day.

Discussion: What types of refrigerator/freezer repairs have you done? Leave me comments below and I’ll respond.

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  1. My refrigerator isn’t cooling enough, and I’m still hoping that it could still be fixed. Thank you for these; I’ll ask my husband to help me check the temperature and internal air-flow. If this won’t work, then I guess we should leave this under the care of a refrigeration service.

  2. Our current fridge is 27 years old and dying a slow death. Trying to figure out how to get the fridge from my Dads to here. Still an older unit but younger than ours. Trick is getting around the solid cover over our truck bed. We’ve removed it before and I’d be inclined to keep it off but hubby has a snit fit over that. So it stays. I’ll figure something out. The unit here now is an all refrigerator but Dads has the freezer on the bottom.
    the stove and dryer here are gas, we don’t even try to repair. Most times with them or the furnace, it’s the igniter. We used to be able to repair the washer as there was a parts list in the manual. Hubby has replaced the water pump and the timer on those over the years. Fairly easy to figure out the problem and the needed parts as well as the repair.

    1. Hi Christine,
      We were going to deliver this one to my MIL and FIL but now that he’s gone she doesn’t want it any longer. Their refrigerator is probably just as old or older than yours. Maybe you can find someone with a truck who is willing to help or post an ad to see if someone can help for x amount of dollars?

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