How refrigerator works

Simply put, a refrigerator is started by a compressor that shoots freon (gas) through its sealed system. This freon travels through to the evaporator coils and those coils start freezing. A fan motor inside the freezer, called an evaporator fan motor, blows air. This air gets colder from the frosted evaporator coils and travels from the freezer through to the fridge section. This is how a freezer and fridge gets cooler.

Common refrigerator problems:

  1. Both refrigerator and freezer not cooling:
  • The first thing we should check when both the freezer and refrigerator are not cooling is to check if the compressor is on. To do that we will need to pull out the refrigerator and get to the back bottom panel and take it out. When the panel is off, put your hand on the compressor and feel if it warm. If you think it is warm, to verify this, you can take a screw driver and place the sharp edge of the screw driver on to the compressor while putting the other end of it to your ear. If you hear a buzzing sound, then the compressor is working.

If the compressor is on and the fridge is still not cooling then there is either a leak in refrigerant or there is a restriction inside the sealed system, which means that a sealed system job is required.

However, if the compressor is not on, then we would have to diagnose a little deeper. The next step is to check the the starter relay which located on the compressor. The starter relay gets 120v from the wall and powers up the compressor. If the relay is good then the refrigerator should start normally. If not, then replace the relay accordingly. If that relay works but the fridge still does not start, then the timer/main control board is faulty and needs to be replaced.

  • When both fridge and freezer compartments are not cooling, you should also check if the evaporator fan inside the freezer section is coming on. To check this, open the freezer door and press on the freezer door light switch. By activating the door light switch, the fan should come on and you should feel cool air coming out.

If the fan does not come on, you will need to check if there is some ice that accumulated along the fan blades which is not letting the motor spin. If no ice was found and fan does not work, the replace it with a new fan motor.

If the fan is working and the freezer does not cool, the next step is to open the back cover to check the evaporator coils. At this point, you should remove the back panel and check the evaporator coils. When the fridge is powered on, you will need to see if these coils get frosted when the refrigerator is powered on. If after few minutes, these coils still don’t get frosty, and the compressor is on, then most likely the refrigerator is low/out of Freon (gas) and a sealed system job would be required.

If these coils are only getting frosted over PARTIALLY, then the evaporator coil has a leak and, in any case, this evaporator coil would need to be replaced with a new sealed system job that is required.

  1. Freezer is cold but refrigerator is warm:

If your freezer is cooling but your refrigerator is simply not cold enough, then most likely you have a defrost issue that prevents cold air from circulating from the freezer into the fridge. The most common parts that can attribute to this problem are: defrost heater, defrost thermostat, or timer/defrost board.

To test the heater, you would need to remove the back panel inside the freezer and find the two terminal connection on opposite ends of the heater, set your volt meter to continuity test and place each lead of your meter on the terminal of the heater (with at least one wire off the terminal) you should get a resistance on your volt meter or while testing on the resistance with sound, the meter should sound a beep, telling you that there is a continuous electrical resistance to the heater. In other words, the heater is working fine.

Next test the defrost thermostat. Disconnect the wires of the thermostat and place it icy water for at least 5 minutes. When frozen, test the thermostat for continuity using the same procedure as the heater. If these two tests check ok and the fridge has a jazz board, then replace the jazz board.

If this is an older model fridge, then replace the defrost timer.

  1. Water is leaking from fridge or freezer:

If water is leaking from the freezer, on refrigerator models with freezers on the bottom, pull the door out and you will most likely see a layer of ice forming on the bottom floor of the freezer. This is a result of the water leaking onto the freezer instead of going through the drain pan. When this happens, you will need to clean the defrost/drain of the fridge. First, take the inside panel of the freezer off, there you will see ice forming all along the drain pan, underneath the evaporator coil. Remove the ice slowly removing the ice while being careful not to damage the evaporator coils. When the ice on the pan is removed, also pull the fridge out and remove the back cover in the bottom. You will see a hose that connects to the drip pan on the floor. Remove the rubber tip on the bottom of the hose to clean it of debris and place it back to its place. This will clear the water line allowing drained water to go to the drain pan.

4. Fridge or freezer is making noise:

  • When the fridge or freezer is making noise, first check the evaporator fan motor inside the freezer. Sometime, ice starts to form around the fan making the fan impeller get stuck in the ice or even spin through the ice making a grinding noise. When this happens, remove the ice as mentioned above in the “freezer is leaking” issue.

If no ice is present, check to see if the evaporator fan motor windings are working properly. Over time, the motor wears out and its windings begin to loosen up and brake, thus making it noisy when spinning. If this is the case, replace the fan motor and the noise will go away.

  • Another part that can contribute to a noisy fridge is the condenser fan motor. The condenser fan motor cools the compressor during its cooling cycle. The condenser fan can, over time, start hitting its housing creating a grinding noise to the fridge. If this is the case, check to see if reinstalling the condenser makes the noise go away. If not, then replace the fan.

This post doesn’t reflect any of Toronto Appliance Repair views, and is Only for professional recommendation value.

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