Refrigerators have become increasingly complex over the years, despite operating on the same, simple principles as ever. The basic functions are accomplished by electric motors, compressors, compressed coolant and tubing, all working together to draw the heat from the interior and its contents.
It is not the basic components of the fridge’s system that make home repairs problematic. Electric motors are not that complicated, metal tubing is easy to understand and can be replaced or patched – but the controls have changed on some models from familiar dials and switches to digital panels and touch-screen “interfaces.”
Old or new?
Pre-digital refrigerators are actually quite elementary devices. Any number of good Internet articles can show you how they work, and a handyman who is good with electrical components could conceivably troubleshoot any motor problems, at the very least. More accomplished “wrenchers” could even conceivably replace a motor or compressor, although it may not be convenient to do in the kitchen.
Newer refrigerators have the digital controls mentioned above, meaning that problems with “the brains” could require the replacement of circuit boards and other specialized components. These are not the easiest repairs to do, and you may not even be able to get the parts at the component level. It may require replacing an entire module of various circuits and controls.
Many of the easiest “refrigerator repairs” are not repairs at all, but preventative maintenance. Among these, the ones that affect performance the most are actually passive in nature. The best example of this is insulation.
When the insulation along the edges of the main door and freezer door gets dry, warped and/or cracked, warm air from outside enters the refrigerator and raises the temperature of the internal air. This will interfere with the proper discharge of the thermostat’s duties and lead to its premature failure. It also wastes energy, therefore costing you money.
In addition to lubricating the insulation strips, you can also keep the coils at the rear of the fridge, and the various components underneath, clear of dust and debris. Dust and dirt, of course, are insulators, and their accumulation can prevent the proper dissipation of heat, causing any number of different problems.
The big picture
It is unlikely you will perform many repairs on a new, digitally controlled, water- and ice-dispensing refrigerator. Mostly you will be doing maintenance, as detailed above, although you can certainly take care of any cosmetic problems, such as paint touch-up, replacing a broken door handle and so forth.
On older units, you may be able to do a bit more. The standard temperature control is a simple dial-type control, which is often accessible on the inside wall or on a panel at the top of the main compartment. The newer the appliance, however, the more complex these components become, and the less amenable to home repair.
Competent home handymen can most likely handle two sets of issues – cosmetic ones on any age appliance, or switch/dial replacement on older ones – while leaving more involved repairs to qualified repair people. Sometimes it is not merely a matter of having expertise. It is also important to have the proper tools, the right replacement parts, a spacious and well-lit work area, etc. Unless you are the kind of “home improvement guy” who has cable TV home shows calling for interviews, Residential and Commercial Refrigeration Repair are best lef