Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The heating pad in our garage fridge

Just thought I would share this odd little battle with physics.

We have a standard fridge out in our garage. Its freezer compartment is in the bottom, although after a while I realized that made no difference.  The problem is that the refrigerator compartment was doing just fine, but the ice cream in the freezer kept melting.  I assumed it was the door not closing completely, which had occurred once or twice, so I order a remote thermometer with two sensors that would alarm at certain temperature settings.

Watching it for a few days, I noticed that the refrigerator compartment was holding around 36 degrees, which is just fine.  The freezer was varying from 3 to 20, which way too warm.  That in itself was a lesson for me.  I thought anything below 32 was freezing, so 20 would be dandy.  A freezer should really sit between -10 and 0. Not everything freezes at 32.

I set the temperature for the freezer to "Coldest" but that had no effect.  So I did what we all do and went to Google. It didn't take too long to learn that I was not unique in the world and that a GE service call would do me no good.  First, the speced operating temperature for the fridge starts at 60 F.  That was a clue that they weren't supposed to work at cold temperatures.  Then I learned that there is no thermostat in the freezer, only the refrigerator. When you change the freezer "temperature" setting, all you are doing is controlling a damper that forces more or less of the cold air into the freezer.

So, the problem with a fridge in a cold space is that the refrigerator stays cold.  Our garage is about 40, so that compartment is almost always happy. You could just leave the door open. That means the compressor never gets turned on.  The freezer then slowly heats to the same temperature as the garage.  Mystery solved!  Now, what in the world do you do about it.

Once answer is to buy a special garage fridge, which is controlled differently and costs about 3 times as much as a really nice fridge.  I went with plan B (cheap).  I bought this little $25 heating pad designed to keep your animals warm.  It is a 25 watt pad, giving about as much heat as a pair of night lights.  I plugged it in and stuck it in the fridge.  Now, every once in a while, it warms up enough in the refrigerator compartment to force the compressor on.  A little fine tuning and I have the freezer running right where I need it.  For a while, it was actually getting way too cold.  Come spring or summer, I will pull the heating pad out and let Mother Nature keep the garage warm enough.

Seems silly to stick a warming device into a fridge but this was by far the best of the alternatives.  If the compressor was running too much, I would have returned the heating pad and gotten one that was closer to 15 watts.

I wondered why I hadn't had this problem before.  Next door we had a full freezer, and it was in the house.  Back in NC, we didn't have too many days with lows below zero.  I guess if I lived elsewhere, I might have to worry about the compressor overheating.
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