Dear Home-Ec 101:
I’ve been having issues with my refrigerator & freezer recently. It is an old (circa 1995 according to the repairguy)* side by side that came with the house when I bought it in ’08. About 2 months the thing just quit. I opened up the freezer door to get some ice cream and it was soft. Checked the thermometer I keep in there and the freezer was about 40 degrees and the fridge side about 60. I threw most everything out of the freezer side (was able to salvage a few sauces/soups by fully defrosting, boiling, and refreezing) and moved everything from the fridge into the freezer since that was about the temp of a normal fridge. After a couple days (and after the repairman was called) it decided to start working again and he could not find anything wrong with it.
Over the weekend, I happened to glance at the thermometer on the freezer side. There are two sections on it, one for subzero, and one for freezing. I have no clue what it normally says but on this particular day it was about 20 degrees and in the ‘freezing’ range. Then later that day I glanced at it again and it had moved down to just above 0 degrees and was now in the ‘subzero’ range. This morning it was back up in ‘freezing’ about 15 degrees. Everything is frozen so I’m not worried about food spoilage, I was just wondering what is the proper temp for a side by side. I’ve always thought of a ‘subzero freezer’ as one of the chest type freezer only deals but maybe I have one in my side by side? Do I need to be worried about this?
* The repairguy was very impressed that I have a “appears to be working” 16 year old refrigerator. I have an appliance home warranty so I’m waiting for the dang thing to break before I buy a new one (currently drooling over a black French door bottom freezer drawer model every time I’m at Lowes).
Ideally the best temperature for your freezer 0°F. If you are going to be freezing a few things (like you’re making a big batch of lasagna) bump the freezer down to -10°F several hours or the day before, if possible. The faster foods freeze, the smaller the ice crystals, the less damage to texture occurs.
I’m wondering if you didn’t happen to check the temperature in the middle of the defrost cycle? After the compressor has been cycling for a set amount of time it shuts down and the temperature of the freezer can rise during this period. That is normal. What wouldn’t be normal is if it’s not cycling back on in time. What I would do is buy a cheap thermometer and use that to check the calibration of the one in the freezer. Place the thermometer as low in the freezer as possible and only check after the door has been shut for several hours -first thing in the morning is a good time.
In lieu of that take an ice cube and set it in an obvious place -in the freezer. If the ice cube changes shape, you’ve got problems and that french door model will be fancifying your kitchen sooner than later.
According to This Old House, refrigerators still have a life expectancy of 14 – 17 years. We have a second hand refrigerator in our garage that must be over 20 years old.
While there was a big real estate boom -and subsequent crash- in the interim many people have opted to remodel their existing homes rather than buying a new home since 2001 and with a kitchen remodel usually comes new appliances. This may be why your appliance guy hasn’t seen too many older refrigerators. The conspiracy theorists like to say that appliances are now built with planned obsolescence so they’ll have to be replaced more often. I think society’s pursuit of the cheap has made sacrifices in regards to quality.
Personally, I’m starting to squirrel away a remodel fund as our appliances are starting to edge close to that life expectancy.
Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.