northland refrigerator freezer major problem

davidahnFebruary 14, 2013

Apologies if you've been waiting for my report on the Northland pair (on an older thread re: compressor noise).

I have had the Northland 36AR and 36AF all-refrigerator and all-freezer twin pair sitting in my garage - in its shipping wrap for protection - since November awaiting my kitchen cabinets. There was no visible damage to the packing. Last week we unpacked the units and there were problems with the units:

1. The stainless steel trim piece that visually ties the all-freezer and all-refrigerator trim together, a U-channel about 1.25" wide by 1" deep, was shipped with only foam wrap, and arrived with a warp in the middle. I was sent a UPS label to return it for a replacement.

2. The "Laser Film" stainless steel protective film was damaged in the top outside corner of the door (at top hinge) of both the freezer and refrigerator, and it was taped over with a different white tape before the units were packed by Northland. Luckily, there were no scratches under the tape and film.

3. The freezer had visible undulations in the door, especially in the left upper quadrant. It's hard to capture in photos, but it's very visible in person due to reflections and specular highlighting. The refrigerator door was perfect.

4. The BIGGEST problem: these units DID NOT SHIP WITH COMPRESSORS. Elite Appliance is working on trying to contact Northland about it, but there is no word. The dealer said the units were not unpacked at their warehouse, so it must have shipped from Northland without the compressors. Elite Appliance has been AWESOME with customer service, by the way. I'm just waiting for Northland to make this right.

What sucks is that because the kitchen wasn't ready, these units sat in my garage for 3 months, and they could say that I lost the compressors. I never saw compressors right from the beginning, but I assumed they were inside the fridge and freezer. It never occurred to me that refrigerators would ship without compressors!!!

These are beautiful units, and they feel quality built. The hinges look delicate but at least empty, open and close very smoothly. I do wish the surround trim was stainless steel rather than aluminum, but overall beautiful units. I'll be very happy with them once they replace the freezer door and ship me compressors. Almost everyone who has them love the quality feel of the all metal and glass interiors (no plastic).

Here is a link that might be useful: Other Northland Thread

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No compressors? How do they even get installed? That's like buying a car and finding out it has no drivetrain.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 1:10PM
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None of the Northland columns ship with the compressors installed. They arrive in a seperate box and are installed at time of installation.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 1:29PM
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@weedmeister, I have NEVER heard of such a thing occurring. I still can't believe it happened. It's preposterous, and for Northland to not even respond to such an egregious oversight within 3 days of being notified is just as preposterous.

@joba4257, I downloaded the installation manuals, so I'm aware that the compressors are modular. If they actually shipped me compressors, I wouldn't be posting about it. Elite Appliance said to look for microwave-size boxes that usually ship on top of the reefer/freezer boxes. Our reefer and freezer had no hats when they arrived, hence my ignorant assumption the compressors must be inside the boxes. I should have opened them right away, but wanted to leave them in protective packaging.

It is in fact precisely the modular nature of the Northland compressors that made this kind of shipping SNAFU possible. I just hope they make it right.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 1:43PM
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Quick update: Elite Appliance has informed me the compressors are already on their way to my house, due to deliver on Monday. Yay!

Now we'll see if they replace my warped freezer door; I'm still waiting to hear. Despite the missing compressors, I'm still not sorry I went with Northland due to the huge savings over Sub-Zero... yet. However, I would re-evaluate my choice to go with Northland if they won't fix the door.

I'm sure the compressor thing was just a fluke, and the quick shipment is encouraging! But the willingness to replace the door and the compressor noise issue will determine whether I can wholeheartedly recommend Northland to potential buyers.

Stay tuned!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 2:14PM
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I'm hugely curious how installation of the compressors is going to be accomplished.

Per your pics, the units already are "installed" in your kitchen -- unpacked and set in place.

Who is doing the compressor installs? Unless there's something specific about the Northland product that facilitates field-handling of compressors and refrigerant-- Are the refrigerator and freezer units precharged with refrigerant? Are the compressors themselves precharged? Is there a quick-connect valve system involved? -- that's not something can typically be done by a homeowner or handyman or construction contractor. It requires special equipment and a license to handle fluorcarbons.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 5:22PM
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The refrigerator "cabinets" are in place, but they are not fully installed. We still need to brace the base, install the anti-tip bracket, and of course, install the refrigeration modules. You may be assuming the compressor is integrated into the refrigerator box. My understanding is the refrigeration modules is completely separate except for a wiring harness and air ducts.

Here's what the manual says
Place module on top of the cabinet
Slide module rearward until screws engage in brackets
Make electrical connections from top of lower cabinet to J-box on module (plug-in wiring harness) & ice maker leads
Install grille assembly

That's it. It seems overly simple, so I read it over and over. It seems the compressor unit is a completely closed system, and I'm guessing there's simply an ingenious sealing mechanism for connecting supply and return ducts from/to the the module.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 7:14PM
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Wow, that is interesting. Wasn't aware of the Northland system. Makes for an easy servicing scenario to simply swap-out the entire compressor module.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 8:06PM
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As it was explained to me and it's my understanding that the Northlands were sold this way to get around the energy requirements. Because it's a "kit" it isn't really considered a normal household appliance by the engergy department and skirts the rules.

It is easy to swap the refrigeration system if it ever needs to be.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 8:26PM
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@dadoes: yes, the modular system is a plus, especially since the compressors have a 7 year warranty (whole system 1 year + 6 add'l years on the refrigeration system)! I don't know how other companies' warranties compare, but this sounds pretty good to me. (Incidentally, the inner liner has a 10-year warranty against chipping paint, rusting, or defective in materials or workmanship.)

Now that they've shipped me the missing refrigeration units, if they fix the warped door, I'll be very much inclined to buy from Northland again. If not, this is goodbye for Northland.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 10:38PM
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Update: This afternoon they delivered the refrigeration units. They were ready to deliver 4 days ago, but I wasn't here. They are not installed yet. Stay tuned!

Northland also asked for my serial number on the freezer to see about replacing the door. I hope they replace it... the warped door will bug me every time I look at it for the next 10-15 years!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 4:10AM
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Northlands have always shipped sans a compressor.

It is to get around energy requirements because they don't come close to meeting them. This means those cheaper units are going to start costing you more to use from day one and your savings will start to erode.

I agree the door is crap especially in your side x side install. Hope they make good.

Just curious - was the packing 100% intact when it arrived? Those tape marks may have happened at the shipper , not the factory ?

Elite needs to be awesomely getting you a door panel too. Getting the compressors that they are contractually obligated to providing is easy. An ugly door which they are not, is going to be the true test of customer service.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 10:16AM
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Xedos, I'll put energy meters on them to see how they do. I hope this workaround was to avoid the cost and delay of the certification process rather than because they don't meet the standards.

The packing was 100% intact; I didn't see the extra tape over the damaged Laser-Film until I unwrapped everything.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 8:02PM
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Cost and delay of certification ? They've been making fridges this way with this compressor for eons. It's not some new gee wiz design that will throw anyone for a loop.

To me , it boils down to greed and being lazy. They need to get a modern design that meets current standards like everyone else.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 11:21PM
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Xedos, do you have data that show their compressors don't meet government standards? I'd be interested in seeing those numbers.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 12:38PM
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david - Don't have that info on the current lineup but, you can call or email them, and ask them for their units' energy consumption / ratings and then compare that against the govnt. std. - Energy Star.

The mere fact that they are the ONLY manuf. to ship their units ought to tell you something ! If it were the bees knees, the other big players would do it too.

How long do you think it'd take a quant jock at GE to calculate the "savings" and profit on all of the fridges they ship in a year ?

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 6:23PM
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We are considering the Northland all refrig/all freezers, among a few others. Also had heard that the manuf skirts the energy compliance 'somehow' but interesting that this is the how . . . what I was told on the compressor is that it is actually a selling feature because if it goes bad, it is an easy replacement without the cost and environmental impact of replacing the entire frig. Was told that the Northland units are basically built to last forever and that in 30 years you can replace the compressor and keep the frig . . . don't own one but thought I'd share what the sales person told me.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 3:03PM
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Sure it's easier for the service tech , but you are going to get charged the same labor rate for the swap and I'm betting the " unit "is still more $$$ from Northland than a comparable parts list from SZ, Thermador, or GE MOnogram.

So, it's of advantage to them - but not really to you ! Especially if it's out of warranty and you are paying.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 5:05PM
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I am glad that I found these reviews, good to hear all the pros and cons, But... I am still torn. As is usually the case with most other appliances they are loved or hated. I agree there should be a lemon clause law for appliances. I am currently in the process of building a home which happens to be in a remote location in Alaska. My thought is I should go with high end appliances due to the logistics of getting large heavy things in and out. (we are accessible by boat or float plane only, although we do get barge service 3-4 times per year). But who wants to live with no freezer/ refer for 3-6 months depending. On the other hand people have said buy cheap and just keep replacing every few years. I think that is a piss poor idea and prefer the idea of just being able to replace a compressor that you could fit in a float plane.( I had no idea about the separate compressor until I read this forum/blog). I am currently waiting to hear from Northland about the energy consumption of the units. From what I have read it now becomes obvious why that is one of the few tidbits of info that they do not provide on their web site. I agree that if you are buying high end appliances that $50 per year probably wont make or break you but consider this... I pay $0.75 per kW/h yes you read that right not 7.5 cents but 75 cents. I have seen in person the SubZero, Lehberr (sp?), Thermador, Gaggenau and everything else but a Northland. The most rugged and sturdily built units (IMO) were the Thermador and Gaggenau. I gravitate toward the Gagg because of the SS interior. I like the cleanliness of SS versus plastic which will stain and soak up odors. When I stumbled across the Northland brand I thought hallelujah! for the 24" model refer you get 15.2 cf vs. 13.1 cf in the Gagg and 24" freez 15.1 cf/ 12.2 respectively. Which would keep me from having to get a 30" model of each in the Gagg. Also Gagg states the power consumption at .40 and .96kW/24hr. Anybody have an idea how much power those units really consume in a 24 hr period(Gagg or NL)? Any thoughts and opinons are warmly welcomed. I am also very curious to know if/when NL replaces the warped door

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 3:13PM
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The NL unit is not all that small, it's a box that is about 12" tall and for the one you're looking at 22" x 22" roughly. It will not even be close to the efficiency of the Gaggenau you are looking at and at your're rates that will add up.

Don't be woooed by the cu. ft. war. How many sq. In of shelving does each have ? That,s where you put your stuff, not floating in free space !

You'd best see who has the best service network in your town as that will make the largest diff. If you need parts. Gaggenau won't be big there either but their fridges share much with Thermador and Bosch models which may have a presence where you are.

My guess is Sub Zero is you best / safest play. Were pretty much the first and only built in for a while, so should have someone near you.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 3:46PM
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Xedos, you're drawing a LOT of conclusions from two data points: 1) the compressors come separate from the boxes, and 2) they are not FTC or Energy Star rated. I have to say that since refrigerator compressors are much more alike than they are different, I doubt the Northland is going to be as bad as you're claiming.

I looked at the FTC's energy usage data on large, self-defrosting all-refrigerators 17 cu ft and up. See table:

Brand Model No. Cu Ft Annual KWH KWH/Cu Ft
Thermador T30IR800SP 17.1 319 18.7
Thermador T30IR70NSP 17.1 319 18.7
Thermador T30BR70FS 17.1 319 18.7
Danby DFF501WDD 17.7 358 20.2
Viking FDRB5301 18.4 456 24.8
Viking VCRB5301 18.4 456 24.8
Electrolux E32AR75JPS 18.51 365 19.7
Electrolux EI32AR65JS 18.51 365 19.7
Frigidaire FPRH19D7LF 18.51 365 19.7
Kenmore 44663 18.51 365 19.7
Kenmore 44743 18.51 365 19.7
Miele K19XX 19.68 348 17.7
Sub-Zero 736TR 21.24 388 18.3
Sub-Zero 736TRE 21.24 484 22.8
GE Monogram ZIR360NX 21.5 373 17.3
GE Monogram ZIRP360NX 21.5 373 17.3
GE Monogram ZIRS360NX 21.5 373 17.3
Viking FDRB5361 22.8 499 21.9
Viking VCRB5361 22.8 499 21.9
Sub-Zero BI-36RA/O 23.36 504 21.6
Sub-Zero BI-36RA/S/PH 23.36 504 21.6
Sub-Zero BI-36RA/S/TH 23.36 504 21.6
Sub-Zero BI-36RG/O 23.36 504 21.6
Sub-Zero BI-36RG/S/PH 23.36 504 21.6
Sub-Zero BI-36RG/S/TH 23.36 504 21.6
Sub-Zero BI-36R/O 23.51 405 17.2
Sub-Zero BI-36R/S/PH 23.51 405 17.2
Sub-Zero BI-36R/S/TH 23.51 405 17.2

Average efficiency: 20.0 kWh/cu ft, with a standard deviation of 2.2, meaning 68.2% of the above refrigerators (n=28) use 17.8 to 22.2 kWh/yr, and 0.1% of would fall outside 3 standard deviations (26.6); in fact, none did: the most and least efficient units, the Sub-Zero 23.5 and Viking 18.4, use 17.2 and 24.8 kWh/cu ft respectively, +1.3 and -2.2 SDs from the mean.

Per wikipedia (, US electricity costs ranged between 8 and 17 cents/kWh, with an average of 12 cents. So for an average efficiency 24.2 cu ft refrigerator (same as Northland's 36"), average annual operating cost will be $58.08, and scaling the least efficient unit ( Viking 18.4 cu ft) to 24.2 cu ft would be $72.02 a year at 12 cents, or $13.94 extra a year. Since we have no power usage data on the Northland, let's see how much extra you'd pay in electricity at different levels of efficiency:
@1 SD below avg (22.2 kWh/cu ft): $6.47/yr more
@3 SD below avg (26.7 kWh/cu ft): $19.41/yr more
@ HALF as efficient as avg (40 kWh/cu ft): $58.08/yr more

I think I could live with even half as efficient, though I'm guessing realistically we're talking 25-50% less at most.


Here is a link that might be useful: FTC All Refrigerator Energy Use 2012

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 6:58PM
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@ashvillian, while you can buy two Northlands for the price of one Sub-Zero, Sub-Zero does have a slightly better warranty: 2 years parts & labor, 5 year sealed system parts & labor, 12 year sealed system parts only. Northland's is 1 year parts & labor, 2nd year parts only (point SZ), 7 year sealed system parts and labor (point NL), 10 year inner liner parts warranty (point NL). I have read that Sub-Zeros are NOT all that reliable. Of course, it's possible that maintenance issues are not as visible with Northland because of their lower sales volume.

@xedos, you're right about usable shelf space, but to my knowledge, Northland has the most modular shelf systems, having support channels that run from top to bottom in the doors and the main compartments.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 7:31PM
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All very interesting info... All those numbers are making my head spin. I finally got in touch with someone at NL and the only info that they could give me WAS, for the 24" fridge at an ambient temp of 70degrees (in the house) the Watts are between 275 and 330 with a run time of 15-40% in a 24 hr period. so doing some very quick and dirty math I come up with a range of between .99 and 3.268 kW per day which to me seems like a ridiculously wide range. Again the same for the freezer with ending numbers being .66 and 2.77 kW/24hr. If this is correct that puts my operating costs at (lowest draw)- 602.25kW = $451.68 and (highest draw)- 2203.87kW = $1652.90 ( unlike the rest of the average electricity consumers who pay an average of $0.12 kWh I pay $0.75)

Yeah I don't think I'll be going with a NL. Not to mention after much digging around on the web 99/100 owners of a NL either want to burn/smash/gash/blow-up their energy guzzling loud and obnoxious repair hungry units. This bums me out, I really thought I had found the one.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 4:36PM
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Oh and in response to xedos, I live in the boonies, remote remote Alaska. No one will come here to service anything. The closest place is 60 miles away by boat or float plane. I have three kenmore units that we purchased brand new from sears and I loath them, actually the upright freezer hasn't been a problem but the other refers are lacking in the efficiency department and overloaded in the noise department. I want quiet, I want efficient, but mostly I NEED reliability. Thank you all for your input!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 4:57PM
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What happened? We are all still waiting for a reply...Anyone else have a recent Northland experience? Thanks!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 12:18PM
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Sorry, have been busy. My cabinet guy has been working on another job, though, so our kitchen has made no progress in the last month and a half. I'm waiting for him to pull the freezer out and get the serial number, so no way to get the door panel even considered for replacement. I've probably got no shot now after this long delay, so I'm pretty much resigned to living with a slightly warped freezer door. He has also not gotten the compressors installed yet, so no comment on the noise.

I will try to remember to post as soon as my cabinet guy finishes the install.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 12:41PM
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The serial number is not accessible from the front of the machine or without pulling the unit out ???

That's ridiculous.

David - are you saying you got each of those units for less than $3250 ea. ? That is an exceptionally good price, and probably worth the hassle you've gone through. FWIW - that is approx 50% off of what those Northlands sell for normally.

There is only about $200-$250 difference list price between the same SZ 36" all fridge/freezer in stainless steel and the comparable Northland model. SO, like for like, it's pretty much a wash unless your dealer is giving you some sort of steep discount.

Re: the racking. SZ has the full length channel too, they just choose to offer less customizable bins and shelves. The stainless of the Norhthland is more durable than the SZ plastic all things being equal, but it puts off some people also because it looks too commercial.

As far a unreliable - I've read that EVERY SINGLE BRAND OF REFRIGERATOR IS UNRELIABLE (including Northland) , on the internet of course. And they are, no company makes makes totally reliable products year in and year out and satisfies all customers.

Here's what I can say about the two: Over the last 40 years or so SZ has consistently produced high quality high priced built in fridges that last 20+ years. They have also continued to innovated their offerings like the first fully integrated fridges for the U.S. market, the drawer concept for residential. Other companies are starting to catch up though. Their sales go up and up , which allowed them to buy WOLF to expand their business.

Northland on the other hand has flat sales and pretty much has the same box, technology and offerings they had last century. They are quality units to be sure even with their quirks.

They just can't seem to crack the built in fridge market that has been dominated by SZ, GE Monogram, and now the offerings from BSH's Turkish plant. In fact they have done so well that they were acquired by the AGA group. We'll soon see just how good the product really is as AGA's marketing machine will certainly try to jumpstart sales to keep the new factory running and has the network to flog the product in place.

Bottom line for me is- I would rather deal with privately held companies with long track records and family members involved in operations rather than -

companies that have managers that are worried about short term goals (and their compensation) and their board's agenda and ultimately shareholders and the market, more than they are concerned with delivering a quality product to market.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 7:26PM
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Mechanical devices such as refrigeration units should not be expected to have extreme reliability, although the old sulfur dioxide sealed units had considerable longevity. For most people most places, I would think the more efficient SZ backed by SZ's long-term parts availability would be a better fit than an NL.

However, in the unique case of a remote and sometimes inaccessible installation, an NL could have an advantage. One could store replacement refrigeration packs and ship out for repair a failed one while swapping in a good one with minimal down time. In this case it is a contest between poor energy efficiency and whatever value one places on having constantly working refrigeration.

A similar choice has already been made by those willing to pay 75 cents per kWh to have lights and other amenities.

All that notwithstanding, I wonder whether there aren't industrial/commercial refrigeration units that are more efficient and also modular. In Alaska, an exterior compressor heat exchanger could be beneficial, efficiency wise.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 12:40AM
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kaseki is right . Many commercial units have the ability to locate the compressors in a remote location, and if memory serves me right those Northlands have that option too.

I recall one in the 90's now , that we located on in the attic because the owner didn't want to listen to the thing running.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 11:24AM
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OK. Compressors finally installed. Short answer on compressor noise levels: not that bad; please see other thread for details.

Interesting quality note: doors seal SUPER well, airtight, almost TOO well. Hard to get the doors open. I like this so far; hopefully will get just a little easier to open over time.

New issue: the freezer develops condensation around the edges of the freezer door, and then the water runs down and puddles down at the floor. I've emailed customer support at Elite Appliance.

I still have not received the replacement trim piece that initially arrived warped. I also have not had satisfaction on the warped SS door since they asked me for a serial number and I haven't had a chance to pull the freezer out to get it. Ridiculous that I have to do that... who puts a SN behind the cabinet?!?

Anyway, I'll keep you all posted.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2013 at 2:22AM
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Better get movin on the replacement - or you'll probably find when you do get around to it , NL will claim your warranty is expired and tell ya "tough cookies ".

    Bookmark   September 16, 2013 at 7:56PM
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Xedos, I about pooped my pants. I was thinking along those lines too and researched my purchase date. I actually ordered it from from eBay on May 22, 2012. Fortunately, it did not ship until October 5, thank goodness via freight, so I didn't get it until probably October 12.

BTW, the SN is not behind the box, it's on the compressor unit, a little more accessible behind the SS ventilation grate.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2013 at 8:56PM
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