Shocking fridge

lindakimyJanuary 6, 2008

The refrigerator in my house was here when we bought the place. It's not top of the line (or even close). I could live with that but what has me worried is that I've noticed when it clicks "on" the lights flicker in the kitchen. Also, almost every time I touch it I get a painful shock to my fingers.

I find these things very alarming but my dh (who has done wiring and electrical work though not a pro) poo poos it as meaningless.

Any thoughts?

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jason1083

If you are getting an a shock when touching it, I would definitely be concerned. A properly functioning appliance should not under and circumstances cause you to get shocked.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 1:23PM
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texasredhead

You have a very dangerous situation. One of the motor wires is touching the frame of the refrigerator and the frame has become electrified. I had the same thing happen with my box in the garage. If there might be any moisture on the floor and you touched the refer in your bare feet, it could be fatal. Either call a technician very quickly or buy and new refer and get rid of this one.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 1:32PM
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tom_o

Providing that you are not getting a shock due to static electricity, this is a serious problem that needs to be resolved ASAP. You need to decide if it is worth calling in a repairman or if you should purchase a new refrigerator now.

In either case, unplug the fridge, the contents will stay cold for 24 hours if you do not open it very much.

The flickering lights could be normal. It is not unusual for lights to dim momentarily (a second or two) when a motor load, such as a refrigerator or air conditioner, is turned on.

Keep in mind, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, Does DH have a large life insurance policcy on you? :')

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 1:40PM
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zap_ping_pow

Does your frig have a grounded plug or the older 2 prong?
Is your outlet grounded properly?

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 1:58PM
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texasredhead

A grounded plug has nothing to do with it. I could stand three ft. from refer with a proximity tester and it would constantly sound. My question to the OP, are you the only one getting a shock? You said "we". Are both of "we" getting a shock? My lights don't flicker when my refer comes on. Do they literally flicker or just slightly dim? There have been other posts where only the lady was being effected by static electricity.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 3:49PM
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billhart

It IS important to know whether the refrigerator is grounded.

If the refrigerator has a properly wired grounding plug and the receptacle is properly grounded, then the refrigerator frame cannot be the source of an AC shock. Then it is either a static electricity snap, or a continuing AC tingle from some other source that needs to be tracked down. I don't have a proximity detector, but I doubt one would indicate the problem from a distance if the frame of the appliance is truly grounded.

If the refrigerator is not grounded and a wire is shorting somewhere inside then it is a source of a potentially fatal AC shock.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 4:14PM
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spencer_electrician

A properly grounded outlet is still important. If the refrigerator properly has its frame bonded to the grounding conductor, it wouldn't be possible to have voltage on the chassis. A loose connection would short to ground and trip the breaker. A frige with a bad ground connection either in the appliance or branch circuit could remain energized without tripping the breaker.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 4:18PM
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lindakimy

I don't know whether dh has gotten zapped or not. He wouldn't complain about it, I'm sure. And since he is the one who would be having to fix it, he might not even mention it!

But, if you notice, I said that I get shocked ALMOST every time I touch it. It's not every single time. If there were a wire in contact it would be every time, wouldn't it? Since it isn't every time I'm thinking maybe...maybe it could be static. It's just such a strong jolt. My finger aches for hours afterward. Usually a static electricity shock is more of a surprise than anything else - a quick zing and it's over.

As for the lights - it's as if you flipped the switch off as fast as you can: off for just a split second and then back on. If you blink, you'll miss it. (Dh keeps blinking. LOL) Oh...and it's a flourescent overhead light fixture I'm talking about, if that matters.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 4:58PM
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brickeyee

The fridge may be on its last legs.
Like any induction motor the compressor in the fridge pulls a much larger current very briefly when it starts up.
Excessive current on start up is common as the motor ages (along with the start capacitor - they never increase in value resulting in a longer motor start time).

Is the shock a single jolt or does it continue as long as you touch the fridge?
Static electricity will be a single pulse and then it is over.
If you touch the faucet and then immediately touch the fridge do you still get a shock?

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 5:23PM
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billhart

Don't touch the faucet and the fridge at the same time with the conditions you now have unless that has been your normal practice. You could get a more severe shock than you normally do.

The test proposed by the previous post meant to discharge the static electricity to the faucet (or stove or anything handy) and THEN touch ONLY the refrigerator and whatever you are used to touching.

Is the shock sensation a snap or a buzz feeling? If it is a buzz and it makes your fingers hurt afterward then you have a dangerous condition. If your husband doesn't do anything about it you are going to need to get someone to do something about it yourself.

The shock might occur only while the motor is running, if there is a short inside the motor.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 6:31PM
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lindakimy

Oh...I hadn't thought about the possibility that it might only happen when the motor is running. (eek)

I would not be able to touch the faucet and the fridge at the same time. I'd have to have arms 6 feet long!

O.K. When it zaps me it is one very hard jolt, more of a snap than a buzz. But I haven't seen the little spark I've gotten from a known static electricity shock. It's just very sudden, very painful, and then my finger aches for a good while afterward.

I talked with dh more about it and he said it has shocked him before, too. "Not lately." But he is very convinced that it is static electricity. He says the reason it hurts me more is that I usually wear rubber soled shoes so I am "too well grounded". I believe his shoes also have rubber soles but, well, that would be female logic. Anyway, he said that static shock is stronger if you are grounded like that.

The refrigerator is probably about 10 years old - not ancient but certainly not new. I suspect it was installed when the place was built. I don't believe it's older than that because of the way it's made. But who knows what it has been through. When we moved in I noticed that the dishwasher kept tripping the circuit breaker. Then I noticed that there was flash of light inside the cabinet next to the dishwasher when it was running!! It turned out that the power cord was under the metal base and was all but cut in two!!! It's a thousand wonders it didn't set the house on fire! I have no confidence in whoever installed appliances here.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 10:13PM
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zap_ping_pow

Thanks for bringing it up Spencer electrician! Was it common practice in the past to ground the frig chassis to the grounded conductor?
I believe the '96 code required a separate ground for electric stoves since the neutral also served as a ground.

The frig in my last house also zapped me a few times. It was a non-polarized two prong plug. I measured a few ohms from one spade to the frig chassis while the other spade of the plug measured much higher. Naturally, I plugged the low ohm spade of the plug to the neutral side and I received no more shocks.
Has anyone else experienced this problem? Maybe my compressor was flaky too but it lasted seven years and I sold it with my house in 2004.
Why wasn't the plugs on these refrigerators polarized?

Back to the original problem of this post. If the plug is two pronged and non-polarized, unplug the cord and turn it around. If you own a volt meter, place one probe on your metal faucet and the other on a non-painted surface of your frig. Record these volt readings and write us back on your findings!

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 10:20PM
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texasredhead

My refrigerator in the garage was connected to a grounded outlet. I have said many times, breakers trip on an overload. My refer continued to work but had an electrified frame. It never tripped a breaker.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 10:24PM
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spencer_electrician

I don't know of older refrigerators bonding the frame to the grounded conductor but possibly they did. The reason a refrigerator would run without tripping the breaker on a grounded outlet is that there is a problem with the ground in the refrigerator. The connection to the frame came loose or some how the door is electrified without making a path to the body to get back to ground. Breakers do trip with overloads, a hot wire touching the frame of a properly grounded refrigerator is a very big overload. If the metal is grounded, it should have the same potential as touching the cover of the service panel or anything else that is grounded. The problem is when that connection is lost whether it is in the circuit, the outlet, or the appliance.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 10:42PM
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cobraguy

"The refrigerator is probably about 10 years old - not ancient but certainly not new. I suspect it was installed when the place was built"

House and fridge are only 10 years old. Everything should be 3 prong.

I think you need to try Brickeyee's advice. Touch the faucet first, then go to the fridge. See if that doesn't stop the shock. This certainly sounds like a static shock to me from what you describe. Next, is the fridge on it's own dedicated circuit? Not required, but many electricians follow a "best practice" of doing so. If it's on the same circuit as the lights, I would say a momentary dim is normal.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 7:36AM
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lindakimy

Thanks for all the comments and information, y'all. I feel reassured and suspect that it is probably just a static thing. It's not pleasant but as long as the fridge is not downright dangerous I can put up with it.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 8:35AM
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cobraguy

Bellieve it or not, something as simple as adding a humidifier to the HVAC system can significantly help static shock. Different shoes, etc can also help.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2008 at 8:30AM
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talley_sue_nyc

one reason women sometimes get more static shocks than men, I've been told, is that women are more likely to wear synthetic clothing, which will reate more static on them as they walk a round.

Men's clothes are more likely to be natural fibers, which don't contribute to the build up of static electricity.

Synthetic fibers in carpets can increase static electricity as well.

I don't know *anything,* but that "finger aching for a good while afterward" makes me nervous.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 12:19PM
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brickeyee

"Men's clothes are more likely to be natural fibers, which don't contribute to the build up of static electricity."

Wool and many plastics are a very good generator of static electricity.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 2:23PM
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talley_sue_nyc

ah, that explains why we get shocks from the wool carpet.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 5:17PM
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cookie8

Here's an easy way to test if your fridge is defective: if you've got a GFI outlet in your bathroom (with a reset button), then use an extension cord to plug the fridge into it. If the outlet trips when you get "shocked" from your fridge, then there's a serious problem with your fridge!

If it doesn't trip, then either you're getting a static electricity shock from having your humidity too low, or maybe your fridge's outlet is improperly wired (the ground prong is live).

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 9:26PM
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gilshultz

It appears we need to find where the problem is originating from, the refrigerator or the plug. I am assuming the refrigerator is new enough that it has a three wire plug. If you can borrow a tester check the outlet. Another way is to use a good extension cord and connect the refrigerator to that (three wire assumed) to another outlet on a different circuit. if the breaker trips there is a connection in the refrigerator from the electrical to the case green wires excluded and the duplex is not connected properly ie the safety ground is open. You can measure the voltage between the cabinet and a good ground and see how much voltage is there.

My buddy had part of the circuit supplying the refrigerator under his deck. A rodent got into it, chewed the wire through and wound with the ground wire touching the hot wire. The refrigerator cabinet was hot because of this, the refrigerator was ok.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2008 at 2:15PM
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billhart

"ground wire touching the hot wire"

If this did not trip the breaker, there is something wrong with the basic wiring of this circuit. The refrigerator frame should be shocking for a fraction of a second and then the breaker trips. I suspect the "ground" wire did not connect back to the panel ground bus as it should.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2008 at 3:02PM
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texasredhead

I'm so glad gilsultz added such knowledge to the allready 21 posts. We are so furtunate.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2008 at 3:44PM
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sbrn33

A grounded plug has nothing to do with it.
My refrigerator in the garage was connected to a grounded outlet. I have said many times, breakers trip on an overload. My refer continued to work but had an electrified frame. It never tripped a breaker.

Maybe you need to reread the thread and maybe check on some basic electrical theory.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2008 at 4:08PM
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gilshultz

If the frame is properly grounded, it by definition will not be electrified. You have / had an open ground connection or if it was properly grounded you were touching something else that wasn't. Nuff Said

    Bookmark   February 10, 2008 at 8:57PM
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Kelly666_gmail_com

My frost free freezer shocked me a few times tonight.
Its an upright fridge with the freezer at the top.
I was lightly cleaning it and poured around 50ml of warm water onto the freezer bottom, as i was cleaning it my hand must have got near a rusted/bare metal spots.
It gave me a strong tingle in my hand that wasnt painful or that unplesant. I was bare foot on tiles.
I got out my multimeter and measured from earth (from a power outlet) to the exposed metal surface(s) in the freezer.
It read a steady 180 Volts AC and 2.9 Amps.
My boyfriend who is a 4th year apprentice electrician is going to look at it tomorrow for me.
Kelly - Melbourne, Australia

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 7:46AM
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gilshultz

That is why proper grounding is so important. What you got could kill somebody that is not as strong as you. In the US the metal chases must be connected to a earth / safety ground, not the neutral. I am a pest on proper grounding, but that keeps me and others from getting a lot of shocks.

I assume the Freezer was operating at the time. If so then without checking I would suspect a bad earth ground connection and a shorted winding in the compressor. If it were the line connecting you would get the full 220 volts.

Before you trash the unit check the compressor, it could be a mullion heater or some other part that has a exposed connection the case.

The 2.9 amps does not compute.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 10:48PM
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kelly_again

Thanks for your response gilshultz. Just wanted to reply and let you know how it all went....

BTW: Its me Kelly, but my 'Kelly' account had been deleted and I couldn't even send my password to my email as my email was 'not in the system'
So i registered again.

Anyhow... 120V-180V was correct in what i getting, but 2.9A was wrong as i had the multimeter lead plugged in the voltage hole! (so i was just measuring potential difference i think)
That's why 2.9A 'didn't compute' haha.

We looked at the back of the fridge and found an earth wire, that was ok and was grounded to the chassis correctly.
Then down near the bottom we found another ground wire that was just hanging there in the air, and not grounded to the chassis!
Once we connected that securely back on the chassis, the fault was fixed.
We checked the voltage again on the freezer walls and got a measly 2V reading (which is normal, as the sink had the same reading)
Thanks for your help.
Hope this post helps others too...
Kelly

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 2:56AM
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