How to get garage freezer to work in cold weather

amyf5January 17, 2013

I have a 7-year-old GE refrigerator/freezer in my unheated, insulated, attached garage in the Midwest. When it gets very cold, the freezer stops working and my food partially defrosts. I have read that this is a common problem. If I understand correctly, the unit runs based on the temperature sensor inside the refrigerator. So when it's 30 degrees in my garage, it stops running which is fine for the fridge, but not for the freezer.

There is a product called a Chillerator made by Whirlpool which is specifically designed to work in very hot or very cold environments like a garage. But it's pricey.

I was wondering if a halogen or LED puck light inside my fridge might generate enough heat to trick the whole unit into running even when the garage gets very cold. I'm interested in any comments on this idea or any other (easy) solutions to my problem.

Thank you.

Amy

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steve340

They make a "garage kit" for your fridge that is a small heater coil that is installed inside the fridge temp controller cover. The kit cost about $39.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 2:24AM
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doug_gb

The oil in the compressor needs to be warm.

You may be able to get by with a 100 watt bulb (for heat) - position it right by the compressor, or you need a heating pad glued to the compressor.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 10:32AM
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ionized_gw

There are really two problems here. The one that doug_gb pointed out is common to most freezers and refrigerators. Even if that problem is solved, the thermostat is in the refrigerator. If the temp in the garage is too low, the compressor will never run and the freezer will get too warm. Heating the compressor and a heat source in the refrigerator compartment might both be necessary.

An LED in the refrigerator won't produce much heat. A light bulb should do it, but you could consider a heating pad or maybe something more exotic:

http://www.hydrofarm.com/product.php?itemid=3351

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 8:52PM
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amyf5

Thanks for the responses. I believe the "kit" that is sold is just for Frigidaire and even if not, I don't have the expertise to install.

I might try the bulbs or heating pads as ionized suggested. One (probably dumb) question...the bulb or pad inside the fridge - how would I close the door over the electrical cord or would it be ok if the door didn't fully close?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 1:47PM
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hendricus

The door will close all the way, the weatherstripping will just indent slightly where the cord is.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 2:39PM
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brickeyee

The thermostat in the unit wi lwork just fine.

If it gets warm it will close and try to turn on the compressor.

The compressor may not be able to run with oil that is cold.

Just like turning on a central air compressor in cold weather, the oil can slug the compressor and stop it from moving (or slug it with accumulated refrigerant from the evaporator).

Put a heater blowing on the compressor.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 1:12PM
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ionized_gw

Typical modern refrigerator-freezers have two controls. There is a simple damper that divides the cold air flow between the refrig. and freezer compartments. Then the thermostat is in the refrigerator compartment

In addition to adding a heat source to the refrigerator compartment, you might turn the controls for the cold air distribution all the way to the coldest freezer position. Remember where you had it set so you can return it there when the weather starts to warm up. You obviously want to pick a heat source that will run the compressor as little as possible while keeping the frozen food cool enough. I don't really know if that would be a 100W bulb or a 7W bulb, Optimal will also vary with external temperature. You might need to experiment a little. Just get a freezer thermometer and give it a try.

BTW, halogen lights produce less heat per Watt than standard incandescents so they are not the best choice either.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 2:07PM
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alan_s_thefirst

Lots of people in Canada keep their deep freezers outside, I suppose up in the Territories it might be too cold for them (but then they just don't run I guess) so a separate freezer might be an option. You wouldn't have a problem then, it will figure itself out with temperatures. Use the fridge freezer for unimportant things, or not at all.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2013 at 1:44AM
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brickeyee

You do not need a heater in the unit, just on the compressor.

The refrigerator thermostat will work just fine to keep the refrigerator at the set point IF the compressor can come on when the thermostat closes.

If it is so cold outside the unit the thermostat never closes, then the temp is already below the set point.

You may have some trouble with the freezer compartment, but only if you have a newer refrigerator/freezer combination.

It is not going to take much of a thermal load in the unit to swamp the compressor capacity.

There is a real reason the bulb goes off when the door is closed.
It alone is enough to keep the refrigerator from reaching set-point in many units.

A 5 W resistor on a variable supply would be a more usable solution.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2013 at 11:58AM
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ionized_gw

'The refrigerator thermostat will work just fine to keep the refrigerator at the set point IF the compressor can come on when the thermostat closes.'

Yes, but the freezer may easily become too warm as the OP observed.

"If it is so cold outside the unit the thermostat never closes, then the temp is already below the set point."

Yes, but the freezer will be too warm.

"You may have some trouble with the freezer compartment, but only if you have a newer refrigerator/freezer combination."

Please define "newer".

"It is not going to take much of a thermal load in the unit to swamp the compressor capacity."

At common room temperature, sure, but at unheated garage temperature Maybe not.

"There is a real reason the bulb goes off when the door is closed.
It alone is enough to keep the refrigerator from reaching set-point in many units."

See above comment about unheated garages and refrigerators.

"A 5 W resistor on a variable supply would be a more usable solution."

You and I may have that on hand, but the average homeowner will not. On the other hand, since incandescent bulbs are available in many power outputs, it will be a usable solution. As the garage temperature decreased further (say from 20 to -20), a larger power bulb might be required. Anything from a 4W E12 ( Candelabra) to a E26 base bulb much larger can be easily stuck into a refrigerator compartment on the end of an inexpensive extension cord with a socket adaptor or a night light luminaire.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2013 at 1:02PM
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alan_s_thefirst

It does seem wasteful, though - heating part of a fridge in order to keep another part cooler?

I guess if that's what it takes...

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 12:27AM
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amyf5

Thank you for the suggestions. After some more research, I decided to go ahead and order the Chillerator. Some combination of light bulbs, electrical tape, resistors, and heating pads would probably work, but they are beyond what I want to try and not guaranteed. I appreciate the advice and will post back on how the Chillerator works out.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 10:20PM
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MattTheApplianceGuy

This is only a problem with new fridges. Old fridges, 60's through the mid-nineties, have no problem in the garage. New appliances are junk (there are a few exceptions), Get a used fridge from a reputable used dealer for the garage.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 10:53AM
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ionized_gw

What is the design change that kills them at lower temps?

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 11:17AM
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Touchette

Refrigerators made after 1996 have the newer type of freon. This created a huge problem for the manufacturers with a 5 year compressor replacement policy because of burned up units. Solution for the manufacturer was to shorten the compressor to a 1 year warranty.
The temp range for these refrigerators is around 55 degrees to 110 degrees. This creates the problem of the freezers thawing in an unheated garage because the compressor with the newer freon can't handle the cold temp and the temp bulb that tells the compressor to run to cool the freezer has exceeded it's limits.
The only solution to force the unit to operate is to heat the compressor in cold weather with a heater kit, a stick on heat pad or an incandescent light bulb.
I live in the Midwest, with an attached unheated garage with two refrigerators. The 1951 GE works like a champ and has never had a problem except replacing the door seals and requirement to defrost twice a year. When my 1987 GE top freezer refrigerator went Tango / Uniform I replaced it with a new dent and scratched Frigidare. Had to install the optional heater kit to make it survive. Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 11:02PM
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MikeSchacter

You people seem much smarter than I am with respect to this. Based on what Touchette just said, I have a GE top end side by side fridge with digital monitoring that is 21 or 22 years old. I moved it to the garage this summer and want to know if it will work in my unheated, uninsulated garage. I live in Calgary, where the temp can go from comfortable to very, very cold in a day. Right now the fridge is flashing a De symbol which is a warning message. Any suggestions.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 8:21PM
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dudleydorightdad

I'll but in, Freon was a DuPont trademark. Everyone manufactures refrigerants but only DuPont made Freon. Most newer unit run with refrigerant R134. It has different capacity and operating parameters than what was in almost all boxes, R12. How cold are these garages. If that cold, why not just crack open the freezer side? Rube golberg I know, just had to say it. As an addendum even the best compressors in the older refers used reed valves in the recip compressors, and 10-12 years is the tipping point where it is cheaper to replace it based on energy usage, especially if in an area of elevated summer temps, like a closed garage. They are not tanks. The old rotary compressors I cannot comment on their life cycle but may be more or may be less. And the problem with the unheated environment is that the refrigerant in the system WILL under ALL conditions migrate to the coldest area due to the simple physics involving pressure, temperature and volume relationships and the Gas Laws. Compressors are vapor pumps and WILL NOT withstand liquid filled crankcase or cylinders, which is what you will end up with if the garage is colder than inside the box. Compressor would need a crankcase heater, which could be controlled to cycle off above a certain temp to minimize heat gain during an undesired time and energy consumption. I bet if you read your literature it will address environmental limitations. Keep in mind any thermostat works with some sort of volatile fluid in a diaphragm vs spring scenario. If it is too cold that fluid is just going to sleep, nice and unfettered by heat so it will not expand and oppose the spring. One cheap alternative is to put a small temp alarm on the freezer and pay a little more attention to it after all it is an investment is it not. Food isn't cheap. Also a lot of refrigerators use what is called a constant cut in type of thermostat and changing the set point in that cold an environment would have less effect than you think it would. A commercial control is always a possibility.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 11:53PM
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Wizard346

How about installing the heater for the compressor, and a thermostat in the freezer for the light bulb in the fridge?

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 9:44PM
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WaltPlant1

I found this product, Kat's 150 Watt Silicone Pad Heater Model# 24150 on the northern tool site. I was wondering if it would suffice in keeping an upright freezer compressor warm enough to operate in the cold winter months? The freezer is currently in an unheated 2 car garage.

Here is a link that might be useful: RE: How to get garage freezer to work in cold weather

    Bookmark   December 11, 2014 at 12:25PM
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ionized_gw

Too many unknowns, Walt. It depends on the temp of your garage and how well the heat is transferred from the pad to the compressor. The other question is, do you know the max and minimum allowable temperature for the compressor?

    Bookmark   December 11, 2014 at 1:20PM
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dhd47

I placed a little oven light bulb in my fridge and it has solved my issue with the freezer not being cold enough. I can't say if there is an issue with the oil or compressor but this has been working for me since mid last winter.
Dave

    Bookmark   December 16, 2014 at 3:42PM
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Good2

I'm having an issue with the Freezer defrosting because the frig is in my uninsulated garage and it is below zero here.This may be a silly question, but as I'm reading these ideas I'm wondering "where do you put the light bulb"? I have an old Whirlpool (Model ET22RK) top freezer frig. I don't even know where the compressor is!

    Bookmark   January 7, 2015 at 8:57PM
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ionized_gw

Good2, if it is below zero, how can the stuff in the freezer be thawed? Is that below zero F or below zero C?

Put a lamp in the lower part of the refrigerator. The thermostat is in there and controls the compressor. Cold air is diverted at a constant volume to the freezer so you must make the unit run based on refrigerator section temperature. If all works well, the lamp will both prevent the refrigerator section from freezing and keep the freezer cold.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2015 at 12:45PM
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Good2

Thank you ionized......my friend e-mailed me and said "Refrigerator thermostats usually keep the refrigerator around 40 degrees. When its located in a room that is near or below 40 degrees, the refrigerator thermostat is happy, and shuts off the freezer cooler ... that is why the freezer thaws in that environment."

I'm going to try either getting a space heater OR put a lamp in the frig. Thanks so much for your idea.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2015 at 7:26AM
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Good2

IT WORKED! I took my clip on desk light and clipped it in the refrigerator and it started everything working again. Not sure if I'm supposed to turn the light off after awhile or just let it run. I'm thinking the frig will shut off when it's cooled like it's supposed to be.

Thank you everyone who had all these great ideas!

    Bookmark   January 10, 2015 at 2:47PM
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ionized_gw

Use the smallest lamp that works to keep your freezer cold enough to save electricity. Leave it in there as long as it is cold enough in the garage to keep the refrig from running

    Bookmark   January 11, 2015 at 5:46PM
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pharkus

Anyone care for some over-engineering?

Find a closed-when-warm thermostat with a setting that matches the desired freezer temp. Put it in the freezer section and parallel it with the fridge thermostat.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2015 at 12:15AM
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ionized_gw

Pharkus, that might freeze the lettuce!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2015 at 1:34PM
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ccecilm

I had the same "no freezing" problem with our 40 year old fridge we keep in the unheated garage. I turned the freezer control to the lowest setting and it started freezing again.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2015 at 3:55AM
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amyf5

Instead of a small lamp, do you think a battery-powered flashlight would put out enough heat? I wouldn't mind changing the batteries every month or so, but maybe a flashlight would only last a few days if it's on constantly.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2015 at 11:51AM
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ionized_gw

An incandescent lamp makes heat proportional to its wattage. In a flashlight the internal resistance of the battery causes some waste heat output there too, but I don't know the magnitude. I am sure that information is available.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2015 at 7:52AM
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dhd47

I wouldn't think a flashlight would have enough heat to cause the frig to run as needed. I guess you can try it but I wouldn't be surprised it didn't work.

D

    Bookmark   February 18, 2015 at 8:34AM
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amyf5

Well I might give each a try - the flashlight and the desk lamp with 40W bulb. I'll post back with my results. I actually own the Chillerator now and while it is working better than the unit it replaced, it tends to keep my freezer between 0 and 10 degrees, most often between 5 and 10, which is not cold enough. I had it repaired twice and replaced once. Thanks for the comments.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2015 at 9:14AM
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russell1725

Last year, I purchased a Gladiator "Chillerator Garage Refrigerator," made by Whirlpool, specifically for use in my garage, and it does NOT solve this problem. Even in my insulated garage, the Freezer temperature has stayed above 20 degrees Fahrenheit all winter. I've made several calls to Whirlpool customer service about this problem and they've sent a few technicians out to try to fix it. Now Whirlpool says that the refrigerator is "working properly" even though nothing they did made any difference. Even last summer, the freezer temperature rarely went below 5 degrees.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2015 at 12:43PM
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amyf5

Russell1725, I think we are having a similar issue. My (second/replacement) Whirlpool Chillerator has been at a steady 10 degrees in the freezer for weeks. My garage is also insulated and rarely drops below 40 degrees.

I have a technician coming this week to repair the Chillerator. The part they are going to use is "W10740320 Barrier". The instructions it came with say "Control Box and Air Diffuser Rework". Does anyone know how it is supposed to help? It's a 7" long clear plastic straw with some tape.

    Bookmark   9 hours ago
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