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    tiggerella's Avatar
    tiggerella Posts: 184, Reputation: 13
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    #1

    Jun 25, 2013, 07:35 AM
    Are these signs of a "dying" refrigerator?
    I have a Sears Kenmore Side by Side refrigerator (model # 106.50522101) that has recently started frosting up inside the refrigerator compartment. Since the areas where it seems to be actually icing up are the vents that my husband tells me lead into the freezer, his solution was to turn the freezer down a couple of notches - which worked out well for the things in the freezer, since everything has remained frozen solid and the only noticeable difference is that we don't have to set ice cream out on the sideboard for a half an hour in order to serve out a bowl full. (You can actually put a spoon into it and scoop out ice cream without bending the spoon at 15 minutes now... )

    Unfortunately, the change in the temperature on the freezer didn't stop the ice from forming in the refrigerator, and when he turned the refrigerator down before taking off on a fishing trip, thinking that might be the problem, my husband only managed to make all the food in the refrigerator spoil in the three days that he's been gone.

    I'm not going to lie and say that we've been perfect in our care of this refrigerator, which we purchased in 1999. I think my husband has actually taken the time to clean the coils two or three times (I just read it's recommended to be done twice a year if one has pets, which we do - and it's one of those things he won't allow me to do, insisting I will break something), and the filter for the ice maker/water in the door feature, which we were changing out once a year when we first bought it, hasn't been changed in at least 5 years because it's now a special order item through our local Sears store.

    In summary, can anyone tell me if the frosting issue is something that forcing my husband to pull it away from the wall and clean the coils will cure, or should I put a new refrigerator on my Christmas list as the "big ticket item" he always insists he should get with the money from his side work?
    Fr_Chuck's Avatar
    Fr_Chuck Posts: 81,304, Reputation: 7692
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    #2

    Jun 25, 2013, 08:36 AM
    Can be several minor things, without close inspection, one can not tell. But with good service and maintanice they can last a long long time.
    Do you just WANT a new one ?
    tiggerella's Avatar
    tiggerella Posts: 184, Reputation: 13
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    #3

    Jun 26, 2013, 04:58 AM
    I really like what my husband calls "the side by each", but I also really hate to throw out food. I would love to keep this refrigerator for a couple more years provided that this frosting/not keeping the food cold is something that can easily be corrected...

    My task today is to pick up a couple of appliance thermometers at a local hardware store - one for the refrigerator and one for the freezer. My hubby seems to think there might be a minor issue with the temperature sensor, which would cost WAY less than replacing the fridge. Since our budget is already stretched to the limit, I just don't want to buy a new unit until this one truly kicks the bucket...
    hkstroud's Avatar
    hkstroud Posts: 11,929, Reputation: 899
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    #4

    Jun 26, 2013, 08:23 PM
    You only have one cooling unit and that is in the freezer compartment. You control the temperature in the freezer with the thermostat. The refrigerator compartment is cooled by the air flow from the freezer compartment to the refrigerator compartment.

    Usually the complaint is that the refrigerator is not cooling enough. That usually is the result something interfering with the air flow (that bag of food you put on the vent).

    In your case you must have the temperature in the freezer compartment as low as you can set it. Ice cream is the hardest thing to freeze. If you have to set it out for 30 minutes before you can dip it, your freezer must be set as low as you can get it. If the refrigerator is frosting up, which means that moisture is freezing in the refrigerator, the vents between the freezer and refrigerator must be completely open.

    Set the freezer temperature at an acceptable level, ice cream is frozen but not "rock hard", then adjust refrigerator temperature. When you turn the dial you are really only adjusting the vents between the two compartments.

    Hubby can't clean anything and make it work better. In fact the cooling system is working and working very well. If turning the refrigerator dial doesn't raise the temperature in the refrigerator, sit something in front of the vent to slow down the air flow.
    tiggerella's Avatar
    tiggerella Posts: 184, Reputation: 13
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    #5

    Jun 27, 2013, 07:35 AM
    Quote Originally Posted by hkstroud View Post
    You only have one cooling unit and that is in the freezer compartment. You control the temperature in the freezer with the thermostat. The refrigerator compartment is cooled by the air flow from the freezer compartment to the refrigerator compartment.

    Usually the complaint is that the refrigerator is not cooling enough. That usually is the result something interfering with the air flow (that bag of food you put on the vent).

    In your case you must have the temperature in the freezer compartment as low as you can set it. Ice cream is the hardest thing to freeze. If you have to set it out for 30 minutes before you can dip it, your freezer must be set as low as you can get it. If the refrigerator is frosting up, which means that moisture is freezing in the refrigerator, the vents between the freezer and refrigerator must be completely open.

    Set the freezer temperature at an acceptable level, ice cream is frozen but not "rock hard", then adjust refrigerator temperature. When you turn the dial you are really only adjusting the vents between the two compartments.

    Hubby can't clean anything and make it work better. In fact the cooling system is working and working very well. If turning the refrigerator dial doesn't raise the temperature in the refrigerator, sit something in front of the vent to slow down the air flow.
    I'm a little confused by your post, but it may just be what my husband calls my "pretzel logic" and you may be absolutely correct in what you stated. But let me just address the stuff I'm confused over so you can clarify for me if I misunderstood what you meant...

    My unit has two adjustment knobs on the top, one for the freezer temp and one for the refrigerator temp, but neither compartment has ever been set to the coldest it can go. Last year at about this time, however, the Klondike bars my hubby likes as a treat were liquid inside their chocolate shell, so my hubby did adjust the freezer to a half a notch above the factory setting, which seemed to cure the problem. When he noticed that the ice cream was a rock, he set it back to the factory setting - and it was just before he noticed the "ice cream rock" that I had noticed the icing issue...

    After reading your post, I went down to look a little closer at the vents, which is precisely where the refrigerator is icing. One vent is at the highest point in the refrigerator toward the back of the compartment. It sits about 2 inches above the tallest container on the top shelf of the refrigerator - currently the gallon jug of milk - and because of the way the shelf is built, it's all but impossible to put anything in front of it. On the freezer side of that vent, there's a cover that protects the freezer light bulb (set as far from the refrigerator compartment as the designers could put it) that runs the whole width of the freezer compartment - also preventing anything from being placed to block the vent.

    The only other visible vents in the refrigerator - which are also currently "dripping" ice, as I haven't gone in today to remove the ice (as this has been a daily care issue) are beside the crisper drawers at the bottom of the unit. In fact, these are the vents that made me notice the problem, as the ice prevented me from pulling out the drawer to get the vegetables out of the lower crisper drawer when I was packing my husband's lunch. These have a little slider adjustment that is supposed to be fully open when you want to keep meat in that lower drawer, but if left in the full-on open position, results in frozen vegetables, so it's currently set at the "vegetable" spot - and has been for a number of years, since the only meat I keep down there is the sliced lunch meat, which freezes right along with the veggies if the slider is set at anything other than vegetables. On the freezer side of this vent is a tall drawer that I keep the cold packs for my husband's lunch box in - so once again, the designers made sure things can't accidentally be pressed against those vents on either side. (As an additional aside, we have a big chest freezer in the garage where the "long term" freezer items - like the supper meats we buy in bulk from a local butcher - are stored, so the inside unit is specifically for those things we use every day or that will be used within the week with the exception of things like condiments and such that take a little longer to use up.)

    As I stated earlier, my hubby adjusted the freezer end, thinking that between the rock hard ice cream and the freezing water on the vents that it was the problem, but although the ice cream is now at an acceptable consistency, the vents still keep icing and the food in the refrigerator is spoiling faster than it has been all winter. This has all changed just within the past three weeks, so I'm not really sure why it started happening in the first place.

    As to the cleaning of the coils, I got that from the owners manual from Kenmore. They recommend cleaning the coils once a year at the very least, and twice a year if you own pets. Since the refrigerator hasn't been moved out to do that in about 4 years, I figured that was one of those "it can't hurt to do it" things...

    So did I totally misinterpret what you were saying about the temperature adjustments and the vents? Is there something Kenmore didn't put into the owner's manual that I should be looking for, or do I need to empty the unit, shut it off long enough to thaw any built up ice in the vents and wipe out all moisture to possibly clear any vent obstruction, since the vents appear to be otherwise idiot proof?
    hkstroud's Avatar
    hkstroud Posts: 11,929, Reputation: 899
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    #6

    Jun 27, 2013, 04:26 PM
    Is there any ice build up in the freezer compartment?
    tiggerella's Avatar
    tiggerella Posts: 184, Reputation: 13
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    #7

    Jun 28, 2013, 05:03 AM
    Quote Originally Posted by hkstroud View Post
    Is there any ice build up in the freezer compartment?

    Prior to this morning, when I pulled everything out to let the ice build up around the refrigerator vents thaw and to wipe down the insides of both compartments, I would have answered that with a "no". When I pulled out the shelf at the bottom of the freezer, however, there is an area behind the shelf where there is a double row of rectangular openings - and where I assume the vent to the crisper region originates. Oh HECK yes, there is ice build up in there!

    Houston, I think we've found the problem!

    Of course, as I was pulling the condiments out of the racks on the refrigerator door, I discovered that I was long past due for this muck out of the fridge. I won't go into details, but suffice to say that there were a few spills that weren't properly cleaned, so whether there was a cooling problem or not, this cleaning needed to happen.

    Thank you for the input, and I'll update you as to whether the thaw/clean out helped regulate the cooling issues. Now that I know how the modern units work, I'll be paying closer attention to the openings behind the freezer drawer and at the top and bottom of the refrigerator compartment. They may not be able to be blocked, but obviously the vents can ice up and cause trouble without the help of the human element...
    hkstroud's Avatar
    hkstroud Posts: 11,929, Reputation: 899
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    #8

    Jun 28, 2013, 05:15 AM
    Please post back after a period. I may have misread your original post. I at first interpreted the "vents frosting" up as refrigerator being too cold. If the frosting occurred but the refrigerator compartment was not cold enough, you may have a defrost problem. If problem goes away for a period but then returns, post back.
    tiggerella's Avatar
    tiggerella Posts: 184, Reputation: 13
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    #9

    Jun 29, 2013, 05:49 AM
    Thanks again for the input, Harold - and I'll let you know if it frosts back up. At the moment, I have thermometers in each compartment to aid with proper dial settings, and with the icing cleared out, we didn't lose any food overnight. Crossing my fingers we can at least get my car paid off before we have to do anything with a refrigerator repair or replacement.
    drtom4444's Avatar
    drtom4444 Posts: 3,282, Reputation: 145
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    #10

    Jun 29, 2013, 10:54 AM
    It sounds like you have a defrost system problem like a bad defrost heater, terminator, and timer. The whole defrost system is only about $30. Make sure to clean coils under unit, too.
    tiggerella's Avatar
    tiggerella Posts: 184, Reputation: 13
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    #11

    Jul 1, 2013, 06:02 AM
    Quote Originally Posted by drtom4444 View Post
    It sounds like you have a defrost system problem like a bad defrost heater, terminator, and timer. The whole defrost system is only about $30. Make sure to clean coils under unit, too.

    Thanks for easing my mind with a price quote on the defrost system.

    Hubby thoroughly cleaned all the coils, the fan, etc over the weekend (as it was raining - again - and he couldn't do the yard work that needed doing) and has said that he'll be getting some details as to how to change out the defrost system from one of the refrigeration specialists he works with. (He's an HVAC tech, but has more training on the heating end than the AC at the moment.)

    Thanks to everyone who contributed to this one! You've helped me relax and stop thinking that a new refrigerator was the only option!
    drtom4444's Avatar
    drtom4444 Posts: 3,282, Reputation: 145
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    #12

    Jul 1, 2013, 06:19 AM
    Changing out the defrost system is an easy task to do. Just remove the cover to the evaporator coils in freezer and you will see a defrost heater with a wire on each end wrapped around the outside of the coils or it is a heater inside a glass tube under the coils. Attached to one end of the heater is a defrost terminator thermostat which is round and clipped high up to the side of the coils. Remove and replace this, too, because it has contacts that burn out and will cause the defrost system not to work if it opens and stays open. You can test it by immersing it in ice, salt, and water to drop temp below about 35 or so. Since it wears out with the other parts, I always replace it with the heater. Next, replace the defrost timer. You usually find it under the refrigerator, but sometimes it is next to the thermostat. It is made of plastic and has a one-way screw slot so it can only be turned clockwise by a dime or a large screwdriver. Attached are some Whirlpool manuals which will have a unit like yours: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/...rigerators.zip
    I hope this helps. Make sure to clean drain under freezer coils while you have cover off and clear drain. I like to pour a little bleach down it. Good luck!
    tiggerella's Avatar
    tiggerella Posts: 184, Reputation: 13
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    #13

    Aug 17, 2013, 06:20 AM
    Just wanted to update this one, especially for Dr. Tom, who was so helpful.

    Having picked up a couple of cheap thermometers - one of which is being kept in the freezer, the other in the refrigerator - I've finally started to get my husband to understand that we really have a problem that just turning the controls up or down isn't going to solve. By the same token, I now have some better info to share.

    Right after I clear out all the food, unplug the whole unit, give all the ice time to thaw out, and dry the inside of both the refrigerator and freezer, the refrigerator and freezer both settle out at the wished for temperatures as noted on the thermometers. A few days to a week after a thorough thaw and wipe down, however, we start to see water collecting inside the refrigerator compartment. As the water collects on the grates where the cool air comes in (as you noted in an earlier explanation of how this all works, Dr. Tom), ice begins to form and the freezer temperature begins to rise as the refrigerator temperature begins to drop.

    We've had a LOT of rain this summer here in Maine, as in a LOT more than we normally average for a summer. (I've been trying all summer to figure out ways to send our rainfall to areas that have been having wild fires, but none of the theories on how to do so have panned out.) In August, we're usually close to drought conditions, but this year, the humidity is very high and the temperatures are unusually low. We're talking mid-70's with humidity at 60-80% during a month that normally sees 90 degree temperatures with humidity at 15-25%. The suspicion is that the high humidity in the air is showing itself within the refrigerator as condensation, which then freezes over the cooling grates, which then causes less cool air flow, which makes the temperature in the refrigerator drop...

    By the way, I've been having to empty the pan underneath that collects the water from defrosting, which the owners manual says you shouldn't ever have to do because it should evaporate on it's own. We've never had the defrost water run across the kitchen floor in years past. I'm guessing having the air super-saturated with moisture is also causing that phenomenon.

    Thanks again for all your help. I'll update you again if fall gets us back to a normal humidity level and the problem cures itself. Right now we're sticking with the "supersaturated air mass" theory, as all else seems to be working like it should with the exception of the excessive moisture on the interior walls of the refrigeration unit.
    N0help4u's Avatar
    N0help4u Posts: 19,823, Reputation: 2035
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    #14

    Aug 17, 2013, 06:25 AM
    Always keep temps in the middle
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    drtom4444 Posts: 3,282, Reputation: 145
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    #15

    Aug 17, 2013, 08:21 AM
    I do not think that the humidity is the whole answer. It's just making the problem worse. I think you have a problem with either the defrost system or an air leak, but it seems like an air leak which causes more frost buildup than the defrost system can handle. Try to rotate the defrost timer to put it in defrost about one extra time per day and see what happens. By doing this you will test the defrost system and you will get an idea about what the problem is that is causing the extra frost and condensation. The timer is located to the right of the thermostat and the one-way screw is under the casing where the thermostat is located. It is number 6 in the diagram.
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    hkstroud's Avatar
    hkstroud Posts: 11,929, Reputation: 899
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    #16

    Aug 17, 2013, 04:36 PM
    either the defrost system or an air leak, but it seems like an air leak which causes more frost buildup than the defrost system can handle
    A air leak seems to be the most logical diagnosis.
    Inspect the seal around the doors.

    Two things you posted seem to be logically inconsistent.
    When the refrigerator goes through the defrost cycle any ice is turn to water, which flows down to the collection area. The collection area has a drain tube to the evaporator pan. Water should not accumulate in the collection area unless the drain tube is blocked. Yet you say you have had to empty the evaporator pan which indicates that the drain tube is open and water is draining to the evaporator pan.
    Have Hubby blow out the drain tube with compressed air or run a small flexible wire down the drain tube to make sure that it is clear.
    tiggerella's Avatar
    tiggerella Posts: 184, Reputation: 13
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    #17

    Aug 18, 2013, 06:29 AM
    Quote Originally Posted by hkstroud View Post
    A air leak seems to be the most logical diagnosis.
    Inspect the seal around the doors.

    Two things you posted seem to be logically inconsistent.
    When the refrigerator goes thru the defrost cycle any ice is turn to water, which flows down to the collection area. The collection area has a drain tube to the evaporator pan. Water should not accumulate in the collection area unless the drain tube is blocked. Yet you say you have had to empty the evaporator pan which indicates that the drain tube is open and water is draining to the evaporator pan.
    Have Hubby blow out the drain tube with compressed air or run a small flexible wire down the drain tube to make sure that it is clear.

    Thank you for this suggestion as well as the suggestion for resetting the defrost timer. It's been a devil of a summer when I'm having to thaw out and wipe down the refrigerator every other week. (And also thank you for understanding what I meant about the freezer/refrigerator temps. I realized as I reread this morning that the freezer would actually be dropping in temp - making everything freeze to rock hardness - and the refrigerator would actually be rising in temp - not keeping things cold enough - when the ice forms.)
    tiggerella's Avatar
    tiggerella Posts: 184, Reputation: 13
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    #18

    Aug 18, 2013, 06:36 AM
    Quote Originally Posted by N0help4u View Post
    Always keep temps in the middle

    Um - yeah. That's where they were until I started having everything in the freezer get so hard that ice cream had to sit on the sideboard for a half an hour to an hour before it softened enough to scoop it out without breaking the spoon while the milk that I'd just bought went from fine to the chunky stage in less than a week. I brought the problem up to my husband, who didn't want to deal with it, so he turned the freezer down and turned the refrigerator up without addressing the heavy-duty icing happening around the vents in the refrigerator that are supposed to carry the cold air into the refrigerator. I came on and asked the initial question because my husband, who does heating, ventilation and air conditioning as his regular job, didn't want to deal with a cooling issue at home.

    As my mother likes to say when I discuss such things with her: "It's like how the carpenter's house always need repairs."
    hkstroud's Avatar
    hkstroud Posts: 11,929, Reputation: 899
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    #19

    Aug 18, 2013, 07:05 AM
    because my husband, who does heating, ventilation and air conditioning as his regular job, didn't want to deal with a cooling issue at home.
    That is the part I really don't understand. I'll bet he tells his customers "It's pay me now or pay me later " when they don't want to deal with a problem. Same thing applies to to him.

    Just as a side note, it appears that he has shifted this monkey from his back to yours. "No dinner tonight because all the food in fridge spoiled" would shift that monkey back to where he belongs.
    tiggerella's Avatar
    tiggerella Posts: 184, Reputation: 13
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    #20

    Oct 3, 2013, 05:19 AM
    Quote Originally Posted by hkstroud View Post
    That is the part I really don't understand. I'll bet he tells his customers "It's pay me now or pay me later " when they don't want to deal with a problem. Same thing applies to to him.

    Just as a side note, it appears that he has shifted this monkey from his back to yours. "No dinner tonight because all the food in fridge spoiled" would shift that monkey back to where he belongs.

    Sorry for the long delay in replying to this comment. I took your advice, actually sending a cucumber with him in his lunch box that had frozen in the crisper because of the icing problem. When he got home that night, he had consulted with one of his co-workers, who does regular refrigerators instead of just the monster-sized commercial version...

    After an adjustment to the timing of the defrost cycle that the co-worker had described how to do in detail, everything went back to the point that the adjustments knobs are both back to the factory settings, the refrigerator has stopped icing, the freezer is at the correct spot so that everything stays frozen without becoming rock-like, and I'm a happy camper again.

    Thanks for all the advice that got me through until I made my point and got a working solution instead of spending all my days off re-thawing the refrigerator.

    Blessed be!

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