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Keeping Your Cool - Refrigerator Repair

  • 21 February 2015
  • Author: Dan Santee
  • Number of views: 2837
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Keeping Your Cool - Refrigerator Repair

We're wine drinkers in the Santee household. Most people know this as soon as they walk into our kitchen and see the 146-bottle wine chiller I purchased several years ago and then designed the kitchen bar around. As part of my home automation, I've connected all of the major appliances that I can to energy monitors, and I'd noticed that the wine fridge was consuming more electricity than my regular fridge/freezer combo. Once I started paying attention, I also noticed that it had to run a lot longer to keep the temperature down, until recently, when it couldn't run long enough to get to temperature at all. After I had done all the troubleshooting I knew how to do - check the door seals, check the cleanliness of the coils, check that it's not freezing, check that the compressor still works - I determined that it was low on refrigerant.

Now, I've never refilled the refrigerant on anything before. Lots of people I know have done car A/C units, though, and this process is not entirely different. The main thing to know is if your system is R-134a or not - most anything built after 1995 will be, but you should be able to look at the compressor (or look up the model number) to find out. After making 100% certain that the things I mentioned above are not causing the problem, you're going to need a few things (assuming R-134a):

You can get the refrigerant attached to the hose and gauge for a little less money, but I wanted a setup I could use over and over, plus many of those kits contain stop-leak additives which I did not want. All told, you're looking at around $50 in parts - but the hose and gauge are the most expensive, and reusable if you ever need to do this again (or on another unit).

Start by turning the fridge all the way down and then turning it on, so as to keep the compressor running all the time. The piercing valve will come with instructions, but you basically attach it to the process tube part of the compressor (pictured). You'll then need to attach an adapter from the adapter kit, and finally connect the hose/gauge combo to the adapter. You can then back off the piercing valve to open it up to the gauge. Things are pretty much only going to fit one way, so there's not a lot of opportunity to screw it up.

Once everything is hooked up, you should be able to tell if you are low on refrigerant. In my case, the valve read very near zero - anything less than about 30 psi is low (my gauge has a green area for "yay, it's full"). Read the back of the can or the back of the package the hose/gauge came in - they'll tell you to connect the can and then tighten down the valve to pierce the can. Once this is done, do not remove the can from the hose until it's empty. Now, back the valve off a turn or two and the gauge will jump up. Shake and turn the can back and forth (to keep everything mixed up - there are additives in there) until the system is full. Mine took the full can, but after that was at just the right level.

If the level doesn't go up much with one can, stop. You probably have a serious leak and need professional assistance. If you're all topped up, though, just re-tighten the piercing valve and take the hose off the refrigerator. If the can is empty, you can take that off, too. If not, just leave it on until you need it again. You're all done!

I noticed that the wattage of the fridge nearly doubled once I had finished this - proving that the compressor was now doing more work. Also, the fridge now keeps temperature properly. If I have to fill it every couple of years, I can live with that - it's way less expense and work than getting a new one.

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