Cheap Thrills Refrigerator Repair 101

05 - Refrigerator Door“YUCK!”  Where did this chunky milk come from?!  A whole gallon of it.  And why did the yogurt go bad so quickly?  A quick look at the fridge thermometer made my jaw drop:  Fifty-five degrees!

Food Safety Course basics:  The unsafe zone for perishable foods is between 40 deg and 120 deg.  So, you keep it below 40 (which is why I have the fridge thermometer), or below zero for longer storage (which is why I have the freezer thermometer), or you keep it hot (here, that’s cook it and eat it).

My food was sitting in a dairy sauna.  Bye-bye, carefully-selected grocery deals!  Bye-bye electricity.  Bye-bye potentially hazardous food.  After purging, we grabbed a cooler and all the ice and ice packs we could use, purchased new milk (only a half-gallon at a time) and used the camping cooler as our fridge.  Freezeables were frozen (freezer temp still well below zero).  Stuff like bread and apples, which don’t absolutely have to be refrigerated, stayed in the 55 deg insulated box.

Food safely tucked away, I went to work determining if and whom I should call to get a working fridge.  I keep manuals, and do refer to them, especially when it’s time for spring and fall cleaning.  This one says, as I’m sure they all do, to keep “the coils” vacuumed.  Here’s the thing, though:  they aren’t exposed, so when I remove the front bottom grill I stick the vacuum attachment as far back as I can, but I know I’m not getting “the coils.”  A strong cardboard panel is bolted to the back where “the coils” are supposed to be, and the installer told me not to remove it.  I have obeyed, until this week.

I unplugged the fridge, then removed the teeny-tiny bolts with my pliers because the electric screwdriver with the hex head was out of charge (grr!).  Oh, so carefully, I removed the cardboard panel.  DISGUSTING!  Why in the world would the fridge guy tell me to never clean that?!  Vac, vac, vac.  Replace the panel, plug it in, reset the temp dial.  The manufacturer says that when you adjust the dial, you have to wait 24 hours for it to adjust.  I pushed the door as tightly as I could and hung a “close firmly” sign on the handle (although it shouldn’t have been opened).  Tick-tock.

Overnight, with no reason to open the door, the temp dipped to just below 40.  Of course, when I opened the door to check that, the cool air escaped.  I tested the door seal with a piece of paper:  close the door on a piece of paper, and try to remove the paper; if it is tough to tug, the seal is good; if it comes out easily, the seal is worn and not closing all the way.  The paper almost fell out on its own.

So I went online to find out how much this part was going to run me.  Best deal is actually local (no shipping), so I called to find out if it was in stock.  Dey Distributing (108th/I St.) could get it the next morning.  But for upwards of $75, I was debating having someone come out to do the install.  I’d helped do this kind of thing one summer before my senior college year (when I helped clean/renovate student apartments — also, yuck).  I’m a Handy Hanna.  (I’d rewired my sewing machine; I’d repaired my Kenmore dryer dials.)  I can do this.  I bravely ordered the part for Friday delivery.  However, there was an ordering mixup, and the part did not come.  (Did you hear my head exploding?)  I must say that the guys at Dey did use every available tool to help find a substitute part immediately; apparently there exists a universal door seal, but there is not one in Omaha at any parts supplier.  The part was, I was assured, in the hands of the warehouse manager, ready to be sent for MONDAY.  That meant a full weekend with no fridge.  *sigh*

So my quick-thinking Mom-ness kicked in, and I decided to get a few bags of ice and another half gallon of milk, and set up the fridge as a large cooler so we wouldn’t have to keep bending over.  I distributed the ice into my biggest bowls and set the milk, eggs and other items into the ice.  Within hours the thermometer registered just below 40!  Overnight it stayed there, and so far today it’s still there, and the ice hasn’t even melted halfway.  When it gets watery, I’ll drain it and redistribute the ice, and pull out my secret weapon.

I keep empty milk jugs, half-filled with water, in the basement next to the upright freezer.  When space needs to be filled, I tuck a jug (half or full gallon) into the freezer, where it expands, freezes and helps the appliance run more efficiently.  There are several such jugs in there right now, which I was unsure of yesterday.  I’ll pull a few of those out (replacing with new ones) and put them on towels in the fridge like the pre-electric ice boxes.  There is a solution.  Until the gasket arrives.

Right now we’re in a holding pattern, waiting for Monday when the part is supposed to arrive.  Since I have appointments Monday after work, I’ll need to trek out there during rush hour traffic (Not a Thrill!) to pick it up, and enjoy an evening of gasket installation.

Isn’t this FUN?!  Well, I’m glad that there is a part (supposedly on its way here), and that there is temporary relief for our situation.  I’m grateful that we have a fridge to begin with, and that we have electricity, a secure home, and the means and education to get things done.  I’m grateful I can go and pick up a half-gallon milk every day, and don’t have to milk a cow for it.  And I am most grateful that for some blessed reason, I was gifted with patience through this.

Have I just jinxed it?

Home Depot Improver


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