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My apartment's fridge just stopped working (the light didn't even come on), after showing some signs of struggling in the last day or two (vibrating in sync with light flickering). The landlady asked what setting I had it at - it was at 3/9, with 9 being the coldest. (This is the setting yielding a reasonable temperature through most of the fridge, with only some parts freezing lightly.) She immediately told me that was too low a setting, that it'd overload with it set that low, that I should set it higher (colder) and it'd come back on.

I did play along, and the light and compressor came back on almost immediately after I changed the setting. I'd also pulled it away from the wall as soon as I realized it'd stopped working, though it didn't feel terribly warm anywhere on the back. But of course, correlation doesn't imply causality, and this sounds a bit odd to me - surely keeping the fridge colder puts more load on the compressor. Am I crazy?

(I suppose the more general question is: what should I do about a refrigerator that I know is flaky but is not going to get repaired or replaced terribly quickly?)

Edit: it turns out to be an electrical problem outside the fridge but I'm still interested in the answer!

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The answer to your more general question of: What should I do about a refrigerator that I know is flaky but is not going to get repaired or replaced terribly quickly? is that depending on what state you are in, most have rental regulations that state if you can prove there is an issue, and the landlord refuses or procrastinates fixing it within a reasonable amount of time, you have the right to hire any professional required to repair the problem and deduct the amount from your rent. Check with your local regulations, I'm sure you can find your exact requirements. –  ShoeMaker May 1 '12 at 4:38

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Congratulations, you've just stumbled upon the secret self-destruct feature that all manufacturers design into their appliances... NOT! (^-^)

There is no setting of a refrigerator's controls that will "overload" a refrigerator (barring extremely abnormal operating conditions). It would certainly not flicker like that.
Believe it or not, manufacturers don't like to have customer complaints and returns, it's bad for business. If there was such a defect, lawyers would be all over it, too.

With one exception, the warmer the fridge/freezer is set, the less it works and it will not overload.
Not counting the energy lost to opening the door, or to the initial cooling of warm things, the energy a refrigerator requires is roughly:

(RoomTemp - FridgeTemp) * The compartment's surface area
    The average R-value of the fridge's insulation

The R-value and the surface area are fixed by the unit's design (with one exception). So it should be obvious that raising the FridgeTemp lowers the required energy.

For example, suppose your refrigerator compartment is 26 by 27 by 38 (inches) and the average R-value is R-19 (US, not SI). Assume a constant, summer-time room-temp of 76°F.

Then, a fridge set to 34°F would use roughly:

(76°F - 34°F) × (2×26×27 + 2×26×38 + 2×27×38)(inches²)(ft²/144 inches²)
    19 (ft²×°F×hour/Btu)

= about 83 BTU/hour or about 24 watts.

Set the fridge to 40°F and it drops down to 71 Btu/hour (21 watts).

See R-value (insulation) for more information.

The exceptions:

  1. If a freezer is a frost-free model, it uses extra energy to stay frost free. On many models this just runs off a timer, so the temperature-setting has little effect on how much energy is used. On smarter models, the energy use increases with the room's humidity and how often the door is opened plus how full the box is (fuller is better).

  2. If a freezer is not a frost-free model, and ice builds up. This decreases the effective surface area and increases the effective R-value. So, the unit uses less energy, but items in the box usually remain too warm, too long -- leading to greatly increased spoilage, poor ice making, etc.

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Okay, thanks. This is pretty much what I expected, but I just wanted to make sure. (The flickering was in my case caused by an old circuit breaker inching toward burning out.) –  Jefromi Apr 23 '12 at 1:46
Yeah, I saw the edit to the question, or I would have answered that the problem was electrical. Usually, it's the socket though. You might be wise to inspect that -- in case it's not just the breaker that's close to failing. I assume your landlady has apologized profusely for blowing hot air? :D –  Brock Adams Apr 23 '12 at 2:00

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