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We just recently had the following counter/cabinet system put into our basement family room. After everything was done, I started to get concerned about airflow. The enclosure was built in such a way that I can easily slide the fridge (left) and the freezer (right) in and out to service. I noticed after a few days of running that the sides of the fridge get extremely hot at times but is relatively cool at others. The freezer seems to not have any heat on the sides at all though.

Would it be wise to install some type of ventilation system? I wouldn't be able to vent outdoors since the wall this is against is an exterior basement wall but I was thinking of possibly using some type of exhaust fan system (I found a couple that are typically used to ventilate entertainment systems that hold high-heat gaming consoles and equipment) to run through the kick board layer under the cabinets and out the sides into the room.

Most people I asked say "don't worry about it, it's fine" but I want to know for sure. I am not as much worried about limiting the lifespan of the appliances as I am about safety. Could this cause a fire or am I just being paranoid?

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I answered below, but just wanted to add that your cabinet/counter unit looks great; I'm a little jealous! :) –  The Other Steven Aug 10 '12 at 17:53
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2 Answers

You should check the specifications for your fridge and freezer, specifically the section that discusses required clearances. If you provided enough clearance, then the heat is likely not an issue as the fridge/freezer is designed to dissipate heat given the specified clearances.

If your clearances are too small then there is a good chance the device will not be able to properly dissipate the heat it produces. This could possibily cause a fire, but the most likely scenario is that the devices will fail early due to components overheating.

Adding ventilation is not necessarily going to help, certainly not from a warranty perspective, but ensuring the correct clearance will.

The other thing to consider is the impact of the heat on your cabinets. Ventilation will help this.

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Another potential problem is damage to the cabinet veneer from the higher heat. –  mikes Aug 10 '12 at 17:37
    
Thanks @mikes - I've updated the answer –  Steven Aug 10 '12 at 17:42
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In addition to your concerns, I would be worried about efficiency. Fridges and freezers devices require proper airflow to efficiently cool. This is why your electric company may tell you to vacuum under your fridge - limiting the airflow can make it run a lot more, which uses a lot of electricity.

The sides of the fridge being so hot may be a symptom of this (you could try running them free-standing and see if they still get hot). If there is nowhere for the heat to go, the whole enclosure may heat up, which of course makes it harder to cool the contents. So the fridge has to work harder and run longer, which generates more heat, and so on.

Even if not for the risk of fire, damage, or the compressor wearing out, this may be worth looking into, just to save money on your electric bill. I have heard that refrigeration can contribute as much as 30-40% of your bill in some conditions.

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