A beer fridge on the fritz can send a chill down the spine

January 20, 2007|By ROB KASPER

Rogue ice had formed on the floor of the refrigerator freezer, and I was getting frosted.

This was the household's backup fridge, one that sits in the basement. It had been moved there when a new first-line fridge took up residence in the kitchen some months back. It had become known as the "beer fridge," the place where brews, brats and other vital components of basement life were stashed.

The machine started acting up right before Christmas -- the fridge wasn't cooling properly, and ice was forming, then melting on the freezer floor. As a veteran homeowner I knew that the holiday season is prime time for appliances to misbehave. The machines seem to sense that large amounts of money are flowing out of the household, and they want a piece of the holiday action.

I ignored the bad behavior for a while, then this week -- when it got too cold to store the beer outside -- I tackled the problem.

First, I simply unplugged the fridge, opened the doors and tried to "sense the vibe" that the faulty fridge was sending me. This approach seems to be popular among executives of professional sports teams. I read, for instance, that Danny Ainge, boss of the Boston Celtics, evaluates players by determining their "brain types."

My attempt to mind meld with the faulty fridge had the same success as Ainge has had with the Celtics. Dismal. This season, the Celtics have lost twice as many games as they have won. The other night, the beer fridge sent me no mental missives.

Next, I tried an old-fashioned approach -- reading. I pored over both the owner's manual and a refrigerator repair manual. Buying a bona-fide appliance repair manual was a serious step in my life. As I drove to Trible's, an appliance-parts store on Lord Baltimore Drive in Woodlawn, to buy the $18 manual, I convinced myself that I had the stuff needed to become a weekend refrigerator repairman.

Along the way, I listened to the radio broadcast of Gov. Martin O'Malley's inaugural address. Life is full of perils and possibilities that have to be met head-on, the governor said. He was talking about funding schools, cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and controlling sprawl. My challenge was to find and remove the evaporator fan.

That was the culprit. Or so it seemed after reading my new tome, the GE Step-by Step Refrigerator & Freezer Repair Manual.

The evaporator fan, I learned, moves cold air into the freezer and fresh-food compartments of the fridge. It was hidden somewhere in the freezer, the manual told me, either behind the back wall or under the floor. Precisely where, no one was saying. The clues and pictures offered in the repair manual, published in 1990, did not match the configuration of my fridge, a 2000 GE Profile Performance Model 22. That meant removing the back wall, or evaporator cover, was guesswork.

The GE toll-free answer line had no answer for my how-do-I-get-to-the-fan query, referring me instead to a "qualified technician" near my ZIP code.

I had gone the "qualified technician" route some years ago. Then the family's first-line fridge, a Kenmore, had started "chirping." I ended up paying $130 to have the technician replace a noisy $30 fan, a job that took about 20 minutes. A new evaporator fan and motor for this fridge would cost $80 if I put it in myself and probably close to $200 if I went the technician route. That was too much money to spend on a beer fridge, I thought.

Searching for the evaporator fan, I unplugged the fridge, removed all the screws on the back freezer wall and gently probed, with my fingers, to see if the wall might be willing to come loose. It was not.

I went back to reading the manuals. The troubleshooting section of one described one of the fridge's problems: ice and water on the freezer floor. The recommended remedy was to clean out the refrigerator's "drain tube" by first blasting the drain with a turkey baster filled with warm water, then pouring in a solution of 1 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with 2 cups of warm water.

The trouble was, I could not find a "drain tube" in my fridge. It was not where the manuals told me to look. Again the GE Answer Line had no answer for my query.

So I guessed. I poured warm water through openings at the back of the freezer. These had been blocked with ice.

Then I plugged the fridge in, placed a tray of ice cubes in the freezer and some cans of Natty Boh in the fridge.

I had a fretful night. The next morning, the ice cubes were solid and the beer was cold. Life was good. I could call myself a refrigerator repairman, even if I still didn't know how to find that evaporator fan.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

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