Marvel of modern refrigerators comes with new complications

By Tom Gocze, BDN Staff
Posted May 14, 2010, at 9:49 p.m.

So let’s file today’s column under “They don’t build ’em like they used to.”

A couple of weeks ago, we were discussing the design of current refrigerators. They all have a lot of “gee whiz” features, including an LCD TV screen so you don’t miss the latest episode of “Dancing with the Stars” while getting some sugar water and frozen waffles.

All these new refrigerators are insulated better and have more efficient designs that save energy. They have Energy Star labels, and you get to pay a lot extra for all these great features.

There is, however, one dirty little secret in regard to today’s refrigerators: the coils.

Do you remember when refrigerators had those black coils on the back?

They were used to remove the heat from the cold part of the refrigerator and reject it into your living space.

The rejected heat naturally rose up off the coils and they were always clean.

Well, apparently some interior designer thought that those coils kept the refrigerator poking too far into the kitchen work area, so they moved them.

The coils were moved underneath the refrigerator, along with a fan, since the heat could no longer dissipate passively into the room. The coils under the refrigerator really need that fan to get the heat away from the bottom of the unit because the heat would just kind of pool under there and not dissipate very well. And it would try to enter the cooled area again, which is a little counterproductive.

So the fan works great. It doesn’t use much energy either, but this is where the dirty little secret comes into play.

It gets dusty under there. I mean really dusty. And if you have a cat or dog, well, it gets plugged up very quickly.

Once anything gets on these coils, the energy efficiency you paid extra for drops off, because the coils now are not rejecting heat as rapidly, and eventually you get to buy a new refrigerator since the compressor will fail, in June, when the ice cream is getting ready to melt.

Is this planned obsolescence? Well, yeah.

When is the last time you cleaned the coils under the refrigerator?

My wife is going to kill me for saying this, but there was dust on our refrigerator’s coils.

And I just did the coils in December, when I painted the kitchen and had to move the refrigerator.

So, you say, Tom, don’t be stupid, get out the vacuum, clean the coils and get on with life.

This is not so easy. Ideally, you need to buy a special brush to clean the coils.

The coils have an increased surface area of solid wire woven between the coils to help move heat. Dust and animal hair will get caught between these wires.

The brush can be had somewhat easily, but without that brush, I had to lift the front of the refrigerator up about four inches so I could get the vacuum underneath to properly clean the coils, and even then I did not have enough clearance to get them as clean as I would have liked.

The question of the day is this: Why is this brush not included with the refrigerator?

You can buy them from the dealer, I think. But I believe they are not included because a brush implies that you have to do maintenance to keep your refrigerator operating properly, using as little energy as possible and lasting as long as possible.

That almost seems un-American!

Maybe we should have to buy a new refrigerator every couple of years, if for no other reason than to keep up with the latest-style doors and electronics.

I hope to get some data together to determine the difference between clean coils and dirty coils.

Maybe we can get a tax credit to make us clean the coils and save energy.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/05/14/living/marvel-of-modern-refrigerators-comes-with-new-complications/ printed on July 25, 2014