Can a fridge be damaged over winter?

By Cottage LifeCottage Life


Photo by Ben Tesch


The Question

Can a fridge be damaged during the winter when the cottage heat is turned off?

The Answer

Yes, people run fridges in unheated spaces—such as garages—but those who get away with it are lucky.

A fridge isn’t meant to function when the outside air is colder than the air inside it. Fridges cool food by moving heat outside. Refrigerant is circulated through the system, where it’s changed from a gas to a liquid and back to a gas again. Cold air on the outside tricks the interior thermostat into thinking the inside air doesn’t need chilling, and the compressor—which kicks off the refrigeration process—isn’t activated. The freezer warms up and items thaw. Or, when it’s really cold, items in the fridge freeze entirely (since the fridge has no way of heating the contents). Cold temperatures may also cause the oil in the compressor to get too thick to circulate properly, and you end up burning out your compressor.

We assume you’re at the cottage enough that the cost of running a fridge all winter outweighs the hassle of emptying and unplugging it. Stored that way, the fridge will withstand freezing just fine.


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Apr. 7, 2015

6:08 pm

Thanks for the information! It's really interesting that a fridge can be damaged during the winter because the heat is turned up. I thought that your point about how a fridge isn't meant to function in a warm indoor environment when it's colder outside was really interesting. Now I understand why my parents decided to put the fridge in the garage rather than inside the house when I was growing up. http://iceman.com.au/spare-parts/refrigeration-units-sales/



Dec. 26, 2012

10:10 am

And we were told by an appliance repairman that the newer fridges are designed to run all the time -- uncirculating coolant sits in the piping and corrosion creates pinholes that are impractical to fix since the piping runs through the insulation. We're the not so pleased owner of an 8 year old Kenmore fridge that has exactly that problem and have had the coolant topped up twice now. Clearly running a fridge in an unheated cottage all winter is a bad idea (unless your cottage is in Florida). So how then to solve the "let it run or the coolant will corrode the piping / don't let it run in an unheated cottage" dilemma? A different appliance repairman suggested getting a 50w bird-bath de-icer and placing it in the evaporator tray near the compressor and letting the fridge run through the winter. The idea being that the fridge still runs every once in a while and the de-icer keeps the coolant warm enough to circulate. Curious to know if anyone out there can confirm that this is viable through experience or whether it is an idea that in theory should work but in practice has created more business for appliance repair folks.


Jan. 11, 2012

4:35 am

We were told by an appliance repairman that the newer fridges did not have as much insulation in them and that left in the cold cottage over the winter, their sides start to cave in. I thought he was full of hot air until I noticed the sides of our Kenmore fridge is doing just that. We close the cottage for the winter turning off all the power.

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