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