Gas Refrigerator DIY Maintenance
How To: Refrigerators
Most people don’t take care of their refrigerators. It doesn’t matter if they are electric or gas, both require maintenance to run efficiently. Gas refrigerators need attention to save fuel, as well as saving food from spoiling.
If you don’t have a gas refrigerator, you are probably wondering what these are. There is no electricity required. Gas refrigerators run on LP or NG (liquefied petroleum or natural gas). LP gas is what is used for most gas grills; it comes in a tank and can be purchased at most stores that sell grills. Gas refrigerators are also known by other names, such as bottle gas fridge, LP fridge, propane fridge and absorption refrigeration. The last name is the most proper of them all, because they use the absorption principle to move heat from inside the refrigerator to outside the refrigerator. The most amazing thing is that these refrigerators use the burning of a small gas flame to accomplish the refrigerating task—a flame to produce the cooling effect!
If you have one of these units, then you are interested in learning more about how to maintain them. Gas refrigerators work exceedingly well, don’t operate on electricity, and can be used almost anywhere. Today, they are nearly as light as conventional electric refrigerators and operate for weeks on an RV (recreational vehicle) 20# tank of LP. Taken care of, these units can easily provide a decade worth of economical, trouble-free, quiet operation. They do not have any moving parts!
If they have no moving parts, what needs to be maintained? Well, just like any fuel-burning device, the burner is the most critical part of the fridge. It must be kept clean. And just like any refrigerator, the outside coil and the inside fins must be kept clean to move heat from the inside to the outside. Some other things to check have to do with how the unit is installed, so that the unit can move heat, then many problems can be eliminated. Is the unit installed so that it is level? Not just level from side to side, but also from front to back. Gas fridges rely on being level. All of the piping of a gas fridge is engineered to be at the perfect pitch for all of the gases to move by gravity. If the unit is not level, the operation of the refrigerator will suffer.
Gas refrigerators require a lot of air movement. The back and sides of the refrigerator should be open and free to move air around them. The burner is typically on the back and produces heat. This heat needs a place to move away from the refrigerator. It is recommended that there is approximately two inches of clearance on the sides of the refrigerator, 11 inches at the top, and four inches from the back to the wall (check clearances as specified by your fridge manufacturer). This clearance creates a chimney effect to move heat away from the refrigerator. It is very important that air is not being blocked by cabinets or objects set on top of the refrigerator. The top of a gas refrigerator should be void of any objects…the fridge is easier to dust that way, too!
Defrosting is a must! Inside the gas refrigerator are fins. These fins can become blocked with frost build-up. When they become blocked, the gas must be turned off and the burner extinguished. The refrigerator must be allowed to warm up to melt the frost. There are many ways to hurry the defrosting process. One is by removing all of the food and placing a large cake pan of hot water in the refrigerator section and closing the door. Before long, the frost has warmed enough to slide it off by hand. Another defrost method—that is not recommend—uses a torch or open flame. The problem with an open flame is that plastic parts can be melted and metal parts can be scorched. If there was a hair dryer available, it could be used, but remember the refrigerator is probably being used where there is no electricity. One of the best ways to deal with frost is not to let it build up! Once a week, set the control to minimum over night. In the morning re-set the control to the operating position (usually between 2 and 3)…that’s it! Overnight the fins are allowed to warm to cabinet temperature and the frost melted. The melted frost drips off the fins and sent via a drain tube to a small pan to evaporate. This method only requires that a person remember to set the control to minimum at night and return it to the operating position in the morning—once a week.
The freezer will frost, but does not affect the gas refrigerator as much as the fins in the refrigerator section. The freezer will need to be defrosted. This should be done once a year, but a few people report that it may be necessary to defrost more often, based on usage. In this case, the refrigerator and freezer sections will need to have the food moved to a cooler. Remember, refrigerated items should not go into the same cooler as freezer food. They are at different temperatures and should remain separated. For example, if lettuce is placed in a cooler with frozen food, it will be ruined. The same principle can be used at the grocery store; don’t let the clerk put the lettuce with the ice cream! Just because both items were cooled doesn’t mean that they are at the same temperature.
Once a year, maybe at the same time the freezer is being defrosted, the burner needs to be cleaned and checked for operation. Burners will rarely soot. In those cases where they do, the cause is probably because the burner has become clogged. There are a few things to check and clean in the burner area of the refrigerator: the burner chimney, the burner itself, and the burner orifice. If a flashlight is used at the bottom of the burner chimney, the inside of the chimney can be checked for soot and blockage. The chimney should be clean and clear. To make sure, the baffle must be removed and the chimney inspected. The baffle is a short, twisted, piece of metal that hangs above the burner flame. Its purpose is to make the burning gases spin as they go up the chimney. The baffle is typically hanging on a piece of metal wire and can be removed by pulling the wire and baffle up and out of the chimney. The process of pulling up the baffle, usually dislodges soot and cleans the chimney. So, moving the baffle up and down three times, serves the purpose of scraping the chimney clean. After moving it up and down, take it out and look down the chimney, it should be clean to the burner.
After the chimney is clean, move down to the burner. Use a small round brush that is typically supplied by the best refrigerator manufacturers or a hardware store to clean the chimney. It only has to be cleaned to where the baffle hung. Using the same brush, clean the outside of the burner and then the inside, by pushing the brush inside the burner tube and rotating the brush. The rotating action will clean the burner slots. Use the same brush to clean the outside of the burner orifice. To finish, use a can of air to blow out the burner and burner orifice.
When the burner and components are clean, relight the burner and check for a nice, blue flame. The burner should now be clean and ready to burn fuel efficiently for another year. Maintenance on the burner is probably the most involved and complicated procedure. The first time it is done, it takes longer to get to know how to do it right. After that, it requires a good memory…after all, it’s only done once a year so it’s easy to forget!
The last maintenance items can be done throughout the year. The most important is checking the door gasket. This can be done each time the door is opened. The gasket should be clean and should be snug to the opening when the door is closed. Be sure to check and clean the gasket at the bottom of the door. Door gasket at the bottom of the door collects bits of food and debris that keeps the door from closing well. To check the door gasket after it is cleaned, take a small strip of paper the size of a dollar bill and close the door on it. With the door closed, pull the paper out. If the paper pulls out easily or falls out, the gasket is not sealing. The paper should pull out with some friction. Gaskets also fail or get old. The gasket might need to be replaced. Before jumping to that conclusion, check the gasket all around the door. If it appears that the door is warped, try gently bending the door so that the gasket seals with the same friction evenly. If you inspect the gasket at the point where the paper is falling out and find the gasket is damaged, proceed with replacing the gasket. Replacing the gasket usually only requires a screwdriver and a little time. All of the screws (and there are a few) can be seen by gently lifting the gasket.
And finally, the last maintenance is keeping the refrigerator clean. Both new and used refrigerators can be kept clean easier, if a coat of car wax is applied. This simple maintenance step can save countless hours of cleaning. A waxed surface sheds dirt, dust, spills and fingerprints! One wax job will last for years, but a touch up now and then will keep the refrigerator looking like new.
If you are looking for a maintenance DVD, it can be obtained by contacting the manufacturer. The best manufacturers supply this item for free. The DVD can be a handy, visual, reminder of how to conduct the maintenance that gas refrigerators require. The manufacturer knows that it’s hard to remember what to do from year to year, especially when a gas refrigerator operates so quietly, efficiently and trouble free year after year.