Among the many problems likely to plague a recent model GE refrigerator, one of the worst can be found in the freezer section. Ever notice that your "frost-free" fridge never really fully defrosts? The ever-growing permafrost on your frozen food, and the ice stuck to the back of the freezer, were clues that something wasn't quite right with your GE refrigerator's freezer.
Of course, all freezers accumulate "frost", as moisture in the air condenses and freezes. That's why frost-free freezers have a heater element that periodically warms the freezer just enough to melt the frost -- but not so much that the food thaws. It's a tricky balance, yet manufacturers have been building freezers that successfully self-defrost, for well over fifty years. Including GE, who used to make well-built, quite, and reliable refrigerators. I know, because my other GE fridge has been running quietly, and defrosting without issue -- for thirty years! No, that's not a typo. I bought it when I was five. ;-)
Unfortunately, things have changed at GE, and not for the better.
That's why, if you have a relatively new GE fridge, you may have noticed frost building up on the frozen food, and on the the freezer walls. But visible frost is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg: The really nasty ice is hidden behind the walls, in the the coldest part of the freezer; where the evaporator coil cools the air, and the evaporator fan distributes the chilled air. Ice buildup on the evaporator coils is especially insidious, because it quietly degrades the evaporator's efficiency. Ice interferes with the normal air circulation; so the freezer has to work overtime, wasting energy and costing you money.
On the other hand, when ice forms on the evaporator fan, you'll soon know about it: As ice builds up on the fan blades, the blades begin to vibrate. That can build into a loud buzzing noise that's impossible to ignore.
Of course, no fan is perfectly balanced; so all fans vibrate, at least to some degree. That's why GE engineers mounted the fan on a noise-dampening rubber mount. The rubber helps to isolate the fan from the chassis by allowing the fan to wobble as it rotates, absorbing the vibrational energy.
Ironically, the soft rubber mount could be the reason that GE evaporator fans can get so incredibly loud!
You see, the softer the rubber mount, the more vibration it can absorb. Up to a point. Unfortunately, the GE engineers overshot, and made the rubber mount too soft. Which, isn't a problem as long as the blades are clean, and the fan stays on "low". But once an ice-laden fan switches to "high", the fan will start wobbling slightly. If the wobble has just the right frequency, it can push the fan into a loud buzzing harmonic vibration. That's similar to the way you can push somebody on a swing higher and higher, without much effort, provided you push at exactly the right time to match the fundamental frequency of the swing.
Fortunately, there's nothing wrong with an iced-up GE refrigerator that a good power-outage can't cure!
And that's why the repairmen GE will cheerfully dispatch to your door absolutely LOVE this problem! All the technician has to do, to "repair" your noisy GE fridge, is unplug it, open the doors, and then fiddle around "adjusting things", until the ice on the fan melts.
Then no more noise. It's a miracle! Worth every penny. Pay the man.
By now, I'm sure you're asking yourself "What can I do about this problem?"
Well, if your GE fridge is still under warranty, you could try DEMANDING a "moisture kit". That's GE's code for (what I think is) some sort of foam insulation. I doubt it will work, but it's worth a try. Especially if GE is paying for it. Of course, nobody will ever hear about this (or any other) fix from GE, until after your warranty has expired.
Or, you could file a class-action lawsuit against GE. Some folks in Florida did that, and they got their money back. All they had to do was promise not to say bad things about GE. Nice for them, eh?
Or you can just do what I do:
If the buzzing noise starts in the middle of the night, just turn up the refrigerator's (not the freezer's) temperature setting, until the fan slows down. That will stop the buzzing, so you can get some sleep. Note: The "coldness" is set by the refrigerator temperature control. The freezer control just sets the amount of cold air that's routed to the freezer, versus the refrigerator section.
Eventually though, you will need to melt the frost stuck to the fan blades.
Here are your two options:
1) Speed-defrost: Unplug the fridge, and warm the (empty) freezer with a hair dryer or heat gun (on low). It just takes about 5 minutes. But you do need to be careful: Even a hair dryer can melt plastic parts! So keep it moving, and monitor the temperature with your hand. Not your good hand. ;-)
2) Ask your grandmother how to manually defrost a refrigerator. A half-century ago, she had to do this every week or so! Hard to believe, I know, but that was back when refrigerators weren't the "advanced electronic marvels" GE now sells. Heh heh. <grimace>
Now, if your grandmother isn't available to help you manually defrost your GE, here's what you do: Remove the frozen food and leave the fridge unplugged (with the freezer door open), until the entire back wall of the freezer is warm to the touch. This may take several hours, but it's easy to do (provided you can store your frozen food elsewhere), and safest for all the plastic parts, the oh-so-many plastic parts!
Either way, once all the frost build-up is gone, the fan will quiet down. Plus your fridge will be more efficient, allowing the compressor to run less often. That will save energy; and reduce your need for high blood-pressure medication!
Below is a video I made showing how I use a heat gun to carefully "speed-melt" the ice. The video is also on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSbruQKxSq8
Feel free to comment, either here or at the YouTube page. Maybe we'll end up with a community knowledge base that can help all our fellow sufferers cure their "GE Refrigerator Blues".
And speaking of comments, reader "Emily" asked a really good question (in the YouTube comments):
Is there anything I can do to help prevent this problem?
Refrigerators and air conditioners are also dehumidifiers. As warm moist air hits the cold evaporator coils, it cools, causing it to drop its moisture as water droplets on the evaporator coils, resulting in chilled dry air.
In air conditioners, the moisture left behind builds up and forms water run-off. That's why sometimes there's puddle of water under your car when you leave the mall on a hot summer day. It's not from the radiator, it's from the air conditioner!
In freezers, the moisture becomes frost, and soon there's nothing but cold dry air circulating through the fridge. In this closed system, no more frost can form, because the air is drier than the Sahara. But then you go and open the door. All that nice cold dry air spills out, and warm moist air floods in. That puts another coat of frost on the coils. Repeat all day long. Then the fridge defrosts, and frost drips onto the fan and freezes. Here come the buzzzzz!
Of course, you have to open the door sometime. Just be sure to wait until dry weather if you need to open the door. Well duh. Didn't you read your GE refrigerator manual? ;-)
One more thing: Way back when I was just beginning to realize how crappy recent-vintage GE refrigerators are, one of the umpteenth repair guys causally mentioned this problem occurs most often in temperate beach areas, not in miserably hot humid areas! If so, I have a theory why that may be: In areas that often get hot muggy weather, people tend to own, and run, a central (whole-house) air conditioner. So on hot muggy days, the air in their homes can actually be very dry --- because they're running an air conditioner!
This could explain why GE engineers never noticed this problem: They tested the refrigerators in cool, dry air conditioned offices!
So if you have central air conditioning, it's possible your GE refrigerator really can be frost free! But please, don't run out and buy a GE air conditioner. I don't want to have to start another blog!
However, even if you are entitled to a replacement for your current GE refrigerator that has this problem, don't take it unless the design has changed. Take the cash, and buy something else, something that isn't GE!
Just do some research first, and be sure whatever you buy isn't just as bad. The disregard of customers satisfaction, in the pursuit of ever increasing profit, is certainly not unique to GE.