When Your Refrigerator Fails


What do you do when your refrigerator dies – conks out – stops working… ?

If this has ever happened to you, I’m sure it was an eye-opener with regards to the basics of our modern way of life – and how it’s absence will change one’s priorities right quick…

When your fridge stops working you’re suddenly thinking, oh $hit – what am I going to do?

It is an interesting thing – when one of the basic (but ‘necessary’) essentials of our modern way of life – fails us. Your refrigerator stops working. Your freezer conks out. Your stove no longer works. Your toilet stops working. Your heater or air-conditioning breaks down, etc.

Suddenly, it becomes the highest priority in your life – and you need to get it fixed – NOW.

Imagine if there was no fixing it? At least for a fairly long time?

I bring this up because of something that recently happened to me. We’re presently moving to another location, and during the initial move we discovered that the refrigerator had stopped working.

We had already transported a chunk of our refrigerated foods, but were then faced with the dilemma of what to do, given that the fridge ‘lost it’s cool’.

The first thought (obviously) was to preserve (and/or eat) the food before it spoils! Fortunately I had a few coolers with me on the first trip of the move, and given our modern technology I was able to drive to a store and buy ice.

The second action was to drive to the nearest Lowes and order a new fridge!

It made me think about how things once were – before the days of our modern conveniences. We take it so much for granted. The appliances. The availability. The electricity that powers the appliances. How did our ancient ancestors survive without these things?

While I only have to wait several days for a new fridge to be delivered, and while I can simply keep feeding my coolers with fresh cold ice each day from the local market, it makes you think – what would I (any of us) do if these conveniences did not exist?

The minute there is a ripple in the Matrix, it makes you think about these things…


  1. good article…Looking to see what suggestions folks have.

    have had it happen, done what you did. however, can imagine times when that wouldn’t be possible/ice not available/etc..

    we have freezers and fridge. always a big concern.

    also, these days, in most of North America, due to fairly new health rules/regulations by Government Agencies, one could not even be chairitable and donate it all to a shelter or “feed the homeless”. most new rules state they can not accept food donations etc from private individuals.

  2. Based on the photo:

    1) Vacuum the compressor and workings. A surprising number of failures are due to poor maintenance.

    2) Stand it upright. :>)

    1. You need to vacuum the condensor coil, not the compressor. It’s usually located behind the front grill at the floor level but sometimes the pain in the but ones are on the back. Most units have cooling fans so you can just feel where the air is blowing out and track back.

  3. I think if electricity was out for a long long time, then we’d have to change our lifestyles. No fridge would mean preserving, canning and drying out food stuffs. Other items would need to be consumed quickly after killing or harvesting.

    No A/C would be brutal but doable. Shade and more rest would be the order of the day when it is hot and humid.

    Having a wash basin and washboard is a cheap investment. :)

  4. From Wikipedia: Ice houses or icehouses are buildings used to store ice throughout the year, commonly used prior to the invention of the refrigerator. Some were underground chambers, usually man-made, close to natural sources of winter ice such as freshwater lakes, but many were buildings with various types of insulation.

    During the winter, ice and snow would be taken into the ice house and packed with insulation, often straw or sawdust. It would remain frozen for many months, often until the following winter, and could be used as a source of ice during summer months. The main application of the ice was the storage of perishable foods, but it could also be used simply to cool drinks, or allow ice-cream and sorbet desserts to be prepared.

    1. As a child I remember my father working in an ice house. He delivered ice (usually in 300 lb blocks) to people that had ” ice boxes ” not refrigerators

      1. I’m glad you mentioned ice blocks… which is what I am currently using in the coolers. They are much more efficient to keep the cooler cold for longer. Much longer! Not everyone thinks about that.

        1. In M. G. Kain’s “Five Acres and Independence: A Handbook for Small Farm Management,” he mentions that (if I can recall correctly the exact amount) 700lbs of ice would remain frozen all year round in a cellar for storing perishable items. This would be dug into the floor, or in an icebox of his time. It’s a good ~$9 book if you have the chance to order from Amazon or at your local B&N.

  5. One of the lessons out of this article is that when you relocate an old fridge to another location there will be a good chance it will conk out.

    This is quite common. Fridges that have happily worked for many years don’t like getting knocked about during moving and transport.

    If you are shifting house and have an old fridge or freezer keep in mind that these may not work at the relocation.

  6. They’re expensive, but we use propane frig/freezers both at home and the BOL. The one at the BOL is a 40’s/50’s Servel bought used in the mid-70’s and still works great, the only maintenance is vacuuming the evaporator fins once a year. No moving parts to break (except the ammonia mixture). It quit working once about 10 years ago, disconnected it, flipped it over and “burped” it, reconnected, no more problems. If you see any for sale used that aren’t working, and that aren’t leaking, a bumpy ride back to your house might fix it. The ones at home, upright and chest freezer, are the new models that are much more efficient. Each uses about 1 lb of propane a day. They’re slower to cool foods than electric models, but as long as you don’t overload them with too much warm food at one time they work fine. Sell ice to your neighbors when the power goes out :)

    1. Walt, have considered looking into these refrigerators but cannot find very much info on them. Do you have it hooked up to a 20lb propane cylinder or does it comes with one attached? Just researching for a future purchase.

  7. When moving refrigerator or freezer, do not lay them down.

    There are basic repair/service manuals available, either on line or in hard copy, for most major appliances.
    They will have troubleshooting guides.

    Unless a refrigerant line is broken resulting in the loss of charge, repairs are seldom expensive or complicated.

    Before buying a new one, call a repair company and get it checked.

    1. “Before buying a new one, call a repair company and get it checked.”

      I’m not sure if Mrs. J would be open to that suggestion… it’s her excuse to get the refrigerator she really wants ;)

      But certainly, if the budget wasn’t up for it – an appliance repair is the way to go. In fact you bring up a good point because in today’s society we tend to automatically ‘think’ to throw things out for new. Seldom does the notion of repair come to mind.

      An advantage with a new refrigerator though will be better energy efficiency, cost less to operate, and less demand on the solar power system that we’re going to install.

      1. Make sure you use a repair company you can trust. A few years ago one of the local TV stations rigged a fridge in an empty home for sale. They had a reporter posing as a real estate agent in the home and called ten different companies in to repair the fridge. They had placed a blown fuse in the fridge and then hid several cameras in the kitchen to film the repairmen. More than half of the companies that responded sold them a new compressor for the fridge knowing darn well it was only a blown fuse. The rest were honest and replaced the fuse and charged for the labor & fuse.

      2. I have to, these days, disagree strongly with the idea of hiring a appliance repair person to “come in”.


        while in many yrs past, it was sensible, appliances/major appliances these days are NOT made to last past initial warranty period. We have had much sad experience with this. The less features/more basic any appliance/major appliance is, the better/longer it lasts/ the easier to repair.


        most appliances these days have at least some energy saving features, which are PRICEY to repair, even if you buy/put in the part yourself. by the time you hire a repair person in, the cost is often huge.


        I have, in the past year or two, found, by careful search of sales/serious dickering/etc, I can locate a “basic” sort of appliance (ex dryer/dishwasher/freezer), for what it is likely to cost to hire a repair person to come in and pay for one or two parts.


        in short, sadly, these days, it is usually too expensive to repair, unless you get a deal on the part/can do it yourself. even then, often when one part starts going, another is soon to follow.

  8. Yea, major appliances tend to last a long time.
    We could get tired of the looks or functions and a chance to buy new has to acted on :)

  9. I work in the appliance repair business and I we run into this every day. Unlike a stove or a dishwasher there isn’t a good back-up solution short of another refrigerator/freezer. Other than the already mentioned coolers and dry ice the only thing we can suggest is a neighbor or relative who can squeeze in a few of your things.

    In a short term situation just leave the doors closed and the contents will stay cold or frozen for awhile. We usually suggest 8 hours before you start to reach the “DO SOMETHING” point.

    Also, remember that many items in the fridge don’t actually need to be refrigerated to keep from spoiling. Soda pop, ice trays, your toddlers teething ring, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc.

    If you live in the north and it’s winter time you can use the great big freezer outside but, in my experience, your refrigerator NEVER breaks in the winter :(

  10. If you don’t have any coolers available, you might try laying the refrigerator on its back, then pack it with some ice blocks until replacement can be found.

    Also I maintain some back-up ice blocks (empty milk cartons) in one of my up-right freezers.

  11. I fill empty 2 liter bottles with water and freeze them
    Use them in my cooler when needed and they will help keep the freezer cold, for awhile, in a breakdown

    1. That’s what I do, Tango. All the extra space in my upright freezer is filled with 1/2-gallon jugs of water (freezer works less hard that way).

      If the ‘fridge goes out I can X-fer everything into four camp coolers until I get ‘er fixed. ‘Course if power goes out my generator can’t run both – I’d opt to run the freezer and keep making ice.

      1. Not really sure why one would want to transfer from a fridge to a cooler. I would think that the fridge would hold temperature better. Maybe not.

  12. Its coming. I dont know when but I see flames on the horizon not smoke. Make sure what ever preps and plans you make are checked and ready. TEOTWAWKI is an unforgiving event that can last weeks, months, even years.

  13. I think I would eat all the ice cream first. That would be a gooood start :)

    1. Reminds me of a tee shirt that Hagen Daz did in the 70s or 80s. ‘Life is uncertain. Eat desert first.’. Attributed to Ernestine Ulmer.

      Personally, I would grill a steak or six on the barbie.

  14. Learn how to make a cooler with 2 big terracotta flower pots and sand. It works on the principle of evaporation and will keep things cool unless there’s extremely high humidity.

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