Friday, April 2, 2010

Cold as Ice, and Loud as a Foreigner Concert, Too

My refrigerator has been making noise lately, noise that indicates that it is not performing adequately. The bad kind of not adequately. After work today, while getting ready to watch a DVD in peace and quiet, I realized that the quiet wasn't quite peaceful enough, and I decided to forego seeing the lovely (and brown-eyed) Kate Beckinsale as Jane Austen's Emma long enough to fix the fridge.

Gathering the necessary tools took longer than taking off the back of the fridge. Once I had it opened, ironically, it stopped cycling but when it started up again, I could immediately see and hear the problem. The fan, a little 6- or 7-inch baby, was rubbing on its shroud. A little nosing around and I deduced that the bearing holding up the fan's output shaft was made of rubber or plastic and had worn over time. The shaft had dropped about 1/16”, which caused the blades to rub against the shroud and make an unpleasant racket.

A bearing made out of a material that wears out? That's lousy design, almost as if the manufacturer had planned a little obsolescence, something minor that would necessitate a visit by a repair person and quick replacement with a high-markup part. I wonder if there is a name for obsolescence that is planned? If not, there should be.

This little bearing that wore out looks like it should last about 10 years. The date of manufacture of my refrigerator was 2/19/2000. It started making noise about six weeks ago today, on Friday, Febuary 19, 2010. Something like that. Truth be told, it's been making noise for the last year, but until Friday, Febuary 19, only the kind that goes away when you whack the side of the fridge.

To fix my fridge, I didn't replace the bearing or the fan assembly. Instead, I attacked the next-most wearable surface, and used a utility knife to cut 1/8” off the end of each of the fan blades. When I plugged the unit back in, the blades spun free & clear and that should be the end of that problem until the bearing wears out another 1/16”.

Which brings us to the fun part. When I bought my garden-variety townhouse in the poor section of Minnesota's wealthiest city, I decided to get a few toys, namely an air compressor and a shop vac.

While I had the back of the refrigerator off, I used compressed air to clean off the coils and magic cooling parts underneath the unit. I had vacuumed them once, but 90 PSI makes quite a breeze and was a little more effective. I dislodged and redistributed all kinds of dust bunnies the size of, well, small rabbits. They created a debris field in my living room reminiscent of the Titanic's, as if rendered in dust.

Cleaning up these dust bunnies the size of small rabbits fell to my shop vac. It did the job so quickly and thoroughly, that there is no trace of dust in my kitchen or living room. Except on the dust mask I was wearing. It turned dark gray, just short of black. That's a lot of dust that didn't end up in my lungs. Good idea, wearing a dust mask.

If I'd known that I would use my shop vac toy as often as I do, I would have gotten the next size up. And a little unsolicited advice for you: if you use your shop vac in the house, like I have for several projects, using a HEPA-quality filter is mandatory. In fact, after my quick cleanup today, I can honestly say that the $30 HEPA filter would be cheap at twice the price.

Thus ends my refrigerator story, for now. When it started making noise, I thought I might need to get a new one, but not yet, it seems. As fun as getting a shiny new toy - with ice maker, of course - would be, I'll keep the cash in pocket a little longer. Maybe until the next part that is designed to fail fails. Has anyone come up with a name for obsolescence that is planned yet?

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