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How to Make a Garage Refrigerator Work

Keeping an old refrigerator running in an uninsulated garage can cost more than it's worth. First, you'll have to heat it in the winter to make the freezer work; then it needs more power in the summer heat. If you have to have it, here's how to make it work.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

How to Make a Garage Refrigerator Work

Keeping an old refrigerator running in an uninsulated garage can cost more than it's worth. First, you'll have to heat it in the winter to make the freezer work; then it needs more power in the summer heat. If you have to have it, here's how to make it work.

Why the fridge in the garage doesn't work right in winter—and how to fix it

You may be able to solve your problem by installing a “garage kit,” a heating coil to warm the air around the thermostat. The warmer air makes the compressor run longer and keeps frozen food, well, frozen. Check with the manufacturer to see if it makes one for your model.

But before you shell out $20 for the kit, consider how much you’ll have to spend to keep your brews chilled and pizzas frozen in the summer. Your old fridge is less efficient than your new one, so it’s already costing you more to run. Add 25 percent to run the old clunker in an 80-degree garage. Then double the bill if it’s running in a garage at 90 degrees and up. Are you sure you want to pay that much just to save a trip to the kitchen?

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Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Garage kit heating coil

Comments from DIY Community Members

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June 14, 8:46 PM [GMT -5]

Living in Texas for 50 years, we always had refrigerators in the garage. Never had a problem. We recently moved to North Dakota, and put a new refrigerator in our garage. Wouldn't stay cool. We contacted the store, and the said we needed a special add-on to make it work correctly. Works great now. Simple fix, but I can see how it gets overlooked!

June 14, 5:16 PM [GMT -5]

Knock on wood, I've not had any problems with ours working fine.. and it's well over 100-degrees in our garage at times.

January 07, 8:51 PM [GMT -5]

Augmenting the "Far Simpler Solution" comment.

With some experimentation I found that I could drop down to CFL refrigerator bulbs at 7 Watts each (14 watts) and still provide adequate heat to solve the freezer melting problem. 40 Watts is overkill and will keep your refrigerator running most of the time...

Likely even less that 14 Watts will be adequate, however I haven't found adequately bright bulbs at lower wattage. Perhaps LED bulbs will further reduce this.

January 04, 3:55 PM [GMT -5]

There is a far simpler solution, although it took some trial and error to figure it out...

First some background... Whenever my garage gets below 45 F, my freezer thaws..The refrigerator portion is fine however... Above this temp, both are fine... This happens because the refrigerator portion doesn't run often enough... They share the same compressor and cooling coils in most modern units... If the refrigerator doesn't call for cooling, the freezer compartment never gets cold.... Hence the heater coil recommended in this article... But this is overkill....

I initially verified the cause and probable solution by putting a hot water bottle into the refrigerator once per day... This works in that the hot water bottle adds enough heat to the fridge section that the compressor will be enabled to run and allow both sides to cool down properly.

The hot water bottle solves the problem but requires daily effort... forget for a few days and you have melted ice cream... so.... I modified the door to allow the internal refrigerator lights (in the refrigerator section only) to remain on all of the time... I first used a magic marker to put some ink on the door switch plunger. This puts a black spot on the door where the plunger presses against it when closed. Then I used a 1/2 inch diameter wood bit to drill a small hole in the door plastic and foam insulation underneath. This allows the plunger to enter the hole in the door without being depressed. (EG the light stays on)

The heat from the light bulb(s) is enough to ensure the compressor will run properly during the winter. Ensure the total wattage of the bulb(s) is less than 40 watts, else you will be wasting unnecessary energy for this... When the weather gets warm again, just stick a piece of sturdy tape or a piece of firm plastic across the hole so that the plunger gets depressed again when the door is closed... Then you won't be running the compressor excessively all year round....

Simple solution, no wiring required !!

July 22, 12:48 PM [GMT -5]

I have had a freezer and a side by side refrig in garage for years with nothing special - just plugged in and full of stuff. Uh - why am I having no problems, or am I just unaware of problems. It would not be the first time that blissful ignorance has befallen me.

October 09, 12:34 AM [GMT -5]

I installed a 25 watt light bulb on top shelf under thermostat. Screwed the bulb into a socket that can be plugged into an extension cord. Then plugged the extension cord in outside the fridge. To keep bulb upright i zipped tied cord to shelf. This keeps my brews cold and pizza frozen. I thank my dad for this idea.

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