10 Cool Tips for a Garage Refrigerator or Freezer
If you’ve ever wanted the convenience of a garage or outdoor fridge, here’s what you need to know! Click through for tips on how to keep your garage fridge or freezer running at optimum performance while reining in your electric bill. So sit back, crack open a cool beverage, and get ready to learn the art and science of the garage refrigerator. We’ll show you how to get the best garage freezer or garage refrigerator possible.
Understand the Basics
When it comes to a garage refrigerator, the first tip is to understand the dynamics of how a fridge works. Without getting bogged down in the details, modern fridges work by comparing the freezer temperature to the outside environment. And lowering the temperature as needed, and blowing over excess cold air from the freezer area to the fridge area.
This balancing act means that a refrigerator or freezer will struggle when in a garage without heating or cooling. Excessive heat will force a garage refrigerator or freezer to work extra hard to keep cool, even models with the best refrigerator insulation. And wearing itself out and sending your electric bill into the stratosphere. Also, freezing temperatures will effectively confuse your freezer, making it think that it’s already reached the proper level of refrigeration. As long as the exterior temperature stays below freezing, your freezer will sit idle, letting its contents thaw out.
Once you understand how the fridge works, you can begin to understand how it will interact within your specific garage.
All Climates are Local
If you spend most of your time inside, in conditioned air, then you might not be giving the rough highs and lows of your local environment enough credit. Unless you want to spend a lot of time and money repairing your fridge, take an honest look at the climate in your region in general, and in your garage specifically.
Depending on where you live, the challenges your outside refrigerator faces might vary widely. A garage refrigerator in Arizona will struggle in the heat but not have to worry about humidity. While one in Louisiana will have to deal with potential rust on its coils. Identify the specific threats your fridge will face, and you can help ensure that it will live longer and run happier.
Build an Enclosed Conditioned Space
The ideal approach to keeping your garage refrigerator running at peak performance is to condition the garage air, by heating or cooling it as needed. However, this will likely get expensive quickly, and involves retro-fitting the garage with insulation and venting. And all the other treatments that allow you to heat your home. A better option is often to condition a small space within the garage, by framing an enclosed space around the fridge.
This allows you to moderate the heat and cold around the fridge without trying to control the entire garage environment. As a bonus, a climate-controlled space will allow you to store other temperature-sensitive items. And you can store items such as paint without worrying about them freezing or overheating.
If creating a warm area to keep your beverages cool seems like overkill, then read on for tips for a variety of budgets.
Keeping Things Cool
If building an enclosure isn’t in your budget, or you simply don’t want to deal with that large of a project, there are simpler options available, depending on your local climate.
If your garage tends to get too hot, (over 100 degrees F) you may benefit from setting up a fan to increase airflow over your fridge’s cooling coils. A ceiling fan will work, or a pedestal fan set up to one side. Just make sure that the air is moving across and around the back of the fridge. If your local climate is humid, set up a dehumidifier to help keep things dry inside the garage. (A dehumidifier will also help reduce the risk of rust on tools and other items stored in the garage.)
If your garage temperature dips below freezing, it can cause issues by making the thermostat inside the garage refrigerator’s freezer to think that it doesn’t need to keep things frozen. To work around this issue, you need to heat the air around the thermostat. One way to do this is to install a heating coil around the thermostat. Many manufacturers make heating coils for their refrigerator’s and freezers, or you can buy a generic heater.
Another option is to put a metal clamp-on work lamp near the fridge. Put an incandescent light bulb in the lamp and direct it towards the thermostat. The exact location of the thermostat varies from model to model. But a little bit of experimentation should be enough to locate it.
Newer Isn’t Always Better
Many people have the experience of growing up with a garage fridge which ran for years without issue. Counter-intuitively, newer fridges often struggle more in a garage than older units. Because newer fridges are often designed to run as efficiently as possible, they are more susceptible to swings in environmental temperature.
More to the point, installing a refrigerator in a non-conditioned space where the temperate falls below freezing or above 100 degrees F will almost certainly violate the warranty of a standard residential refrigerator. Should you have any problems or need repairs on that fridge, it may not be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty.
As a result, an older unit is usually a better choice for a garage refrigerator.
Tailor-made Garage Refrigerators
So if you don’t have a spare older fridge, and newer units don’t do well in unconditioned space, how are you supposed to have a garage refrigerator at all? You can always replace your kitchen fridge and send the older one out to the garage. But another option is to buy a garage-optimized refrigerator.
Garage-optimized (also known as garage-ready) fridges and freezers are designed to take the extreme temperatures and humidity that can cause problems with standard units. And they’re great for eliminating the stress of unexpected repairs, but be sure to do your research before pulling out your credit card. Some units are built for heat but not cold, and vice versa, and they all carry a premium price.
Clear out Garage Debris and Clutter
In addition to temperature and humidity, garages carry other dangers to proper appliance operation. Most DIYers have garages with a fair amount of sawdust and grime, both of which can collect on a garage refrigerator’s coils. In addition, many garages serve as de facto storage units. And boxes and clutter can pile up on and around the fridge, limiting airflow and lowering its performance.
See this article from The Family Handyman for tips on how to clean off the fridge coils. And try to keep the top and back of the fridge free of boxes and clutter.
Just like stacks of clutter outside the fridge can impact its performance, what you put inside the fridge can affect it as well. Ask any appliance repairman. And you’ll be shocked to hear how often fridge troubleshooting reveals that too many or too few items in the fridge are the source of inefficient cooling.
Stock your garage refrigerator with enough items that it isn’t just cooling empty air. Every time you open and close the fridge door, the air is sucked out and replaced. The items in the fridge act as natural ice cubes, helping to cool the new air, and preventing the fridge from working too hard.
On the flip side, too many items in the fridge block the blower, preventing cold air from circulating in the unit. This allows the items to warm up, and you’ll soon find yourself pulling warm beverage from the fridge.
Plan for Failure
Perhaps the best tip for a garage fridge or outside refrigerator is to plan for eventual failure of the unit. And if possible, keep food prone to spoilage in the kitchen fridge and freezer. Also, stock the garage refrigerator with items that won’t spoil if they lose refrigeration. Beer and other beverages work great for this, as they are low risk, and help keep the fridge cool if you lose power temporarily. (And if you need to crack open one of those beers but don’t have an opener handy, check out these 10 ways to open a beer without an opener.)