DEAR MIKE: My refrigerator wasn't getting cold enough, so I called in a repairman. He said the fan was blocked, pulled out a bunch of debris and cleaned it out. He commented that most problems with refrigerators could be avoided with simple maintenance. With that, he socked me with a $150 repair bill and I'm irate. What other maintenance could I have done? -- Dean P.
DEAR DEAN: In the case of your refrigerator, the bill does seem excessive just for cleaning out the fan. The repairman did give you some good advice, however.
There are several simple things you can do not only to make your refrigerator last longer, but also to make it run more efficiently, and that will save you money on electricity.
The repair you paid for is very straightforward. The condenser fan moves air across the coils to cool them. If, as in your case, the fan is blocked, it can't draw the air across the coils.
To access the fan, pull the fridge away from the wall and unplug it. Remove the cover with a screwdriver. The fan will be obvious, but there will be a diagram either on the back or folded in the grille. Clear any debris from the fan and vacuum out the area.
Your refrigerator has condenser coils either on the bottom or running across the back of it. These coils cool and condense the refrigerant. When the coils get dirty, they can't efficiently release heat so the compressor works longer and you pay extra every month for power.
Cleaning the coils is easy. Make sure the unit is unplugged. If your coils are on the back, you have easy access to them by just pulling the refrigerator away from the wall. If your coils are underneath, you will need to remove the grille on the front (at the bottom); it will pop out with a little force.
Use a coil cleaning brush (found at an appliance parts store) to loosen the dirt and debris, and then vacuum up the mess with a skinny vacuum nozzle attachment. You probably haven't looked under your fridge in years, and you will be amazed that the thing still works with all that debris clinging to the coils. By the way, if you have a pet, particularly one that sheds, you should perform this chore more regularly.
Also, check the vents in the freezer. They need to be kept clear so that air can circulate. Clean out any food or debris that has gathered around them and make sure the food inside the freezer isn't piled against them.
By the way, the freezer will work more efficiently if it is kept full, but not so much that the air can't circulate. I try to keep my freezer full of ice cream. The frozen food will help hold the temperature steady.
Speaking of temperature, the ideal temperature for a fridge is between 38 and 42 degrees. For the freezer, it's between 0 and 10 degrees. You can buy a cheap thermometer. Adjust the thermostats to reach these figures.
Lastly, give your fridge a good cleaning. Pay close attention to the rubber gasket around the perimeter of the door that seals out the warmer air. If you have dried gunk on the gasket, wipe it off. This will prevent warmer air from being drawn into the refrigerator, and may prevent damage to the gasket itself. If you have a torn gasket, it should be replaced.
Once your fridge has reached the proper operating temperature and the drinks are cold, turn on the ball game and give me a call.