Refrigeration In Low Ambient
Short answer is you can't install refrigeration to unheated areas, for more in depth and why read on
The first thing that you have to realise before deciding to buy a new refrigerator, freezer or fridge freezer is that they are not all equal, there are different rated appliances for different climates. Your first thought on being told this is perhaps that there are different ratings for say, the tropics, than there is for Northern Europe and, you'd be correct but there's a lot more to it than just that.
So the first thing to check for after you decide which appliance you need is what we refer to as the "Climate Class Rating" which determines in what ambient temperature range (the surrounding air or room temperature) that you can safely run the machine in.
These are extremely important if you are not keeping the machine is a normal room in your home with a normal 18-22°C room temperature, deviating from that can cause serious problems.
They are not designed to be in very cold or warm environments, full stop despite many people seeming to think that they can put a fridge, freezer or fridge freezer wherever and it won't matter.
When they are in an unsuitable place, they will not perform as they should and be more expensive to run (a lot in some cases), can be a fire and/or shock hazard and can have other "issues".
This article applies to all of the following:
- Chest freezers
- Fridge freezers
- American fridge freezers
- Wine coolers
The other reason this topic comes up a lot is that people will but an old fridge or fridge freezer out into the garage to act as a beer fridge or additional fridge space.
Then, when it stops working in the winter wonder why.
Or, it starts leaking water in the summer. Or, just cuts out as the compressor overheats since it's working way too hard and chucks it.
If this is down to the environment that the machine is installed in, there's nothing anyone can do to help. Other than perhaps move it back to a more suitable location if it's not wrecked by that point of course.
Understanding Fridges And Freezers
To be as basic as possible a refrigerator is designed to do three things:
- Cool the air within it's walls using a basic heat exchange system
- Keep that cool air inside the refrigerated zone for as long as possible to minimise energy use
- Keep out the warm air surrounding the unit
Now, there are two basic enemies that will stop a fridge from working correctly. The system that cools the air fails in some way or there is some sort of problem that prevents it from keeping things cool due to its environment allowing the hot air in or cold air out. System failure is a whole subject to itself and not within the scope of this article, we're looking at the other reasons for it not working.
One of the factors that will determine how hot or cold an ambient temperature that any unit can be placed in is the quality and thickness of the insulation used to isolate the cool inside area from the warmer outside air. In short, the better the insulation the more expensive the appliance as a general rule and, ultimately, this will have a direct correlation in our experience as to how long the unit will likely last, especially in inhospitable environments.
Fridge & Freezer Climate Classes
These are the European climate classes for domestic refrigeration units:
N (Normal) Class = +16°C to +32°C ambient room temperature
SN (Sub Normal) Class = +10°C to +32°C ambient room temperature
ST (Sub Tropical) Class = +18°C to +38°C ambient room temperature
T (Tropical) Class = +18°C to +43°C ambient room temperature
As you can clearly see there is no rating that would allow normal operation below 10°C in any circumstance
Fridges & Freezers In A Garage Or Conservatory
This leads us to the problem and the reason for writing this article in the first place. Putting a modern fridge or fridge freezer in a garage or outhouse/outbuilding that is unheated is pretty much a non-starter and you are asking for trouble by doing so.
Likewise if, like some people we have come across, you keep your home, kitchen or utility area where the machine is, below 16°C then you may well also have problems.
With fridge freezers where there is only a single compressor (easy to spot as there's only one black "bottle" at the back and/or generally only one control for fridge and freezer) this means that all too often the ambient can be lower than the cut in point for the fridge. Since the fridge thermostat controls the on/off for the freezer as well it means that, for long periods during the colder winter months, the freezer won't cut in and the food will defrost.
The problem for the service engineer of course is that there is no fault with the appliance, it simply has not been installed in the correct environment.
Conversely, in an environment that is too warm, such as a conservatory during the warm summer months, the compressor can be working overtime trying to keep the insides cold enough. This is because the insulation isn't designed to cope with the extremely high temperature and the unit cannot repel enough heat ingress or Keep the cold air in well enough, this can and does lead to many an early failure.
In the end most refrigeration products you can buy easily are not designed for these environments and, if you place them under such conditions you should not be surprised when they do not perform correctly.
Chest freezers in cold environments tend to form condensation on the outer skin due to the temperature differential and the insulation not being designed to cope with it. This forms droplets that run to the base where it drips off and pools or is soaked up by the insulation itself as the base of these machines are most often pretty open. Once water ingresses into the insulation the machine is effectively written off as repairs to insulation are, at best, difficult and cannot be guaranteed to work with 100% certainty.
Should you have a leaking freezer in a cold room, or indeed one that is too warm, then this is almost certainly the cause and again, there is no cure for the problem other than to move the machine to a heated room, or heat the room accordingly.
On most refrigeration there is a "hot-pipe" that runs around the door aperture of the machine, this applies to most refrigerators, fridge freezers and freezers, that is designed to heat any excess condensation helping it to evaporate away.
To see condensation around the door, or to feel heat there, is not unusual and is part of the normal operation of the unit.
Leaking Fridges & Freezers
What you will often find, when there's a report of a leaking fridge, freezer or fridge freezer and especially so in the dead or winter or height of summer is that the leak is being caused by moisture from the anti-condensate line.
As the machine struggles to operate and maintain the temperature in the cabinet it sort of goes a bit mad as, it really can't cope. So the run times extend and, yes that will cost you a lot more in electricity especially in summer and there's a lot more moisture that forms where the anti-condensate runs round the door/s.
That moisture runs down with gravity and, viola, a leak.
A leak with no obvious or apparent cause to most people so it's usually thought to be a fault when all it really is would be an installation issue.
This is a condensation issue but, it can get worse still.
The problem with condensation on the outside of the unit, which is where it will form as hot air meets a colder surface, is that it can cause rust to form on the outer cabinet or shell.
Although this is unsightly certianly it's normally not that dangerous as such, immediately at least. Over time though it's going to wreck your appliance.
The bigger danger is that moisture getting into the insulation.
If that happens, game over. Your machine is toast.
Worse, even if the machine is under warranty the chances are any manufacturer will walk away as it is not a manufacturing defect, it's solely down to improper installation.
Don't Do It
Our advice, knowing the technical issues and the often poor quality of many modern refrigeration products that are in no way designed for this sort of environment is not to install them in places where they are not meant to be.
It really is not worth the hassle if it goes wrong.
Or, you accept that it's a case of "on your own head be it" and take your chances.