How are fridges and freezers affected by the room temperature?

thermometers
Fridges can be affected by extra high or low temperatures

Refrigeration appliances can be adversely affected by the environment they are placed in. If the temperature in a room surrounding the appliance is hotter or colder than the climate class rating specified by the manufacturer, then they can stop working (Climate Classes for fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers).

A typical UK climate class specifies that temperatures should be no colder than 10 degrees, and no hotter than 32 degrees centigrade. In most situations, that’s easy to achieve.

What if the room is too hot?

If placed in an environment where the room temperature gets up to around 30 degrees or more, most refrigeration appliances sold in the UK may struggle to work. They may not be able to give off the heat from the condenser (normally at the back of the unit, which gets hot).

The ambient air temperature around the condenser needs to be 10 degrees lower than the condenser so that the energy can be given off as radiant heat.


So if the heat from the condenser can’t radiate away into cooler air, then the heat won’t be taken out of the food, and it won’t get cold.

If the maximum temperature is exceeded, the appliance will struggle to keep the temperature inside down, and could be running constantly, or at least for much longer periods than necessary. This could cause overheating, breakdowns, and higher energy bills.


What if the room is too cold?

If the temperature drops below the minimum stated on the climate rating, the freezer section on a fridge-freezer may switch off and defrost. Typically, in the UK, they are only designed to work as low as 10 degrees C.

What happens if you put a fridge or freezer in a garage, shed or cellar?

Many thousands of people have a refrigeration appliance installed in a garage, and most don’t have any issues that they are aware of, particularly with separate fridges and freezers. It’s fridge-freezers that are more susceptible to issues.


A fridge-freezer is a compromise appliance, in a similar way to how a washer-dryer is too. Essentially, they are one appliance that has to carry out 2 separate, and different jobs.

They really need a compressor and thermostat for the freezer, and a compressor and thermostat for the fridge. Ideally, they should be an autonomous fridge on top, with an autonomous freezer on the bottom.

But to drastically reduce costs, most of them have just one compressor, and one thermostat. They then just try to get them to roughly work as one unit. Remember that a fridge needs to be cooled down to about 0 to 5 °C – but a freezer needs cooling down to minus 18 °C.

So when a fridge freezer is in a very cold environment, the fridge compartment may become naturally between 0 and 5 °C and so the thermostat will shut off.


It may stay shut off for long time, whilst ever the temperature is cold enough. But this means that the compressor stops running, and the freezer compartment is no longer constantly cooling down when the fridge keeps turning on and off.

This can mean that the freezer compartment, and its contents, can start to defrost.

If the environment is very cold, and stays that way for a long time, then you may notice that food in the freezer is starting to defrost and thaw out.

Alternatively, food can partially thaw, but then freeze again if the compressor kicks back in before it has completely de-frosted. This can result in foods not lasting as long as expected, but you may be unaware that it has been regularly partially defrosting.


As it happens I have a freezer, and a second fridge in my garage, and it gets pretty cold in there in winter.

Neither my freezer or fridge suffer from the problems associated with a combined fridge-freezer fitted with one thermostat in the fridge as described here (not all fridge freezers have only one thermostat, by the way) Freezer defrosted: Can you put a fridge freezer in a garage?

Condensation

Another issue with refrigeration in a cold room such as a garage or cellar is condensation and black mould. The cool damp air is attracted to the warm parts of the fridge’s outside wall, where condensation can form.


You may get mould growing on the rubber door seal, and it can cause a deterioration of the cabinet due to rust.

If the condensation on the door or sides is constantly there, or is present in small patches all the time, even when it isn’t cold, then this could indicate a breakdown in the insulation and is a greater concern.

If the insulation has gone in a certain part of the fridge or freezer cabinet, you will be constantly losing cold air from inside the appliance, and it will run for longer and use more energy. A breakdown in insulation is usually terminal.


New Fridges & Freezers designed for cold rooms

Since writing this article, some manufacturers have started to make various fridges or freezers that are designed to work in low temperatures – as low as 15 °C. So if you need to place one in a garage or outbuilding in the UK, try searching for one. I’m not sure if there are any combined fridge-freezers that are designed for colder temperatures. Unless they have separate compressors, they will still not work properly unless they have designed a way around this issue.

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11 thoughts on “How are fridges and freezers affected by the room temperature?”

  1. I live in an old, cold house where the kitchen is in a single-storey scullery (there is evidence in the adjoining “breakfast room” room that it originally contained a huge kitchen-range so I guess the “kitchen” functions were once shared between these two rooms). There is no central heating or built-in heating in either room and in the winter I retreat to the “back living room” which has a gas fire.

    Last winter, which was the coldest since I moved here, the fridge freezer stopped working properly for a short while but then started up again. In the last couple of days, with the dramatic drop in temperature (coldest November on record?) it has stopped working again – and I finally made the connection with ambient temperature!

    I have checked the manual and yes, it does say that it needs to be kept in an environment above 14C (I wish!)

    I am trying to find a replacement that has separate controls for the fridge and freezer and climate class SN (I know that, theoretically, that should be no better than my current fridge-freezer when the weather is so cold. However, my current fridge-freezer has coped in previous years when the temperature was certainly below 14C but not as cold as last year or this year.)

    I have been looking on the internet for a replacement (the cheaper the better) but info on thermostat controls and climate class does not seem to be included routinely. I have also been trawling charity shops with refurbished “white goods” without success so far.

    If anyone could suggest any SN Class Fridge-Freezers with separate controls for fridge and freezer, I would be very grateful!

    (If I find that I can be fussy about size then I would go for something up to height 181cm x max width 60cm – if any higher then I need to remove a wall cupboard and if any wider I need to put it in the adjoining room, which would need re-wiring to put a socket on the wall facing
    the windows. If I need to, I could get a separate fridge and freezer but, despite the house being huge, the layout, size of windows and paucity of electric outlets means that a lot of the space is difficult to use so a fridge-freezer works very well).

    Any advice or info would be very gratefully received!

  2. My Bosch fridge freezer is in the unheated but attached garage.
    I have no problem with defrosting Freezer set at – 18 and frdge at 4 C.
    But freezer compressor seems to run an awful lot even when the door has been closed for some time.
    what could cause this, please?

  3. Alan Fox: I too have refrigeration appliances in my attached garage which gets pretty cold although they are all separate and not fridge-freezer combinations. One of my freezers also seems to be running far too much of the time. I’ve never decided if theirs a problem with it, or it’s related to the temperature or if it’s just that modern appliance do run a lot longer than they used to.

  4. I have a John lewis Freezer which is set at -18c I have just been away on a 3week holiday my freezer is in the garage and fairly close to garage rear door that has a window during the time I have been away the temp. here have been around 30%c and above probably higher in my garage I find that my freezer is only getting up to -15c if I call an engineer out is the likely cause going to be it is sited in the wrong place? can anyone advise

  5. It’s always possible they may blame the temperature. Normally though higher temperatures tend to just cause the appliance to have to work much harder, which can of course have breakdown implications. It’s possible a modern one may struggle to get down to -18 in temperatures over 30 degrees. However, I would still expect everything to return to normal once the temperature returns to lower levels.

  6. I have a 6 month old expensive Aeg upright fridge, the water tray at the back of the unit has overflowed ( not for the first time) the engineer has just left, apparently at 16 degrees my kitchen is too cold, I’ve checked the manual and the ambient temp should be between 16 & 38. The same happened in the summer and he said my kitchen was too hot. Can’t seem to win.

  7. Re freezers in outbuildings. I have 2 upright Beko freezers and have had no trouble with them in an outside, brickbuilt shed. One is a recent purchase, the other I have had for several years. I purposely chose these as they were the only models I could find that would be good in an ambient temperature down to -18degs.
    Unfortunately however, the only place my fridge can be sited in my small kitchen, is against an outside (cavity) wall, with an airbrick behind the fridge. This is my third fridge – not an ideal place for it to be; blasts of icy air directly on to the rear of the fridge in winter, hot air in summer. I know I can’t cover the airbrick over but is there any way I could maybe re-direct the air flow (use of a cowl/insulated cowl[?] for example) to help prevent the direct affects of heat/cold against the back of the fridge. This is also a Beko freestanding model – the other 2 fridges were different makes – but happy as I am with the freezers, I don’t think even Beko fridges are made to withstand these variables in ambient temperature. Any help/suggestions would be very welcome.

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