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"Where should I set my refrigerator controls?"

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a refrigerator service call and the customer asks me, “I have my controls set on 5.  Where should I set them?”  In almost every case, I notice that they do not have any thermometers in their fridge.  Now I prepare Standard Answer #637 where I explain to my customer that the single most important indicator of a refrigerator's health - and the way they determine where to set the controls - is by measuring the temperatures inside the freezer and fresh food compartments.

So that's the whole point of this blog post: to help you, my valued customer, to appreciate the importance of temperature measurement in a refrigerator and to give you the means by which to do it.

First, as mentioned, you have to appreciate that temperature is, in fact, the single most important number that tells the story about the health of your box.  Makes sense for a refrigerator, right?  Further, home refrigerators are very sensitive to changes in conditions and usage: changes in ambient temperature throughout the seasons; frequency and duration of door openings; condition of the door gaskets and their ability to seal out warm, humid outside air; the temperature of foods placed inside the compartments; amount of pet fur on the condenser, etc.

Next, unless your refrigerator controls actually measure and display the temperatures inside the compartments, the indexing numbers provided on the controls are simply a way for you to note the relative changes that you need to make to the control dials in order to achieve the target temperatures inside the compartments. And how are you going to know what those target temperatures are unless you are actually measuring the temperatures inside the compartments?

This is where refrigerator thermometers come into play.  You should buy two of these refrigerator thermometers right now and keep one of these thermometers in each compartment of your refrigerator box: fresh food and freezer.  Here's how to use the thermometers to set your refrigerator controls according to temperature measurements.


Fresh-food compartment:

For normal, day-to-day tracking of the temperature, place the thermometer in the central area of the compartment (not on the door).  Ideally you want it to be easily visible whenever you open the door so that you can glance at the display regularly.  Make it a habit to look at the thermometer at least once a day, perhaps in the morning the first time you open the door.  The needle should be in the purple “REF.” section, approximately 33 to 40 degrees.

Be aware that opening the door of the fridge, particularly if the ambient conditions are warm and/or humid, can raise the temperature quite a bit in the compartment.  If you notice that the temperature is above 40, and the door has been opened recently, leave the door closed for awhile then check the temperature again.

If the temperature is consistently above 40 by a few degrees, you should adjust the cold controls of your refrigerator to see if you can get it down into the 30’s. (See your fridge’s instruction manual for help on this - how to adjust the controls can vary among different brands and models.) Any adjustment to the controls can take several hours or overnight for the temperatures to settle to their new level.

Freezer:

Place the thermometer in a central location in your freezer and monitor the temperatures as described above.  Although frozen food is safe at any temperature below 32 degrees (the blue zone), a normally-operating freezer should be between 0 and 5 degrees.  If you see temperatures consistently above that, try adjusting the freezer’s control to a colder setting.

If your temperatures remain above-normal despite adjusting the refrigerator’s controls, call The Appliance Guru at 603-290-5515 for service as soon as possible to avoid food spoilage and loss. 


Kenmore: Just another brand or yet another scam?

Sears is a popular place to buy appliances because they are located all over the country, they frequently have special offers, and they are an old, familiar name. When you stroll through the rows of shiny machines in a Sears store you see all the major brands, including lots of Kenmores. Does buying this "Sears brand" have any downside for the consumer? Ya sure, ya betcha!

Although there are still a few folks who haven't gotten the memo yet, most people understand that there ain’t no Kenmore factory in Malaysia or some place. The Kenmore “factory” is several floors in an office building where corporate bureaucrats from Sears schmooze with other corporate bureaucrats from real manufacturing companies, like Whirlpool or Electrolux or LG, and get them to make their stuff for them and slap a Kenmore label on it.

"So what?" you say, "I like Sears and I don't mind spending my money with them." Well, there's more. Check this out and see if you still feel so sure…

Kenmore is essentially a marketing gimmick that Sears uses to sell you appliances at a higher profit margin. The Kenmore game is this: sell you a Kenmore-branded appliance, sell you an extended warranty on the appliance or, even if you don't buy the extended warranty, get you to call them when (not if) it breaks, and to sell you replacement parts and accessories for the appliance. It's a complete package designed to keep you on the Kenmore plantation, spending your money exclusively with Sears.

This wouldn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as you are aware of this scheme and a willing participant, if there weren't other downsides to Sears inserting themselves between the customer and the original equipment manufacturer ("OEM") of the appliance.

Downside No. 1: Information Blockade

It is difficult if nigh on impossible to cross over the Kenmore model number to that of the OEM's version of the same machine. This means if you or an independent servicer would like to work on your Kenmore machine, you cannot easily access the manufacturer's service bulletins or manuals, which may leave you at the mercy of Sears "service." Most people don't like to limit their options that way, particularly given Sear's service reputation. More on that below…

Downside No. 2: Stuck with Sears for Warranty Issues

When you buy a Kenmore machine and it needs warranty service, it will be performed by Sears rather than the local independent servicers who usually handle warranty work for the manufacturers. How bad this is for customers varies from place to place, but in my considerable experience in dealing with folks who have been in this situation, they have had much less frustration in dealing with an OEM company compared to Sears for warranty issues.

Are they really that bad?

Sears has a reputation for slow, inconvenient scheduling and ill-trained technicians who frequently don't get the repair done correctly. OEM companies, on the other hand, tend to be much more interested in keeping their customers happy by dealing with problems promptly and fairly. We are drawing on years of feedback from customers, but, of course, your mileage may vary.

Bottom line: Sears is the only entity that really benefits from the Kenmore brand. There are no actual upsides for the customer (compared to buying an OEM brand), but there are significant potential downsides when your appliance needs to be serviced.

What to do? 

Buy an OEM appliance. If you like shopping at Sears for some reason, they do offer OEM machines that you can choose. Assuming you don't fall for, er, I mean opt for, the extended warranty, then any warranty issues would be handled through the manufacturer and their local authorized servicer. And when service is needed after the warranty period, you will have many more options for service since you won't be subject to the Kenmore Information Blockade.

The Appliance Guru

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