This Way Up – The 24-Hour Warning: Are You Ruining Your Own Appliance?

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This Way Up sign with arrowsWe know how it is. A package arrives at the door, some tempting new toy like a new ice maker or a kegerator, and you want to unpack and play with it right away. Or it’s 90°F and 90% humidity outside, and you really, really need that portable air conditioner running.  Right Now.

But you have to wait.

No, we mean it. You really, really have to wait.

This is not some exercise in delayed gratification. There’s a reason for it, and if you don’t wait the directed amount of time (usually 24 hours) before plugging in and turning on your new refrigeration  appliance – whether it be an air conditioner, refrigerator, ice maker or freezer – there’s a very real chance that it will not function properly, or simply not work at all.

The reason has to do with the compressor, which is the central component in all refrigeration appliances. The compressor applies pressure to a chemical compound – called a refrigerant – so that it transforms from a liquid into a gas, enabling the transfer of heat. (You can read more about the refrigeration cycle in our article about heat pumps.)

When the refrigeration appliance is not in operation, the refrigerant remains in liquid form and settles by design into the bottom of the compressor. As long as the appliance remains upright, it will operate correctly the next time it’s turned on.

stack of shipping cartonsIt’s during shipping that everything goes all wrong.

Unfortunately, no matter how many “This Way Up” labels a manufacturer puts on a shipping carton, there’s no way to guarantee that it hasn’t been flipped this way and that as it makes its way through countless hands and conveyor belts between the warehouse to your front door. It doesn’t even take rough handling to cause potential damage – all that has to happen is for the carton to sit upside down on the loading dock for a few hours, or be nestled sideways into the delivery truck.

What happens when the appliance is not in its correct, upright position is that all the refrigerant in the compressor begins to leak through the system. It doesn’t leak out of the appliance (if you see leaking, there’s actual damage to the unit and you should seek service), but it does get into the other parts of the refrigeration system. If you turn on the unit with fluids in the wrong parts of the system, the system will be damaged. The effects could be anything from extremely noisy operation, to working a time or two before quitting, to not working at all.

man waiting with clockThe good thing is that once the unit is upright again, the refrigerant will settle back to where it’s supposed to be when the appliance starts up. You just need to wait the proper amount of time. So unpack the unit from the box when you get it. Install casters and other components that might require you to lay the unit on its side. Then set the appliance in its correct upright position, and wait. Check your owner’s manual for the required time, but 24 hours is a good amount of time to ensure your appliance will give you the performance you desire.

 BONUS TIP: When you are operating an appliance with a compressor and the power goes off for any reason, you should wait at least 3 minutes before turning it on again. This allows the refrigerant to settle into the right part of the compressor for ideal start up operation. 

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