A refrigerator is an unnatural thing: a box of cold air made up of components that use electricity (hot) to move heat (also hot). If you sit next to one on a quiet day, you can hear the appliance paradoxically working—the whispery trickle of refrigerant boiling in the evaporator coil. Looking at this literal black box, you might be inclined to tear it to pieces looking for answers. But you won't have to, because technician Chris Zeisler helped us do it for you. He disassembled a standard Whirlpool side-by-side refrigerator–freezer with door-front water and ice dispenser. He found dozens of parts. None of which, it turns out, is particularly mysterious.
Yes, but how does it work?
If you want to make a hot space cold, you need to carry heat energy away from it. To do this, a refrigerator uses a chemical called a refrigerant inside a length of sealed tubing. This refrigerant absorbs heat from the freezer in a portion of the tube called the evaporator coil. It then moves to the compressor and then to the condenser coil at the bottom or back of the refrigerator and releases that heat into the air.
The refrigerator, annotated
1. Evaporator: Turns liquid refrigerant into vapor, allowing it to absorb heat from the air in the freezer compartment.
2. Compressor: Compresses refrigerant vapor.
3. Condenser: Receives compressed refrigerant vapor, condensing it into liquid, releasing its heat to the surrounding air.
4. Water filter: Removes impurities from water for ice or chilled water.
5. Water-inlet valve: Controls water flow to the icemaker and chilled-water dispenser.
6. Defrost control board: Regulates the defrost cycle to melt ice that accumulates around the evaporator in the freezer.
7. Air damper: Shutters on the damper control the airflow from the freezer compartment to the fresh-food compartment.
8. Condenser fan: Blows air over the compressor and the condenser coil, cooling the compressor and increasing the coil's ability to release heat.
9. Dispenser push-button switch: Controls on/off function for dispensing ice and chilled water.
10. Auger-drive motor: Powers the auger that turns ice out of the bucket, forcingit down the dispenser chute.
11. Air-damper control and thermostat: The two parts work together to control airflow from the freezer to the fresh-food compartment. The damper control (on the right) and the thermostat (on the left) allow the to respond automatically to a temperature that you set manually.
12. Evaporator fan: Blows air over the evaporator coils, increasing their heat-absorbing capability.
13. Ice-crusher solenoid: An electromagnetic coil that controls the ice crusher.
14. Run capacitor: Energizes compressor-motor winding to provide a rotating magnetic field within the motor.
15. Water line: Carries water from the water valve to the icemaker in the freezer.
16. Ice-crusher plunger: Pulled in by the ice-crusher solenoid, the plunger assists in dispensing crushed or cubed ice.
17. Defrost heater element: A resistance heater that melts the ice that forms from frozen condensation on the evaporator coil.
18. Water-line connector: A fitting that connects water lines within the refrigerator.
19. Dispenser microswitch: Energizes or de-energizes the chilled-water or ice-dispensing circuit.
20. Crushing blade: Crushes ice.