How to Repair a Broken, Old Refrigerator

broken old refrigerator with light inside
  • 20-40 hours
  • Advanced
  • 100
What You'll Need
Old refrigerator with parts available for salvaging
Sheets of foam insulation
Power drill with various bits
Circular saw
2" x 4" lumber for platform
Screwdrivers and pliers to remove components
Power supply components/car battery
Optional: 1/4" oak veneer and paint or stain

A mechanical problem that keeps a refrigerator from running, or a physical issue like unplanned dents, is no reason to throw out an old fridge when it stops working. Salvage parts from it and turn it into a spare refrigerator for the cabin, garage, or homestead, and keep it from taking up space in a landfill.

If you’ve got the hankering for a challenging project that requires some mechanical and wiring skills, a bit of know how with power tools, and can deliver you some serious street cred when you’re done, this one’s for you. Keep in mind, it might not be the prettiest (or maybe it will be with your creative flair), but who cares? If the 2020s are the decade you've chosen to commit to reducing and reusing because of the climate crisis, by all means, read on!

Step 1 - Remove Doors

Remove the doors for easy access to working parts. Set aside any shelves or drawers you may want to use again, keeping in mind the final shape and size of the new fridge will be altered after removing the freezer compartment in the next step. If these components don’t work in the finished product, you can always repurpose them for additional storage in the garage.

Find the wire leading to the door light and separate it from the unit, saving it for reuse. Remove the mechanical parts including other wires, fans, compressor, evaporator, and dehumidifiers. You’re basically gutting the fridge, salvaging the air conditioning parts for later use.

Step 2 - Cut Away the Freezer

A dedicated chest freezer to freeze food is inexpensive and will provide you with a lot more room for storage, so keep this DIY fridge simple and use it as just a fridge. Use chalk or another tool to draw a line around the outside of the unit, just above the freezer storage compartment. Bust out the circular saw and carefully saw through the line to cut away the freezer compartment, ensuring you cut through all layers to completely separate it from the bottom half.

Step 3 - Build a Platform

After removing the freezer compartment, the fridge will be much shorter. Create a platform with 2x4 studs to secure the unit, raising it to a comfortable height. It should have the same surface area as the bottom of the fridge for proper support.

Build the frame at least 12 inches off the floor, but if you’re inclined, you can build the support even higher to provide additional space underneath for valuable storage. Place two sheets of foam insulation on the platform to keep from losing cool air through the bottom.

foam insulation panels

Step 4 - Insulate, Insulate, Insulate!

Glue sheets of foam insulation on each side of the fridge compartment with a glue gun or spray adhesive. Add it to the top and the door, too. Run the wire for the door light through the insulation, keeping it available and ready to connect to power.

Step 5 - Set Up Condensing Unit

Place this in a well ventilated area, preferably away from the refrigerator. A basement below the fridge is ideal, where you can connect wiring through the floor to the condensing unit mounted to rafters.

Step 6 - Assemble Interior Mechanical Parts

Install evaporator and thermostat inside. Drill from inside, through the insulating foam to the outside with a 1 ½-inch bit. Preferably on the upper right or upper left corner. Push refrigerant tube through hole, attaching to the evaporator tube as specified by the manufacturer.

Mount the thermostat on the evaporator and plug into thermostat plug located on evaporator. Use putty to seal the hole and prevent cool air escape.

internal refrigeration equipment

Step 7 - Connect the Condenser

Connect the tube running from the evaporator to the condensing unit. Usually this is done by slipping the tube over a receiving port and screwing a clamp over the tube to secure it. If this is not the case, consult the manufacturer specifications.

Step 8 - Power Up

Connect the power supply to the components. If you weren’t able to salvage the parts and made use of a kit instead, follow manufacturer directions. They will likely connect to a DC unit using either 12V or 24V of electricity. This connects to a car battery which will likely have to be recharged occasionally with a battery charger.

Step 9 - Make it Pretty… or Not

It’s your choice! By now, you have a working fridge to keep your beers nice and cool, but it’s not the prettiest appliance with all the insulation sheets glued to the outside. If you’re keeping it in a cabin or place where you don’t really care about how it looks, your job is done.

Crack a beer and call over the neighbors to show them your newest DIY project! If you’d rather turn up the elegance and are lucky enough to have some ornamental woodworking skills, apply a 1/4-inch veneer of oak plywood with construction strength adhesive. Stain or varnish it to protect the finish.

Tada! Step back, admire your work, and order your groceries online to fill up your new fridge.