The Origin of Modern Refrigerators and How They Work
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The Origin of Modern Refrigerators and How They Work

Have you ever wondered how refrigerators work? We take our fridges for granted. This article explores the history and the engineering behind modern day refrigerators. It gives the reader a little insight into one of the most important household appliances on the market today. The consumer gets a little understanding of the internal workings of this kitchen appliance in hopes of making better consumer choices.

A fridge is designed to keep things cold in order to slow down the bacteria that form in foods when they begin to spoil. The process of refrigeration removes heat from an enclosed space.  In this case that space would be a fridge. This process of refrigeration uses the principle of physics.

The refrigerator has built in tubes and reservoirs within the walls, which contain a special refrigerant that is designed to produce evaporation.  The process of evaporation which occurs within the tubes is used to slow down heat buildup in the fridge; thus keeping the fridge cool.  The tubes are sealed.  The refrigerant would change into gas if the seal was removed. 

A motorized compressor pumps the liquid in an evaporator located in another area of the fridge.  Since the space in the evaporator is larger than the space in the condenser the lubricant automatically evaporates.  The evaporation process in turn will automatically suck in heat air and cool down the fridge. The gas caught inside will once again liquefy and expel heat.  An internal fan will blow the heat out of the unit and into the exterior (room).  The whole process is then repeated.

The earliest ice refrigerators used toxic refrigerants such as ammonia, (NH3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Because of leaking toxic gases from these ice refrigerators, the manufacturers of the 1920s had to use a new refrigeration lubricant. As a result, Freon was the standard liquid refrigerant until the 1980s when it was banned from use because it was discovered to be a key contributor in the “greenhouse effect.”  Today different refrigerants are used.

By the 1980’s new models on the market provided an alternative to using refrigerants.  These models used an electronic device known as a peltier.  These electronic peltiers are a type of transistor which cooled the unit by running a current.  Like the gas unit, the electronic unit is not popular today.

When considering how refrigerators work, the consumer would be wise to research the best freezers on the market.  They will find best freezers will carry the Energy Star Label.  These refrigerators are environment friendly and cost efficient.  These newer models carry the Energy Star label. Energy Star rebates must follow government approved guidelines.  They must save between 20 and 30 percent on electric bills. Most states will have tax credits for energy saving appliances.

Informed consumers will have an idea of how refrigerators work along with how they can purchase a fridge to conform to the standard put in place to save the planet.  The history of refrigerators went through a long history of changes, starting from the old gas powered icebox to electrical motors, electronic models, and back to electrical motors.  The manufacturing of refrigerators went through all the changes, and major upgrades based on safety and environmental concerns.  Though consumers may still purchase conventional refrigerators, Energy Star appliances reflect the government standards and industry changes.


How Refrigerators Work 

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Comments (12)

You have highlighted some really interesting information here. Great job.

Ranked #7 in Home Repairs

thank you so much Martin

Thank you for this in depth information. Well done.

Carol, thanks for opening our eyes to something we take for granted! Voted! xoxoxo

Ranked #7 in Home Repairs

thanks Roberta and Diane I appreciate your continued support

I only knew about the compressor, a very informative and useful article Carol, thank you.

Ranked #7 in Home Repairs

thanks Ron

Easy to understand explanation.

Ranked #2 in Home Repairs

An over simplification of the refrigeration cycle, but a good overview of the process nonetheless, A good article in an area that is not one of your fortes, Carol.

Ranked #7 in Home Repairs

thank you James, yes Jerry our audience here are not engineers so that is why it is an oversimplification, but something the layperson can understand like me. There is another article in this series that explains a little more about what is happening.

Returning with a well deserved vote.

Ranked #7 in Home Repairs

thanks Roberta