The Need for Maintenance


The other day, I was staring at an object covered in dust and dirt. This sad, forlorn item must have been completely forgotten, and it was suffering severe neglect – perhaps for years. 

Are you talking about this blog?

Hahaha. Very funny. But no.

Stepping back a second, I may strike some as a slightly above-average DIYer and home maintenance pro. In all honesty, though, I’m just figuring stuff out as I go along. Every once in a while I’ll have a stroke of proactive genius, but generally I just react to problems, learn a lesson (hopefully without too much expense), and then add a dollop of wisdom to the pile.

Recently, our refrigerator started making louder-than-normal noises. Way louder-than-normal. The vibrations when it was running would get so loud my son couldn’t work in the same room as it. I applied my expert home maintenance skills and determined, “It probably shouldn’t be doing that.”

Step one was to go ahead and mentally budget for a new refrigerator since I’m a glass-half-empty guy. 

Step two was to do a little googling on what might actually be wrong. What makes a refrigerator vibrate really noisily? 

There were a lot of potential causes, but the simplest and most obvious culprit was dirty condenser coils.

You know, the coils that you’re supposed to clean annually. 

By a happy coincidence, my refrigerator coils were due for their annual clean. If, by “annual,” you mean “every fifteen years.” 

I won’t post a picture of the underbelly of my refrigerator because this is a family-friendly blog. But it was pretty scary. That was the dust / dirt / dog-fur-covered item that opened this post. 

I also won’t describe how I cleaned it, because lots of cleaning guides suggest unplugging and moving the refrigerator and being really careful, whereas I like to live life on the edge. Just know that you can do harm – ranging from damaging the coils to electrocuting yourself – if you do it wrong. WikiHow and Reddit seem to have some good ideas on how to clean the coils.

The point is I cleaned the coils. Things were still a little messy back behind them – that’s a battle for another day – but the coils themselves were sparkling. 

And then, just like a fairy tale, there was a happy ending: the vibration is no longer super loud, and the refrigerator runs a lot less often. I did something! 

It turns out cleaning your refrigerator coils is a pretty important part of refrigerator maintenance. It also turns out there is such a thing as refrigerator maintenance. Having your coils covered in filth means they can’t do their job – they’re supposed to transfer heat, but mine had a snuggly dust blanket around them, trapping the heat in. Cleaning them extends the life of the refrigerator and lowers how much electricity it uses. Oh and makes it quieter too. So now, my home maintenance checklist has changed “clean under the refrigerator” from a frequency of “when you move out” to “annually.”

The lesson here isn’t that you should clean your refrigerator coils – though you probably should, you dirty dog, especially since your refrigerator prolly cost a lot more than mine. The point is that almost EVERYTHING in life needs maintenance.

It’s very easy to get comfortable with a “buy-and-forget” mode. I want a product that will just do its job and not whine and complain for regular maintenance. But here’s the problem: it’s almost impossible to design a product like that. They don’t make refrigerators that have a bunch of elves that come out at night and clean the coils ‘cause that would be really expensive. They just ask that, in return for enjoying a technology that would have seemed like magic for most of human history, I run the vacuum for five minutes a year. 

If you’re unsure if something needs regular maintenance, the answer is yes, it does. It’s easy to find out recommended maintenance for anything, and then you’re just a calendar reminder away from not having to remember it. From hot water heaters to garage doors, from cast-iron skillets (seriously) to countertops, everything needs some sort of maintenance.

To extend the lesson, it’s not just products that need regular attention. Your body (eyes, teeth, heart, general physical condition – go schedule a physical already). Your friendships (are there people you consider good friends whom you haven’t talked to in years?). Anything that would benefit from a regular check-in should get its own schedule. Even blogs 🙂

Do you have any hard-won maintenance wisdom to share? Any uplifting stories of wins, or terrifying stories of losses? Let me know in the comments.

2 thoughts on “The Need for Maintenance”

  1. I am a victim of my own designs and can really relate to the reactive approach. I think I’ve budgeted for a new fridge about three times now but just keep putting up with the POS working with fewer features as time goes on.

    Off to check my coils….lol

    1. I’m glad I’m not alone! And it sounds like your fridge is also a shadow of its former self (our ice dispenser conked out years ago). But the ones for sale today are a mess – tablet screens, see-through doors, etc. – none of which I want but all of which add a lot to the price.

      Good luck with the coil check – it will be an exciting voyage of discovery. And thanks for the note.

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