Thursday, November 15, 2012

Saving seven hundred dollars

Our chest freezer was in trouble.

To be fair, this chest freezer has been an outstanding appliance. We bought it in 2000 when Montgomery Wards went out of business. As I recall, we walked into the rapidly-emptying store during their liquidation process and asked for their biggest chest freezer. I don't remember the price, but we came home with a 24.9 cubit foot Frigidaire. That was when we still lived in Oregon.

We transported it all the way to Idaho in 2003 (filled with half a cow, as I recall -- our logic was it was easier to move the cow in the freezer than on the hoof) and since we had no place to set it up inside the house, we parked it outside on our side porch. We didn't realize this was the wrong thing to do, since this meant it was in full sunlight during the first half of the day. In warmer weather, this made the motor run too hard. Sure enough, about four years ago the motor died. Horrors. But we engaged the services of an appliance repairman, he fixed it up spiffily, and he told us the freezer would last much longer (and run more efficiently) if we moved it to a shady spot. So our chest freezer now sits on our north-facing front porch.

Anyway, a few months ago we noticed the freezer lid was falling apart. Some of the plastic screws had worked their way out, exposing the insulation within. The insulation somehow managed to absorb water, then it froze, swelled, and pushed more screws out. The plastic liner came loose. The lid would no longer close. Ice began accumulating inside the freezer itself. Thick ice.

The contents stayed frozen, but the motor was running more often, indicating efficiency was decreased. Did this mean our faithful freezer was done? Did we need a new freezer?

We just had to go through the necessity of buying a new refrigerator. The second-hand unit we bought five years ago finally died -- kaput -- and we lost a lot of food (it's astounding how fast food rots without the blessings of refrigeration). We have a lot of meat in the chest freezer and didn't want to lose it (though let it be known that in the event of a long-term power outage, I am prepared to can it all).

So we priced chest freezers and found they cost around $700. Yeah right. Like we have that kind of money sitting around. Right now all spare money is going into Younger Daughter's mouth.

So Don, clever fellow, decided he would repair the lid. However he really couldn't do much until cold weather came, since the freezer would be without its lid for several days.

This week's cold snap afforded him the chance to remove the lid. He took the screws off the hinges and brought the lid unit inside. Meanwhile we draped blankets over the contents of the freezer to hold as much cold air in as possible.

Don removed the fiberglass insulation and draped it over the shower curtain rod in the bathtub to drip-dry. Took two days. There was a LOT of water in that bundle of insulation -- no wonder it swelled. I wished I'd gotten a picture.

Here the insulation is finally dry, and Don has replaced it in the freezer lid. He's getting the inside plastic cover ready to go back on.

Re-affixing the plastic lining. Some of the specialized plastic screws have gone missing, so he divvied up the remaining screws evenly around the perimeter.

After asking at the hardware store for what kind of adhesive would withstand sub-freezing Idaho winter temperatures, he came home with some general purpose auto adhesive, which he used in place of the missing screws. He also re-affixed the perimeter gasket with this adhesive.

Here's the lid, totally repaired.

However we couldn't re-install the lid without first taking care of the massive ice building up in the freezer itself.

Besides, it was past time to clean out the freezer anyway. You know how it goes: you stash leftovers (forgetting to label them) until they become unknown fossilized mysterious objects. And meanwhile, the good stuff gets buried.

So I unplugged the electric cord, then totally emptied the freezer. I chucked the fossilized mysteries into a garbage can, and stacked all the meats, cheese, etc onto the porch. Then out came the trusty rubber mallet to whack away at the ice. Ice fractures under compression, so whacking works well.

I used a square shovel to carefully scoop the ice into a box, which I dumped into the driveway. Because the shovel is metal, I have to be careful not to scratch the freezer's interior.

At last the hard work was done and I re-packed the contents, roughly sorting by category (you can't see them, but there are cardboard boxes holding such things as cheese, deli meats, ground beef, etc.).

I didn't plug the freezer back in, however, until we could get the lid back on. For the time being I covered it with blankets again.

Then Don and I carried the refurbished lid back out and fitted it onto the freezer once more. It was a bear to get the screws in the hinges, but he managed at last.

Ta da! Total cost of repair: about $5 for the automobile adhesive. Thanks to my smart husband's ingenuity (and frugality), we saved around $700.

Hopefully we'll get a few more years out of this faithful appliance before we're forced to buy a new one.


  1. Fabulous job! When ingenuity is put to the test marvelous things happen. Keep up the good work.

  2. Wow! That's a lot of ice build up. We bought our freezer off of craigslist for $50 and have had it for 5 years, still going strong. We store ours in our unheated garage so that probably helps. Glad you were able to fix yours so expertly!

  3. I think that is what it'll take to make me clean out my freezer(s) as well. I bought the second one so I wouldn't have to keep reorganizing the first, and now they're both crammed and I still can't find anything. Regards, Jeff

  4. And when you do have to retire her....a big chest freezer like that makes an excellent grain bin for your bulk feeds!

    1. I'm astounded that this never even occurred to me! I read your comment out loud to my husband, and now he's wondering where we can get an old freezer without the motor to be used for grain storage. Excellent idea!

      - Patrice

    2. I have an old dishwasher that I use for a grain bin. Turned it on it's back and removed the inside racks and sprayers then ran duct tape over the screen in the bottom. Also old refrigerators work fine too. They will even work for a smoke house. Lots of things we can re-purpose into useful things when they are broken...

    3. Some friends put their dead chest freezer behind the shed and over time filled it with pine needles, used coffee grounds, maybe some other compostables. The lid stays slightly ajar. Now they never have to buy fishing worms.

      Also, I've heard of removing all the tubing, motor, and wiring. Then digging a hole deeper than the unit, sinking the freezer, and securing some kind of insulating layer on top. This becomes a root cellar of sorts.

      And last, I'd found instructions to turn an upright freezer into a smoker. Wild.

      brenda from ar

  5. Good for you for fixing instead of replacing! I told some folks that we fixed our own frig instead of calling the repairman and they looked at me like I had two heads. Sometimes I wonder how some people manage to get dressed in the morning. :-)

  6. That's so awesome! We've been trying to salvage things on a smaller scale lately too, as opposed to trashing and buying new. There's a definite satisfaction in being able to do so. I was pleasantly surprised the other day when my 18 y/o daughter was utilizing unsalvageable clothing to repair others that could be. The one we're working on this week is our clothes dryer. Hubby will buy a part tomorrow and if all goes well, we'll have dry clothes and no explosion :-).


  7. I'm so jealous! My ex didn't have a clue about screwdrivers or tools in general, and I'm sure it never would have occured to him that something like that could actually be fixed. But that's all in the past now and I'm having to do all the fixing up around here by myself. Not being naturally inclined to handyman endeavors, it's a slow go. You wouldn't want to rent Don out for a month or two, would you? :-)

  8. Woohoo! Good job--very resourceful!

  9. WOW!! He did a wonderful job! May you be blessed with many more years from your newly repaired freezer. :)

  10. Can you move it into the house?
    We live in AZ so outdoor freezers are not an option. But having them inside must extend the life. My folks freezer is 25+ years. Ours is at least 12 years. Both problem free.

    Just a thought.

  11. That is a man after my own heart.

    A. McSp

  12. Yay for saving $700!!!

    Our refrigerator came with the house. I would guess it is 25+ years. It ran almost constantly until I moved it onto the porch. That single move dropped our electric bill by $30/month! (It had been located within 15 feet of the woodstove.)

    We're planning to go off-grid and I am looking into converting a chest freezer into a fridge. Pretty simple & neat idea that supposedly uses a fraction of the energy of even the most efficient modern refrigerators. Way cheaper than the cost of a fridge.

    Do you know anyone that has already done this?

    1. sorry... I should have said "Way cheaper than the cost of a PROPANE fridge."

  13. If the insulation had been moldy or rotten, styrofoam works well, either sheet or the expanding kind-the expanding kind is sticky and unpredictable, though-it goes everywhere, usually where you don't want it to. The sheet kind is easy to work with,and if need be, glued in place with silicone-don't use a petroleum based glue! It might dissolve the styrofoam.
    A fridge or freezer should last 15 or more years-20 years isn't unusual.

  14. Good job Don! We try and repair what we can around here, too. We so hate the disposable society that America has become. It is frustrating to take something to be repaired, once you find someone who actually does repairs, only to have them say, "You know it is cheaper to buy a new one". No wonder there is a problem with full dumps.
    Now you need to plan ahead and put aside $10-$20 per month in an envelope so that when the time comes to repurpose your old freezer, you will have enough or close to enough, money set aside to buy another one, whether new or used. One thing about newer appliances, they do run extremely efficiently, I just dislike all the plastic in them.

  15. Very timely article, indeed. I will be saving this on my computer to refer back to in a few years. My husband and I had been looking everywhere for a good, used chest freezer now that we have a house and basement. No luck on Craigslist or Ebay, so we watched the Sunday circulars for the best price. I had sticker shock when I found out they cost over $700 for a full size model! Found a 20 cu. ft. freezer at Sears and had to haggle a lot for them to honor the online price (and a friends and family discount), but we walked away paying $525. I hate spending that chunk of money, but it will be very worth it. Saved $240, and now the real fun begins - using it!

  16. I, too have pulled stuff apart and fixed...our dishwasher twice, the dryer, many small appliances. I update our computers when needed, because a used upgrade processor and memory are cheaper than a new computer. My parents had a 37" flat-screen TV that stopped coming on, and I pulled it from where it sat next to the trash in their garage with the thought of giving it a look over. $14 worth of capacitors, along with instructions from a seller on EBay and we now have a 37" TV with DVD player. My husband sez I'm golden. I'm really just saving money for my country homestead. I find it amazing what folks will throw out, when an hour's work and a bit of study online will frequently save buying new.

  17. My A #1 First Frugality tip is to marry a useful man!
    My first still dosen't even own a bucket to wash his own car, my current darling of my heart just saved us over $500 fixing the pick up truck! He is amazing! When you find one of these fellows, treat them like the Kings that they are.

  18. the local country club here in mississippi converted three deep chest freezers into smokers and they work really great...i have a tiny chesst freezer that i bought from sears 25 years ago and it is still going, i clean it out twice a year when it is not real full of stuff. the freezer sits just inside our back door and takes up space next to the washer and the dryer...i keep threatening to move it out to our back porch!

  19. "Way to go Idaho!" Sorry, couldn't resist. haha Good job. I, too, have a hubby who is a can do, problem solver kind of person. LOVE him and his ingenuity. Just one of his many talents. Thank you Lord. I have been very blessed. :o)

  20. Congratulations!

    We tried to save $900 on kitchen counters and now we're having to somewhat redesign the kitchen.
    Good thing the kitchen was empty to begin with!

    So glad you could save your freezer! Have a great weekend!

  21. You mean there are people who don't fix stuff?

    I think a man who cannot (or will not) use tools to the benefit of his family needs to check the validity of his "Man License".

    I have fixed a microwave, clothes washer, two dryers, a vacuum (three repairs) stretched a TV for about 25 years (four repairs) before replacing it with a free one. I have two more that are "on the list" for repair.

    From the Great Depression (not sure there was anything so "great" about it...):
    Use it up
    Wear it out
    Make it do
    Or do without.

    Another way to save money is to do your own home repairs, not terribly hard to: replace a water heater (4), a toilet (3), dishwasher(3) etc...

    Guys, the game isn't as important as your family. Turn off the TeeVee and grab your toolbox.

  22. Patrice, I love your blog and your articles on WND.

    Did the same thing to our chest freezer last year. Can't believe you found new at 700, I couldn't find one less than 900.

  23. When you started tossing $700 around I was incredulous. And then I saw the pics. That's one of the biggest da-, uh, darn chest freezers I've ever seen. We usually use a hair dryer to help with defrosting because the interiors are so fragile. But if it's as cold outside there as I'm guessing, Bigfoot's own hairdryer probably couldn't overcome the ambient temperature. Maybe set a space heater in there for a spell.

    Jeff - Tucson

    1. I believe it's the biggest freezer they make. Comes in handy when we have two steers to fit inside it.

      I didn't want to MELT the ice because then I'd have to mop up water. Easier to scoop the ice out with a shovel. But then we don't live in Tucson (wink).

      - Patrice

  24. Patrice, I used to have a big chest freezer, kept it on my carport (in Fl you can do that). It developed rust holes in the lid and my (now ex) husband fixed it with something called Tiger Hair? Like Bondo but "finer"? Anyway, bnefore you could feel the cold air coming out and afterwards NO cold was great. I no longer have that freezer but it worked so well for years.

    Kathleen in IL

  25. My MIL (bless her heart) found a chest freezer, from her neighbors who were moving, for me for $40. Almost brand new, they just couldn't take it with them. Unfortunately, I have no room for it in my apartment, so it still sits in my garage. But someday!


  26. Interesting timing... just this past weekend our own 10-yr-old fridge/freezer gave up the ghost and stuff started melting. My darling wife of 27 years started Googling and found lots of YouTube videos of fridge diagnostics and repair, and by watching them I was able to use my multi-meter to determine that the compressor was fine but the starting relay was bad. New relay and overload cost under $70 at the local appliance repair store, rather than $300+ for a house call or even $2,100 for a replacement fridge. (Yes, it's a very big fridge -- we have three kids).

    Anyway, that's a 30X savings for a bit of poking and prodding, and with Thanksgiving staring us in the face we would have had difficulty finding and buying a new one so quickly. Likewise, I'm glad you and Don were able to get this taken care of before the holidays.

  27. use milk crates to organize your freezer, it's also
    easier to take stuff out to clean your freezer.
    Love your blog!!!


  28. Here's another "awesome & way to go"!
    I was searching for ideas to address this very problem (but for a chest about 1/3 the length or yours :), and this page is the second result listed (and the first I read)!

    My freezer is only about 10 years old, and still works great, except for the frozen insulation in the lid which keeps the lid from closing well. And the lid was also to heavy to stay open.

    But now, lid is apart, insulation is drying, and the lid stays open (when together). I did use a hair dryer for quite a while to melt most of the ice first - that fiberglass insulation was frozen solid. Now gotta pick up some of that adhesive...

    Thanks for the help & ideas!