How Long Should A Refrigerator Compressor Run Before It Shuts Off

Not only is your refrigerator the single most expensive appliance in your home, but it’s also the one that you rely on most.  When your fridge starts acting up, making noises, frost starts building up or you notice that the temperature starts dancing, your guard immediately goes up and you grow worried.  Afterall, the average household of four spends $247.03 per week stocking up their fridge.  The last thing you want is the food in your fridge to spoil.

When you notice that your refrigerator is constantly running you immediately think that something is wrong, so in this article we’ll try to address some things you may notice your refrigerator doing and if it’s normal activity or not.

It is typical for a refrigerator compressor to run anywhere between 4 to 8 hours straight before shutting off.  In fact, newer refrigerators are expected to constantly run 80-90 percent of their lifetime.  This actually gives them their energy star efficiency rating since more frequent cycles tend to keep the internal temperature more constant.

Should a refrigerator be running all the time?

No, a refrigerator definitely should not be running at 100% capacity for an extended period of time.  Although you may notice your fridge running non-stop during normal daytime hours, anything over a 24 hour period where your compressor doesn’t get a break is something that should be inspected.

Which factors contribute to more run time?

Though it may seem troubling that your refrigerator is constantly running, there are a few factors you’ll want to consider before calling up your local appliance expert for their professional help.  Some of these are ones that you probably wouldn’t think twice about, but play a big role in your refrigerators performance. 

Ambient room temperature - the temperature in your kitchen has a large amount to do with the amount of time that your compressor runs.  If your home runs hot because you have the windows open in the middle of summer time then it’s very conceivable to think that your condenser will be running much more often to compensate for the higher ambient temperature.  Conversely, keeping a lower home temperature in the middle of winter should mean that your refrigerator doesn’t run as hard.

Amount of food in your fridge - the amount of food your carry in your fridge also has a major effect on the amount of run-time your fridge compressor sees everyday.  Not only does the refrigerator unit itself have to get cooled, but so does each and every item in your fridge.  The more food you stock in your fridge, the harder your compressor will work to maintain that temperature.  You also want to consider the temperature of your food when you place it in your fridge.  If the food you place in the fridge is coming from the stovetop, for example, the energy required to cool it will be more than if your food were sitting out at room temperature all day.

Amount of time the door remains open - every time your fridge door is opened, it allows warmer (sometimes more humid) air to enter. This causes your compressor to kick on more frequently and for a longer duration as it has to compensate for the sudden change in temperature.  Typically during daylight hours when the family is awake is when your refrigerator will see the most “traffic”.  For the sake of your compressor, open your door less often and close it as quickly as you can.

What are the signs of a bad refrigerator compressor?

Since new refrigerator compressors are purposely meant to run for 80-90% of their life, it’s hard to tell when a compressor is being overworked just by listening to the sounds of your fridge.  That being said, there are signs to look for that indicate your compressor is working hard but not getting the job done.  If you notice these signs then it may be time to either search for a refrigerator repairman or do a thorough cleaning of your unit.

  1. Food spoilage - if you notice that your food just doesn’t last as long before it gets a smelly funk to it, or before it gets a slimy film at the top, then your compressor may not have the same effectiveness that it did when it was new.
  2. Consistently higher temps - your fridge should have the capacity to maintain temperatures between 35 and 38 degrees fahrenheit.  It should be cold enough so that meat taken out of the freezer and placed directly into the fridge will barely thaw.  If you notice that your temperature setting is set to the lowest temperature and yet it still hovers above 38 degrees, it could be a faulty compressor among other things.
  3. Moisture or frost - this is a sign that warm air is entering your unit.  Though there can be several reasons for this, it can mean that the compressor cannot keep up with the circulation of cooler air than the ambient temperature.  

What is the lifespan of a refrigerator

average lifespan of major home appliances

Just like most appliances in your home, the lifespan of your refrigerator can vary based on several factors.  According to the 23rd Annual Portrait of the US Appliance Industry report, your refrigerator should last anywhere between 10 to 18 years with the average age being 14 years.

5 most likely reasons your fridge is constantly running

  1. Door gasket - worn out gaskets tend to be the biggest reason why your compressor runs non-stop.  When your gaskets are worn out or warped, the gaps allow warmer, more humid air to travel through them.  The compressor has to run more often to cool down that warm air and maintain the proper temperature setting.  We recommend that this be the first item you check when troubleshooting a fridge that runs constantly.
  2. Dirty condenser coils - these coils are usually found at the bottom of the fridge.  Their purpose is to condense the gas refrigerant into a hot liquid.  As the gas is converted to liquid and travels through the coils, the excess heat is dissipated through the coils.  The problem arises when the coils become covered with hair, dirt, and other debris that collects over time.  Because the condenser coils cannot dissipate heat efficiently nor properly, the compressor will end up running constantly in an effort to cool the individual elements.

3. Faulty defrost thermostat - this unit monitors the temperature of the evaporator coils.  When the thermostat fails the defrost heater is never triggered.  If you suspect that your defrost thermostat is causing your fridge to run constantly, you can use a multimeter to check for continuity.

4. Faulty evaporator fan motor - the purpose of this fan is two-fold.  Not only does it push air over the coils to cool them but it also circulates the cool air between both the freezer and refrigerator compartments.  If the motor is simply not working or you don’t see the fan blade spinning as it should then you should replace the fan motor in its entirety.

5. Malfunctioning condenser fan motor - this fan motor is similar to the motor directly above put it pushes air past the condenser coils instead.  If you’re troubleshooting for the same problems then it’s likely that this motor either isn’t getting a proper current or the fan blade is stuck.

Your refrigerator is actually a simple unit although pinpointing where a problem lies can be challenging.  When it comes to reasons why your refrigerator may be running constantly, you’ll want to check out these 5 items before anything else.  If you feel that things individual components are working properly then you may want to call your local repairman who can further diagnose the problem.  Like most appliances in your home, properly scheduled maintenance is the best way to prevent unexpected issues with your major home appliances.