Appliance repair people often charge $80 to $150 just to walk in your front door…and the average repair bill is well into the hundreds.
Sometimes this can’t be avoided—appliances have become extremely complex, putting many repairs outside the abilities of even handy home owners. But there are exceptions.
Five appliance problems that many home owners can tackle themselves, saving hundreds of dollars in the process…
FRIDGE NOT COOL ENOUGH
If your refrigerator is no longer as cold inside as it should be, a broken or jammed condenser fan could be to blame.
Step 1: Make sure that the temperature control is not turned up too high by mistake. Then if you have a stand-alone (not built-in) refrigerator, pull it away from the wall to gain access to the back and remove the cover at the bottom rear. (With a built-in fridge, the condenser fan often is on top rather than at the lower rear part of the fridge—but built-in refrigerators are so pricey and difficult to access that that is probably not a job for a do-it-yourselfer.)
Step 2: One of the components that you’ll find inside is the condenser fan. If you don’t see or hear the condenser fan working, put your hand on the compressor—that’s the cylindrical tank, usually black in color. If the compressor is warm to the touch and vibrating slightly, that means the compressor is running—and when the compressor is running, the fan motor should be, too. If the fan motor isn’t operating, a jammed or broken fan motor very likely is the problem.
Wait a half hour, and recheck to rule out the possibility that the fan isn’t operating simply because the fridge is in automatic defrost mode.
Step 3: Unplug the fridge, and try to spin the blades to see whether the fan spins freely. If it doesn’t, try to remove any obstructions. Then check whether the wires to the fan motor have come loose or have been nibbled by mice—mice occasionally are attracted by the warmth of the motor. If the wires are loose, try to tighten the wires. If mice have chewed the wires or if neither of these is the problem, replace the fan motor. It is simple to install and usually costs less than $50, though some cost more.
Step 4: The easiest way to install a condenser fan motor is to first remove the entire fan assembly—including the motor, fan blades and bracket—from the refrigerator. That typically means unscrewing three or four screws that hold the bracket in place and disconnecting two wires. You typically can remove the fan blade from the old motor simply by loosening a nut.
When you reinstall the assembly with the new motor attached, make sure that the spinning fan blades cannot contact the wires. Tape or strap the wires into a safe position if necessary.
WASHER LEAVES CLOTHES TOO WET
If your front-load washer is not spinning clothes sufficiently dry, the problem might be a clogged drain line. Most, though not all, front-load washers have a trap in the drain line between the washing basin and the pump.
This trap can become clogged over time with lint or small items, making it difficult for water to drain from the basin. Front-load washers will not spin at full speed when water still is inside, so clothes do not get as dry as they should.
Step 1: If your front-load washer does have a drain-line trap, solving this problem is simple. Remove the cover from the trap—it likely looks like a small door on the lower front of your washer, but consult your manual for details.
Step 2: Open the trap, then remove anything you find inside. (Be ready with a towel and a bowl—some water typically comes out when this trap is opened.) This process should be explained in the owner’s manual—yet repairmen still get calls for this all the time.
Alternative: Out-of-balance loads of laundry are another potential cause of insufficient spin drying in a front-load washer. This can be solved by not over- or underloading the washer and by washing similar types of fabrics together—a single heavy, water-saturated towel or pair of denim jeans can throw a load of lightweight fabrics out of balance.
WASHER IS SLOW TO FILL
If your top- or front-load washing machine fills with water very slowly or does not fill with enough water, the problem likely is a clogged screen in the water inlet valve—that’s the part on the back of the washer where the water intake hoses connect. There are small screens inside this valve designed to block sediment in the water from getting into the washer. Over time, these screens can become clogged—particularly when well water is used.
Step 1: Shut off the water to the washing machine, unplug the machine and pull it away from the wall, then unscrew the hoses where they connect to the washer—be ready for a little water to come out when you do. Aim these hoses into a bucket or a sink, and turn the water on very briefly to confirm that water pressure through the hoses is fine, then turn the water back off.
Step 2: Now look inside the washing machine through the holes where the hoses were connected. You should see small screens. Remove these, and clean them with an old toothbrush and water. Soak them in a vinegar/water solution if the accumulated sediment won’t come off.
Helpful: If the screens are difficult to remove, use a pair of needle-nose pliers or a small flathead screwdriver to carefully work them loose. Be careful not to puncture the screens.
Step 3: After cleaning, put the screens back in place, tightly reattach the water hoses and turn the water back on. Watch to make sure that no water is dripping from the connections before pushing the washer back against the wall.
DRYER TAKES TOO LONG TO DRY CLOTHES
If your dryer consistently takes more than one cycle to dry clothes, you probably have an airflow problem. If you have already cleared out your dryer’s lint filter and the ductwork leading from the back of your dryer to the outside of your home, this air blockage could be underneath the lint filter.
Step 1: Pull out the filter, and use a flashlight to scan the area underneath it for lint or other obstructions. A small dryer vent brush (sometimes called a lint trap brush) can help you clean out anything you find—this area often is difficult to reach by hand. Dryer vent brushes are available for a few dollars in home centers and online.
Step 2: Check whether the lint filter is torn. If so, purchase a replacement filter through one of the online parts sellers mentioned below. Prices range from less than $10 to more than $50, depending on the dryer model.
OVEN LACKS HEAT
If your electric oven is not heating well (or not heating at all)…
Step 1: Turn the oven off and unplug it, then open the oven door and look for the bake element—that’s the dark, tubular piece of metal located near the bottom of the oven’s interior. (If you cannot easily unplug the oven, turn off the circuit breaker, then check that the oven is truly no longer powered—the bulb inside should not come on, for example—to be certain that you flipped the correct breaker.)
Step 2: Not all electric ovens have exposed bake elements, but if yours does, examine it closely. It should appear smooth. If yours is bubbling in places or cracked—or you noticed sparking from the bake element before you turned off the oven—it’s likely that replacing this element will fix your problem.
Step 3: Even when the bake element looks good, it still can be bad. You can test the element with an ohm meter or take it to an appliance-parts dealer to test it for you.
Step 4: Removing an exposed bake element is easy. There typically are two screws that must be removed and two wires that must be disconnected. Then simply pull the element out through the front of the oven. Replacements usually cost $30 to $75.
If your oven does not have an exposed bake element, accessing the bake element can be difficult even for a professional and likely not a task for the average do-it-yourselfer.