I last updated this page: September, 2014.
My first edition was: April, 2004.
The under-counter Whirlpool ice machine is a stand-alone $1700 appliance which makes gourmet
clear ice such as for a wet bar.
(Yes, that is what it originally cost in today's dollars before the current era of cheaper imported appliances.)
It has occasionally been labeled and sold as Sub Zero, Scotsman, GM/Frigidaire, KitchenAid, Estate, Roper, Inglis, Ross Temp, Marvel, and Sears Kenmore brands, and is similar
in quality and specifications to the under-counter Jenn-Air 50 lb/day ice machines currently sold.
This luxury ice machine should not be confused with the ordinary ice maker that is part of
a refrigerator-freezer; the former magnificent engine makes crystal-clear, flavor-free, ice cubes.
A refrigerator-freezer ice maker produces cloudy ice in a stale-garlic flavor, typically in odd crescent shapes,
and stuck together.
The ice machine's product is clear, pure, flavorless ice cubes which are luxuriously wet and loose, like a handful
of flawless diamonds scooped from a mountain spring.
Owning this machine once in your life will spoil you, like many of my correspondents who say they will never
again return to refrigerator ice.
Besides this delicious indulgence, the ice machine also makes an excellent source for controlled cold-plate chilling necessary to the operation of an even greater luxury, the home soda fountain (see my page on home carbonation). On this page, however, we are only concerned with the ice and how to keep it coming.
This residential ice machine creates 8 x 7 x 1/2 inch slabs of ice by recirculating water over a metal evaporator plate chilled by an R-134a chiller (or R-12 before the early 1990s; this basic machine design goes back to the 1950s). When a slab of ice reaches the finished thickness, a thermostat triggers the harvest cycle, which reverses the chiller to warm the evaporator plate, until the ice slab slides onto a cutter grid. The cutter grid consists of nickel-chromium ("Nichrome" is one brand) resistance wire which is warmed by a low-voltage electric current. The ice slab rests on the heated wires, and the wires slice through the slab, first in one direction on the top layer of wires, then the perpendicular direction on the lower layer, yielding cubes of ice which drop into an insulated ice supply bin.
The original machines were produced in an 18-inch width for a standard 34.5-inch under-counter height. Since 1999 a 15-inch version is also available.
The only part of this machine which chills is the evaporator plate at the top of the machine where the ice forms. Unlike a conventional refrigerator-freezer, the ice storage bin is only insulated. The air inside is not refrigerated, and the temperature never drops below freezing. This bin is more or less like a portable ice chest but built into the cabinet. This is an essential principle of a wet ice machine. The cubes stay loose and are always slowly melting, so the machine runs to make new ice to keep the bin filled and to make up the ice you withdraw for use.
I got to know these machines quite well over the last 14 years.
In 1995 I moved into a home equipped with one, and learned about this unusual appliance by doing my own repairs.
It eventually became an essential part of my home carbonation and soda fountain efforts (see link above).
Then in 2002, I wound up owning a truckload of them, after I went to the bankruptcy auction of the infamous Enron accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, where I had expected to buy various assets for my computer business. Their corporate skyscraper suites were furnished with a large quantity of these machines, recently purchased. While I wanted to buy one to have as a spare, the auctioneer abruptly insisted on selling all of them as one lot. Of course, nobody else at a business-equipment auction wanted such a haul, but I saw an opportunity, knew what I was dealing with, and took them all for 5 cents on the dollar. I made a terrific profit reselling them one-at-a-time on eBay (sorry, they're all gone now), but in the process I had to become expert at diagnosing and repairing them, using my engineering background. This experience also allowed me conclude what were the more common problems and led me to create this Web page. Having maintained this Web page for some years, I have corresponded with hundreds of other ice machine owners, and performed (or at least consulted on) most all of the repair problems presented by these machines. Below you will find the accumulated wisdom for diagnosis and repair procedures, obtaining original parts, improvising ersatz parts, and dealing with service technicians.
The photos here show my personal unit made in 1997, model EC5100XFB0. The essentially identical machine has been sold for years and years under a variety of brands, model numbers, and styles of decor. Other than a change away from R-12 refrigerant to R-134a about 1992, and a change from electromechanical controls to computerized electronics about 2002, the principles, components, and physical arrangement have been the same for many decades. An excellent source of information, including parts diagrams, parts catalog, and pricing is available at partselect.com and at sears.com, even if they're not the best place to buy parts. You can enter your specific model number there and compare the parts involved in your repair to those specified for mine.
Similar models include: ACS50 ACS501 ACS502 CCS51AEL CECS2AE1 CHCS51AE1 CSWE1 CSW1AE CSW1AE1B5 CSW45 CSW45PA1B0 (Scotsman) EC5100 EC5100XEB0 EC5100XEB1 EC5100XEN0 EC5100XEN1 EC5100XEW0 EC5100XEW1 EC5100XFB0 EC5100XFB1 EC5100XFN0 EC5100XFN1 EC5100XFW0 EC5100XFW1 EC5100XL EC5100XP EC5100XT EC5100XT1 EC510BXD0 EC510NXD0 EC510WXD0 EC510WXE0 EHC511 EUC050A1 ZDI15 ZDI15CBB GI1500PHB0 GI1500PHB3 GI1500PHB6 GI1500PHW0 GI1500PHW3 GI1500XH GI1500XHB0 GI1500XHB1 GI1500XHB2 GI1500XHB3 GI1500XHN0 GI1500XHN1 GI1500XHN2 GI1500XHN3 GI1500XHS0 GI1500XHS1 GI1500XHS2 GI1500XHS3 GI1500XHT1 GI1500XHT2 GI1500XHT3 GI1500XHW0 GI1500XHW1 GI1500XHW2 GI1500XHW3 GI1500XHW7 GI15NDXTB GI15NDXTS GI15NDXXS GI15NFLTS0 GI15NFRTB0 GI15NFRTB1 GI15NFRTB2 GI15NFRTB3 GI15NFRTB4 IACS501 IACS50E1 JEAC501 JEAC50SL0 JEAC50SL1 JEACS50SL0 JEACS50SL1 JLAIC5053 JT051CAE1612 JT051CAE2511 JT051CAE2512 JVGC535A0 JVGC535A1 JVGC535W2 KUIA15NLH KUIA15NRH KUIA15PLL KUIA15PRL KUIA15RRL KUIA18NNJ KUIA18NNJS5 KUIA18PNL KUIA18PNLS1 KUIS155H KUIS155HLS3 KUIS155HRS3 KUIS15NRH KUIS15PRH KUIS185J KUIS185JSS0 KUIS185JWH2 KUIS18NNJ KUIS18NNJW5 KUIS18NNTW1 KUIS18PNJ KUIV18NNM O53CAE1610 O53CAE1612 RC-50-SC (Ross Temp) ZD115CBBE ZDIS15CSS (GE Monogram) 198.887482 106.86482690 106.86482691 198.8814831 3KUIS185V0 501-ISC (SubZero) JIM1550ARW JIM158XBRS JIM158XBRSO (Jenn-Air)
My trusty unit shown at left is still running after all these years. I have had to: repair the grid several times, replace the harvest thermostat with an electronic timer, replace the water solenoid valve, and recharge the unit with refrigerant. The basic refrigeration mechanism is very sturdy and reliable. Other owners of these machines have 30-year-old specimens still running.
Before you go off ordering expensive parts, or rashly discarding a failed unit, see if my information below can't help you diagnose and repair the trouble more economically. Let's first discuss the three most common problems that likely brought you here in the first place. After that, we'll detail the universe of rarer problems.
As wonderful as this machine performs, there are three chronic problems with Whirlpool's otherwise excellent design resulting in very costly repair calls, typically after only a few years of constant operation:
Not only do these problems suggest a house call from an appliance service, but these service calls can be very expensive. Ice machines are relatively rare items, and the expertise to diagnose and repair them tends to command a premium price, as do the manufacturer's sole-source parts. More typically, you're likely to get someone who may know how to fix a common refrigerator, but doesn't understand ice machines well enough to diagnose their unique types of problems.
If you're like me, you may find that you can perform a costly repair yourself, at minimal expense. What you need is some information and diagnostic analysis, which is why I wrote this Web page. Some repairs I'll describe may be beyond your abilities, but even if you're not a do-it-yourself'er, you can use this information to make a firm diagnosis yourself. At the very least, you will be able to critique whether a service technician is giving you a correct diagnosis and a fair price for repairs. In the grim case where your machine is not worth fixing, you can decide this without having to pay for a service call. I have published this information as part of my machine shop pages, because these repairs have to do with metal itself (nickel-chromium wire, solder), or with parts or suppliers closely associated with metalworking, even though there is no actual machining involved.
If your cutter grid breaks, the replacement part (326566 Grid Assembly) will cost you $224.75 from Whirlpool (2008 pricing), perhaps on top of a service call expense if you didn't diagnose the problem yourself. Yet this is an easy problem to diagnose, and perhaps even fully repair, yourself. The defect is repairable by replacing about 18 feet of a certain gauge and alloy of nickel-chromium wire.
|New grid wire kit: I keep a bulk supply of this wire on hand, US-made, top quality. I'll promptly send you 20 feet of the correct wire by first class mail for $20. Ships to USA addresses only. (Canada and international addresses: please order here.) Orders are processed same- or next-day from receipt. This is the same grid wire used on all makes and models from the 1970s to the present, and substitutes for the wire in Whirlpool rebuild kits 370853, 4387020, and 2185611; and the GE Monogram kits WR29X10075, WR02X12734, and WR02X12735; competitive prices on these kits are upwards of $80.|
You can also order a bulk supply of 100 feet, which is sufficient for five repairs, for $80.
Newer-type grid connector kit: At left is the connector used on the newer type grids. These connectors rarely fail, but when they do they are almost impossible to find. The nylon shell at left is used on the grid itself, and on the right is the shell used on the machine chassis. The grid uses the plug shell with the receptacle pins, and the chassis uses the receptacle shell with the plug pins. One of the crimp pins for each shell are also shown. I stock these items as a complete replacement kit consisting of one of each shell and two of each crimp pin. With this kit you can replace the grid connector, the mating connector on the machine, or both. Order here.
Older-type grid connector: You can also use this newer-type connector kit to replace both sides of the older black-rubber 2-prong grid connector, since the older connector is no longer available. This connector is what we use to refurbish older grids with a failed old connector.
Detailed how-to: See my replacement instructions for the ice machine grid connectors.
My cutter grid has two levels, one that cuts "north-south" and a second that cuts "east-west"; each of these is about 8 feet of wire creating a 10 ohm resistance. These two are wired in parallel to create about a 5 ohm resistance. You can check the resistance with an accurate volt-ohmmeter, and measure the wire diameter with a micrometer or calipers, to make sure you have a similar design. Email from readers of this page confirms that this grid design and wire type is the same across all makes and models. There are two possibilities for the spacing of the grid wires, which correspond to "cubelet" (3/4 inch square cubes) versus "cube" (1-1/4 inch square cubes) size ice, although I've never, ever seen anything but the 3/4 inch version. On some models, the low-voltage transformer that powers the cutter grid also powers a bin light. On recent designs, the transformer also supplies the low-voltage power to the electronic control board.
Grid variations: There are three grid designs I know about:
Despite the difference in design, these all use the same type and length of wire, and they all cut an 8 by 8 inch slab of ice.
Removing the old, broken wire: To restring the wire, begin by removing the cutter grid assembly from the ice machine by removing the two thumbscrews that hold the grid inside the bin, and disconnecting the two-prong low-voltage power connector. You can test the machine by keeping it running with the grid removed. Without the grid the machine should make ice in slabs that drop into the bin and break. You can let the gridless machine run while you complete the grid repair. Remove the plastic bezel from the grid by sliding it off while prying the notches up that hold it in place. The resistance wire is strung in two directions, each a separate electrical circuit; these two are wired in parallel by ordinary insulated tinned-copper wires to the 2-prong connector. Likely only the upper level of the grid wire is broken, and you can restrict your repair to that one circuit, since the upper wire breaks from the repeated impact of the ice slab coming off the evaporator; the lower level very rarely breaks since it does not receive any such impacts. The ends of the wire are clamped in place on top of eyelet connectors by stainless screws. These screws have a Torx T-20 head, so you'll need a Torx driver to loosen and tighten them, (although if desperate you could grasp the screw heads with pliers). Loosening these screws just a bit frees the wire ends. Unthread the old, broken wire from the back-and-forth pattern through the plastic insulators at the edges. The insulators are captured on the metal frame only by the wire tension, so the insulators will come loose from the metal frame when the wire is loose; remember the orientation of the insulators for reassembly. This is a good time to clean the grid with acid cleaner if it has lime encrustation or other debris.
Installing the new wire: Putting the new wire in is a bit of a manipulation, but not too difficult with proper technique. You must first mount the grid frame in a secure work holder, such as a bench vise, so you have your hands free. A serpentine wire threads through black plastic endpieces (I've heard sometimes this plastic is white, and on the later models it is clear). Measure the length (before it was broken) of the removed wire; mine was 8 feet 3 inches. Unspool a slightly longer piece of new wire (I use 9 feet). If you bought your new wire from me, then you should have 20 feet which you can cut in half. Fold this 9 or 10 feet of wire in half to find the approximate center (but don't actually sharply bend the center). Thread the ends through the middle hump of the insulator which is opposite the insulator that holds the connector screws. Thread these two loose ends respectively through the rest of the serpentine pattern, until you reach the end by the connector screws (not unlike lacing a shoe in an uncrossed pattern). You should have at least several inches of extra wire past the connecting screws; if not, shift the wire to even the ends. Pull one loose end of the wire as taut as you conveniently can, wrap it clockwise around the connector screw with the eyelet connector above it, and tighten down the screw. Using your fingers, starting at the same screwed-down end, stretch the wire taut across the grid opening in one direction, and again reversing to the next direction, hand-over-hand, until you reach the other end, and have taken up all the slack you can. It is not necessary at this stage to have the wire very tight; just enough to keep the wire from sagging and to straighten any kinks is enough. Use your fingers for this; do not use pliers or other tools which might nick or otherwise damage the wire as you manipulate. Now here is the secret technique to getting a tight wire all across the grid: wrap the loose end around its still-loose connection screw one-quarter turn, and maintain constant tension on the loose end while you repeatedly "pluck" the spans of wire from the far end back to the loose (tensioned) end. By "plucking" I mean that you pull on the second span from the fastened end to tighten the first span, then take up the slack of the second span by pulling on the third, then the third from the fourth, and so on, until the slack is pulled out of the grid on the the loose end by the constant tension. This constant tension could also be provided by another person helping you with a pair of Vise-grip pliers on the end of the wire, or a weight of a few pounds likewise attached, but you must have both your hands free to "pluck". Repeat the "plucking" a few times until the strings are "moderately" tight, "moderate" as in playing a low note when you pluck them like a guitar string, not so tight as to bend the grid frame. After this step you can "strum" the from the fastened end to the loose end to tighten the segments further. Again, the goal is only to have the wire tight enough to not sag. Once you have pulled all the slack out and strummed the wire segments all tight, fasten the loose end by tightening the second connector screw like the first, all the while maintaining the tension until the screw is set.
Testing and reinstalling the rewired grid: Reassemble the plastic bezel to the unit, and test the grid by connecting it to the ice machine before you install it in place. To test, place the palm of your dry hand against the grid wires when the ice machine is running and the grid is connected; the wires should feel slightly but distinctly warm when no ice slab is on the grid. Once tested, you can reinstall the grid into the machine. At the next harvest, observe that the grid takes about 10 minutes to cut a slab of ice into cubes.
|Send your grid in for repair: If you want me to restring your cutter grid for you, you can ship me your broken unit and include a check for $105, or order online. See the packing instructions, shipping address, and online ordering here, or use the buttons at the right. Return shipping is included; USA addresses only. Turnaround on this repair is 1 week after we receive your broken unit. Remember that you can still make uncut ice slabs while you're awaiting the repair; see ''cutter grid is actually optional'' below.|
Complete grid assembly: If you want to buy a complete cutter grid assembly, check my ordering page for availability and price of units I have refurbished. You can also order a grid with the plastic panel at additional cost (normally you'll just switch the old panel onto the new grid, but sometimes the grid and panel have gone missing).
|Wire kit for old spring-clip type cutter grid variation: An older design for the cutter grid differs from the more recent design described above. The older style uses short segments of resistance wire held in place (and electrically connected) by individual stainless spring clips and posts. Each segment consists of a short length of wire terminating in eyelet loops of about 3/32 inch diameter, the length being 9 inches from eyelet center to center. The wire is a bit thinner, about 23.5 gage (0.022") and 1.5 ohms/foot, although you can get by with my standard 22 gage wire for repairing just one or two segments. This is a more difficult item to repair when a wire breaks, because the spring clips make assembly a four-handed job requiring special tools. The wire segments require a custom winding jig to make them from stock resistance wire. I offer a kit of 3 of these segments for $20 if you want to attempt the reassembly yourself (formerly known as Whirlpool part number 588109). You can also use the button in the previous paragraph to ship me your broken spring-clip cutter grid for repair.|
Upgrading an old spring-clip type grid to a newer plastic-spacer type grid: Another possibility for the spring-clip grid repair is to upgrade it to the plastic spacers and use the easier-to-install 20-foot wire kit above. The stainless steel frame on the grid is the same for both types, so you simply remove all the spring-clip parts and rewire with the plastic spacers. These plastic spacers are Whirpool part numbers 2174724 (front), 2174725 (rear), 2174726 (right side, as you face the unit), and 2174727 (left side). You'll need all four of these spacers (I regret I do not sell these parts) plus the wire to perform the upgrade. Regretably, as of 2012, these spacers for the older grids were nowhere available as new spare parts any more.
Transformer for Cutter Grid: The original transformer part for the older electromechanical machines is no longer made and doesn't seem to be available from Whirlpool. A $20 stock unit made by Hammond, their part number 166L8 (8.5 VAC center tapped, 2 amps), which is sold by digikey.com as part number HM510-ND, is a suitable substitution. You can order the HM510-ND online from digikey.com for about $20 plus $10 shipping. You'll also need two each of 3/16-inch and 1/4-inch male disconnects (digikey.com 94807-01 and 94811-01 respectively) to fit the original connectors on the machine, or you can just splice in directly. The 1/4-inch size disconnect is a widely used standard, but the 3/16-inch size disconnect is hard to find in hardware stores.
Grid lifetime: How long should a grid last? Not as long as you might think. These things break because a heavy slab of ice drops on to the top grid layer every time the unit goes through a harvest cycle. Over the years, my grid seems to have lasted a typical 50,000 cycles before it breaks. Considering that a unit could run 50 cycles per day, that could be less than 3 years. (But that's also 25 tons of ice, roughly a semi truckload.) Your grid will of course last longer if your machine runs only intermittently, but while the machine itself may last for decades, the grid won't without an occasional minor restringing repair.
The older design of this machine used electromechanical controls, including a harvest thermostat on the evaporator plate that clicks on and off with the ice slab temperature. If your machine uses the newer electronic controls, you will have an electronic thermistor on the evaporator instead of electromechanical thermostat, and this section does not apply.
The evaporator plate in the top area of the ice machine circulates the hermetically sealed refrigerant (R-134a lately, or R-12 in very old machines), which boils off to carry away heat from the waterfall passing over the plate, resulting in a layer of ice being progressively built up. The top of the evaporator plate, where the ice forms, is smooth. The bottom is a complex affair containing the refrigerant line connections, and a bracket and clamp holding a capillary tube from the harvest thermostat. A complete assembly (327505 evaporator $266.02) is the only replacement part available from Whirlpool, but the old part can likely be repaired.
To diagnose the problem, it helps to understand the principles on which the machine makes ice. The running machine is always in one of two modes, either ice-making (chilling the plate) or harvesting (warming the plate). The capillary tube senses the temperature of the evaporator plate, which triggers two control events in the machine, depending on what the state of the machine is, and on the temperature reaching a level well-below or well-above freezing:
The bracket and clamp holding the capillary tube are about 1" wide by 4" long. The bracket itself is soldered to the bottom front of the evaporator plate, and a smaller clamping plate is held by a screw post and nut to the bracket. This creates a solid thermal connection between the capillary tube and the bottom of the evaporator plate; inside the tube, a liquid expands and contracts with the sensed temperature. The tube transmits this expansion/contraction pressure to the thickness control thermostat at the front panel, where the pressure triggers the switch that controls the cut-out and cut-in of chilling versus harvesting.
A few inches of the capillary tube should also be soldered to the bottom front lip of the evaporator plate. This helps it to quickly sense the rising temperature during the harvest cycle, which should end as soon as the ice slides off.
The failure of the bracket solder joint occurs because of the repeated cycling of sub-freezing chilling to make ice versus above-freezing thawing to harvest the ice. The area is always wet, and the solder joint will typically have small pockets or bubbles, which when wet will freeze and become slightly larger due to the expansion of the ice. Each freeze-thaw cycle enlarges the flaw slightly, and eventually this grows into a large fracture, just like fracturing of mountain stone from years of winter/summer cycles.
If you suspect you have the problem of the fractured solder joint, you can inspect the joint by removing the cutter grid and reservoir bucket. You can recognize the bracket, since it is the only item in the vicinity having a screw post and nut. If the solder joint does not appear intact along the entire length, but appears cracked or slightly separated, then you have this problem, but perhaps not very badly (yet). If the joint is mostly cracked, such that you can wiggle the bracket; or if the bracket is completely loose from the plate and is being held only by the capillary tube, then you have a definite problem needing repair.
The bracket is hard to view directly without pulling out the evaporator plate, which is a big job. You should be able to blindly feel around to the front or back of the bracket, nudge it with your fingers, and find it moving relative to the evaporator plate. Indeed, if the solder joints have almost completely failed, the bracket can fall right off with this manipulation.
While I used to recommend a difficult repair of resoldering the bracket, you may want to consider the re-location bracket kit that Whirlpool introduced in 2006 to deal with this problem.
The repair to resolder this bracket is a bit challenging. You must first remove the cutter grid (remove two thumbscrews), reservoir bucket (remove two thumbscrews), and recirculation pump (remove three acorn nuts at rear wall, disconnect recirculation tube from top of evaporator plate). Your design may vary slightly, but so far these steps should not be too difficult.
The first difficult step is next, to get the evaporator plate out of the interior of the bin while it is still connected to the refrigeration system. Remove the two thumbscrews that hold the plate in place. Observe that the plate is free of fasteners but held in place by 1/4" refrigerant tubes and 1/16" capillary tubes, made of copper, perhaps tinned, somewhat flexible. You must now manipulate the plate out of the bin, bending the refrigerant tubes to allow the plate to swing out through the door, such that it presents the bottom of the plate in the upwards direction. While the copper tubes cannot take a lot of this kind of bending, and you should be careful not to kink them, they can take a few rounds of this type of manipulation before they work-harden enough to crack.
If you should crack the refrigerant line tubing, you will hear a hissing sound from the pressurized refrigerant gas escaping, possibly with some entrained oil. If the refrigerant escapes as a cold liquid spray, stay clear of it (evaporating R-134a can cause frostbite in contact with skin). If the leak is not too close to the plastic bin, it might be possible to repair it with a soldered patch or repair fitting, but that will require an evacuation and recharge of the refrigeration system which is beyond the scope of this document. Otherwise you will need a replacement for the evaporator plate unit which may cost more than the value of the repaired system.
Assuming you have the bottom of the plate facing up, and clear of the bin, and haven't cracked a tube, you can better inspect the condition of the thermostat capillary tube bracket and the solder joint. If it indeed shows fatigue or failure, you should repair the joint. Good soldering practice is essential here. Clean the area as best you can first with a wire brush, and apply a generous amount of non-acid flux. Heat it up quickly (a pencil torch is marginally effective; I use a Turbo-Torch to get a lot of heat), and feed and wipe with lead-free solder. Apply and withdraw the flame in cycles to keep the area just above the solder free-flow temperature, and keep the overall time to the minimum needed to get a good joint. Don't worry about solder splashes or blobs falling across the plate; they'll clean up eventually even if they wind up in the reservoir later.
Soldering or brazing on a charged refrigerant system is normally not feasible. The liquid refrigerant and oil should have collected in the bottom of the unit and not up in the evaporator plate, so that the soldering of the adjacent surface to the refrigerant circuit does not require evacuation of the unit. You are not loosening a soldered joint or fitting under pressure, just the mechanical attachment of a bracket. If you can get it done quickly and at a low temperature, you can expect that the heat damage to the residual oil or refrigerant in the area will not be enough to impair the function of the refrigeration unit. The ideal technique would be to add a repair fitting to the process tube on the compressor, evacuate the refrigerant, flush the oil, charge with inert gas, solder, evacuate, and recharge the refrigerant system, but this may not be practical.
Once you have a good solder repair, and the part has cooled, you can reverse the disassembly, starting with manipulating the evaporator plate back in to position at the top rear of the bin. Replace the circulation pump and hose, the reservoir bucket, and the cutter grid. Before replacing the bucket and grid, you may want to start the unit and feel the evaporator plate with your hand to see if you still have refrigeration operational.
A new solder joint should last some years at least. Recurrence of this problem does seem inevitable, because of the nature of the freeze-thaw cycling and how it repeatedly applies destructive force at any wet gap or void in the joint.
You will find stray bits of solder and related debris in the reservoir or ice bin after performing this repair and running the unit. Of course you will have used lead-free solder, so this is not a concern.
You may be told by a repair service that this is a brazed joint that is impossible to repair. Refrigeration technicians like to braze joints because this is much stronger than soldering, and part of their technical training and equippage. After inspecting 8 of these units, and repairing one, it is clear that this joint is made at the factory with ordinary low-temperature soft solder that is quite feasible to fully repair. The hard part is getting the assembly out of the ice bin without cracking the connected tubing.
Someone emailed me to report that he had repaired the bracket attachment with epoxy cement instead of soldering, which can be done inside the bin without the difficulty of extracting the evaporator assembly. While the thermal junction cannot be quite as good through epoxy versus solder, it apparently is enough to work, perhaps with a bit of temperature offset to the thickness control. Stainless steel bonds well with epoxy, but make sure the metal is cleaned, warm and dry before trying this.
If your ice thickness control doesn't respond properly, but your sensing bracket seems to be properly in place, it is possible the thickness control thermostat itself has simply drifted out of calibration and just needs an adjustment. This is an easy repair, assuming you ruled out the loose bracket first. Remove the escutcheon plate from the front, exposing some tiny adjustment screws on the thickness control for the cut-in and cut-out temperature setpoints. You can twiddle those adjustments. The cut-out screw sets the colder temp for the harvest trigger, the cut-in screw sets the warmer temp to end the harvest. Set the control (knob) to the middle of the thickness range, and wait for the ice to build to a medium thickness, and then adjust the cut-out screw until it triggers the harvest. These screws have a range of several turns of adjustment, so you may have to turn them 1/2 or a full turn before you see any difference in performance. When making these adjustments, count the turns you apply to either screw, making notes of that, so you can return the control to its prior settings if you get lost.
Even if the bigger problem is the loose evaporator bracket, you can compensate to an extent by adjusting to cut-out setpoint on the thickness control to a warmer temperature. But you won't have fixed the problem in the long run, and the thickness control will be poorly responsive since the thermostat doesn't have a solid thermal contact with the evaporator plate. Poor response can result in harvest intervals that start too soon, too early, or inconsistently; and also in harvest times that are too short or too long.
If you want to adjust the harvest thermostat to shorten the harvest time, remember that the harvest time is deliberately longer than the time needed to just refill the reservoir. The reservoir is flushed with an excess of refill water, which then overflows into the drain tube, so that the high mineral content of the old water is replaced with new water.
As described above, the solenoid valve that controls incoming water flow can fail in an open or closed manner. This is Whirlpool part number 386433 on my unit. This valve is located at the bottom right front of the unit, just inside the kick panel, where the water connection is made. These valves are a common replacement item, and in fact easy to remove and replace if you just want to pony up for a new one. This same valve is apparently used on a lot of appliances, as I have seen it on washing machines and dishwashers, so if you don't want to fuss with the rebuild, you can take it to an appliance parts counter and expect to find it for, oh, $40.00, which is most likely about $39.99 more than it will cost to fix it yourself. (I'll admit than now when I see someone discarding a dishwasher or refrigerator on the curb on trash night, I'm tempted to stop and look for a solenoid valve to scrounge!)
The 1-cent failure is nothing more than the inevitable deterioration of a tiny rubber gasket which is trivial to repair. You might fix this faster than you could even find a replacement.
To remove and repair the valve, first remove power (120 VAC power runs this solenoid). Shut off the water supply, and disconnect the water inlet and outlet connections to the solenoid valve. Remove the electrical connector. Remove the mounting bracket screw(s), freeing the valve. Remove the screws to disassemble the valve unit, observing the solenoid plunger with a recess tip containing a tiny rubber gasket plug (or remnants thereof). This rubber item is originally a disc about 1/8" diameter and 1/16" thick, stuffed into a recess of the same size on the tip of the plunger cylinder. The rubber may be partly disintegrated or missing altogether.
You can cut your own replacement rubber piece quite easily. I made mine using a leather punch on a 1/16" thick sheet of rubber gasket material. The usual Buna-N (nitrile rubber) material is fine, such as is available from plumbing suppliers, auto parts stores, or online at Enco (such as p/n 240-2326). You could also take a common faucet washer, and carve it with a razor-sharp hobby knife to proper thickness and diameter. The exact disk shape is not critical; what is critical is that the outside face is flat and smooth, which you can ensure by just using an original flat surface of the faucet washer on that side. Reassemble, reinstall, enjoy the satisfaction of a cleverly improvised, do-it-yourself success.
Some of the service manuals refer to 0.31 gallons per minute flow from the solenoid valve. This would be a good target flow to measure when testing the function of the valve with the plumbing disassembled and the water running into a bucket. Run the valve open for a timed minute while catching the water in a bucket, and measure the water volume caught. It should be 0.31 gallons (40 ounces) or more.
Testing for a stuck-closed solenoid valve: Testing the solenoid valve for being stuck-closed is not difficult. Understand first that this valve only opens during the harvest portion of the cycle, when the fan has stopped and the refrigeration unit is reversed and hissing slightly. If the machine has been turned off and sitting idle for a while, turning it on should not activate the water valve solenoid, it should simply start chilling, and if there is water in the reservoir, it will proceed to make a slab of ice; if the reservoir is empty, the evaporator plate will chill down rapidly, and in a few minutes the harvest cycle will trigger, only then should the water solenoid valve open. If you've removed the reservoir bucket, then you should be able to see the stream of water entering the unit, and even catch it in a bowl to measure the volume.
The hot gas solenoid and water valve solenoid are in parallel, so if the unit reverses during the harvest and rapidly warms the evaporator plate, then the controls are OK. The switching of the solenoid valves is performed by the thickness control thermostat behind the escutcheon plate.
Testing for a stuck-open solenoid valve: To test if the solenoid valve is stuck open, even just a trickle, you can remove the reservoir bucket and see if water runs from the supply tube during the chilling part of the cycle. If you suspect a trickling valve is spoiling performance, you can shut off or disconnect your water supply completely (make sure you have a solid shutoff valve, not even allowing a trickle) at the end of the harvest, and see if the performance problem goes away for the rest of that cycle.
Testing for restricted water flow: To measure how much make-up water your machine is admitting each cycle, remove the reservoir bin and catch the water flowing in during the harvest. This volume should be at least several changes of the reservoir volume of about 1/2 gallon (the slab itself will have consumed about 18 ounces of water), so you should catch about a gallon or more during a 1- or 2-minute harvest. If the supply pressure is OK, but the machine admits less water, then you must have some kind of restriction or too-short harvest time.
One can also benchtop-test the solenoid valve for stuck-open, stuck-closed, or restrictions, by removing it entirely and activating it manually. The water inlet connects to an ordinary garden hose. For the electrical test, I assembled a "cheater" AC plug and cord with 1-amp inline fuse and female spade lugs, and connected this to the solenoid's terminals to apply 120 VAC. Apply the inlet water pressure, and (keeping yourself dry) briefly insert the AC plug into an outlet.
This section is for technicians and advanced do-it-yourselfers who have the tools and knowledge to charge A/C and refrigeration systems. If you're not a do-it-yourselfer and wanting advice about hiring a technician offering an expensive repair, see my tips under diagnosing poor performance below.
The performance specifications on the "Service and Wiring Sheet" indicate that the machine should harvest a medium-thick (about 0.45") slab of ice every 18 to 22 minutes under favorable conditions (ambient temperature 70 deg F and incoming water temp 60 deg F). This production rate will slow to 30 to 38 minutes under unfavorable conditions (ambient temperature 100 deg F and incoming water temp 80 deg F). If the production is slower, then the cause may be an undercharged refrigeration system.
The refrigeration performance of the ice machine design is very sensitive to undercharging, because (1) the refrigerant charge is so small to start with, only a few ounces, hence a tiny leak can turn into a problem quickly, and (2) expansion is controlled by a capillary-tube (no feedback, "open loop" control) instead of an expansion valve (closed-loop feedback control). While this open-loop sensitivity is a disadvantage in that any leak will degrade performance, it also makes the diagnosis of a low-refrigerant condition easier because the degradation is easy to observe and detect.
Another symptom of low charge is that the slabs of ice are distinctly thinner in the middle (not just wavy). The refrigerant circulates through the evaporator plate in a rectangular spiral from the outside edge to the center. If the refrigerant is slightly low, it boils off and chills the edges well, but by the time it reaches around to the center, it is all evaporated, and there is no phase change remaining available in the refrigerant flow to chill the center area. See my tips under diagnosing poor performance below.
Recharging the system first requires that you add an access fitting, because the system as shipped from the factory is a sealed unit. A 1/4" OD copper process tube exits the front of the compressor, which at the factory was used to charge the system, pinched off, and brazed shut. This is the suction side of the compressor. This process tube is intended to be fitted with an access fitting should recharging ever be needed. I used a 1/4" flare male Schrader valve fitting, which happens to fit my refrigeration gauges. An automotive low-side fitting is more appropriate.
While soldering or brazing a fitting on the process tube is the most reliable way to proceed, installing a clamp-on line-piercing valve [grainger.com example] is feasible and much easier. This has the advantage of requiring no soldering or brazing, instead using mechanically compressed elastomeric seals, but will eventually leak when the seals get old. This line-piercing valve will provide a 1/4" flare fitting, to which you can add an adapter for 1/4" flare to R-134a low-side quick-connect fitting. This adapter is available for a few dollars in the auto parts at Walmart (sold for retrofitting R-12 auto air conditioners). Then you can use normal R-134a recharging cans and gages from Walmart to add refrigerant, although you must take care not to overcharge since the system contains less than 1 lb of refrigerant total.
To add this fitting, I followed these steps:
Another method simply has you solder or braze the fitting onto the end of the pinched tube, and then open up the pinch a bit with pliers, or drill a small hole. This is not as good a connection for running a vacuum, but it retains the existing charge, is easier, and is sufficient for metering and charging the system.
After the access fitting is installed, you can attach refrigeration gauges, evacuate the system with a vacuum pump, and recharge the R-134a refrigerant by weight. The weight of charge required is specified on the serial number plate on the edge revealed by opening the ice bin door; my system specifies 6.75 oz. Weighing the charge in is required to get this amount correct within an ounce or two more and none less. Charging by observing performance is possible, but takes a long time, since you must start with a minimal charge and observe a number of harvest cycles while adding small amounts. Undercharging will result in the ice slabs being thin in the middle. Overcharging will result in the suction tube frosting towards the end of the cycle, just before the harvest, where the tube exits the bin into the lower compartment (the excess cold liquid refrigerant does not vaporize in the evaporator, and trickles down into the tube). The timing of events in the cycle in minutes, beginning at the harvest trigger, is thus:
|PRODUCTION CYCLE OF THE ICE MACHINE|
|Elapsed Time (mm:ss)|
(under typical conditions)
|0:00||Start of harvest: Evaporator thermostat senses its below-freezing cut-out setpoint, and triggers the hot-gas recirculation solenoid to begin harvest. Hot-gas recirculation heats the evaporator, thawing the bottom of the ice slab that has up to now been solidly frozen. Water solenoid energizes, sending fresh, room-temperature tap water into reservoir, with excess overflowing into drain tube which directs the overflow down the drain without rinsing and melting the existing ice in the bin. Suction-side pressure quickly rises from terminal 1 to 6 psig, up to 60 to 100 psig, due to the reversal.|
|1:00||Mid-harvest: Continued thawing loosens ice slab from evaporator plate, and the slab slides off onto the cutter grid. The slab makes a "thunk" sound when it hits the grid assembly and comes to rest on the top grid wires. The evaporator no longer has ice on it, so its temperature now rises above freezing due to the hot gas flowing through it from the reversed refrigeration unit.|
|2:00||End of harvest, start of liquid water chilling: Evaporator thermostat senses its above-freezing cut-in setpoint, de-energizes hot-gas solenoid to restore chilling. Water in reservoir is above freezing (now a mix of previous chilled water and fresh room-temperature water, proportion depending on how long the harvest took), but begins to chill as it recirculates over the evaporator plate. Suction-side pressure quickly falls to 10 to 15 psig range, and continues to fall as water chills.|
|7:00||Start of ice formation: Water fully chilled to freezing point, and ice begins to form on edges of evaporator plate. Suction-side pressure in the refrigeration unit declines to 6 to 10 psig.|
|10:00||Ice builds in thickness: Evaporator plate now fully covered with a thin layer of ice. Bottom of evaporator plate is well below freezing, but not enough to trigger the harvest thermostat. Suction-side pressure at about 6 psig.|
|18:00 to 22:00||Triggering of harvest: Ice has formed a full-thickness slab on evaporator plate. Top of slab is covered with recirculating water and is at freezing temp. Bottom of slab and underside of evaporator (with capillary sensing tube to thermostat) are well below freezing. As the ice grows thicker, the heat transfer slows, and the evaporator temperature progessively falls, eventually triggering the thermostat setpoint, and the cycle repeats. Suction-side pressure declines to minimum of 1 to 6 psig, depending on ambient conditions. Note: it's not unusual for thicker cubes or older machines to take about 30 minutes to cycle; but anything much longer than that is poor performance, indicating the need for repairs.|
For electromechanically controlled machines, the above timings are approximate, the actual harvest time depending on the return of the harvest thermostat to a warm temperature. On the more recent electronically controlled machines, the hot-gas harvest portion of the cycle lasts exactly two minutes during which the reversing valve is always energized, but the water valve is opened only for the first minute of the two minutes to rinse and refill the reservoir. Electronic machines, when first turned on, also run an initial three-stage flush for five minutes, consisting of two minutes of water intake with no circulation, one minute of circulation with no water intake, and two more minutes of water intake with no circulation.
Since a harvested slab is finished being cut into cubes some time before the following slab is harvested, it can take two full cycles, or about an hour, before the first cubes have dropped into the bin after an initial power-up.
Since the replacement pump is absurdly overpriced, one would like the option to use something improvised and less expensive. A clever suggestion, which has turned out to be very effective, is to use an inexpensive submersible aquarium pump to replace a failed stock circulation pump. You could plop the pump right into the bottom of the reservoir bin, and improvise some tubing to connect the evaporator waterfall hose to it. Aquarium shops typically sell a variety of fittings to make such an adaptation. You splice the power cord into the supply wires for the stock pump.
(This works for machines which use 120 volts AC for the pump. Some machines use 12 volts DC, in which case instead of an aquarium pump, you'll need to look for a suitable 12 volt DC pond pump or boat bilge pump.)
Helpful readers have reported success using the $16 mini submersible pump 41287 from Harbor Freight, with the flow adjustment set at about half. Harbor Freight's other model 45305 also looks suitable. Others have tried a very small 45303 pump ($8) which comes with a 1/2" tubing adapter that fits the ice machine tubing directly without modification, but reports vary on whether the flow is adequate for efficient ice production.
Another reader reported success using the $15 Petco Profile Powerhead 600 aquarium pump. He used two adapters from Home Depot (3/8"-fine-flare-to-1/2"-female-pipe, 1/2" male pipe to 5/8 ID hose barb, Watts parts A-179 and A-493) to connect the pump outlet to the waterfall tubing. Suction cups on the pump mount it onto the bottom of the reservoir. Remove the old pump and bracket, and use the screws with caulk to seal up the unused holes in the reservoir.
Grainger sells several one-size-fits-all ice machine pumps, their part numbers 4NY28 ($51) and 2P794 ($70). While these look similar to the Whirlpool type, several people who have tried them wrote me to say these pumps are for the larger sized reservoirs of commercial machines, and won't fit into the smaller Whirlpool ice machine reservoir. See also this Little Giant model RIM-U ice machine replacement circulation pump, which appears to be the original manufacturer of the Grainger item.
If the circulation pump is noisy or seized, it is likely just worn or corroded bearings. The stainless motor bearings are an odd mix of metric-inch sizes but easily replaced if you can find them. The size is reputed to be 22mm OD, 1/4" ID, and 7mm thick, with two rubber seals, which is similar to a 627 metric bearing (easy to find), but with an unusual inch-size ID (hard to find). One source is Peer 627-4-2RS (catalog); another is mrosos.net. This part number indicates a standard 627 metric size bearing (22mm OD x 7mm ID x 7mm T) modified with a smaller 1/4 inch bore ("4") instead of 7mm, and two rubber shields ("2RS"). A clever machinist could make a 1/4" x 7mm bushing to fit the impeller shaft to the common 627 bearings. You can also perform a Google search for the 627-4-2RS bearing part number to locate ready suppliers.
Another inexpensive option on the Whirlpool or KitchenAid models is to replace the recirculation pump motor, which is actually an inexpensive (about $20 in 2011) Broan AP3159953 motor. Search for this part now: AP3159953. This technique requires some simple disassembly, including removing the new motor's shaft and replacing it with the original shaft. If the old shaft is deteriorated and you must use the new shaft, use foil or other material to shim the new shaft up to fit the old impeller (the new shaft length is the same as the original). Replace the new motor in the original housing and bearing supports. The new motor may have different mounting studs, requiring that you drill new holes into the mounting plate.
If you've had a machine producing clear ice, but the ice turns cloudy, the trouble is likely not that the incoming water is too hard. Cloudy ice can be the bizarre result of a restriction in the incoming water flow, even though the water supply is itself OK. The failure process is this: during the refill cycle, the incoming water valve is supposed to open long enough to significantly overfill the reservoir, resulting in the excess overflowing into the drain tube and out of the machine. This flushes enough fresh water through the reservoir to dilute the minerals which concentrate in the unfrozen water during the freezing process. If the water supply is somehow restricted, it can refill the reservoir, but just enough to not overflow, and each cycle results in more and more mineral concentration being retained. Eventually the concentration increases enough to cloud the ice. You don't even need bottled water to test this diagnosis; just try flushing the reservoir well with tap water, assuming your tap water isn't super-hard, and see if you don't get a significantly clearer slab for that cycle; if so, then you may have insufficient incoming water flow, and you should check the valve as described in detail above.
Another strange cause of cloudy ice is possible if you supply water to the ice machine from a water softener or water conditioner appliance that uses salt. Various problems, such as faulty regeneration cycling valves in a salt-charged water softener, can inject a dose of salt accidentally into your house water lines. A little salt in your water supply, perhaps not even enough to taste, will yield cloudy, soft ice. It is best to avoid this potential problem by plumbing an unsoftened water supply, if possible, to your machine.
The first thing to check is that dust on the condenser in the bottom of the unit isn't restricting air flow. It may seem obvious, and we've all heard the advice to clean refrigerator coils, but this is easy to overlook and happens faster than on a refrigerator. The heat exchanger coils and fins are very tightly spaced, and typically build up a mat of dust in a matter of a few months. The best way to clean them is gently using a vacuum cleaner and narrow crevice tool to suction off the dust mat. Take care to avoid bending the fins. Consider running the machine with the bottom panel removed to improve air flow and heat rejection, at least temporarily for diagnosis. I have heard of at least one case where a technician on a service call for poor performance said the machine was beyond repair and should be replaced, when in fact all that was wrong was a build-up of dust on the condenser that the owner subsequently diagnosed and fixed himself.
The Quick No-Tools Test of Basic Refrigeration Performance:
Here's a quick test for basic chilling performance: First, turn the machine off and remove and unplug the grid and set it aside. Drain the reservoir by removing the drain stopper, and then reinstall the stopper. Turn the machine on and see if the (dry) evaporator gets below-freezing cold and frosty in a few minutes. (Resist the temptation to put your tongue on this freezing plate, because it will stick there, like a pump handle in winter.) Supply water should not be running or trickling into the machine during the chilling part of the cycle. After the evaporator chills well below freezing for a minute or two, the drop in temperature should trigger a harvest cycle (even though there is no ice slab), with the water supply turning on and refilling the reservoir. Wait for the harvest to end and chilling to start again. The reservoir water should now be running over the evaporator by the action of the circulating pump. Start a timer to know how many minutes have elapsed from this moment when the chilling started.
After about 5 minutes the running water should be chilled to freezing cold and ice should just be starting to form on the evaporator. You can reach in to feel the plate surface with your fingertips to observe the very beginning of the ice formation; it can be hard to see the clear ice when it first forms under the sheet of flowing water. After 16 to 20 minutes, the slab should be fully formed (1/2 inch thick) and the harvest should trigger. A machine with slightly degraded performance (such as from low refrigerant or dust-matted condenser coils) may take 30 to 40 minutes to finish building a healthy slab of ice. Anything much longer indicates a significant performance problem. If the ice slab forms, but the harvest doesn't trigger, you may need to simply adjust the ice thickness control, or recalibrate the harvest thermostat; or you may have the loose attachment or outright failure of the harvest thermostat, as described elsewhere on this page.
One cause of poor performance is warm water leaking in constantly from a leaky solenoid water valve. You can repeat the test above but disconnect the water supply from the machine just after it fills and starts chilling.
Poor performance can be due to a slow refrigerant leak resulting in a low refrigerant charge. Fortunately, a low charge is typically easy to diagnose without tools by simply timing how long it takes the slab to grow to 1/2 inch thickness in the procedure described above, and ruling out that you don't have warm water leaking in constantly.
The pattern of ice at the start of freezing also is a diagnostic indicator of refrigeration performance. The very first ice to freeze should appear in a square spiral pattern that follows the refrigerant tubing path across the evaporator plate (you can see this spiral path by inspecting the bottom of the evaporator with a mirror). If the slab forms only on the outside of the spiral, and doesn't form in the center region versus the perimeter, or forms much thinner or much later in the center compared to the perimeter, then you likely have the very common problem of a leaky refrigerant system with a low charge of refrigerant. This partial spiral pattern occurs because the liquid refrigerant flows first into the outside of the spiral, and in a low-charge condition the refrigerant boils off before the it reaches the center of the evaporator.
Uneven ice formation can also result from uneven water flow over the evaporator, such as if the water tubing has somehow become blocked with debris. Uneven ice from this condition should be distinguishable from low refrigerant, because (1) you can visually inspect the flow of water over the evaporator while the system is running, to verify it is even, and (2) the pattern of uneven ice will not match the spiral geometry of the refrigerant circuit in the evaporator. Water flow problems will tend to cause a streak of thin ice, while low refrigerant will cause a symmetric squarish shape of thinness in the middle of the ice.
Another way to diagnose a low charge is to connect service gages to the system, and compare the pressures to the specifications on the service and wiring sheet. Having done this several times, I have discovered that simply watching the ice formation as described in the previous paragraph is the best evaluation of the refrigerant charge. The proper pressure values vary too much on ambient conditions and time into the cycle to be reliably diagnostic of a low charge. Indeed, the only sure way to know if you have a proper charge is to evacuate and accurately weigh-in a full recharge, while checking that you have no gross leaks that will lose significant refrigerant during the time it takes for refrigeration performance evaluation.
It may be the case that in past service calls you have had an access fitting (also called a "charging port" or "service port") installed on the process tube on the compressor. I've never heard of one being installed from the factory; instead the process tube (a stub of copper tubing near the compressor) is crimped shut and soldered after the refrigerant charge is first installed at the factory. (This saves the factory 25 cents for a tiny brass fitting that could just as easily have been soldered there.) If you already have an access fitting, then you may be able to add refrigerant yourself using a auto air conditioner charging kit and 12-ounce cans of R-134a from Wal-Mart or an auto parts store, assuming your unit contains R-134a refrigerant (units made about 1993 or later) and not R-12 (about 1992 or earlier). The instructions above for properly recharging the unit require more tools and techniques than the casual do-it-yourselfer can bring to bear, but if you are in a mood to tinker, you can try just injecting what you guess to be an ounce or so of refrigerant at a time to see if the performance improves a bit (watch the evaporator plate spiral as I describe above, for several cycles). This may be all you need to get your unit back to peak performance, and if your leak is slow, this repair may last for quite a while before another schpritz is needed. A typical total charge is only 6.75 ounces of R-134a (about half a can from the auto parts store), so don't overdo it with the schpritzing method. An ounce or two should make a big difference in a slow leaker that was chilling at all.
If you call out a service technician for a poor-performance complaint, the technician may diagnose (or just assume) a case of refrigerant leak and/or low-charge, for which the technician may then suggest paying a very large price to replace major components like the evaporator or compressor. Some technicians are very skilled diagnosticians, in which case you have a good chance of getting the right repair work on the first try. Others are not so skilled, and just work down a list of expensive repair options that they've been trained to perform, proceeding in order of random likelihood (or profitability if you appear to be a sheep needing a good fleecing).
In such cases, I would recommend that before undertaking a costly remove-and-replace operation, that the technician first simply install a charging port to gage and charge the unit back to proper performance, which installation and recharge shouldn't cost much. This also lets the technician measure the state of charge of the system using a set of manifold gages (see service sheet above for pressure specifications), that is, whether the refrigeration system is performing poorly due to low refrigerant. If this fresh recharge leaks out again quickly, then the technician should have a leak detector device to locate the leak; locating rapid leaks is easy. If the fresh charge leaks out only slowly (over months or years), then one can just top it up occasionally using tiny increments from an automotive R-134a kit until the performance returns. The refrigeration unit holds only a few ounces of refrigerant.
Without definitely locating a leak and its rate of leakage, it is silly to start replacing expensive components. But many servicemen will suggest it at a very high price, high enough that the technician can just keep replacing things until the leak is fixed by chance. It is a kind of sales trick designed to confuse you with the appearance of a lot of technical activity, when in fact you're being probed for your price point. The defense against this tactic is (1) recognize it, and (2) suggest the proper alternative of leak diagnosis.
Sometimes the technician has no idea what the trouble is. Arriving a solid diagnosis can be expensive, and you wouldn't be willing to pay the fair price for it if it were available. Or, the technician may simply be a remove-and-replace artist instead of a proper diagnostician. If he can get your OK for enough money to replace the whole works if need be, then he can blindly go at it one piece at a time until it works again. Your best defense to this sort of gouge is to study this page carefully, so you can diagnose your machine yourself, or at least you can diagnose the hired diagnostician.
For yet another kind of poor performance, where the machine cycles on schedule but the ice bin never seems to fill, see the item on Waterlogged insulation below.
The first thing to check is to remove the cutter grid, and feel the evaporator plate with your hand to see if it gets the least bit chilled. If you can't feel any chilling at all, but the fan is running down below, this is a problem either with the refrigeration system itself, or the controls.
Most commonly, no chilling at all is due to a completely leaked-out refrigerant charge from a slow leak. This requires installation of an access fitting (see above) and testing/recharge with gages.
Less likely possibilities for no chilling at all are: harvest thermostat stuck in harvest mode (try adjusting the cut-in and cut-out screws on the control behind the escutcheon plate), compressor start control stuck off (a relay near the connections on the compressor enclosure), reversing valve or its controls stuck in reverse (unplug the machine, then cheat the connector on the reversing valve with 120 VAC to see if you hear the valve clicking), or an outright failed compressor (sealed unit which much be replaced).
If you suspect any kind of grid problem, you can convince yourself that the ice production is OK by simply removing the grid altogether from the machine.
The stock transformer delivers 9.5 volts AC which delivers about 2.1 amps to the cubelet (3/4") grid or 1.2 amps to the cube (1-1/4") grid. Since the grid is in two halves, one for each direction, the current through any given resistance wire segment is about 1 amp. The grid consists of 19 wire segments about 9 inches long each, for a total of 171 inches of active wire. At 1.05 ohms/foot, each half should have about 7.5 ohm resistance, which at 9.5 volts AC will dissipate about 12 watts, or 24 watts for both halves. This corresponds to about 1.7 watts of heat per foot of grid wire. From 1 to 2 watts per foot of resistance wire is a good rule of thumb for effective slow ice cutting.
If your transformer has failed, Whirlpool doesn't seem to offer replacements. The manufacturer of this part (Electro Technology, Inc.) [dead link] apparently is no longer in business. To order a suitable replacement, see above.
Here is a close-up photo of some severe calcification (lime buildup) on the wires of an ice cutter grid. This calcification was thick enough and far enough over the wires that the machine would jam up and start chugging little more than an hour after being turned on. Due to the deposits, part of the slab was insulated from the heated wires and not being cut. Thus part of the slab would be left behind on this part of the grid by the time the next slab was harvested, and the new slab would come to rest higher on top of this residual ice. When a third slab started to slide off the evaporator plate from being harvested, it was stopped part of the way by the remnants of the first and second slabs. When the water pump started recirculating for a fourth slab, the water ran over the third slab and into the bin, eventually depleting the reservoir to the point where the pump intake started taking in air and making the "chug chug" sound.
Grid wire calcification is not cleaned off by application of the acid cleaner and cleaning cycle to the reservoir, because that does not reach the grid. Indeed, the weaker acids safe for the mechanism won't remove this stuff from the grid at all. One simply has to remove the grid from the machine and pinch off the lime encrustations with some pliers. They're relatively soft and will crumble off, as shown in the photo above where the wire is exposed.
The complex fingered shape of these deposits are actually miniature stalagmites, where the mineral-rich
used water from the reservoir has splashed onto the warm grid wires and evaporated, leaving a bit of mineral deposit
behind on each cycle, which eventually develops into the bizarre encrustations.
Some machines develop these elaborate shapes, some smooth shapes, and most have nothing like this at all.
Perhaps it has something to do with the degree of hardness of the water supply, and the types of minerals
in the hardness. To get an idea of the scale in the close-up photo, consider that the exposed wire is about 1/40th of an inch thick,
and the spacing between the grid wires is 3/4 inch. Only a small area around the back of the grid was affected this way,
as shown in this photo of the whole grid (KitchenAid type grid),
but it was enough to disable the machine. The pastel blue-green color is likely due to acid cleaners dissolving
trace amounts of the nickel and copper in the stainless hardware.
If the cutter grid is working (the wires are warm and not calcified), the usual cause for backed-up slabs of ice is a mechanical obstruction or mechanical misalignment which prevents the slabs from sliding downhill and dropping properly onto the grid when harvested.
Why the gurgling, chugging, or marching sound? This sound is the circulation pump in the reservoir ventilating. If a harvested slab jams halfway on its trip down to the cutter grid, once the chilling starts again with the water recirculating, the stuck slab will tend to interrupt the flow of recirculating water such that the water spills into the bin and depletes the reservoir. Soon the water level drops enough in the reservoir that the circulation pump "ventilates", that is, draws in air instead of water. Water stops moving through the ventilated pump, and the water above the pump runs by gravity back to the reservoir, immersing the pick-up of the pump again, and ending the ventilation. Thus the circulation pump is alternately pumping and ventilating about once per second, making a kind of cyclic grinding or groaning noise. With the disruption to the reservoir, and the backup of old ice, you typically end up with a very thick slab of ice on the evaporator plate, which is held in place by jammed ice below, with the machine triggering a harvest in vain from time to time.
The solution is to first remove the cutter grid and clear out the backed up ice, and then to diagnose and correct the underlying problem. Once you confirm the cutter grid is intact, is clean of lime buildup, and is heating, you should look for mechanical obstructions or misalignments. The problem may simply be a build-up of minerals from hard water on the side of the evaporator plate; the routine acid cleaning procedure (see above), or wiping it with acid and a scouring pad, should remove the build-up and correct that. Another cause is that the top lip of the plastic reservoir bin can distort over time such that it projects up into the path of the harvested ice, causing harvested slabs to jam, perhaps intermittently. The solution for that is to remove the reservoir bin and trim back that lip just a little. Misalignment problems can also appear as the evaporator plate having moved off its proper mounting, or the recirculation tubing having come loose and getting stuck in the frozen slab.
The gurgling noise without jammed slabs is caused by insufficient water in the reservoir from other some other cause. Possible causes to diagnose in that case include:
If you only occasionally get the gurgling with a fat ice slab, possibly stuck in the path to the cutter grid, with water running over it and into the bin, then you may have an intermittent harvest thermostat problem. If the thermostat sticks for a cycle, the slab is never harvested, chilling continues, and you get the symptoms just listed as a consequence. Twiddling the thickness control will unstick the thermostat, and start the harvest, which should clear the problem. Make sure any harvested ice slab makes it all the way down onto the grid and doesn't hang up from being chubby. You can also just turn the machine off for a few hours or overnight; any ice in the upper part of the works will melt off, and you have "reset" the system. The need for this seems to happen to my machine a couple of times a year.
The thermostat control is what is attached to the thickness control knob behind the escutcheon plate. Three 1/4-inch quick-disconnect wires attach to the thermostat control body, which is a SPDT (single-pole double-throw) switch. From this thermostat a capillary tube runs back to a bracket attached to the bottom of the evaporator, where the tube senses the evaporator temperature to remotely open and close the thermostatic switch via the expansion and contraction of the liquid medium which fills the capillary tube.
To diagnose a thermostat problem, you can temporarily substitute a SPDT pushbutton or toggle switch for the thermostat. With the switch installed, you manually control the unit in freezing mode versus harvest mode. This replacement is easy if you get a switch with 1/4-inch quick-disconnect lugs such as at an auto parts store. Access the old control and wires by removing the two screws holding on the plastic escutcheon cover, and then the two screws holding on the metal bracket holding all the controls. The switch connections are BLK=common, ORG=normally-closed, BLU=normally-open (check yours against the schematics in the service sheets linked above). Connecting a pushbutton this way will run the machine in the freezing mode, while pushing and holding the button for about 2 minutes reverses the system into harvest and opens the water valve to refill the reservoir. If you tediously stand by to push this button at the right time, you should be able to run cycles and make ice
In 2009, five years after I soldered the evaporator bracket in 2004 to fix it as describe above, it broke again, and I did not want to go through that disassembly and soldering chore again. Now the machine had been running nearly continuously for all those years, so I imagine that solder joint must have frozen and thawed 50,000 times (5 years times 365 days/year times 48 cycles/day times 1/2 duty-cycle), so it is no surprise that the joint failed again. Instead of repairing the bracket, I replaced the thermostat and capillary tube with a low-voltage relay switch run by a 555 timer circuit, at a total cost of about $10 in electronic parts. The timer simply energizes the relay for 2 minutes every half hour. This timed control gets rid of the thermostatic control and capillary tube bracket altogether (and their associated problems), While a timer does not compensate like a thermostatic control for variations in ambient air and water temperature, if the machine is otherwise working properly, the half-hour cycle is a good compromise. The ice cubes simply get a little thicker or thinner depending on the ambient conditions. If you're an electronics hobbyist, you can use the 555 circuit parameters I calculated as suitable for a 28-minute freeze time and 2-minute harvest time: R1=470K, R2=39K, C1=4700UFD. See the schematic circuit diagram [PDF file] for this timing application from Mim's book. A suitable SPDT relay is Omron G5SB-14-DC12 (p/n Z1642 from digikey.com). The evaporator thermostat functions (as indicated on the service sheet schematic and found on my unit) for the switch terminals and wire colors are:
|Evaporator Thermostat Wiring for SPDT Switch Replacement|
(to condenser fan)
|#2||Incoming AC line voltage
(from bin thermostat)
(to hot-gas and water-valve solenoids)
You can splice onto the grid transformer low-voltage AC with a rectifier and capacitor to supply 14VDC power for the timer.
While this was a science-fair project to assemble, replacment thermostats are getting very hard to find, and it was worth the effort, especially after I shopped for a new machine and found they now cost $1400.
This improvised timer and relay circuit is a bare-bones control. My ideas for improving this design include: (1) a timer reset when the bin thermostat turns off, so icemaking does not restart in the middle of a timed cycle, (2) pushbuttons to manually start or end a harvest/refill, (3) lamps to indicate the state of the control, (4) separate water-valve and harvest timers and controls to limit filling to a maximum of 1 minute and harvesting to a minimum of 2 minutes, as is done with the newer electronicaly-controlled machines, rather than having the water-valve and hot-gas solenoid wired in parallel to the same control.
To recalibrate the control while it is installed in the machine, start by checking continuity of the control contacts with a warm machine and the two adjustment screws in each of the four combinations of extreme adjustment. The combination(s) with closed continuity will be candidate(s) for the initial adjustment. Set the adjustment to such a candidate, start the machine, and wait for a slab to freeze. Back-off the cut-out screw from its extreme setting until the harvest triggers. Wait a minute or two for an appropriate time of harvesting, and back-off the cut-in screw until the chilling triggers. Note the polarity of these adjustments, that is, which way of turning each adjusting screw makes the respective action occur a warmer or colder temperature. Note also the number of turns in the full range of adjustment. These notes will help you fine-tune the settings now and in the future.
I've heard some controls have only one screw for adjustment. In this case the range between cut-in and cut-out is not adjustable, only the temperature limits where they apply. The recalibration procedure is then a subset of the above.
The problem with this clog diagnosis is that it can be difficult to inspect the drain passage at the back of the bin. It is not difficult if you can access the rear and disconnect the drain hose, but it you have an undercounter installation, this requires tearing out the machine from the cabinetry. Short of that, a flashlight and inspection mirror can help you inspect back there from inside the bin, and loose items in the sump can often just be vacuumed out. But if you have something jammed in the narrow passage at the bottom of the sump, something that fits snugly (like my experience with the plastic BB), then you have to access the back of the machine, remove the drain hose, and sound the passage, from the outside in, with a stiff wire to clear out the trouble.
You should not ignore water collecting in the bin, because you have a potential overflow and flood on your hands if the solenoid valve should stick open.
The shaft bearings in the fan can get slightly fouled up and the fan won't start sometimes because the starting torque is very low. If the fault appears, see it you can't spin the fan blade by hand with a probe to get it to start. This requires a replacement of the fan motor since the cheap bronze sleeve bearings aren't serviceable.
Another fan shroud solution is to craft a replacement from a sheet of stiff, thin plastic. Suitable material is cleverly hidden in disguise at your local building supply retailer as 2' x 4' drop-in panels for fluorescent lighting fixtures. Mark Egan has generously originated and contributed this EC5100 fan shroud drawing [20 KB PDF file, 1 page] which gives a pattern for you to cut and fold. UL-listed aluminum foil duct tape, which is designed to endure hot and wet conditions, is suitable for assembling and fastening the folded construction, and can be found at the same building supply.
One cause of this splashing is mineral deposits in the passages of the water dispenser tube, causing the recirculating water to squirt too forcefully against the top of the evaporator. In this case an acid cleaning should take care of the minerals. One would hope this works, because removing that tube for service is difficult.
The extra pump for uphill drainage is typically an optional sump pump that is installed in the lower rear of the ice machine. These pumps are quite expensive if purchased from an appliance parts dealer, but they are nothing more than what is usually sold as an inexpensive air conditioner condensate pump, such as Grainger item 2P350 ($46 in 2006) which is a Little Giant brand (Web site), model VCMA-15ULS, HVAC condensate removal pump. Home Depot (search for "condensate") listed a Flotec model FPCP-20ULST condensate pump for $53 in 2006. Such mechanisms consist of a shoebox-sized plastic box that acts as a sump to receive incoming drainage water, with a float valve sensing the water level in the sump box and activating a small pump to occasionally empty the sump box as it fills. Another Little Giant model is the VCMA-20ULS, which features a 20 foot lift capacity instead of 15 feet, although lift capacity is not important for this application. Comparable pump models are made by Beckett (CB151UL or CB201UL) or Hartell (KT-15X-1UL or KT-20X-1UL). Any of these are suitable for ice machine drainage.
Note that the drain pump is not typically configured to interrupt the water supply at the solenoid valve if the pump fails, or if other drainage problem arises such that the sump level overflows. You will therefore face a slow but mysterious water leakage someday when your mortal drain pump fails, so you should plan the installation accordingly. That is, consider installing the pump to facilitate easy inspection and service access. If you can, also arrange things so leaking water won't damage something that is expensive to fix. While I have seen them installed in the hollow volume at the lower rear of the ice machine, it makes more sense to run the bin drain to an adjoining cabinet where the pump is more open for inspection and service. You will still have to obey the law of gravity in placing the pump lower than the bottom of the bin drain. Since these pumps and drains all eventually develop problems, you don't want to have to pull out a heavy machine with great difficulty from built-in cabinetry for these maintenance tasks.
Some drain pumps provide an overflow interlock switch that turns off the ice machine if the sump fills up with water due to a failed pump or clogged drain. This is something to consider troubleshooting if you have an intermittent or otherwise unexplainable problem with your machine, such as it randomly turning off and back on to power-on reset conditions (such as the 5-minute flush of the electronically controlled models). This overflow switch is a "feature" that is supposed to save you from flooding the floor; don't let it trick you into thinking your machine has failed.
Unlike air conditioning condensate, ice-melt water is not contaminated with a lot of dust to support microbial growth, and the drain lines do not typically clog up over time from algae like can happen with air conditioners. So you don't need to worry about cleaning them periodically such as is needed with air conditioners. This applies to both gravity and pumped drainage. If you do experience a clogged drain, see the discussion of "Bin fills up with water or drains slowly" above for other possible causes.
If you find that the fan is not running when you expect it to be, you have to diagnose between the possibilities that (1) the machine is wrongly stuck in the reverse part of the cycle (hot gas heating of the evaporator to harvest the ice slab), when the fan is not supposed to run but the compressor does, meaning you have a control problem, not necessarily a failed fan, or (2) the machine is in fact in the chilling part of the cycle, with the compressor running, but the fan is not moving air due to a problem either with the fan itself or its wiring or controls.
Once you diagnose that you are in the second case (an actual fan problem) you must diagnose whether the fan itself is failed, versus its wiring and controls. You might try to reach in the machine (of course, when it is turned off) and feel if the fan blade turns freely; the fans in the ice machines don't seem to often fail, but I know that in window air conditioners that a similar type of fan can get sticky bearings that keep the motor from starting. Another thing to check is that the paper shroud or some foreign object isn't simply blocking the fan blade from turning. As a last test you can hot-wire the fan to see if it runs, either by tracing back on the wiring diagram to the connector at the control, or by directly cutting and splicing into the wires at the fan itself. The space is very cramped and the fan is difficult to reach, but its replacement is more difficult and you need to be sure that the fan itself is the problem.
Another diagnostic trick if you suspect the fan simply is not running when it should, is to improvise some kind of air flow across the condenser coil with another small fan, some flex duct on an air-mover fan, a big shop vac suctioning the exhaust side of the condenser, or the like. You don't have to do a perfect job of this as long as some air is moving across the condenser and out of the machine. It doesn't take much air moving to prove that the chiller works and is making ice, if the problem is simply a dead fan.
Replacing the fan is difficult because of the cramped space and the compressor being in the way. The entire lower refrigeration unit is designed to slide out as an assembly on its sheet metal base if you need to replace it or work on it. The fan cannot be removed directly from the machine, as it is boxed in by other components and sheet metal. However, there is enough slack in the copper tubing connecting the compressor and evaporator to unbolt those items, or the entire lower unit tray, and gently manipulate them out of the way to remove and replace the fan.
One correspondent suggests that the fan can be easily replaced from the front as follows: Remove the screws holding the condenser coil and capillary tube brace to the chassis; Move the condenser coil to the side a little. Use a 7/16 inch socket with a long extension to remove the motor mount screws; Push the condenser coil over to the right and wiggle out the motor with its mount. I'll agree that this manipulation looks plausible, although I haven't tried it myself.
Another possibility for removing the fan is getting to the fan from the side or behind the unit. You have to cut a section out of the sheet metal side or back to get to it. If the machine is installed under kitchen cabinets you don't need those sides anyway.
The crystalline process of forming ice sorts out pure water from dissolved or particulate contaminants. Water molecules lose their heat of fusion and "stick" to the chilled ice surface in the laminar flow on the surface of the slab; anything else but water tends to just keep washing by. This selective fusion of water molecules inherently avoids entraining microbes into the ice. The clarity of the ice is evidence of its purity. Even if the reservoir water is not sterile, the ice itself is, or very nearly so. The constant freezing temperature inhibits microbial growth, the reservoir water supply does not contain any nutrients to support microbial growth, and city water should have enough chlorine or chloramine sanitizer to kill any slight microbial contamination and keep the water sterile.
Since the ice in the bin is completely replaced at least every few days (by melting if not by usage), any dirt, dust, or other contaminants in the bin tend to quickly wash or work their way down to the bottom of the bin towards the drain. So you can be confident that your ice starts out clean, and if you don't foul the bin, your supply of ice in the bin should be clean.
The above list was based on Whirlpool Instruction Sheet 4388700 Rev A 6/04 (view that document).
Remember the following points when diagnosing these flashing trouble codes:
You must take the initiative to improvise this type of repair with your own mechanical skills. This isn't so difficult. One has to set aside the habit of assuming that fixing something is necessarily a matter of finding just the part you need. Often you can fix things better yourself with a little ingenuity.
Note: This is actually good advice for many things in life, and an article of faith in my do-it-yourself credo. Women find this intrepid elan attractive in a man; chicks dig guys who can fix things. Your ability to understand mundane technicalities suggests you might be able to understand the mysteries of womanhood.
If you replace the expensive Whirlpool brand pump with the inexpensive aquarium pump as described above, you don't need the bracket at all, since the new little pump will just sit in the bottom of the reservoir bin. You will have saved some $$$ as well as fixed two problems. Or, enlarge and tap the stripped holes in the old hardware with a larger thread size to reattach the old bracket with larger screws. Or, drill through the back wall and put some nuts and bolts through to hold on the old bracket and pump. Or, cut/drill/tap a new bracket from a bit of aluminum or stainless (like from onlinemetals.com, or maybe just taken from an old cookie sheet or kitchen tool).
To improvise this type of bracket, another method is to saw a block of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) into the specific size from bulk material. HDPE is easy to saw by hand, and to drill to receive self-tapping stainless screws. This material is cleverly hidden in disguise as a cutting board for the kitchen at your local retailer. Or search for "HDPE" or "UHMW" at use-enco.com or onlinemetals.com.
I bought boxes (26 x 20 x 30, 275 lb test, double wall) to fit them. For each, I cut a plywood base panel that just fit inside the bottom of the box, and bolted down the unit centered on that, and hot glued the plywood panel to the box. I also built gussets to fit and reinforce the sides and corners of the machine into the box, by cutting more corrugated cardboard and assembling with more hot glue. Rather costly and time-consuming, but well done, I thought.
I would ship them by ground using [a certain shipper best known for overnight air delivery] as the cheapest way.
They lost one unit completely and admitted it. To get the insurance claim paid took me hours and hours of silly paperwork. Hardly worth the recovery.
They ruined another unit and I never learned how. It arrived intact but with the refrigerant leaked out and with oil staining the box. The recipient mistakenly accepted the shipment without noting the damage. The recipient then paid an appliance service to come out and diagnose the unit, and tried to get [the carrier] to pay the a damage claim for the repair estimate, but gave up after being presented with the bureaucratic challenges.
Most of the units arrived OK. But those two were nightmares.
Maybe UPS or DHL would have done better than [the carrier]. Or even LTL truck freight.
So if you want to ship one, be ready to take on a woodworking and craft project to crate it properly, and prepare yourself for disappointment despite your best efforts.
"Bene diagnoscitur, bene curatur."
Translation: Good diagnosis, good repair.
Email me at:
Richard J. Kinch
Back to Machine Shop page
Back to Home page
Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Richard J Kinch