What will happen if I build a thermoelectric wine or beverage cooler under a counter or put it in a cabinet?

When purchasing a new refrigerator, one of the most important factors to consider is whether or not the unit is rated for a built-in or freestanding installation. Heeding this critical information can help to provide a longer lasting lifespan, make maintenance easier to perform, and keep your beverages colder. Building in a freestanding unit can cause overheating, leading to failure and warm contents. Protect your refrigerator and your peace of mind by educating yourself on the differences between under-counter and freestanding refrigerators and their installations.

First, let's discuss what it means to install a refrigerator under-counter, or built-in. A built-in installation covers the back, top, and sides of the unit with cabinets or another enclosure. Normally, the unit would be flush on all sides with the cabinet, only allowing airflow to the front of the unit. Built-in refrigerators are specifically designed with this in mind and are equipped with a front vent, or kick plate, to allow hot air to escape with the help of at least one condenser fan. The front kick plate also provides for a convenient method of cleaning the unit. The aesthetic of a permanent installation and clean finish make up for the lack of mobility and increased cost.

On the other hand, freestanding units enjoy a flexible installation platform and can be moved at the user's discretion to any room in the home interior. Along with this freedom of movement is a lower price point and the ability to cool just as well as a more expensive built-in refrigerator, provided the unit has the airflow and space required to operate efficiently. The distance from any enclosure or other unit should be at least 3" on the sides and 5" on the top. This requirement can vary depending on heat sources in the area where the unit is to be placed, as well as the type of refrigerator you have. For instance, a thermoelectric refrigerator will require much more clearance than a typical compressor based model.

If a freestanding unit has condenser fans, they will vent hot air to the back of the unit where it will need to escape to protect the unit from overheating and poor operation. In most cases, though, freestanding units will not have condenser fans, relying on radiation to transfer heat away from the unit. On these models, you'll find that the sides of the unit are warm to the touch, demonstrating why it is very important that the refrigerator has the required space in which to operate. Failure to stay within specification can lead to general overheating of the unit, which prevents the internal temperature from dropping to the set point and causes the compressor to run longer, possibly never shutting off. On top of the energy costs associated with ineffcient operation, increasing wear and tear on the compressor and its electronics will eventually cause these components to fail resulting in an expensive repair or replacement.

In conclusion, take some time to research the product before making your purchase so that you can maximize your enjoyment of cold beverages. Operating a refrigerator outside of its specifications can result in:

  • Increased energy costs
  • Warm drinks and other contents
  • Unnecessary wear and tear on refrigeration and electrical components
  • Early failure resulting in costly repairs or replacements