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Ice, Ice, Baby....

Let’s face it, I’m cheap.

So when something expensive around here breaks, my first instinct isn’t to necessarily replace. I usually see how much it will cost to repair and use this as a rule of thumb: If the cost to repair approaches 50 percent of what it would cost to replace, I replace. If it’s lower, I ask myself if there were a sale at that percentage, would that big a discount motivate me to buy something new?

As an example, if the repair is 20 percent of replacement value, I’d normally not get all that excited about a 20-percent off sale. At 50 percent off, I would. And all of this is predicated on if I have a reasonable workaround for the problem in the first place.

All of this brings me to the sad tale about the ice maker in my refrigerator-freezer. I bought it in 2011, and it’s a nice double door stainless steel unit with a place in the door to get ice and cold water. Only drawback has been that the ice maker has consistently been one giant pain in the backside.

It worked when it felt like it. Sometimes it loaded the ice drawer inside the unit with big pieces of ice. Sometimes it loaded the drawer with a half ice/half water mixture that froze into something more suitable for playing a hockey game on instead of floating in your beverage. Sometimes it didn’t work at all.

Last November, it decided to perform the ultimate act of rebellion. It not only stopped working, but leaked a large quantity of water through the bottom of the unit, making my basement resemble a rain delay at a Nats game. I had always heard of employees so mad that they went into the boss’s office, said I quit, then relieved themselves on the carpet.

My ice maker actually did.

Turning off the water supply to the fridge stopped the water problem, and a dry vac and a few fans took care of the basement. A repair man I trust came over to look at it and determined the issue was deep inside the unit, not just a leak in the pipe going to the refrigerator. He estimated most places would charge close to $500 to open up the back and get inside the unit to try to fix it. If it turned out to be something unusual, it could go as high as $900.

Everything else worked fine, so the notion of spending that much for ice cubes seemed a bit much. The co-owner of all my stuff suggested she’d like to just replace the entire unit, but I pursued workarounds first. The first and most obvious one was to go back to the days of the 60s, when you filled up ice trays, put them in the freezer, and as you needed ice, you emptied those trays and refilled them with water.

That was a bust. While we certainly had plenty of ice trays, there were several problems. One is that back in the old days, you had a shelf in the freezer that allowed ice trays to sit on a level surface. My unit is two doors for the fridge on about 2/3 of the height, then a big drawer on the bottom for the freezer. It’s filled with food, so the notion of finding any room at all, much less level space, was far-fetched.

As is always the case with those of us who are genetically frugal, I had a backup plan. When we moved to Ashburn 20 years ago, the previous owners did not want to take their refrigerator with them. I said I’d keep it and moved it to the basement as an overflow place for the times around the holidays when one fridge just isn’t enough. It was an old-style unit with a freezer at the top and a shelf in the middle of it. Ice cubes could be filled and placed on that shelf.

That lasted a week. If you’re also an old geezer and remember those days of the past, getting ice was a bit of a pain when you just walked five steps in the kitchen. Add in a flight of steps to the basement and it really gets annoying. In addition, the cubes were so big, they would not come out the ice maker’s opening on the door. So you had to go to the basement, dump ice cubes in the ice cube compartment upstairs, then keep going back to it and grab ice with your hands to put it in glasses when you wanted some.

The co-owner of all my stuff did not find this a satisfactory answer. Plus on a warm day when you wanted ice for beverages, you wiped out the supply well before you satisfied all need. Which is exactly what used to happen back in the 60s, and the reason ice makers were so popular.

I gave the workaround idea one more shot. I found a portable ice maker at Sam’s that only cost $89.98. It was small and came in the same stainless steel color all the other appliances were. I realized it wasn’t going to be spitting out ice in gigantic quantities fast, but it might do the trick. Plus $89.98 vs. $900 seemed to be a no-brainer.

The co-owner of all my stuff initially said no. I was just prolonging the inevitable, she believed, and I needed to go buy a new refrigerator. She is also protective of her counter space, as all of my gadgets eventually get stuffed in the pantry. This would be one more unit clogging up the counter.

After three weeks, she had a weak moment and kind of, sort of, said OK. Sam’s shipped it for free and a week later it was on my doorstop. Since it didn’t require being near a water source, I was able to place it on a back counter, and all you needed to do was plug it in and add water via a large bottle, which I had plenty of.

It may end up being the most successful workaround I’ve ever tried. The ice maker has a small or large cube option, and the large cube looks exactly like what you get at fast food restaurants. It may say large, but it’s not all that big, so it fits perfectly through the opening in the ice maker door. I just add ice to the compartment, and everything works just like when I had a workable icemaker.

I run the ice maker every Saturday for about 6 or 7 hours. I fill up 3 freezer bags full of ice, keeping one upstairs and storing the other two in the basement. This process ended up addressing two annoyances I had previously had with any ice maker.

For one, the ice coming out of any ice maker is going to be slightly wet and tends to clump together. When you’re putting it in a freezer bag, it will freeze much harder, and if you just drop the bag on the counter, that will break up the ice that has frozen together. Thus what you’re putting in the freezer tends to stay as separate ice cubes and makes it easier on the motor in the fridge that breaks everything up while dispensing cubes.

The other is just supply. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had many a gathering on a hot summer day where everyone wants lots of ice in their drinks and the ice maker can’t keep up. With 3 bags in reserve, that’s never going to happen. When the ice drawer is empty, no more waiting a few hours for it to refill. Just go to the freezer and grab another bag.

The road around my home is littered with workaround ideas that didn’t work, wasted money and led to several “I told you so” moments. But this one actually worked.

Which I think, like all the ice I make on Saturdays, is pretty cool 😊



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