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Troubleshooting Your Defrost Control Board

Like any electronic device, defrost control boards are prone to technical difficulties. Inconsistent performance wastes energy, money, and can cause food spoilage. Regular preventative equipment maintenance is an excellent way to keep your defrost control board in check.

Different manufacturers will have different guidelines, and you should always consult your user manual while troubleshooting any device. However, some general guidelines apply to most defrost boards.

In this article, you’ll learn how your defrost board works, how to check it, and the best guidelines to prevent future issues.

How a Defrost Control Board Works

In a nutshell, defrost control boards initiate their defrost cycle when temperatures drop below 32°F (0°C). This prevents ice build-up on your unit’s coils, which could damage your refrigeration system and hinder your unit’s ability to maintain the ideal temperature.

Traditional defrost control boards attempt to keep control of the temperature on a timer-based system—set at intervals of 30, 60, and 90 minutes. More recent, energy-efficient options, however, respond based on temperature, self-correcting in real-time based on environmental conditions, rather than time.

Walk-in freezers are always below 32°F, causing the control board to work harder to keep the coils ice-free. Using heat pumps,  it pulls in warm air from outside to melt ice build-up.

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Generally, the heat pump defrost cycle runs until the unit hits about 58°F (14°C). If the outside air is cold, your pumps need to work harder to hit that point before their timer runs out. 

How to Test Defrost Control Board Sensors

Now that you know how your defrost control board works, here’s what you can do to test its sensors.

Before you begin, follow these safety precautions.

  • Make sure the condenser fan is turned off
  • Make sure the W terminal reads 24V AC
  • Remove any jumpers from your defrost connection pins
  • Make sure your control board has finished its defrost cycle


Most boards have two pins labeled “Speed Up.” You can accelerate the defrost cycle by using a jumper to short these two pins together. Remember to remove this jumper before you begin your check.

Here’s how you should test your defrost sensors:

  1. Check for a part that looks like a silver thermometer.
  2. Make sure that it’s installed in the correct locations. (Check the user guide)
  3. If your sensors say anything other than zero (closed) while cold or infinite (open) while warm, there is a problem. 
  4. If the sensor has failed, replace it.


Defrost Control Board Troubleshooting

If there’s a big chunk of ice around your coil, there’s a defrosting issue. Your defrost control board might be the problem, but there are other possible causes. Here’s what you should check for when you troubleshoot your defrost control board:

  • Is your control board overheating?
  • Does your compressor shut down during a defrost cycle?
  • Is there frost build-up or snow on any of your external heat pumps?
  • Is your thermostat providing accurate temperatures?
  • Is the timer running properly?
  • Is there a leaky reversing valve?
  • Are your drains running properly? Poor drainage can cause water build-up that turns into extra ice.
  • Is the issue with faulty electrical wiring?
  • Are your coils damaged? Damaged coils can trigger inconsistent defroster behavior. 
  • Was your unit installed properly?

How to Prevent Future Issues

Heat pumps consume more electrical energy than required to produce adequate temperatures. This can increase your risk of device issues and will waste energy. There are measures that you and your staff can take to reduce consumption.

  • Most defrost control boards have three timer settings: 30, 60, and 90 minutes. Set your defrost timer control board to the 90-minute setting. This will space out your defrost cycles and prevent your pumps from running more than necessary. 
  • Always close your walk-in doors. Wasting cool air will cause your cooling units to work harder. Additionally, letting humid air from your kitchen into your walk-in creates accumulated moisture. This accumulated moisture turns into extra ice build-up on your coils.
  • Keep your pumps and control board clean. Snow, debris, dust, and clutter can hinder their performance. 
  • Perform preventative maintenance on your fans, pumps, coils, and wiring. Keeping this equipment in shape will reduce the chance of extraneous issues that impact your defrost cycle. 
  • Consider switching to an adaptive defrost control board. These models are more selective about when they run their defrost cycles. They run as needed instead of by a timer. Instead of using outside air, they automatically shut off cooling devices and recycle that power to defrost coils. 

Adaptive control boards keep more ice off your coils. They can sense build-up and take action based on their sensors instead of waiting for a timer. Reused power will also significantly reduce electricity usage.

  • Replace your refrigeration unit at no upfront cost. When you replace your refrigerators with Budderfly, you also get a more energy-efficient defrost control board. Our units, rather than using the rudimentary time-clock option for defrost, come equipped with the KE2 Therm Solutions smart defrost control board, which uses temperature rather than time to determine defrost cycles. In addition to being far more efficient solutions, these:

  • Collect telemetry data

  • Provide alerts if defrosting is occurring more often than it should

  • Allow problems to be diagnosed remotely

  • Can make educated hypotheses about what’s wrong (for instance, a refrigerant leak)


Are Your Defrost Control Boards Beyond Repair?

Sometimes, equipment ages out and is no longer cost-effective to repair. In these cases, you might be looking at updating your equipment to a newer model. Energy-efficient options last longer and help reduce your energy usage.

Energy-efficient defrost control boards rely on temperature instead of a timer. Your heat pumps won’t waste energy in a rush or run longer than necessary. When you partner with a company like Budderfly to manage your energy efficiency, remote monitoring notifies you when your walk-in is running too warm.

Budderfly can help you choose a new energy-efficient model. We’ve helped major restaurant chains like Subway save 50% on refrigeration costs with equipment upgrades. Your restaurant can experience similar savings.

Contact us to learn how you can replace your equipment with an energy-efficient model at no upfront cost. 

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