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So you need the extra clearance because the way the refrigerator is designed is that is sucks air from around the refrigerator and blows it across the compressor coils and out the bottom of the refrigerator in the front. If you're gaps are too small, it'll restrict the air flow to cool the compressor and the compressor will work harder than needed shortening it's life. Now, let's say you have 5/8" on the sides but you have 2 inches on top, you would be fine. But if your gaps are too small on all sides, without a doubt it will make the compressor work harder and it may only last 5-10 years instead of 15-20 years for example.
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