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For Cool Savings, Look at Your Refrigerator

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You cut down your driving, you tossed your air conditioner, you have wool sweaters ready for winter and a lowered thermostat. Now you are wondering what the next step is in your energy saving repertoire.  So, take a look in the kitchen and check in on that that refrigerator, the biggest energy users in most homes.  If your fridge was made before 2001 you could be spending as much as $140 each year to operate it. If you replace it with a new ENERGY STAR model you can cut your energy use and costs in more than half. In a few years your savings will pay for the new fridge and for the life of the fridge after that you save more money and a whole lot of global warming. Refrigerators last about 20 years so the savings in money and energy is a good deal. If your refrigerator is relatively new, see below for ways to make your use of it even more efficient.

When you buy your new refrigerator, be sure it is an Energy Star model. Then check the energy guide label to compare how this product rates against similar models and other Energy Star models. Be sure to get a
refrigerator with a top-mounted freezer as they use 10–25% less energy than other styles. Make sure it has an energy saver switch. The more efficient refrigerators are 16–20 cubic feet, so don’t let the sales person or salespeople or relatives talk you into buying something that you don’t need. Don’t bother with an automatic ice-maker. They use 14–20% more energy and add $75–250 to your purchase price and most of us can probably figure out how to make ice all by ourselves. When you bring your new baby home or when you want to be sure your old one is working most efficiently you should:

  • Position it away from a heat source such as an oven, a dishwasher or direct sunlight.
  • Leave a couple of inches between the wall and the refrigerator to let the motor heat escape. This means your appliance will not have to work as hard to keep cool, saving energy and letting the machine last longer. Don't enclose it in cabinets, which is a new trend in remodeling kitchens.
  • Keep it at 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit (thermometer can be bought at the hardware store).
  • Keep the condenser coils of an older model clean (get a special brush at the hardware store).
  • Think about what you want before you open the door so that you minimize the amount of time the door is open and letting out the cold air.
  • Test your door seals by closing the doors on a piece of paper. If you can easily pull out the paper then you should consider replacing the gasket around the door's perimeter or adjust the door (check on-line how to do it yourself).
  • Cover all food and liquids in your refrigerator to prevent moisture from evaporating and making the compressor work longer.
  • Don’t stuff your refrigerator. A full refrigerator has to work harder than a partially full one. However, keep the freezer stocked. Frozen items keep other items cold. Put bags of ice or ice packs in if you are unable to keep it full of frozen food.
  • If you do have an icemaker that you don’t use, just lift the trip wire that switches it off when the ice container is full.
  • Don’t keep a second refrigerator operating in the basement or garage (you know, in case company comes or to keep a case of beer cold at all time).

Some final tips; when you shop, be sure to shop at a local independent business, rather than at a big box chain store. Do your research beforehand and be careful of sales pitches. While some people have tried to go fridge free to save energy—this is not practical for most of us who eat fresh food. For energy saving, more important than fridge-free and more manageable too, is to go car free and then donate and become active in the environmental movement. 


How much does your old one cost to operate? Click here.

Should I trade in my old fridge? Click here.

OR, hook your fridge to a Kill-a-watt meter for a month, do the math and know exactly what it is costing you! For most accurate results, do two weeks in the winter and two weeks in the summer, but any one week period will probably tell you if you have an energy pig or not!

Paul Tick in a long time activist in making the World a better place to live for all of us. He founded and manges the Delmar Farmers Market, a better place to shop for your local food and crafts. He can be reached via email through our Members listing.

Comments on "For Cool Savings, Look at Your Refrigerator"

  1. OEIC default avatar Mirczt December 19, 2011 at 6:59 pm


    Do you have any info regarding refrigerators that are all refrigerator ( no freezer).  I have been told that they are even more energy efficient.  This would be a situation where you also have a stand-alone freezer.  Any thoughts ??

  2. OEIC default avatar Paul Tick December 19, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    If it does not have a freezer than logically it would use less energy to run. But if you would then buy an additional freezer, you would need to consider; how much energy it would take to run just a freezer; how much of an environmental impact it took to create a second machine; how much of an environmental impact it will be when you finally dispose of it? Maybe however, you are buying local meat in bulk and want to store it in a deep freezer. You could save some money here, but the payback period would be long and consider (as climate change is leading to more and more crazy weather and power outages) what will be the impact if you lost the food went bad after the outage?

    Those are my thoughts, maybe others have some more thoughts.


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