Refrigerators and freezers consume about a sixth of all electricity in a typical American home - using more electricity than any other single household appliance.
Fortunately, refrigerators have gotten much more efficient over the past 20 years. While there still is room for improvement, today's refrigerators use 60 percent less electricity on average than 20-year-old models.
If you have an old style, inefficient refrigerator, it may be costing you as much as $280 a year in electricity in areas with high electrical rates. That means that a new, more efficient model will pay for itself just from the energy savings alone.
Always keep in mind that appliances have two price tags. One tag is the purchase price on the equipment when you pick it out at the store. The other price is the operating cost paid out month after month, year after year, in the form of your electricity bill.
Take a look at the new refrigerator you're thinking about buying. Consider how much it will cost each month to run it. Twenty years from now it should still be keeping food cold. But at the end of those 20 years, you may find that you spent much more money operating the refrigerator than you did buying it in the first place!That's why it's important to consider the operating costs as well as the purchase price when you make your buying decisions. And remember that purchasing an energy efficient unit really pays off in your utility bills.
Today's Standards - Refrigerator and Freezer Efficiency
Refrigerators have to meet federal or California standards for minimum operating efficiency. It's possible, however, to purchase a refrigerator that is better than the minimum. Refrigerators that exceed minimum standards will run more efficiently and provide you with long-term savings on your monthly utility bill. In fact, the additional cost you may pay for an energy efficient one is often paid off many times over by the energy savings.
Before you go shopping, explore the ENERGY STAR® product database. It lists high efficiency refrigerators, refrigerator-freezers, and freezers that exceed appliance efficiency standards - making it easier for you to decide which models to look for when you go shopping.For even more efficiency information, check out the EnergyGuide label that appears on the outside of refrigerators and many other appliances.
Refrigerators come with an EnergyGuide label that tells you in kilowatt-hours (kWh) how much electricity a particular model uses in a year. The smaller the number, the less energy the refrigerator uses and the less it will cost you to operate.
Before you go shopping, explore the Energy Star¨ product database. It lists high efficiency refrigerators, refrigerator-freezers, and freezers that exceed appliance efficiency standards - making it easier for you to decide which models to look for when you go shopping.
Also check with your local utility company to see if they are offering rebates on energy efficient models.
- Refrigerators with the freezer on either the bottom or top are the most efficient. Bottom freezer models use approximately 16 percent less energy than side-by-side models and top freezer models use about 13 percent less than side-by-side.
- Through-the-door icemakers and water dispensers are convenient and reduce the need to open the door, which helps maintain a more constant temperature; however, these convenient items will increase your refrigerator's energy use by 14 to 20 percent.
- Mini-doors give you easy access to items most often used. The main door is opened less often, which saves energy.
- Too large a refrigerator may waste space and energy. One that's too small can mean extra trips to the grocery store. Your best bet is to decide which size fits your needs, then compare the EnergyGuide label on each so you can purchase the most energy efficient make and model.
- A manual defrost refrigerator uses half the energy of an automatic defrost model but must be defrosted regularly to stay energy efficient.
- Refrigerators with anti-sweat heaters consume five percent to 10 percent more energy. Look for models with an "energy saver" switch that lets you turn down - or off - the heating coils (which prevent condensation).
- Chest freezers are usually more efficient than upright freezers. Chest freezers are better insulated and cold air doesn't spill out when the door is opened.
- Automatic defrost freezers can consume 40 percent more electricity than similar manual defrost models.
It's Your Money
Don't put the refrigerator near a heat source - an oven, the dishwasher or direct sunlight from a window.
- Make sure air can circulate around the condenser coils. Leave a space between the wall or cabinets.
- Keep your refrigerator's coils clean. Brushing or vacuuming the coils can improve efficiency by as much as 30 percent.
- Check door seals to make sure they are airtight. To test them, close the door on a dollar bill and try to pull it out. If the dollar slides out easily, kiss that dollar away because you're wasting energy and money by letting cold air leak out!
- Check the temperature - a fridge that is 10 degrees colder than necessary can use 25 percent more energy. Refrigerators should be kept between 35 and 38 degrees - freezers at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
- A full refrigerator retains cold better than an empty one. If your refrigerator is nearly empty, store water-filled containers inside. The mass of cold items will enable the refrigerator to recover more quickly after the door has been opened. On the other hand, don't overfill it, since that will interfere with the circulation of cold air inside. The simplest solution is to buy the right size for your family in the first place.
- Open the door as little as possible. Get in and out quickly. Label leftovers so you can quickly see what they are.
- Regularly defrost manual-defrost models. Frost buildup increases the amount of energy needed to keep the motor running.
- Allow hot foods to cool before refrigerating or freezing.
- Get rid of that older, energy-hogging second refrigerator in your garage! One large refrigerator is cheaper to run than two smaller ones.
If you do get rid of your older refrigerator or freezer, please dispose of it properly. Make sure the door is removed so children cannot be trapped inside older models that have locking doors. Also, make sure that the refrigerant, such as chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, is properly recycled. CFCs are suspected of depleting the Earth's protective ozone layer when released into the atmosphere.
Refrigerators and Freezers Tips
Leave enough space between your refrigerator and the walls or cabinets so air can circulate around the condenser coils. Trapped heat increases energy consumption.
For food safety keep your refrigerator between 36¡ and 40¡ F and your freezer between 0° and 5° Fahrenheit. A refrigerator that is colder than safety dictates uses up to 25 percent more energy, and will freeze your milk and lettuce.
As your food budget permits, keep your freezer and refrigerator full-but not so full that air can't circulate. The mass of cold items inside will help your refrigerator recover each time the door is opened. Here's a hint: If your refrigerator is nearly empty, store water-filled containers inside.
Check door seals regularly to make sure they're airtight. To test them, close the door on a dollar bill and try to pull it out. (Larger bills are harder to come by, but work just as well!) If the dollar slides out easily, you're wasting energy and money.
Unless it has untold sentimental value, get rid of that older, energy-hogging second refrigerator in your garage! It's costing you about $120 a year to operate. One large refrigerator is cheaper to run than two smaller ones. (Warning: If you get rid of an older refrigerator or freezer, please dispose of it properly, and make sure the door is removed so children cannot be trapped inside.)
If you're thinking about purchasing a new refrigerator-freezer or a separate freezer, check the annual energy cost on the Energy Guide label to find the most economical buy.
Side-by-side refrigerators use approximately 7 percent to 13 percent more energy than similar-sized models with the freezer on top.
Chest freezers are typically more efficient than upright freezers, because they're better insulated and cold air doesn't spill out when the door is opened.