The energy efficiency of refrigerators and freezers has improved dramatically over the past three decades. A typical new refrigerator with automatic defrost and a top-mounted freezer uses about half the energy used by a typical 1990 refrigerator. So if your refrigerator is old, needs repairs, or is nearing the end of its expected 15-year life, it may make good economic sense to replace it now.
Buying a New Refrigerator
To find the most efficient refrigerators, download a qualifying product list from the ENERGY STAR Website: energystar.gov. To identify the most efficient products and prices, and where to buy them locally, check out the Top Ten USA listings: http://bit.ly/e2gYn6.
Beyond Energy Star
A new “Most Efficient” designation has been rolled out for appliances that are roughly 10% more efficient than Energy Star models and at least 30% more than non-Energy Star ones. Choosing a Most Efficient refrigerator over a non-Energy Star model could save you roughly $200 during the life of the unit.
Use EnergyGuide labels wisely
Don’t look for the Energy Star alone, since efficiency standards vary by refrigerator type. A non-Energy Star-qualified top-freezer might actually be more efficient than a side-by-side with the label. For an apples-to-apples comparison, use the annual operating costs and the kilowatt-hours per year the refrigerator uses, which are listed on the yellow EnergyGuide label.
When buying a new refrigerator, consider the following:
1. Low annual energy use
ACEEE (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy) recommends that you consider models that use at least 30% less electricity than that required by federal law. These products will meet the 2014 federal standard and may qualify for rebates—check with your local utility, appliance dealers, or Efficiency Vermont.
2. Choose top-mounted freezer configuration over side-by-side
Side-by-side refrigerator/freezers use more energy than similarly sized models with the freezer on top, even if they both carry the ENERGY STAR. The government holds the two categories to different standards, allowing side-by-sides to use 10-30% more energy. Icemakers and through-the-door ice also add to energy consumption. To compare energy performance across different refrigerator types, look for the measured kWh/year either on the yellow EnergyGuide label posted on the refrigerator (and available on-line through many manufacturers’ and retailers’ websites).
3. Size matters
Refrigerators under 25 cubic feet should meet the needs of most households. Models over 25 cubic.feet use significantly more energy. If you are thinking about purchasing such a large unit, you may want to reconsider. A smaller unit may well meet your household’s needs.
4. Minimize multiple refrigerators
That said, if you need more refrigerator space, resist the temptation of moving your old refrigerator to the basement or garage for auxiliary purposes. Instead, have it recycled and think about other options if you need more refrigerator space. Depending on your situation, it is generally much more efficient to operate one big refrigerator rather than two smaller ones. If your big fridge is likely to be empty most of the year, maybe the better option would be to purchase an ENERGY STAR compact fridge. Compact refrigerators less than 7.75 cubic feet must be 20% more efficient than the minimum federal standard to qualify for ENERGY STAR.
5. Recycle your old fridge
Be sure you dispose of your old refrigerator properly. You can often have the utility or the city pick it up; they might even pay you to recycle it.
Household appliances, like all consumer goods, require energy and resources in their creation, operation, and disposal. Environmental consequences after disposal may include the introduction of greenhouse gases, heavy metals and toxic chemicals into the environment. Refrigerators, air conditioners, electronics, and fluorescent lighting products pose particular risks to the environment that should be kept in check; however, consumers should minimize the impact of all disposed goods by recycling as much of the durable materials as possible (metals, plastics, glass) and by making themselves aware of and recovering any harmful substances involved. This reduces the impact of landfill waste as well as further mining of increasingly scarce resources.
What Should I Recycle, and Where?
Cooling equipment, such as refrigerators, freezers, dehumidifiers and room air conditioners involve refrigerants and insulating foams that release ozone-depleting substances and greenhouse gases once in a landfill. Older appliances may also contain PCBs or mercury. Newer products (made within the past 10 years) do not contain these toxic materials and use refrigerants and foam-blowing agents that are less harmful to the ozone layer, but they still contribute greenhouse gas emissions. Federal law requires the removal and proper disposal of refrigerants but not foam products.
By law, the city must dispose of refrigerants, PCBs and mercury properly. Contact your utility and recycling renters to see if there is a rebate or bounty program in your area.
Energy-saving Refrigeration Tips
If you cannot afford to buy a new refrigerator, you can minimize the energy consumption of your existing refrigerator somewhat by following these tips.
- Check Door Seals
- Check the door seals or gaskets on your refrigerator-freezer. You can do this by putting a dollar bill in the door as you close it and see if it holds firmly in place. Or, put a bright flashlight inside the refrigerator and direct the light toward a section of the door seal. With the door closed and the room darkened, inspect for light through the crack.
- Adjust the Thermostat
- The refrigerator compartment should be kept between 36°F and 38°F, and the freezer compartment between 0°F and 5°F.
- Move the Refrigerator to a Cooler Location
- If your refrigerator is in the sunlight or next to your stove or dishwasher, it has to work harder to maintain cool temperatures.
- Check Power-Saver Switch
- Many refrigerators have small heaters built into the walls to prevent moisture from condensing on the outer surface — as if the refrigerator doesn’t have to work hard enough already! On some units, this feature can be turned off with an energy-saver or power-saver switch. Unless you have noticeable condensation, keep this switch on the energy-saving setting.
- Minimize Frost Build-Up
- Manual defrost and partial automatic defrost refrigerators and freezers should be defrosted on a regular basis. The buildup of ice on the coils inside the unit means that the compressor has to run longer to maintain cold temperatures, wasting energy. If you live in a very hot, humid climate and don’t use air conditioning, defrosting may be required quite frequently with a manual defrost model. After defrosting, you might be able to adjust the thermostat to a warmer setting, further saving energy.
- Manage Your Food and Storage Space
- To keep your refrigerator from working too hard, let hot foods cool, cover foods, label items for quick identification, and keep your freezer full.