Making Refrigerators More Energy Efficient
Typically, fridges consume between 600 and 900 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The good news, however, is that refrigerator efficiency has made enormous strides in the past few years. Today, a new fridge with automatic defrost and a freezer on top uses about half the energy used by a typical twenty year old refrigerator.
 Why should I be aware of this?
Most people don’t know that their refrigerator is probably the largest single power-user in their home, other than their air conditioners/heaters and water heating equipment. In fact, refrigeration is responsible for over twenty per cent of total residential electricity consumption in most households.
So it makes sense, energy wise, to get rid of that old fridge, especially if it needs repairs, or is nearing the end of its expected 15-year life. However, for those who do not wish to do so, and yet want to try and minimize the electric load of their fridges, here are some useful tips.
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Many people ask why they should spend extra on newer energy saving fridge models, when their old fridges are working just fine. Here are some arguments in favour of energy efficient fridge models –
- The more energy efficient a refrigerator is, the lower your utility bill will be each month.
- Every electronic item one buys has two price tags – what they cost to buy, and what they cost to run. While energy efficient fridges might seem more expensive to buy, there is no doubt that they are certainly much better value when you consider running costs.
 Compare the energy use
How does one figure out the electricity consumption of a fridge in a showroom? In most countries, fridges come with a yellow EnergyGuide label, or a star rating. This will tell you how much energy the refrigerator will use annually. When choosing between different models in a showroom, compare the energy use (in kWh) and cost to operate to other models of similar size and configuration. Here are some other simple things to bear in mind when buying a fridge --
- Fridges with heavier doors have better insulation. If debating between two models, go for the one with the heavier door.
- Smaller refrigerators use less energy than larger refrigerators -- but it is much better to run one larger unit than two smaller units.
- Two door refrigerators are more efficient than single door ones.
- Fridges with automatic ice-makers and through-the-door water dispensers not only cost more to buy – they also guzzle up much more energy to run.
- In terms of energy consumption, manual fridges are better than frost free ones – provided they are defrosted regularly.
- If you’re choosing between two fridges that use the same amount of energy to run – go for the one that’s bigger.
- Refrigerators under 25 cubic feet should meet the needs of most households. The models over 25 cubic feet use significantly more energy.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to a simple equation. The more energy the refrigerator uses, the more it will cost for you to operate it. In the long run, thus, upgrading that old fridge makes economic as well as conservation sense. While the newer model might cost you more to buy, it will be cheaper to run as long as it lasts.
 What can I do?
There are some simple ways to help all fridges – old and new, to run better and with greater efficiency. How we use our fridges, for one, is an important determinant of the power they consume. Here are some tips for optimal usage --
- Ensure that all bottles and dishes in the fridge are covered. If they are uncovered, they will release moisture inside the fridge, which will make their compressor run harder.
- Never put hot food or milk inside the fridge – the steam and the heat they generate will make its compressor go into overdrive, upping your utility bill.
- Always remember – the automatic ice maker uses up much more electricity. It’s more efficient to make ice in ice trays.
- Find ways to open the fridge as infrequently, and as briefly, as possible. This keeps the cold air in, and gives the compressor a rest.
- It helps to keep the fridge full. Having lots of cold stuff inside it helps to keep its temperature down (plain water in bottles works best in the absence of other things to put inside).
 Good maintenance
Good maintenance can also enable your fridge to run smoothly and efficiently. Here are some easy tips and tricks to follow --
- Defrost your fridge if significant frost has built up.
- Always ensure that the door and its gasket are clean. Dirt particles lodged in them could interfere with how well the door seals.
- To clean fridge doors and sealing surfaces, swab them regularly with a solution of baking powder in water, or some vinegar.
- Use a vacuum cleaner to clean the condenser coils at the back of your fridge, at least once a year. With clean coils the waste heat is carried off faster, and the fridge runs shorter cycles. Leave a couple of inches of space between the coils and the wall for air circulation.
- Some fridges have a power-saving switch or a summer-winter switch. This is actually a small heater inside the walls to prevent excessive condensation on the fridge walls. Turning the fridge on winter mode helps save power.
- For optimal energy usage, it is best to set the refrigerator temperature between 38 F and 42 F, and the freezer, between 0 F and 5 F.
- Often, the temperature dial in the fridge does not accurately tell the temperature. So, in order to set it, use a kitchen thermometer.
- If it is possible, move the fridge away from all heat sources – like stoves, dishwashers or direct sunlight.
- An average new fridge with top-mounted freezer sold today uses under 700 kilowatt-hours per year, while the average model sold in 1973 used nearly 2,000 kilowatt-hours per year.
- You can check how effectively the fridge door seals, by closing it on a piece of paper. If you can pull it out without resistance, its time to replace the gasket. If your fridge has magnetic seals, leave a lit torch inside in the evening and turn off the lights. If any light leaks through, you have a leaky door.
- Clean the edges of the door and the crevices in it with a solution of baking soda and vinegar. Dirt lodged in them can also interfere with the door’s sealability.
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 See Also
- Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings
- Buying Energy Efficient Refrigerators
- How to Choose an Energy Efficient Refrigerator