Save Energy: Refrigerators

— Written By Trudy Pickett and last updated by

The refrigerator is typically the biggest electricity user in the kitchen, and is often the largest user in the house. If your refrigerator is getting old, it’s probably worth replacing it with a new Energy Star model. New, efficient refrigerators use less than half the energy of standard models manufactured before 1993. If you are lucky enough to have a refrigerator that dates back to the 1970s or early 1980s and it still runs, replace it! Even if it’s the spare in the basement or garage, the energy savings will pay for a brand-new unit in just a few years. Buy the smallest, simplest fridge that will meet your needs.

To keep any refrigerator running right, ensure adequate air circulation around the unit. Keep it a few inches away from the wall, and it should not be boxed it in with cabinets. It’s a good idea to vacuum the grill periodically, but there is no evidence that vacuuming dust off the coils actually saves electricity.

Make sure the door seals are tight, keep the unit away from heat sources (don’t put it next to the stove or dishwasher), and check the temperature setting. The refrigerator compartment should stay between 38F and 42F and the freezer between 0 F and 5F. If you have a power-saving switch, use it. Typically, the switch disables internal heaters that fight condensation; turn it off only if condensation occurs.

Finally, keep refrigerators and freezers reasonably full; they are less efficient when they are nearly empty. Even more important, avoid the temptation to keep the old fridge in the garage or basement for overflow.

Buying a new highly efficient refrigerator won’t save any energy if you keep the old one running! It’s a common mistake to assume that if the fridge is only keeping a few items cold it’s not working very hard. A refrigerator uses most of its energy keeping the inside of the box cold—even it it’s completely empty. If you can’t do without it, unplug the spare until you need it to stock up for party time. One more buying tip: A manual-defrost chest freezer uses far less energy than an upright, auto-defrost unit. Modern, airtight chest freezers rarely need defrosting, and are less likely to damage food with freezer burn.

Source: Insulate and Weatherize by Bruce Harley

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