Contributing Editor Kristina Strain
Refrigerators and freezers. They keep our cucumbers cool, our freeze-pops frosty, and our mayonnaise from killing us. They ably provide our dinners, lunches, breakfasts, and midnight snacks to gobble in the friendly glow of the interior light. We love them and rely on them.
On the not-so-cheery side, however, there’s the fact that your refrigerator is likely your home’s #2 biggest energy consumer, right behind your A/C. If you don’t have an A/C, then there you have it, folks: the fridge. Sucking down the lion’s share of energy. Unlike most appliances, you can’t really save energy by using your fridge less often. There are some stealthy steps you can take, however, to ensure your fridge is more an energy sipper than a guzzler.
1. Keep it full. Just like this image of my freezer, circa 2008: if you’ve got empty space in there, cram it full of something. Plastic jugs or bottles full of water are cheap and easy– plus the bottles can double as lunch box cool-packs once removed. Other creative ways to fill up extra chill space include packing peanuts (in bags), newspapers, or crumpled-up saved plastic bags. I’ve even heard of folks storing books in their freezers, when they’ve run out of room on their bookshelves! These “stuffings” work best when placed in the back of your freezer– which makes sense, since you want the food items to be up front where you can reach them. Also, don’t get over-zealous with your stuffing. Make sure to leave some space at the top so your fridge or freezer’s thermostat can sense the temperature.
2. Don’t let it see the light of day. If your fridge is spending time sittin’ in the sunshine, it’s working harder to keep cool. If possible, move your fridge to the dark side of your kitchen.
3. Keep it dry, by and by. Moisture inside your fridge and freezer makes the compressor huff and puff. This is why you should cool things to room temperature before putting them in the fridge, and why keeping lids on your containers (to minimize evaporation) is a definite good idea.
4. Take your temperature. Rather than rely on the sometimes-iffy manufacturer-appointed fridge cooling charts (which have been known to quantify temperature in turns of A, B, C, and D, whatever that means), put your fridge through its paces by bringing in a real live thermometer. For optimum performance, a fridge should run no cooler than 35 degrees F. A freezer is best-off between 0 and 5 degrees F. If your fridge and freezer and colder than they need to be, adjust the temperature settings accordingly.
5. Signed, sealed, delivered. Try this trick right now: Take out a dollar bill, and close it in your fridge with the end sticking out. Now, pull gently on the bill. If it gives up the buck without a fight, it may be time to replace the seals on your fridge. Replacing seals can get pricey, however, and if your fridge was made in 2001 or before, it’s probably a better choice to pony up and get a new fridge. See below for fridge shopping tips.
6. Suck it up. Annually, unplug your fridge, pull it away from the wall, and vacuum out the bottom of the cooling coils. Like changing the filter in your car, this makes for more efficient operation.
Fridge Shopping Tips
If you’re out shopping for a brand new fridge or freezer, here are a few key points to keep in mind:
1. Chest freezers use less energy than upright freezers. The reason is simple: cold air sinks. When you open a chest freezer, all the chill stays right where you want it.
2. Opt in to Energy Star. An Energy Star appliance, though sometimes slightly more expensive than a standard model, will more than make up the price differential over its lifetime.
3. Choose a unit with a top or bottom freezer, as opposed to a side-by-side model. Interestingly, both top- and bottom-freezer models rank about the same, efficiency-wise.
4. Skate around the ice maker. Did you know an ice maker will handily increase your freezer’s energy consumption by 14-20%? That just gives me chills.
Armed with these tips on improving the efficiency of the fridge/freezer you already have, and knowing what to look for when you’re out shopping for a new unit should have you saving electricity (and money) in no time.