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The Refrigerator Energy Use Guide - Saving Money and the Planet

Kelsey Bourgeois
/
September 5, 2023

If you’re anything like me, you’re trying to find simple ways to reduce your energy consumption both for the environment and for your wallet’s sake! Refrigerators are a great spot to shift habits and make smart buying choices to do just that. Let me walk you through the details. If you’re just here to see our favorite energy efficient refrigerators and freezers, that’s at the end, scroll on down.

How much energy do refrigerators use on average?

A refrigerator uses between 300-800 watts per day, depending on size and age. This might not seem like much, but when you look at current energy prices, you may feel differently. Some refrigerators can cost around $200 per year to run! The older the refrigerator, the more money you’re going to save by replacing it.

Want to know quickly whether replacing your refrigerator will save you money? Check out this Flip Your Fridge Calculator site!

Because refrigerators cycle on/off as needed, they don’t run constantly. They’ll also hold their temperature for hours if they aren’t opened, which makes them good candidates to power off during peak grid events. Don’t worry, your food will be just fine!

Tips for minimizing your refrigerator’s energy consumption

With a combination of slightly altering your current habits and making smart purchasing decisions when that time comes, you have a lot of control over how much energy you’ll use to refrigerate your food.

Learning new habits

  • Keep the door shut: don’t stand in front of an open refrigerator deciding what to get out or leave it open while doing other things.Think about it this way: everytime you open the door to the cooling device, you’re introducing warm air and humidity into the appliance. This causes the appliance to use more energy to keep the temperature in the refrigerator safe for your food!
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer full: the thermal mass of food/drinks means that once items are cold, it’s easier for the refrigerator to keep them cold. (Keeping air cold isn’t what a refrigerator is good at.) You can always use containers of water and ice to fill in empty spots.
  • Keep the coils clean: dust and dirt build up on your refrigerator’s coils makes it work harder to cool.
  • Don’t put hot items into the refrigerator: Let food cool to room temperature before putting in the refrigerator. More info on food safety and refrigeration.
  • Proper temperature settings: Keep your refrigerator set between 34 and 38 degrees and freezer set at 0 degrees.
  • Put your refrigerator on a smart plug: As mentioned, refrigerators already cycle on and off and therefore make excellent candidates for reducing energy use, especially during peak hours.
  • Check your seals: A lot of energy can be wasted when refrigerators aren’t properly sealed. Make a habit of checking your seals (and replacing when necessary). If you keep a home maintenance list, this could be a check item on that!
  • Keep an eye on frost building in your freezer: Another item for your home maintenance check list, notice if and when frost is building up. This can be an indication that you have leaky gaskets or that you keep the door open too long (introducing humidity and moisture.) Most importantly, your fridge will have to work harder when frost is present, wasting precious energy and money.
  • Create airflow around your refrigerator: There should be at least an inch of space all the way around the refrigerator to allow adequate airflow. If that’s not true, your machine must work harder and use more energy to cool your items.

Buying new appliances

Refrigerators last a long time - up to 20 years or more. However, a 20 year old refrigerator, today, uses 3+ times more electricity than a similarly sized new, ENERGY STAR Certified refrigerator. Depending on your electricity prices, a new refrigerator could pay for itself in just a few years.

Do you need a second refrigerator or freezer?

This really depends on your family and home. The great thing about second refrigerators or freezers is that they hold their temperature well (especially if they’re newer) because they are opened less frequently. This also means they’re great candidates for using a smart plug, they can safely be turned off for an hour or two each day to conserve energy!

If, however, your second refrigerator or freezer is more than 10 years old, it may be using more energy than it’s worth. You can also consider changing your shopping habits to not require the use of a second cooling device.

If you do buy a new or second refrigerator, be sure to recycle your old one! Many retailers will accept old appliances and recycle them when you buy new.

Still not sure? Visit this Flip Your Fridge calculator to find out if replacing or removing your second refrigerator makes sense for you. I learned I could save $138 and reduce 431 lbs of carbon pollution over five years by replacing my refrigerator here in Illinois. Additionally, by properly recycling my old appliance, I can reduce 1,630 lbs of carbon pollution!

What kind of refrigerator should you buy?

There are a few considerations when choosing your next refrigerator. Energy efficiency, price, repair likelihood, size and more!

  • To add on or not to add on: consider avoiding the add-ons of ice makers or water dispensers, these are some of the highest energy usage add-ons as well as the most common to malfunction and need repair. You’ll save yourself time, money, and the headache of repairs by sticking with other kinds of water pitchers and filters, and ice cube trays. We love silicone trays, which are food safe, come in fun shapes and sizes (hello cocktail lovers), and are easy to clean.
  • Top and bottom or side by side: If energy efficiency is important to you - and we hope it is - look for models that have a fridge/freezer top and bottom model, rather than side by side. The design of a top/bottom refrigerator is inherently more energy efficient.
  • Right size your refrigerator: One of the most important considerations when buying a refrigerator or freezer is size! Typically, the larger (and older) the appliance, the more energy it uses. Just because the last refrigerator you had was huge, doesn’t mean your next one needs to be. The most energy efficient refrigerators are generally 16-20 cubic feet.
  • Mix and match fridge and freezers: Depending on your lifestyle and family, you could choose a smaller daily use refrigerator to keep in your kitchen, knowing it will be opened a number of times most days. Then, you could choose to buy a second refrigerator or stand alone freezer to keep items you only need to get at once a day or once every few days, thus conserving energy.
  • Do you need extra freezer space? Freezer space is often a limiting factor, but spending money on a second, dedicated freezer instead of getting a larger overall refrigerator/freezer combo, can make a lot of sense financially, for your space, and energy-wise. Pro-tip: Those looking to save money on food costs will love a standalone freezer. You’ll have space to turn excess summer fruits and veggies into sauces, compotes, and more for use in the winter as well as buy things like full cuts of meat in bulk and freeze some for later.
  • Look for models with a lower Global Warming Potential (GWP) refrigerant: Refrigerants are often thousands of times more polluting than carbon dioxide. Limiting our use of these products limits the possibility of them being released into our atmosphere.

Our favorite energy efficient refrigerators

You can do your own comparison based on what’s most important to you at the ENERGY STAR Certified website. There, you can also find information on rebates available in your area!

Cost effective and energy efficient: Samsung - RT16A6195

Cost: $698

Who might want this: for the cost conscious consumer who doesn’t need a massive amount of space.

Annual Energy Use (kWh/yr) - 345

Details:

  • No ice maker (fewer repairs!), though you can buy an ice maker that can be put it or taken out at will
  • Energy Efficient LED Bulbs
  • ENERGY STAR certified
  • 15.6 cubic ft
  • No frost technology

Large and energy efficient: LG - LHTNS2403 Refrigerator

Annual Energy Use (kWh/yr) - 417

Cost: $848

Who might want this: for buyers with a lot of people living in the home who don’t want to waste energy.

Details:

  • Stainless steel
  • 24 cubic ft
  • Humidity controlled crispers
  • Digital temperature controls
  • LED, energy efficient lighting
  • Garage ready

All the bells and whistles: 36 inch Counter Depth French Door with Recessed Handle (Dacor - DRF36C000)

Price: $3199-3499

Annual Energy Use (kWh/yr) - 554

Who might want this: The energy conscious buyer with a large budget who wants every amenity available

Details:

  • French doors, a special FreshZone drawer for beverages or fresh food, and bottom freezer.
  • Internal and external water and ice dispensers
  • Internal water dispenser include infuser option to include herbs or fruits to beverages
  • Adjustable shelving
  • 22.6 cubic ft
  • Precise Cooling technology

Our favorite chest freezer: GE FCM16DLWW 65 Inch Freezer

Price: $1,288.67

Annual Energy Use (kWh/yr) - 277

Who might want this: People with extra space to store extra food for later.

Details:

  • Audible temperature alert if temperature rises
  • LED lighting
  • Lock with key (good for food in garages)
  • 15.6 cubic ft

As you can see, refrigerators can be quite complex, especially when you start thinking about truly optimizing your energy consumption. We hope this overview got you thinking a bit more about your refrigerator and all of the energy (and money) you could be saving!

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