10 Ways to Reduce Energy & Save Money in the Kitchen
My favorite place in my house is my kitchen, and it’s also home to some of the most energy-sucking appliances I own — the refrigerator and the stove. Add the high-speed blenders for smoothies, a food processor for all that hummus, and the kitchen’s electricity use can sometimes be the largest portion of my family’s energy bill. But rather than forgo my favorite kitchen appliances, I’ve learned to use them in smarter ways. The tips below focus on how to make the refrigerator and other kitchen appliances as efficient as possible, with just a few changes.
10 ways to reduce energy and save money in your kitchen
- Eliminate ice build-up in your freezer! We want glaciers in the Arctic, but not in our freezer. That large mass of ice lining your freezer is NOT helping it stay cool — it’s actually making our appliance work harder than necessary. Remove any frost thicker than about a quarter-inch by defrosting your freezer or using soft utensils to break it up.
- Keep your refrigerator 2/3 full. Whether it’s full of pizza and beer, or veggies and kombucha, keeping your fridge full means that each item acts as a “cold battery” to help the fridge return to its proper temperature after it’s been opened. Aim to keep it 2/3 full, so air can still circulate. The same rule applies for freezers. A bonus benefit: If the power goes out, freezers that are full will keep the food frozen longer.
- Clean the condenser coils. Maybe you know about these little things, maybe it’s new to you: condenser coils direct airflow in the fridge, and are often found behind the fridge or underneath. They tend to get gunked up with cat hair, dust and kitchen grease and need to be cleaned twice a year at least. It’s gross, but this task alone can save you 15% of the electricity. Use a vacuum, a stiff-bristled brush, or just a rag to wipe them clean.
- Make space for the refrigerator. If your fridge is pressed against the surrounding walls, less airflow will cause the fridge to overwork, using more energy. Try to keep a few inches on each side of the fridge, and avoid using the top of the fridge as a storage unit to keep the airflow open.
- Know what you want (in life and in the kitchen). Before you open your fridge, think about what you want: there’s no need to let the cold air out of the refrigerator and warm air in. Keep your fridge organized, and think before you open the door. One of my tricks is to keep a list of all my fresh veggies on the fridge door so I can always know what I’m digging for when I open the veggie drawer.
- No open food or drinks! Leaving beverages or food open in the fridge can make your food spoil faster (and take on that weird ‘fridge flavor’), but it can also increase the humidity in the fridge, which makes your fridge work harder to cool itself back down (the image above is an example of what NOT to do!). Also, don’t put hot drinks or hot food directly into the refrigerator. Be sure to let them cool down to room temperature before putting them in the fridge.
- Check the temperature: Purchase an oven thermometer and a fridge thermometer at a kitchen supply store. Knowing what temperature your fridge, freezer and oven operate at can help keep your energy use low. Ideal temperatures: 37-40ºF (2.7-4.4ºC) for the fridge, and 4-5ºF (about -15ºC) for the freezer. Oven temperatures should read whatever temperature you’ve set the oven for. I once had an old oven that was a full 50ºF too cool, which explained all my failed banana breads!
- Choose your pot size correctly. When you are cooking on the stove, it’s more efficient to choose a pan that fits evenly atop the coil or heating space (for induction or glass top). Cooking with gas? Keep the flame slightly smaller than your pot or skillet to avoid burning excess fuel.
- Cast iron cookery: Cast iron cookware is so old it’s new again! Cast iron is famous for cooking food evenly, and as it turns out, this quality is also what makes it the most energy efficient choice. Cast iron holds heat better than other pans, and so food can often be cooked at a slightly lower temperature. I’ve also found that I can turn off the heat a few minutes before it’s totally ‘done’ to make use of the residual heat. It’s also made from iron rather than chemical-based Teflon, making it a greener choice all around.
- Choose a smaller appliance. The full size oven in my house never gets used, except as storage for all my cast iron pots! Instead I use a small toaster for all batches of cookies, vegan lasagna and roasted veggies. The energy draw is similar, but it heats up much more quickly and cooks food more efficiently because of its compact size, so the oven is on for less time overall.
The best things in life are free, right? I would counter that the best things in life are free AND save you money AND help save the planet! These energy efficiency tips can help make a big impact on your energy use, and save some cash so you can stock your fridge fully!