Putting the Deep Freeze On Your Energy Loss

I don’t know about you, but one of the coolest appliances we have is the refrigerator (bad pun intended). Maybe it’s just that I’m a juice guy, or the fact that you can’t find cold pizza anywhere else in the house, but I’ve always liked rummaging through the caverns of the white monolith that sits in the kitchen in the hopes that I’ll find some forgotten treasure that I thought had already been eaten.

Refrigerators are our pals, our confidants (no one else knows how much chocolate you really ate yesterday) and perhaps even our own worst enemies. Did you know that your fridge is, generally speaking, the second largest energy draw in your house after your homes heating/cooling equipment? It makes sense when you think about it because it’s on all the time, and working hard at that, but the fact that this one item can consume between 1/6th and 1/8th of your homes electricity means that there’s a potential for serious energy savings in one small place.

Right off the bat, if you find yourself in need of a new fridge, try and get yourself an Energy Star model. According to the Energy Star website a qualified unit will use half as much power as a similar size model from 1993. They even have a cool calculator to help you determine how much your old fridge is costing you and whether it is worth upgrading. If you decide it’s time, check with your local power company, as many offer rebate programs for older units. Also, when shopping for a chiller, remember that top/bottom units are more efficient than side by side and that in door icemaker/water fillers can add as much as 10 percent to the energy use of the unit.

Now I’m not suggesting that everyone out there go out and get a new refrigerator unless you absolutely need to, but there are quite a few things we can all do to maintain the units we have and save energy and money in the process.

Set the right temp. The general rule that I have found is that your fridge wants to chill out at about 35-38 degrees Farenheit and your freezer at right about 0. A quick check of several friends’ models found them to be much colder than necessary. Generally speaking there is a controller inside, somewhere near the front, but no temp gauge. Take a thermometer and put it in the center in a cup of water for a few hours, check it, adjust, and check again. When you consider that a 10 degree difference can mean up to a 25 percent increase in power consumption, this can make a huge difference.

Keep ‘em clean. One of the simplest and most overlooked maintenance options is cleaning the coils underneath the unit. The cooling coils on most fridges are down there, usually under a little grate that pops off. Let me warn you, if you have never checked down there before, it’s not going to be pretty. For some reason the coils are the place that dust bunnies go to die. Without going into too much science on how your food is kept cold (there’s a good explanation here), your fridge is all about pressure and when the coolant in those pipes is pressurized it creates a lot of heat which needs to dissipate. The more heat that dissipates through those little pipes, the more efficiently the whole thing works, so keeping them clean is key as they don’t work as well when they are covered in bunnies. A quick vacuuming every sixth months will extend the life of the beast and save you money at the same time.

Check your seals. Just like the windows in your house, if the seals on the fridge door are no good, you’re leaking air. And the more it leaks, the harder it has to work. A simple way to check this is to close a dollar bill in the door (try to use a crisps one as opposed to one of those crumpled barely legible ones). Gently try to pull it out. If it’s tough to do, check a few other points up and down and you’re good to go. If it comes out easily, you may need to adjust the door, clean the seal, or maybe even replace it completely.

Keep it full. A full fridge takes less energy than an empty one simply because your food will hold the chill longer than air will. While I’m not saying to buy unnecessary food just to fill yours up, consider the size you need when you buy it as we don’t all need the grand canyon of coolers.

Think. For starters, know what you want before you open the door. Food shopping in front of an open fridge only lets cold escape and as soon as you close it, there’s work to be done. Also, when putting food in to store, make sure it has cooled first and that it’s covered. Warm food will not only heat up the inside causing the compressor to work longer and harder, but will release condensation which also makes the unit do more work. Similarly, keeping any food covered (reusables as opposed to disposable wraps please) will keep the moisture in where it should be and not out in the fridge where it creates more work.

Placement. Do you keep your fridge backed up to the wood stove in the kitchen? Bad idea. Simply put, if you want to go skiing you don’t go to the desert. Keeping your fridge in a cool place away from heat sources and direct sunlight will prolong the life of the unit and save you energy. Also, air flow is key. Remember the dust collectors on the bottom of the unit? Well, if they are so tightly packed in a space that there is no air flow, they don’t work as well.

Ditch your number 2. How many people do you know that have a second fridge or freezer in the garage? And how many of them are necessary? Get rid of them, give them to Goodwill, or at least unplug them if you don’t really need them. Note: If you do plan to leave your fridge unplugged but don’t want to get rid of it, plug it in for an hour or so every few months to circulate the coolant. It’ll keep the unit working much longer than just sitting there.

Carpet your fridge. OK, I don’t see this happening much, but it sure does sound cool doesn’t it? And since insulation is the name of the game, who knows, maybe a deep pink shag monolith would look nice in the kitchen.

How to Clean Refrigerator Coils–powered by ExpertVillage.com

Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”


W. C
W. C1 years ago


William C
William C1 years ago

Thank you.

Carolt M.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thanks fellow your posts are really very good for me since it make good sense for me.
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Mark Bill
Past Member 4 years ago

Hey buddy! I am really in favor of your post; you have given an awesome idea in your post that can anybody follows easily.

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Cindy M.
Cindy M10 years ago

Also, glass keeps things colder than plastic, meaning less electricity used when you replace tupperware with old jelly jars (best to reuse before recycle). Of course, these can't freeze, and that's where I spent my money, on freezable glass containers w/freezer proof lids. I use my old plastics for transport, & instead of doggie bags at restaurants.I'm wondering, too, if we filled old glass containers w/water; stored them in the fridge in between filling it up and emptying it, if that would use less electricity. This does say full is better. Plus, keeping rotten foods is also a waster in this regard too, not just in food waste, so do better than try when it comes to eating those fresh veggies, your body and your bills will both be more desirable.

Colleen D.
Colleen D10 years ago

Our local utility has the figures for appliance energy usage right on their website. I was amazed on how much more energy a 10-15 year fridge makes over a new model. My fridge is around 10-12 but, alas, while unemployed there will be no major purchases for a while. Placing corkboard on the sides of the fridge sounds intriguing as mine does sweat a bit in the summer. I know there is some energy loss on that front. I also vacume the coils and keep the bottom clean. Having 4 cats who like to play dry food hockey has me vacuming underneath many appliances in the kitchen. Good article!

Catherine Turley
Catherine Turley10 years ago

i'd be interested in knowing if there's any way to compare the waste of throwing out an old, but functioning, fridge and the energy saved by buying a new, efficient one.

Past Member
Mickey L10 years ago

Well hello. How nice to discover you as a writer and informant on matters of "Green"! I thoroughly enjoyed your article and your style. You write so well, clearly and with concise information that we all need.

I just had to say thanks. I learned a lot and found it enjoyable to do so. I felt I had to say thank you because there is so much really bad writing out there -- no really -- there is. We are an age of "blogging" so now everybody is a writer, or thinks so. YOU really are. You have done us all a service and brought some (more) positive energy to an already great site. Welcome.
Greetings from Greece.