Your refrigerator is the only appliance that works continuously in your home 24 hours a day. In most households, the refrigerator is the single biggest energy consuming kitchen appliance. According to ENERGY STAR, replacing a refrigerator bought in 1990 with a new ENERGY STAR qualified model can save enough to pay for lighting an average household for nearly four months. You can see the lifetime saving of an ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerator by using the calculator tool at the ENERGY STAR website
You do not need to compromise on features that you prefer when choosing ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerators. Many ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerators include features such as an automatic ice-maker, a through-the-door ice and water dispenser, or a top-mount, bottom-mount, or side-by-side freezer. However, keep in mind that automatic ice-makers and through-the-door dispensers increase energy use by 14 to 20 percent and raise the purchase price by about $75 to $250. In general, refrigerators with top-mounted freezers use less energy than refrigerators with either side-mounted or bottom-mounted freezers. However, ENERGY STAR indicates that the energy efficiency varies depending on the size, defrost type, and features of each model.
The most energy efficient models are the 16 to 20 cubic foot sizes. In general, the larger the refrigerator, the greater the energy consumption. A model that’s too large will waste space and energy; on the other hand, a model that’s too small could mean extra trips to the grocery store.
Placement of the refrigerator is very important. Direct sunlight and close contact with heat sources such as heating vents, the stove, or dishwasher will make the compressor work harder. Most important, the compressor and condensing coil must have adequate ventilation. The proper “breathing” space will vary depending on the location of the coils and compressor on each model—something important to know before purchasing a unit or remodeling your kitchen. Because most refrigerators give off heat from the bottom and/or back, they need adequate clearance to allow sufficient airflow. While no specific studies have been done to calculate the optimum clearance space, one general rule-of-thumb is to double the space recommended by manufacturers for refrigerator installation. Another rule-of-thumb is to allow two inches of air flow around the refrigerator.
Whether or not to own a separate freezer should be based on an evaluation of your needs. The energy efficiency of a freezer depends on the size and type of freezer. To qualify for the ENERGY STAR label, freezers with a volume of 7.75 cubic feet or greater must be at least 10 percent more efficient than the federal standard.
A chest freezer generally uses 10 to 25 percent less energy than an upright model because it is better insulated and cold air does not spill out when the door is opened. Manual defrost models consume 35 to 40 percent less energy than comparable automatic defrost ones. However, because ice buildup can significantly decrease the efficiency of the freezer, you will need to defrost periodically to ensure that there is never more than a quarter inch of ice (the maximum thickness recommended for the freezer to keep operating efficiently).
ENERGY STAR recommends the following tips to operate your refrigerator and freezer for more energy savings.
The ENERGY STAR Make a Cool Change: Recycle Your Old Fridge (or Freezer), is a campaign by the U.S. Department of Energy, to encourage proper recycling of old, inefficient refrigerators or freezers in order to save money, energy and the environment. ENERGY STAR recommends the following four ways to recycle old refrigerators and freezers.
Portions of this document are modified with permission from Home Series 4 (Major Home Appliances), originally developed by the Iowa Energy Center, 2009. http://www.energy.iastate.edu/homeseries/major_appliances.htm
Developed as part of the NASULGC/DOE Building Science Community of Practice.
DISCLAIMER – This document is intended to give the reader only general factual information current at the time of publication. It is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be used for guidance or decisions related to a specific design or construction project. This document is not intended to reflect the opinion of any of the entities, agencies or organizations identified in the materials and, if any opinions appear, are those of the individual author and should not be relied upon in any event. Updated July 2009.
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, re-print, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Alan L. Grant, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.
August 27, 2009