If you want to cut back on your household's energy consumption, your refrigerator is one of the best places to start. In 2001, a survey by the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that refrigerators vied with central air conditioning for using the greatest share of household energy. Refrigerators alone accounted for 14 percent of the average home's energy usage, more than any other appliance (see References 1). Purchasing an energy-saver refrigerator can result in significant savings for your household (see References 2).
Energy Use Standards
The U.S. federal government requires refrigerators to meet a minimal standard of operating efficiency. California's standards are even more stringent (see References 2). For the eco-conscious, however, these minimums aren't enough. The Energy Star program, operated by the federal government, requires refrigerators to exceed the minimum efficiency by at least 20 percent to bear the Energy Star label. This criterion applies to both standalone refrigerators and combined refrigerator-freezer units (see References 3).
Energy Guide Labels
Even among refrigerators with the Energy Star label, energy usage can vary significantly. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission requires a bright yellow Energy Guide label on all new refrigerators to help buyers make informed choices. The Energy Guide label provides information on the refrigerator's estimated annual energy use, expressed in kilowatt-hours, and an estimation of how much you will pay per year to run the refrigerator. Energy Star uses a national average for electricity costs, but if you go shopping prepared with the cost of electricity per kilowatt-hour in your area, you can more accurately calculate the refrigerator's annual operating cost. This allows you to compare models' efficiency and operating costs side-by-side. Energy Star-rated appliances will also display that logo on the Energy Guide label. (See References 4)
When shopping for a refrigerator, choose a model with a top-mounted rather than a bottom-mounted or side-by-side freezer. As of 2011, models with freezers on top generally use 10 to 25 percent less energy. Choose an appropriately sized refrigerator for your household's needs, as larger models use more energy. Finally, avoid models with icemakers and water dispensers in the door. This convenience alone can increase the refrigerator's energy consumption between 14 and 20 percent. (See References 5, Buying Guidance tab)
Using your new energy-saving fridge wisely will reduce its energy consumption even more. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping your refrigerator set between 35 and 38 degrees F. Choose a good location for your refrigerator, away from heat-generating appliances like ovens and dishwashers, and out of direct sunlight that will force the refrigerator to work harder to keep cool. Pull the fridge out from the wall a few inches to allow for air circulation. Finally, keep the door closed as much as possible and replace the seals on the door when they begin to wear out. (See References 6)
- U.S. Energy Information Administration; U.S. Household Electricity Report; July 2005
- California Energy Commission: Consumer Energy Center: Refrigerators & Freezers
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Energy Star: Refrigerators & Freezers Key Product Criteria
- U.S. Federal Trade Commission; Energy Guidance: Appliance Shopping With the EnergyGuide Label; April 2008
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Energy Star: Refrigerators: What Else Should I Look for When Buying a Refrigerator?
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Energy Star: Refrigerators: Best Practices
First published in 2000, Dawn Walls-Thumma has served as an editor for "Bartleby" and "Antithesis Common" literary magazines. Walls-Thumma writes about education, gardening and sustainable living. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and writing from University of Maryland and is a graduate student in humanities at American Public University.
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