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Refrigerators - Energy Tips

Your refrigerator uses the most electricity of all your kitchen appliances. It can account for as much as 15 percent of a home's total energy usage. A typical refrigerator costs about $1,140 to operate over its lifetime. And the older the model, the more electricity it's using. If your present refrigerator is more than 15 years old, you'll save money on you electric bills if you replace it with a new, more efficient unit. New models can be as much as 50 percent more energy efficient than older refrigerators.

Refrigerators made to meet the latest DOE standards (which took effect in 2001) will cut consumers' energy costs by 30 percent compared to the previous (1993) standards. And a family replacing a 1972-vintage model with a product that meets the new standard will see their utility bills drop by over $120 a year. There are super-efficient refrigerators currently on the market that save even more. If every household in the United States had the most efficient refrigerators available, the electricity savings would eliminate the need for more than 20 large power plants.

Locate refrigerators away from heat sources like ranges, radiators, or sunny windows.

Never run frost-free refrigerators with freezer compartments in unheated areas with air temperature below 60° F unless specially designed for such conditions. When the air temperature goes below 60° F the compressor runs less, keeping temperatures in the refrigerator compartment cold enough for fresh food but not cold enough in the freezer compartment to keep food quality there. At air temperatures below 40° F the compressor stops running, so the freezer compartment rises to air temperature and food thaws and spoils. Also, below 32° F, water melted during the automatic defrost cycle may freeze again and block air passages.

For seasonal homes with heat left on at very low temperatures, or long winter vacations with the heat turned down, remove all food, unplug, clean thoroughly, dry, and leave the door ajar so air can circulate. Be sure no child can get into the empty refrigerator in your absence and become trapped! If you can't use up food, give it away or throw it away; food that spoils in a refrigerator can create odors that may require discarding the refrigerator.

For short vacations, leave refrigerator on but use up or discard perishable food, and if you have an ice maker, turn off the mechanism and water line following the manual's directions.

If you have a chilled water dispenser, androom temperatures may go below freezing (for example, during a winter trip) shut off the water and drain the water tank following the directions in the Owner's Manual

Federal efficiency standards took effect in 1993,requiring new refrigerators to be more efficient than ever before. The energy efficiency of refrigerators has improved dramatically over the past two decades, partially as a result of these new standards. The efficiency of a refrigerator is based on the energy consumed per year. The DOE standards set a maximum allowable annual energy consumption for different sizes and classes of refrigerators.

The energy bill for a typical new refrigerator with automatic defrost and top-mounted freezer will be about $55/year, whereas atypical model sold in 1973 will cost nearly $160/year. Most of the energy used by a refrigerator is used to pump heat out of the cabinet. A small amount is used to keep the cabinet from sweating, to defrost the refrigerator, and to illuminate the interior.

Although many energy-efficient products may be more expensive to purchase, they will cost less to operate over the lifetime of the appliance. For example, a more expensive model could pay for itself in a little over three years. Over the 15-year lifetime, a more expensive (and more energy efficient) refrigerator might save $750!

Federal law requires that Energy Guide labels be placed on all new refrigerators. Look for these yellow labels with black lettering. When you're shopping for the best buy in a new appliance, using Energy Guide labels can save you money.

The Energy Guide label on new refrigerators will tell you how much electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh) a particular model uses in one year. The smaller the number, the less energy the refrigerator uses and the less it will cost you to operate.

Refrigerator Tips:

  • Look for a refrigerator with automatic moisture control. Models with this feature have been engineered to prevent moisture accumulation on the cabinet exterior without the addition of a heater. This is not the same thing as an "anti-sweat" heater. Models with an anti-sweat heater will consume 5% to 10% more energy than models without this feature.
  • Don't keep your refrigerator or freezer too cold. Recommended temperatures are 37° to 40°F for the fresh food compartment of the refrigerator and 5°F for the freezer section. If you have a separate freezer for long-term storage, it should be kept at 0°F.
  • To check refrigerator temperature, place an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the refrigerator. Read it after 24 hours. To check the freezer temperature, place a thermometer between frozen packages. Read it after 24 hours.
  • Regularly defrost manual-defrost refrigerators and freezers; frost buildup increases the amount of energy needed to keep the motor running. Don't allow frost to build up more than one-quarter of an inch.
  • Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper or a dollar bill so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment or the seal may need replacing.
  • Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
  • Move your refrigerator out from the wall and vacuum its condenser coils once a year unless you have a no-clean condenser model. Your refrigerator will run for shorter periods and use less energy with clean coils.

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