8 Simple Ways to Make Your Refrigerator More Efficient

By Dealnews on 22 August 2011 (Updated 14 September 2011) 6 comments
Photo: thrp

My friend Fabulous Frank is always coming up with neat ideas and inventions; one of his best designs boasts a refrigerator with a glass door on it. And while that may mean some extra-tough cleanups, just think of the one glorious advantage it offers: "Every time you go to check the fridge," he says, "you wouldn't have to open the door to see what's inside." Which, of course, means less energy wasted.

Until Fab Frank's fridge becomes a regular consumer option, we have our work cut out for us. Even if you have an EnergyStar refrigerator, you know these big appliances still eat electricity — about 500 kilowatt-hours per year even for the stingier models. The question is, can we improve on that? You betcha. Below are some tips for making fridges (both standard and EnergyStar models) run more efficiently. And we'll start with a tip that comes courtesy of Frank himself. (See also: 8 Ways to Save Big on Appliances)

1. Open the Door Less Often

Particularly if you have kids, you know fridge doors get opened dozens and dozens of times a day. Whenever that happens, warm air rushes in, making it harder for your appliance to keep cool. Leave the doors open longer than two minutes, and you're putting strain on the fridge. So until they invent glass doors, do what you can to limit how often and how long your doors get yanked open. With shopping trips, I lump all the refrigerated items into one big pile and then load up as fast as possible. Try determining how much time you need to shave off your loading time with this Presto Electronic Clock & Timer ($10.68 with free shipping via Amazon Prime).

2. Pack It Up, Baby

After each shopping trip, I love to stuff the fridge — and there's a reason besides the fact that many Italian Americans like myself do this. A full fridge means that there's less hot air that needs cooling. Of course, a stuffed fridge means poor air circulation, and any well-stocked cooler begs to be opened many times. But so long as you police your clan from peeking out of boredom (or swinging on the handles) you should come out ahead on the energy-savings side.

3. A Freezer on Top is Tops

For those of you considering a new fridge, keep in mind that not all EnergyStar models are created equal. The government's EnergyStar website reports, "Models with top-mounted freezers use 10% to 25% less energy than bottom-mount or side-by-side models." Besides, a bottom-mounted freezer means stooping over to get the Haagen-Dazs, which isn't exactly my idea of how to launch an indulgent dessert experience. The GE Top Freezer Refrigerator in White or Black ($448 via code "APP50B2" with free shipping) is an inexpensive option that fits the bill.

4. Chill Out on the Ice-Cube Maker

Maybe we could stand to learn something from the Europeans, who don't take ice in their drinks. Icemakers and through-the-door dispensers not only increase a refrigerator's price by up to $250, they also increase energy use by 14% to 20%, EnergyStar figures show. So if you have an icemaker, why not give it a rest? And if you really need crushed ice, consider the merits of these Tovolo Perfect-Cube Ice Trays (two for $14.99 with $3.99 s&h) and a hammer.

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5. Location, Location, Location

This one comes courtesy of our friends at allyou.com, who point out that a fridge shouldn't rest close to obvious hotspots. "Place your fridge away from your oven, stove top, radiator, or other heat sources, and make sure there are a few inches of space around it. The unit can nestle, but it shouldn't abut walls, counters, or other appliances." I suppose that means no cold storage for my Twinkie flambé, either.

6. Check the Seals and the Frost

Just as leaky window and door seals yield a drafty house, a fridge with bad seals around the doors can't do its job well. If your seals have suffered from wear or damage, check out RepairClinic, which stocks just about every type of replacement part for large appliances. As for the frost side, it's a good idea to periodically defrost your freezer, as that will help it work better. If you see more than a quarter-inch of frost all the way around, it's time.

7. Clean Those Coils

Dust is the enemy of many large appliances, from air conditioners to stereo systems. In the latter, dust blocking the vents can cause overheating, and dust on the coils of your fridge forces it to work harder. Getting in back of that monster may conjure visions of an emergency room visit, but tidying up isn't hard if you consult a reliable resource, like your appliance manual. A vacuum with a crevice attachment is crucial, as is a small brush (like a paint brush) to reach more troublesome areas. Your efforts will not only keep the fridge working better, but also preserve its longevity.

8. Pick the Right Temperature

Going colder than the preferred temperature wastes electricity, and for refrigerators, that ranges between 35 and 38 degrees, according to howstuffworks.com. There are other benefits as well to sticking in this range: "Anything higher and foods will spoil too quickly (it also presents food poisoning problems). Anything lower and freezing becomes a problem."

Common to all these tips is one overarching principle: habit. Once you get in the habit of checking on the appliances you take for granted, they'll reward you in kind with extended years of service and extra savings in the bank — all while making a dent in your carbon footprint.

This post is by Dealnews.

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Guest's picture

Awesome tips! I never knew that the placement of the freezer could make a difference in efficiency! When we go to purchase our next one, we'll definitely go with the top mount freezer.

Guest's picture
Yazmin

I really think our fridge is on it's last legs so we'll soon be looking for a new one. Some of these tips will help us shop for a new one and it will also keep our old one running a little longer.

I definitely wanted to get a fridge with the freezer in the bottom, but from hat you wrote I'm reconsidering this. I would much rather save money on energy than go for looks.

Andrea Karim's picture

I would think that a glass door would actually let out more of the cold air, because even if it was double-paned, it wouldn't have the same amount of insulation as a normal fridge door. Anyone who is better at science care to explain why it might be otherwise?

Guest's picture
Kathy

Great article. Fridge maintenance is always the lowest on my list. I guess I some work to do tomorrow. Did you happen to come up with this list while cleaning? Or did you go to work shortly after writing? :)

Guest's picture
JasonPCtech

You could consider a chest freezer converted to use as a refrigerator. Google this and find out why this works and how easy it is to convert. Many off the grid folks do this.

Guest's picture

Great tips! I had no idea a well-stocked fridge could reduce energy costs. I'll keep that in mind. Also, I realized I really need to clean my refrigerator's coils. My fridge is pretty old and hasn't been cleaned in the 2 years since we moved in. Oops!