Refrigerators: Time to Upgrade?

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Forget the kids: refrigerators are one of the biggest energy spenders in your home. Because unplugging the fridge is hardly a practical way to reduce household energy consumption, your best option for saving money with this 24/7 appliance is to shop for the right model and use it wisely.

Go With ENERGY STAR

If you're not sure whether to replace your refrigerator, first check the age on your current model. If it's from the 1970s, it's best to get rid of it: you could save four times more energy by replacing it with an ENERGYSTAR model — nearly $200 a year.

The same goes for a 1980s model: replace it with an ENERGY STAR refrigerator and your utility bills should drop about $100 each year. And whatever you do, don't relegate the old one to the basement to hold overstock: refrigerators consume energy no matter where they're plugged in.

Tried and tested, ENERGYSTAR refrigerators are up to 20 percent more energy efficient than modern conventional models. You can even find out how much a particular ENERGYSTAR model will cost you per year by checking the yellow EnergyGuide label on the refrigerator. The guide also allows you to compare the energy use of similar models and estimate the annual savings.

Things to Look for

When shopping for a new model, consider a few features that make a huge difference to efficiency.

Top-mounted freezers use 10–25 percent less energy than bottom-mounted or side-by-side models; this can amount to hundreds of dollars over the lifetime of the fridge.

Also, think about skipping the ice-maker and door dispenser. Automatic ice-makers increase energy use by 14–20 percent; as an additional feature, they also raise the retail price by $75–250. Through-door ice dispensers often interfere with the door’s insulation and sometimes require their own additional cooling elements.

Use it Wisely

By following a few simple maintenance tips, you can reduce a refrigerator's energy use, no matter what the model.

  1. Keep your refrigerator at 35–38 degrees Fahrenheit. Any colder, and you'll risk freezing the contents, a waste of food and energy.
  2. Keep your fridge in a cool place, away from heat sources (oven, dishwasher, direct sunlight, etc.) that will force your fridge to work harder to keep its contents cool.
  3. Check to make sure the seals around the door are airtight: a tight seal saves energy. If you can feel cold air around the edge, or if the door won't hold a piece of paper in place when it's closed, it's time to replace the seals.

Finally, keep the door closed! If you minimize the amount of time the refrigerator door is open, you reduce your utility costs, save money and keep your food fresh.