One of the major energy suckers in most households is the fridge. With electricity prices skyrocketing and energy efficiency an important part of green living; a kilowatt-hour shaved from our consumption here and there helps our pocket and the planet; as does reducing food waste associated with refrigerator use.
Thinking about buying a bigger fridge?
While fridges have improved their energy efficiency in the past ten years, as a general rule, the larger the refrigerator, the more electricity it will use.
For example, a 2.5 energy star rated (Australian program) 216 litre refrigerator will consume around 340kWh a year. A 2.5 energy star rated 360 litre fridge will use around 460kWh. Over 10 years, that works out to be 1,200 kilowatt hours difference.
This difference can add up to a significant expenditure on energy and if your electricity is sourced through coal fired power generation; an extra 1,200 – 2,400 pounds of carbon emissions over that period.
While a 216 litre refrigerator/freezer combination unit may not be large enough for the average family, the size of the refrigerator you need can be reduced by not treating a fridge as a hold-all. You may find you don’t need a new, larger fridge at all!
For example, a food item that is commonly stored in refrigerator is the tomato; but tomatoes “hate” the cold. In low temperatures, they will lose their taste and spoil more quickly. Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, but out of direct sunlight.
Another food item that often finds its way into the fridge is the onion. Onions should be stored in a cool, dry, well ventilated place – which isn’t the fridge. I’ve stored onions in very high temperatures (but low humidity) for a couple of weeks without any problems.
Some other fruits and vegetables that don’t really require refrigeration:
… the exception to the rule of course is where you have cut a fruit or vegetable
If a food item will keep for 7 days out of the fridge and weeks if refrigerated, all you need to ask yourself is “how long before I consume this?”. You may not need to refrigerate it. Do be careful though; particularly during summer – don’t play a game of food poisoning Russian roulette.
Old fridge vs. new refrigerator
As with everything it seems these days, they don’t make fridges like they used to. There are some very old refrigerators still in operation which gives rise to the question of whether it is it better to sell an old fridge and buy a new one in terms of savings on electricity, emissions and environmental issues generally.
While even modern fridges are power hungry, old refrigerators were even more so.
According to the USA government’s Energy Star refrigerator calculator, a 16.5-18.9 cubic feet refrigerator/freezer built between 1993 and 2000 will cost around $120 a year to run, based on an electricity cost of USD 15c/kWh. An Energy Star qualified model (USA program) costs around $57 a year to operate. That’s a big difference in bucks, electricity and emissions; particularly when viewed over the longer term.
If your old fridge is showing its age, buying a new one is probably an environmentally friendly thing to do aside from one issue – what to do with the old fridge. To keep it out of landfill, I suggest using it in your garage, workshop, shed etc. as a storage unit for tools and such. It should last many, many years used in such a way and may avoid buying something else for that task.
Perhaps also consider having the old fridge de-gassed (which may be a requirement if going to landfill). Refrigerators use gases that have many times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide and/or are ozone depleting substances.
Refrigerators and food waste
How many times have you found food items in your refrigerator you forgot were there? Often, these mysterious food items have taken on life of their own and need to be discarded. Food waste is a huge issue generally, with as much as 30% of all food in the USA being discarded .
Keep tabs on what you have in your fridge to reduce food waste and store items in suitable wrapping and containers to help prolong their usable life.
Some fruits produce ethylene gas which can cause vegetables in close proximity to spoil more rapidly; so keep yet-to-ripen avocados, bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears and plums out of your fridge too where possible.
General fridge efficiency tips
– Inspect the seals on your fridge regularly – even small gaps created by degradation, gunk or cuts can have a major impact on its energy efficiency.
– Refrigerators should be positioned out of direct sunlight and away from the wall a little to promote air circulation.
– If you have an old fridge with the coils on the outside, dust these regularly.
– Regularly defrosting your fridge’s freezer will also help to conserve electricity.
– Adjust the settings on your fridge and freezer to take into account the season – it can usually be set to a higher (warmer) setting during winter.
– While keeping the freezer compartment full will improve its efficiency, the refrigerator compartment needs a little space to work its best. Overloading or underloading the refrigerator will cause a performance loss, but a gap between shelving should be enough to promote necessary circulation.
– It appears that opening a fridge door often having a major impact on electricity use is somewhat of a myth, as long as the time it is left open is short. However, a penny saved is a penny earned; so keep the myth alive in your family :).