Refrigerators And Freezers

Refrigerators and freezers can be among the most significant energy-consuming appliances in the average home. In many cases only space conditioning (heating and cooling) and water heating use more energy. While most people are aware of the importance of saving energy on heating, cooling and water heating, the energy consumed by refrigerators and freezers is often overlooked.

A ten-year-old refrigerator or freezer can cost considerably more to operate than a new energy-efficient model of the same size. Improvements in the design of compressors and cooling coils, better insulation, tighter door seals, and other design improvements all contribute to the higher efficiencies of newer models.


The table below shows average annual electric consumption for refrigerators by year of manufacture.

Year ManufacturedAverage Annual kWh
After 2001485
2003 Eenrgy Start Refrigerator436

As you can see from the table, refrigerators have been getting much more energy efficient, with the average post-2001 model using less than 25% of the electricity of a 1972 model. The older your existing refrigerator is, the more energy and money you can save by replacing it with a new one. However, in many cases itís difficult to justify replacing a refrigerator thatís running well purely for the sake of energy efficiency. But if you're considering replacing your existing refrigerator for other reasons (desire for additional features, redecorating the kitchen, etc.), remember that a refrigerator or freezer has two price tags Ė the initial purchase price and the energy cost to run it. When the time comes to retire your old refrigerator, look for an energy-efficient model. Even though federal law mandates minimum energy-efficiency levels, there are differences from model to model. Consult the yellow and black EnergyGuide label for information on estimated operating costs. In the meantime, here are some suggestions for improving your current refrigerator's performance and efficiency.

General Tips

  • The single most effective way to reduce refrigerator energy costs is to remove or unplug unnecessary refrigerators or freezers. Running a second refrigerator or freezer, particularly an older model, only makes sense when the additional cold storage is needed. Consolidate your fresh and frozen foods into one appliance and you'll see the savings.
  • Most used refrigerators and freezers can be recycled. Check with a local appliance dealer. Also, be sure to remove the doors from unused refrigerators to keep small children from becoming trapped inside.
  • Check the door seals. Gaskets on your refrigerator /freezer door can deteriorate over time. Gaskets that do not seal properly can waste a lot of energy by allowing the cold air to leak out. To check the gasket, place a piece of paper between the door and the refrigerator as you close it. If you can move the paper freely from the door, the gasket is not sealing tightly. Another method is to put a lit flashlight inside the refrigerator - if you can see light around the door gasket, it is not sealing properly. If the gasket is deteriorated, make sure you can get a replacement before removing it (even a deteriorated gasket is better than none).
  • Check the temperature inside your refrigerator and freezer with a thermometer. Refrigerators should be kept between 36° and 38° F. This is usually the mid-level temperature setting on most refrigerators. Freezers should be set between 0° to 5° F. Setting the temperature just 10° F below the recommended setting can increase energy use by as much as 25%.
  • Unplug the refrigerator and clean the dust from the back or bottom coils twice a year. Dirt and dust restrict the airflow around the coils and cause the unit to work harder, increasing energy costs.
  • Make sure there is at least 3 inches of air space between the back of the refrigerator and the wall, and at least 1 inch on each side of the refrigerator to allow for good air circulation.
  • If your refrigerator has a switch for an energy saver mode, use it. This feature disables a small heating coil that prevents moisture from building up on the outside of the refrigerator. Unless you see condensation on the outside of your refrigerator, keep this switch off.
  • Defrost regularly. Manual and partial automatic defrost refrigerators and freezers should be defrosted at least twice a year.
  • Cover foods and liquids. Uncovered foods (especially liquids) will release moisture and cause the refrigerator to use more energy. Keep items covered and contain the moisture in the food where it belongs.
  • Fully loaded refrigerators and freezers operate more efficiently, but avoid overloading to the point where air cannot circulate around the food.
  • Make the most of the freezer compartment in your refrigerator. There's no need for a separate stand-alone freezer that's nearly empty if there is space in the refrigerator's freezer compartment.
  • If a stand-alone freezer is necessary, a chest freezer that opens from the top is a more efficient option. With upright models, each time the door is opened the cold air spills out. With chest freezers, the cold air stays in the freezer, making this type about 25-30% more efficient.

Related Topics

Shopping For Energy Efficient Appliances