Enjoy Cool Energy Savings with Greener Refrigerators

Save money and electricity with these tips to make your refrigerator more energy efficient. Plus, here’s how to know if it’s time to recycle the old fridge and buy a new one.

| Sept. 16, 2008

Refrigerator closeup

Your refrigerator is one of the biggest energy users in your home. Fortunately, some simple tips can keep it running as efficiently as possible.


If you’re looking for simple ways to save energy at home, your refrigerator is a good place to start. That’s because your fridge is one of your home’s single biggest electricity users (other members of this club include your air conditioner and your water heater.) But with a few simple steps you can make your current refrigerator more efficient — and when it’s time to buy a new fridge, these resources can help you make a smart choice.

Fine Tune your Refrigerator

What can you do to make your current fridge greener? A good place to start is with this list from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), and there’s a similar list of tips from Energy Star.

Here are a few of the strategies these resources suggest:

  • Adjust the thermostat of the refrigerator to between 36 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and make sure the freezer is set between zero to 5 degrees.
  • Minimize frost buildup by defrosting regularly.
  • Keep your refrigerator in a cool location — ideally it’s not in direct sunlight or right next to your stove.
  • Make sure the seals on the door are airtight by checking to see whether the door can hold a dollar bill when it’s closed. If not, it may be time to replace the seals or the refrigerator.
  • Keep the door shut as much as you can! For example, know what you want before you open it, and keep your leftovers in labeled containers so they don’t take as long to find.

You may have heard that you can save energy by cleaning your refrigerator’s condenser coils. While that seems like a common sense way to keep your refrigerator running more efficiently, there’s a surprisingly heated debate about this online, with some sources saying this is an energy myth. On the other hand, there are probably at least small energy savings from cleaning the coils — check out this Home Energy article to read more about one program that tried to measure the savings. In any case, cleaning your refrigerator coils can’t hurt.

Choosing a New Refrigerator

If you have an older refrigerator, upgrading to a newer model can save money in the long term through reductions in your electric bills. Energy Star has a refrigerator retirement calculator that can help do the math. Remember that if you do decide to buy a new refrigerator, you won’t save any energy if you simply move the old one out into the garage as a second refrigerator. One green alternative is to recycle the old fridge.

When you’re shopping for a new refrigerator, look for energy efficient models. A good place to start is by checking for the Energy Star label and — good news! — this standard was recently updated to require higher levels of efficiency. You can get a complete list of all refrigerators with an Energy Star label here.

kristina _1
9/23/2008 6:36:45 PM

What about using a smaller fridge? Our family of three uses less than half of the space a typical fridge provides, and with all of the wasted space, it seems like a smaller version would be more practical.

gary cornelius
9/21/2008 10:26:19 AM

Living in a solar home has provided years of energy savings and environmental benefit, however the daytime temperatures in my kitchen and livingroom area during the winter months rise into the 80's due to the southern exposure. I developed a closed cell polyethylene foam mat that attaches to all sides of a refrigerator or freezer, a thickness of 1/2 inch reduces cabinet temperature up to 15 degrees and saves approximately 252 kilowatt hours of electricity per year or roughly 30%. This is based on a 25.5 cu.ft. side by side refrigerator. When applied to deep freezers and electric clothes dryers the savings are even greater.I am still refining the "Fridgecoat" for other applications , for now it can be covered with fabric or painted to match most appliances. Save energy reduce carbon.

winter star
9/19/2008 1:47:57 PM

Disappointed by the increased power bills brought by a new, smaller, "Energy Star" refrig., we used packing tape to attach 1" of foam insulation panels to the sides and front, and 2" more foam on the top. We left the back clear, since heat exchange needs to happen there, that would be messed up if anything covered it. Doing this cut the run-time of the refrigerator in half at least. It saved ALL our food, including the frozen stuff, during a 3-day power outage when weather was in the 50's. We taped the doors shut, so no cool would be lost, and lived on canned stuff for that time. At the end of that time, we did need to use the stuff all up. But we didn't lose anything. The added insulation, PLUS using a heavy duty timer during the night to shut it off, has saved us a chunk of money, and the food has done fine.

aly van dyke_2
9/19/2008 12:32:11 PM

I've always heard refrigerators are among the most energy-sapping appliances in the home, but I never knew there was so much you could do about it. I always try to minimize the time I spend staring into the refrigerator, but sometimes my indecisiveness keeps me there longer than I need to be. I've heard some people take pictures of what's in their refrigerator and tape it to the front so they know what's in it and where before they go fridge-diving. I haven't tried it, but I imagine it couldn't hurt.

9/19/2008 9:11:04 AM

The cleaning of the coils that reject heat from the inside of the refrigerator to the ambient air will improve the rate of heat transfer from the fridge to the ambient air. Therefore, one would surmise that rejection of more heat with the same amount of energy leads to increased refrigerator performance. IE your fridge operates for less time to remove a certain amount of heat. There is no doubt that this is correct. However, the effect of dirt and dust on heat rejection depends on the amount of build up. That being said recleaning the coil of an already relatively clean refrigerator coil will have negligible effect on efficiency.

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