5 Things a New Fridge Can Do for the Good of the Planet

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Tuohy
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As a reader of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, you likely already know that keeping an old fridge around is a false economy. As someone who strives toward a sustainable lifestyle, you’re probably aware that a fridge more than 10 years old is sucking up way more than its fair share of energy, essentially damaging the planet on a daily basis. It would be hard to have missed the fact that replacing an old fridge with a new Energy Star model can save up to $1,000 in energy costs over its lifetime.


But that decade-old fridge still works, and you’ve still got it, don’t you? Clearly you need a little more convincing that upgrading is the responsible step to take. Advances in refrigeration technology have not only increased the efficiency of these devices that are essential to modern life, but they will also make your life run more smoothly. If it has been more than 10 years since you looked at a new fridge, here are five things that a new fridge can do that will improve your sustainable footprint (not to mention, make your life a lot easier):

1. Dispense Water

Through-the-door ice and water dispensers are a staple in most modern side-by-side and French door model refrigerators. The benefits are numerous, including freshly filtered cold water on tap that helps promote healthy living, plus eliminates the need to buy bottled water. Newer fridges come with elongated “dispensing centers” so you can fill large reusable water bottles and even pots for cooking with. Some models can even sense the size of the container you are filling automatically, so you can just leave it in the fridge door, press a button and come back when it’s full.

The only eco-downside to the dispenser is that it breaks the seal between the cold air inside the fridge and the warm air outside, potentially making the fridge work harder. However, the break is minimal compared to what happens when you open and close a fridge door (something you will do less when you can access ice and water from the outside).

2. Keep Food Fresher For Longer

Dual compressors have largely replaced single compressors in refrigerator technology. Designed to keep food fresher for longer than a single, less efficient compressor, dual compressors mean each compartment, fridge and freezer, is operated by an independent refrigeration system, allowing for more precise control of temperature resulting in longer lasting food.

Adjustable humidity drawers mean you can more precisely control how your fresh fruits and vegetables are stored, helping prolong their life and reduce waste. (Remember that high humidity keeps the crisper moister, ideal for storing leafy vegetables; low humidity keeps out moisture for better storage of fruits.)

3. Fit More Food, More Efficiently

This Samsung has almost 30 cu.ft. of storage space, capable of storing 30 bags of groceries.

Fridges today hold much more inside, without necessarily increasing the overall footprint of the appliance. How do they do this? Thinner insulation. A fridge born 20 years ago will be thickly insulated with Freon or other similar CFCs, leaving just a little bit of space for storage. Open a modern fridge and the thick bands of plastic around the edges are gone, replaced by super thin insulation panels, freeing up space for more storage.

While it’s important to choose the right size for your needs, it doesn’t necessarily follow that smaller fridges are more efficient; mini-fridges in particular have less insulation. Also, an overstuffed small fridge uses more energy because it doesn’t have room to circulate the cold air, and must work harder to keep everything cool. The sweet spot energy-wise is between 16 and 20 cubic feet, but if you have a need for more space, it’s better to get one big fridge than two smaller ones. And today you can find a 29.5 cu. ft. fridge that will store up to 30 bags of groceries.

One of the best features of modern fridges is their interior design. A lot of time and R&D has been spent on figuring out how we use fridges, and consequently they are packed with useful storage spaces, from extra-deep door bins to store gallon-sized items — providing more door storage and freeing up shelf space — to sliding shelves and butter keepers, you’ll find convenient ways to store all your food in the most accessible way (meaning food is less likely to be forgotten and wasted).

4. Cut Down on Wasted Energy

This LG Stainless Steel side-by-side fridge incorporates a door-in-door to reduce the loss of cold air when the door is opened.

A fridge consumes about 13 percent of a home’s energy, but it’s not just the size of a fridge that determines how much energy it uses; the type of model you choose also affects the energy bill. A refrigerator with the freezer on top is the most efficient model, using 10-25 percent less energy than the other styles. But, considering that opening a fridge door accounts for 7 percent of its total energy use in a home, there is a new model that has emerged in the last two years worth considering. The door-in-door and exterior drawer concepts, pioneered by Samsung and LG in 2013, allow you to access drinks, condiments, and other often-used items without opening the main fresh-food compartment. This reduces the amount of cold air lost when the door is opened, therefore reducing the amount of energy it uses.

5. Be a Fridge OR a Freezer

This Samsung fridge allows you to set the bottom sections to be a fridge or freezer.

Getting into the realm of brand new technology, you can now buy a fridge that can be both a fridge and/or a freezer. How is that different from a regular fridge or freezer? You get to choose which parts are frozen and which are refrigerated, according to your current needs.

In the summer, when you eat more fresh produce, salads and easily perishable items, you can set three of the four compartments to be fridge and one freezer. As you’re heading into winter and perhaps want to freeze some of that produce (or all that tomato sauce you whipped up at peak harvest time) you can turn both your bottom compartments into freezers.

Are there any other advantages of modern fridges that you’ve found you can’t live without?

Jennifer Tuohywrites about green-home technologies for Home Depot. Jennifer provides tips to homeowners about energy savings on appliances, including refrigerators. You can view Home Depot’s selection of fridges, including energy-saving models referred to by Jennifer, online.

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