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9 Tips for Buying and Using an Energy-Efficient Refrigerator

Tips for selecting an energy efficient refrigerator

Refrigerators and freezers have never been more energy efficient that they are today — an ENERGY STAR–certified refrigerator uses 40 percent less energy than models sold in 2001. If you’re in the market for a new, energy-efficient refrigerator, here are nine tips for getting the most out of your purchase, including using it to help lower your monthly electric bills.

1. Look for the EnergyGuide and ENERGY STAR Labels

The EnergyGuide label, which is on all new refrigerators, tells you how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity a particular model uses in a year. The smaller the number, the less energy — and money — it will consume. Make sure the refrigerator you’re considering is also ENERGY STAR–certified. Refrigerators certified by ENERGY STAR use 20 percent less electricity than current federal standards require.

2. Buy a Refrigerator with the Freezer on Top or Bottom

Refrigerator models with a freezer at the top or bottom are more energy efficient than side-by-side models — bottom freezer models use 16 percent less energy while top freezer models use 13 percent less energy.

3. Be Wary of Extra Features

Water dispensers and icemakers are convenient, but they also consume 14 percent to 20 percent more electricity, resulting in models that aren’t as energy efficient as they could be.

4. Find a Model with Automatic Moisture Control

Refrigerators normally accumulate moisture on the exterior of their cabinets, or “sweat,” because of the temperature difference between their interiors and exteriors, much like a glass of ice water on a hot day. Some refrigerators use built-in devices called “anti-sweat” heaters to prevent sweating, but these devices use 5 percent to 10 percent more energy than other models. Instead, opt for models engineered with automatic moisture control that can prevent sweating without a heater.

5. Don’t Keep it Too Cold

To help maximize your energy savings, make sure the temperatures of your refrigerator and freezer aren’t set too low. Setting one or the other 10 degrees colder than it needs to be can use up 25 percent more energy. To prevent your refrigerator and freezer from wasting energy, set the temperature in the fresh food compartment of your refrigerator to between 37 degrees and 40 degrees and your freezer to 5 degrees. If you have a separate freezer for long-term storage, you can set it to 0 degrees.

In order to measure the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer, place an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the refrigerator and another between frozen packages in the freezer. Check the thermometers in 24 hours, adjust the temperature settings and measure again as needed.

6. Regularly Defrost Manual-Defrost Models

Manual-defrost freezers use about half as much energy as automatic-defrost models. If you opt for a manual-defrost model, make sure you defrost it regularly or you won’t achieve the expected energy savings.

7. Cover Liquids and Foods

Any liquids or foods stored in your refrigerator need to be covered or wrapped. Uncovered drinks and unwrapped foods release moisture that make the refrigerator’s air conditioning compressor work harder.

8. Make Sure the Doors are Airtight

You may not have to worry about making sure the doors on your new refrigerator and freezer are airtight right away, but making adjustments to the doors as they age is important to maintaining energy efficiency. To check the door’s seal, close the door on a dollar bill so that half the bill is in the refrigerator and half is out. If you can pull the bill out easily, then you need to adjust the latch or replace the seal.

9. Get the Right Size for You

It’s important to buy a refrigerator that’s the right size for you, your family and your space. A refrigerator that’s too big and isn’t very full wastes energy, while one that’s undersized and too full may struggle to keep everything cold. Likewise, a refrigerator that fits too snugly in the corner may not have enough clear space around the condensing coils for efficient operation and could end up damaging the unit. On the other hand, buying a new, energy-efficient refrigerator that’s the right size will give you years of service that will save energy and save money.


California Energy Commission: Consumer Energy Center website, “Refrigerators and Freezers.”

U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Savers website, “Refrigerators.”

8/2/2011 8:15:00 AM
in Residential Energy Savings