How much electricity does my refrigerator use?
Last update: April, 2014
Refrigerators are a big
chunk of home energy use
savings for replacing an old 22 c.f.
fridge with a newer model
2001+ model saves:
with a 2008+
Energy Star model saves:
CEE Tier 3 model saves:
||$257 / yr.
||$266 / yr.
||$183 / yr.
||$192 / yr.
||$101 / yr.
||$110 / yr.
||$92 / yr.
||$101 / yr.
||$55 / yr.
||$64 / yr.
||$18 / yr.
||$28 / yr.
Energy Star (10%+ better)
||$9 / yr.
||$18 / yr.
Energy Star (15%+ better)
||$5 / yr.
||$14 / yr.
Energy Star (20%+ better)
||$9 / yr.
|CEE Tier 3
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If your fridge was made 2001 or later, it's a tougher call. As you can see from the table, trading in a 2001+ model for a new Energy Star model might save around $20/yr. in energy costs, or $280 over its useful life. That's certainly not as much as it would cost you to buy a new fridge. On the other hand, you're going to have to replace your fridge sooner or later anyway, since the average useful life is only around 14 years. So the question isn't really, "Should I replace my fridge?", but rather, "Should I replace it early (before it needs replacing)?" To answer that question, use the calculator above, not the table, because the calculator will let you choose your fridge size and local electricity rate, which is all-important. As I always say, the figures provided in the table are samples. Your savings will differ depending on how much you're paying for electricity and the size of the fridge. (It'll also differ by the exact model you buy, and how warm or cool your kitchen is, by the way.)
One reason to replace the fridge now is that saving
energy reduces pollution. I always pay a
little more if it means I pollute a little
less. I traded in my old fridge before it died
for that very reason.
Help in choosing a new
Get an EnergyStar
model. In the U.S., look for
Star label, which identifies fridges that are
at least 20% more efficient than standard models. (EPA;
for older standards) (Don't
confuse this with the EnergyGuide label that
all appliances get.) At 15¢/kWh, a 25 c.f.
EnergyStar fridge will save about an extra $23/year
vs. standard models, or $322 over its life.
That will more than pay for the extra cost of an
Energy Star model, which is only $38 for a ~22
cu.ft. model on Sears.com today (6/1/10).
CEE Tier 3. While Energy Star fridges use 20% less energy than standard models, CEE Tier 3 (CT3) fridges use 30% less. (source, PDF) That's great for those who want to be as efficient as possible, but at 15¢/kWh, that extra 10% amounts to only $9/year savings over an Energy Star fridge. That's because Energy Star fridges are already very efficient. The $9/year works out to $126 over the fridge's useful life, which is almost exactly the $120 extra that the CT3 model costs (according my price check in 6/10 on Sears.com). So it might not save you any money, but since the savings can pay for itself, it doesn't hurt to go with a CT3 model. And of course, if your local electric rate is higher than I used in my example, you'll actually see more savings. The only problem in shopping for a CT3 fridge is that they're usually not labeled as CT3. You'll have to download the CT3 fridge list for reference when you go shopping
For a smaller fridge (18-22cf), get a Top-Freezer model. Refrigerators with the freezer on top use the least energy. Side-by-Side models use 13% more juice than top-freezer models, according to my analysis of the Energy Star fridges list from May 2010. However, as of 2007, top freezer models aren't available in larger sizes (>22cf), so a top-freezer is an option only if you're going with a smaller unit. Almost all the bigger fridges being made these days are side-by-side. (EPA, 194k PDF) (Interestingly, bottom-freezer models are about the same efficiency as top-freezers, even though you'd suspect that bottom-freezer models would have an advantage since hot air rises. Also, the penalty for side-by-side models used to be even higher. An August 2002 Consumer Reports article showed that 2002-era side-by-side models used a whopping 45% more energy than top-freezer models.)
Skip the ice maker and dispenser. These ratchet up the energy use quite a bit. According to the EPA these features mean 14-20% in extra energy, but Consumer Reports testing showed that these features could double energy use. (EPA, Consumer Reports)
Super-Efficient Fridges. Sun Frost makes super-efficient fridges, including a 16 cubic foot model that uses only 372 kWh a year. (They're marketed towards people who are powering their homes with solar electricity, where every watt counts.) A new Japanese model called CoolView claims to reduce costs by up to 55%.
Also, you can make your own super-efficient fridge by converting a chest freezer. It uses a mere 0.1 kWh a day, or 36.5 kWh a year! Chest freezers are more efficient than fridges because they have more insulation and because the cold air doesn't spill out when you open the door, because cold air falls down, not up. There are a couple of obvious downsides. First is that it might not be as easy for you to access your food in a chest freezer. Another is that the new fridge will take up more floor space. Finally, you'll need a separate freezer. But if these things don't put you off, then you can save quite a bit of energy. Read Tom's instructions for how to make a super-efficient fridge.
Old manual defrost fridges won't save money. You might have heard that manual defrost fridges use less energy than frost-free, so you might be tempted to look for an old manual defrost model. Don't. Old fridges use way more energy than new ones, even if the old one is manual defrost. I once had an old manual-defrost model that used 1000 kWh year, which is more than twice what a modern 425 kWh Energy Star, frost-free model uses. Now, a modern manual-defrost fridge could be an energy-saver, but I haven't been able to find one that's energy efficient. The only modern frost-free model I know of is the Vestfrost, but it uses 548 kWh — more than a standard fridge.
Saving energy with your existing fridge
Turn off the anti-sweat feature.
Many fridges have small heaters that keep moisture from forming on the cabinet. This uses an extra 5-10% extra electricity. Most models that have this feature have a switch that lets you turn it off, usually labeled "Energy Saver". (source)
Set the temperature for only as cold as you need it.
Fridge should be 36-40F, and the freezer should be 0-5F (-17 to -10C). Fridges set 10 degrees lower than needed (or freezers set 5 degrees lower than needed) can increase energy use by as much as 20-25%. Personally, I set my own fridge to 56° because as a vegan I never store super-perishables like meat or dairy.
To test the fridge temperature, put a thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the fridge and leave it there for 24 hours. To test the freezer temperature, put the thermometer between two frozen packages. If the temperature is colder than needed, then set the fridge to a warmer temperature.
Don't put hot foods in the fridge.
Food safety experts say you should refrigerate hot food to prevent contamination. But that doesn't mean you have to refrigerate them immediately. The USDA says to refrigerate within two hours of preparation (or one hour if the room temp is above 90°). One to two hours of cooling off time will definitely make your refrigerator work less. It's a tradeoff -- the sooner you refrigerate the safer the food, but the more energy you'll use. Of course, meat and dairy foods are most susceptible to contamination, which is yet another reason to not eat meat and dairy in the first place.
Yosh Hash sent in the tip that you can greatly cool items by putting them in a container and soaking them in a pot of cold water for 15-30 minutes, which reduces the amount of heat the fridge will have to remove once you stick them in the fridge.
Along the same lines, he writes: "A lot of people do not seem to understand that the middle position on a faucet means half cold, half hot. I've seen people fill a pitcher with lukewarm water and put it in the fridge! What a waste -- they paid to heat the water, then they pay to take that heat right back out of the water. Please tell your readers when when they're refrigerating water, they should draw cold water into the pitcher, not warm." Consider your wish granted.
Thaw frozen foods in the fridge rather than on the counter.
They'll help cool the fridge as they defrost.
Pick a good spot for the fridge.
Your fridge will use less energy if you keep it away from heat and also place it where the heat it generates can easily dissipate. Position your fridge out of direct sunlight, and away from heat sources such as the oven and heat registers. Help the fridge get rid of the heat it generates by placing it along an external wall. If you don't use air conditioning then put the fridge in front of an open window to let the heat easily escape. This doesn't just make your fridge work less, it keeps your house cooler too. If your choices for locating your fridge are limited then at the very least make sure there as at least 2" of space all around to allow for circulation.
More on temperature & energy use: A Sun Frost fridge uses 61% more energy in a 90-degree F environment than a 70-degree environment. Home Energy magazine has a chart showing refrigerator energy use per degree of temperature. But this doesn't mean you should keep your house extra cool so that the fridge uses less energy, because you'll use way more energy to cool your home than you'll save be having your fridge work less. Air conditioning uses way more electricity than fridges. Instead, just put your fridge in a good location, as explained above.
Home Energy magazine says door openings account for 7% of fridge energy use, assuming 42 door openings a day. But the Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida (link no longer available) says poor open/close habits waste 50 to 120kWh a year, which would be 10-24% of a 500 kWh/yr. fridge. They don't say whether this is too-frequent opening, or leaving open too long when opening, or both. I'm openly calling on readers to test how much door-openings matter, using a Kill-A-Watt meter, keeping track of how many times and for how long you open the door, compared to a 24- or 48-hour period where you don't open the door at all. Report your findings and I'll share them with everyone on this page.
Defrost a non-frost-free freezer before the frost exceeds a quarter-inch thick.
More frost makes the freezer work harder. But better yet, if your fridge isn't frost-free, that means it's old, and old fridges use tons of energy. Replace it with a newer model, made in 2001 or later.
Cleaning the coils helps a little, but not much.
Just about every other Saving Energy guide out there tells you that cleaning the coils on your fridge is important to saving energy. They're guessing. Cleaning a set of very dirty coils will save maybe 5%, or less than $5 a year on a post-2000 era fridge. (source) One reader, Steve, measured the energy use of his old 1995, 24 c.f. fridge for about 100 hours each before and after cleaning the coils. He got a 6.5% reduction in energy, which will save him $8.30 a year at 15¢/kWh.
Of course, it can't hurt to clean them, so here's how to clean the coils: The coils are the small, winding black pipe either on the back of the fridge, or the slotted vents on the bottom. If you can reach the coils easily with a brush and/or vacuum then use that. If they're hard to get to, then you can do what Steve did and move the fridge to the yard and then blast the coils with a leaf blower.
Use a transparent plastic curtain
You may have seen these in the perishables section of a grocery store -- vertical transparent plastic strips. They keep the cold in while still allowing you to see what's behind them. You can do the same thing for your fridge by cutting up a transparent plastic shower curtain and taping it to the ceiling of the fridge compartment. If you do this, I recommend one of the newer EVA curtains (such as this one form Bed Bath & Beyond), rather than the more common PVC curtains, which are smelly and much more toxic and definitely something you don't want around food.
Make sure the gasket is in good shape.
The gasket is that piece of rubber going around the door that seals the door to the refrigerator. If it doesn't seal well, then cold air is escaping so your fridge is working a lot harder. If parts of it are coming off, then re-attach it with some adhesive caulk.
Turn the fridge OFF?!
Elizabeth Stone writes: "I was inspired this month to unplug my refrigerator and cool just with ice that I can make outdoors. I can keep the refrigerator at 45 degrees for about five days with a couple of big pot fulls of ice. It had occurred to me how wasteful it was to be cooling something in the winter in a northern climate! It takes more attention and effort than just having a plugged-in refrigerator, but perhaps there are others out there that might also try this if they were given the idea."
At first I thought this was a good idea, but it actually doesn't work, because while your fridge works a little less by importing ice, your heater has to work a little more. Here's how that works: There's X amount of heat in your home in the winter. As heat slowly escapes your home through walls and windows, your heater kicks in and heats the house up again. Now you bring in a big block of ice. No matter where you put it, that effectively extracts heat from your home, since the ice will absorb it. Granted, it will take longer for that to happen when the ice is in the sealed fridge rather than on your living room floor, but it'll still happen over time, and that brings us to the next point: Before you put extra ice in the fridge, the exhaust from the fridge was helping to heat the house, so your heater could run a little less. But once you add the ice to the fridge and turn it off, the fridge is no longer helping with the house heat. So you save on the energy to run the fridge, but you use a little more energy to heat the house. Yes, it's not much more energy to heat the house, but neither is it much energy saved in the fridge with the ice, either. In theory there's some financial savings if your local rate for electricity for the fridge is a lot higher than your local rate for whatever fuel you use to heat the house with, but even in that case the savings would be so small as to be negligible.
One reader asked if you could just make ice with the icemaker to cool the fridge? You could, but it won't save any energy, because it takes energy to make the ice with the icemaker.
Now, keeping some ice in the fridge can also help keep your food cool if the power goes out, but it's not an energy-saving technique.
Data on old fridges.
One company compiled a massive database of energy use for 41,000 different refrigerator models from 1979 to 1992.
I have a separate page about questions I've received and answered about refrigerators, as well as my sources and technical data.