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Refrigeration

This is a consumer page on refrigerators. For more resources related to refrigeration, visit the refrigeration topic page.

The energy efficiency of refrigerators and freezers has improved dramatically over the past three decades. A typical new refrigerator with automatic defrost and a top-mounted freezer uses about half the energy used by a typical 1990 refrigerator. So if your refrigerator is old, needs repairs, or is nearing the end of its expected 15-year life, it may make good economic sense to replace it now.

Part 1: Buying a New Refrigerator
Part 2: Energy Saving Tips

 

Buying a New Refrigerator

 

To find the most efficient refrigerators , download a qualifying product list from the ENERGY STAR Web site (link to excel file in the upper-right). Sort by "Configuration," "Volume," and "Percent Better" to see which refrigerators meet our recommendations (below). For a quick search by manufacturer, here's a direct link to the list in html. To identify the most efficient products and prices, and where to buy them locally, check out the Top Ten USA listings.

When buying a new refrigerator, consider the following:

1. Low Annual Energy Use
ACEEE recommends that you consider models that use at least 30% less electricity than that required by federal law. These products will meet the 2014 federal standard and may qualify for rebates—check with your local utility.

2. Choose top-mounted freezer configuration over side-by-side
Side-by-side refrigerator/freezers use more energy than similarly sized models with the freezer on top, even if they both carry the ENERGY STAR. The government holds the two categories to different standards, allowing side-by-sides to use 10-30% more energy. Icemakers and through-the-door ice also add to energy consumption. To compare energy performance across different refrigerator types, look for the measured "kWh/year" either on the ENERGY STAR list above, or on the yellow EnergyGuide label posted on the refrigerator (and available on-line through many manufacturers and retailers websites).

3. Size Matters
Refrigerators under 25 cubic feet should meet the needs of most households. The models over 25 cubic feet use significantly more energy. If you are thinking about purchasing such a large unit, you may want to reconsider. A smaller unit may well meet your household's needs.

4. Minimize multiple refrigerators
That said, if you need more refrigerator space, resist the temptation of moving your old refrigerator to the basement or garage for auxiliary purposes. Instead, have it recycled and think about other options if you need more refrigerator space. Depending on your situation, it is generally much more efficient to operate one big refrigerator rather than two smaller ones. If your big fridge is likely to be empty most of the year, maybe the better option would be to purchase an ENERGY STAR compact fridge. Compact refrigerators less than 7.75 ft3 must be 20% more efficient than the minimum federal standard to qualify for ENERGY STAR. They are listed alongside full-size refrigerators at the ENERGY STAR link above.

5. Recycle your old fridge
Be sure you dispose of your old refrigerator properly. You can usually have the utility or the city pick it up; they might even pay you to recycle it. To learn more, go to our web page on appliance recycling and disposal.

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Energy Saving Tips

 

If you can not afford to buy a new refrigerator, you can minimize the energy consumption of your existing refrigerator somewhat by following these tips.

  • Check Door Seals
    Check the door seals or gaskets on your refrigerator/freezer. You can do this by putting a dollar bill in the door as you close it and see if it holds firmly in place. Or, put a bright flashlight inside the refrigerator and direct the light toward a section of the door seal. With the door closed and the room darkened, inspect for light through the crack.
  • Adjust the Thermostat
    The refrigerator compartment should be kept between 36°F and 38°F, and the freezer compartment between 0°F and 5°F.
  • Move the Refrigerator to a Cooler Location
    If your refrigerator is in the sunlight or next to your stove or dishwasher, it has to work harder to maintain cool temperatures.
  • Check Power-Saver Switch
    Many refrigerators have small heaters built into the walls to prevent moisture from condensing on the outer surface — as if the refrigerator doesn’t have to work hard enough already! On some units, this feature can be turned off with an energy-saver or power-saver switch. Unless you have noticeable condensation, keep this switch on the energy saving setting.
  • Minimize Frost Build-Up
    Manual defrost and partial automatic defrost refrigerators and freezers should be defrosted on a regular basis. The buildup of ice on the coils inside the unit means that the compressor has to run longer to maintain cold temperatures, wasting energy. If you live in a very hot, humid climate and don’t use air conditioning, defrosting may be required quite frequently with a manual defrost model. After defrosting, you might be able to adjust the thermostat to a warmer setting, further saving energy.
  • Manage Your Food and Storage Space
    To keep your refrigerator from working too hard, let hot foods cool, cover foods, label items for quick identification, and keep your freezer full.

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Page last updated December 2012