Keeping food cold can use a lot of energy

Keeping food cold can use a lot of energy. Here’s another area where you need to make careful decisions.


Like dishwashers, old refrigerators are much less energy efficient than new ones. They are also often the largest single plug load in the house. So if your refrigerator is old (average life expectancy is 15 years), or if it’s deteriorating, you may want to replace it—it’s costing you a lot to run. Many people make the mistake of buying a new fridge and putting the old one in the garage, but this just relocates the problem. Old refrigerators should be recycled, not just tossed into the landfill. Some utilities will even pay you to recycle them; check with your power company and your waste hauler.

When shopping for a refrigerator, consider the advice of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy:

Size, configuration, and features have a big impact on overall unit energy consumption. ENERGY STAR ratings are available for refrigerators [but] different fridge/freezer configurations are treated differently by the ENERGY STAR standards, so that it is possible to have an ENERGY STAR side-by-side model that uses more energy than a similar size non-ENERGY STAR top-freezer model.

Freezers and Other Cold Storage:

If a stand-alone freezer is part of your plan, be sure to get an ENERGY STAR model, ideally one listed by TopTen USA (see Resources). If you need a lot of cold storage space, you might want to consider alternatives to a larger fridge or a second fridge. Some foods can be stored in the cellar, where it’s often cooler than in the main house.

You might even want to install a “cooler cabinet.” These cabinets—once common but now almost forgotten—are worth considering in moderate climates. They are used to store foods, such as grains and some fruits and vegetables, that don’t need refrigeration but will keep better at cooler-than-room temperatures. They are built against an exterior wall (preferably one that faces north). The exterior wall is louvered and screened, and the shelves are slatted to allow outdoor air to circulate through the cabinet. To avoid compromising your house’s thermal barrier, the cabinet must be well insulated, sealed, and weather-stripped.

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