Refrigerators have gotten much more efficient over the past couple of decades. That’s a good thing because, compared to other appliances, they’re more energy-intensive, typically consuming 7% of our residential power—and we can’t easily live without them. According to solar power company EnergySage, today’s Energy Star–certified refrigerators can use up to 40% less energy than standard fridges sold in 2001.
What is Energy Star?
Energy Star is a program that certifies energy-efficient products to cut down on power use and lower energy bills. Created in 1992 by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Star program awards badges that make it easy for consumers to identify appliances that meet energy guidelines while rocking the modern features buyers want. If you can find an Energy Star–certified refrigerator you like, it will help you save money.
The most energy-efficient refrigerators
If you’re in the market for a new fridge, you may be surprised to learn that top-freezer models are the most energy-efficient. A top-freezer fridge can use less energy than a 60-watt light bulb. An Energy Star–certified bottom-freezer model is behind the top-freezer style in energy use. Side-by-side models have a lot more surface to chill, so they consume more power. But size matters, too, so a smaller side-by-side refrigerator can be more economical to run than a big top-freezer model.
Why replace it now?
If you have a refrigerator that’s more than 10 years old, it’s a good idea to swap it out for a new one, even if the old one is still working. You’ll make an upfront investment in a new fridge, but energy costs will be significantly lower than those for your current fridge, and savings add up over time. Energy Star says that replacing an old fridge with a new one can save you more than $300 over the next five years.
The amount you save depends on the size, the style, and the features you want, so bear in mind that although ice-makers and through-the-door water dispensers seem indispensable, they are also costly to run. Constellation.com says they can increase energy use by 14%-20%. That doesn’t mean you should go without ice. It does mean you should balance your needs against your desire to save money.
Reading the EnergyGuide label
When you look at new refrigerators, you’ll notice a large yellow sticker showing the make, model, size, capacity, features, projected average electricity cost that's shown in a range for similar refrigerators, and possibly an Energy Star symbol that indicates that this fridge conforms to energy-efficient guidelines. You should use the EnergyGuide label to compare the energy use on models you like to determine which is most efficient.
Refrigerator best practices
Whether or not you have an energy-efficient fridge, there are steps you can take every day to help your wallet. Here are some suggestions:
1. Keep the door closed as much as possible: If you have a French door fridge, open just one door at a time when you need to grab something.
2. Install your refrigerator away from heat sources: It has to work harder if it’s close to your dishwasher or oven.
3. Allow for airflow: When you measure for your new refrigerator, add an inch around the sides and the back.
4. Try to only use one fridge: The Department of Energy reports that the number of homes with a second refrigerator has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. Although it might be convenient to have a second fridge in the garage, remember that one larger fridge uses less energy than two smaller ones.