How To Choose A Truly Energy Efficient Refrigerator

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Fridges rank as one of the biggest energy users in the home. But ironically, it may not be your primary fridge. Usually, it’s that old fridge your wife suggested needed to go a long time ago, that you just couldn’t let go of (so many cold beers, so many good memories…), and compromised by sticking it in your garage. The trick is that, older fridges typically use much more energy than newer, and when they’re put in a hot garage, they really have to work to keep that lone six pack cold that you haven’t touched in 3 months.

So first things first, decide if you really need a backup fridge and / or freezer, and if not, get rid of it. If you’re lucky enough to live in a progressive place, odds are that your local municipality, utility, or conservation program will actually give you money to haul that old fridge away. If not, well, you can probably still send it off for recycling for free (and please do recycle it – the chemicals in a fridge are a potent greenhouse gas, so definitely don’t just send it off to the landfill).

If you’re looking at replacing/upgrading for the sake of lowering your utility bills and carbon footprint, here are some things to consider.

Type of fridge

According to Energy Star, a top freezer mount fridge is hands-down the most efficient setup, using an average of 360 kWh per year. Bottom freezer setups can use 560 kWh, and a side by side 630 kWh. These are Energy Star certified fridges (more on that in a sec), but the bottom line is that the top mount freezer Energy Star certified fridge would use less energy than 1 incandescent light bulb. No wonder the Republican party wants us to go back to the stone age on light bulbs (and to “Make Dishwashers Great Again” too), otherwise, how would we remain slaves to the fossil fuel industry? I digress…but I mean…you can’t even make this stuff up.

Is Energy Star enough?

Now that you know you want a freezer top, next is to find a good Energy Star model as a bare minimum of an energy efficient fridge. As far as I can see, Energy Star is still a good (notice I don’t say “excellent”… more on that in a sec) program and hasn’t been gutted as much in the last 3 years like 85 other human and environmental health protections have. Thankfully, this step is easy. The Energy Star logo will be found on Energy Star products. And if shopping online, you can actually click a button to filter your search results:


Don’t stop there…read the actual yellow Energy Use label.

Energy Star is just the first step. It’s kind of a “yes/no” thing as to whether an appliance qualifies. But is one fridge much better than another? If they’re both Energy Star, then the ES logo itself doesn’t really help you get the best answer and the best fridge. Enter Enervee. On Enervee’s website, you don’t just get a “yes/no,” you get a score of 1 to 100, so you can easily suss out the relative awesomeness of the fridges you’re considering.

What size fridge?

With that search above, I found one 13.9 cubic foot model, and one 16 cubic foot model. Amazingly, the 16 cubic foot one uses just a dozen kWh or so more energy per year than the smaller fridge (see the yellow tags). And one of the main reasons people end up getting a second fridge? They run out of room in the first one. So shop for as big an Energy Star fridge as you can, to avoid the future purchase price and energy use of having to have a second one.

A good rule of thumb is to get 6 cubic feet per person, plus a bit extra for when you’re ready to have that backyard BBQ and need more space for beer.

LED lighting

Oh yea, and get LED lighting inside – the number of fridges that still have a red-hot incandescent light bulb in them is unreal. Open the fridge door for 10 seconds, and that bulb is scalding enough you can’t touch it. Figure that every time that happens, your fridge has to work so much harder to offset that heat and cool that lightbulb back down. Silly? Yep. So be smarter than that and just get an LED bulb. What’s that you say? Your fridge has one of those dumb little incandescent bulbs? Here’s a link to buy an LED fridge bulb. We don’t make anything off that link, but you can choose a charity through that maybe, just maybe, can help save the Amazon rainforest.

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Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is a serial eco-entrepreneur focused on making the world a better place for all its residents. Scott is the founder of CleanTechnica and was just smart enough to hire someone smarter than him to run it. He then started Pono Home, a service that greens homes, which has performed efficiency retrofits on more than 16,000 homes and small businesses, reducing carbon pollution by more than 27 million pounds a year and saving customers more than $6.3 million a year on their utilities. In a previous life, Scott was an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill) , and Green Living Ideas.

Scott Cooney has 153 posts and counting. See all posts by Scott Cooney