The refrigerator is likely to be the largest single power-user in your home aside from air conditioning and water heating.
Refrigerator efficiency has made enormous strides in the past few years, largely due to insistent prodding from the federal government with tightening energy standards.
An average new fridge with top-mounted freezer sold today uses under 700 kilowatt-hours per year, while the average model sold in 1973 used nearly 2,000 kilowatt-hours per year. These are national average figures.
Here is a checklist of things that will help any fridge do its job more easily, and more efficiently.
* Cover liquids and wrap food stored in the fridge. Uncovered foods release moisture (and get dried out), which makes the compressor work harder.
* Clean the door gasket and sealing surface on the fridge. Replace the gasket if damaged. You can check to see if you are getting a good seal by closing the refrigerator door on a dollar bill. If you can pull it out without resistance, replace the gasket. On new fridges with magnetic seals, put a flashlight inside the fridge some evening, turn off the room lights, and check for light leaking through the seal.
* Unplug the extra fridge or freezer in the garage. The electricity the fridge is using—typically $310 a year or more—costs you far more than the six-pack or two you’ve got stashed there. Take the door off, or disable the latch so kids can’t possibly get stuck inside!
* Move your fridge out from the wall and vacuum its condenser coils at least once a year. Some models have the coils under the fridge. With clean coils the waste heat is carried off faster, and the fridge runs shorter cycles. Leave a couple of inches of space between the coils and the wall for air circulation.
* Check to see if you have a power-saving switch or a summer-winter switch. Many refrigerators have a small heater (yes, a heater!) inside the walls to prevent condensation build-up on the fridge walls. If yours does, switch it to the power-saving (winter) mode.
* Defrost your fridge if significant frost has built up.
Turn off your automatic ice maker. It’s more efficient to make ice in ice trays.
* If you can, move the fridge away from any stove, dishwasher, or direct sunlight.
* Set your refrigerator’s temperature between 38 F and 42 F, and your freezer between 10 F and 15 F. Use a real thermometer for this, as the temperature dial on the fridge doesn’t tell real temperature.
* Keep cold air in. Open the fridge door as infrequently and briefly as possible. Know what you’re looking for. Label frozen leftovers.
* Keep the fridge full. An empty fridge cycles frequently without any mass to hold the cold. Beer makes excellent mass, and you probably always wanted a good excuse to put more of it in the fridge, but it tends to disappear. In all honesty, plain water in old milk jugs works just as well.
Courtesy Real Goods Solar Living Source Book, edited by Doug Pratt and executive editor John Schaeffer.