You've probably heard the model of your refrigerator has a lot to do with your household's overall energy consumption, right? In fact, switching to an Energy Star-approved refrigerator that consumes 40 percent less energy than conventional models can save you up to $70 a year in energy bills. But energy efficiency isn't the only concern Eco-conscious consumers should be worried about: it takes a lot of hazardous, tough-to-recycle chemicals for any refrigerator to keep foods cool. There's also the matter of disposal to think about. Refrigerators are large appliances composed of 75 percent steel. With about eight million refrigerators and freezers being thrown away each year, that's not only millions of pounds of ozone-depleting cooling chemicals leaking straight into soil and groundwater, it's a lot of metal waste accumulating in landfills.
Here are some tips you can refer to when looking for a more energy-efficient refrigerator, as well as some suggestions for DIY maintenance and disposal.
SHOP AND COMPARE REFRIGERATORS
- Choose a refrigerator that is appropriately sized for your needs. It requires more electricity to cool air than it does food; so big fridges aren't necessarily energy-wasters, as long as they're full of food.
- On a similar note, if you only plan on storing milk and eggs, choose something like a mini, compact unit.
- Top-mounted freezers are considered the most energy-efficient types as they use 10 to 30 percent less energy than side-by-side styles. They're also usually less expensive.
- Reconsider automatic icemakers and water-dispensing features, as the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reports that these increase energy use.
- Find out how much a new refrigerator will cost to operate by viewing and comparing its EnergyGuide Label, which can be found hanging inside or stuck to the outside. This label tells you the capacity of the model and its estimated annual energy consumption.
- Remember that though Energy Star-rated models may cost between $25 and $150 more than standard models, customers can, depending on electricity rates, recoup the extra expense within approximately 5 years.
- Visit the Energy Star website and use their Refrigerator Savings Calculator feature to find out how much your refrigerator or freezer costs to operate in energy and money, as well as how much you can save with an Energy Star model.
- You can find Energy Star Qualified refrigerators and freezers by visiting EnergyStar.gov.
- Clean the refrigerator coils by vacuuming behind and under the unit. (See our 24 Ways to Re-Use Pantyhose for a suggestion on how to clean out dust bunnies.)
- Keep the top of the refrigerator clear of items that are likely to hold in heat.
- If you have an older refrigerator model with a manual defrost machine, be sure to perform routine defrosts.
- Make sure the door seals tightly when it closes. You can test it by closing the door on a piece of paper; it should be almost impossible to take the paper out without tearing it.
- Set your fridge's temperature between 35 and 38 degrees F, and your fridge at 0 degrees F.
- If possible, position your fridge so that it isn't next to heat sources such as sunlight, the oven, or the dishwasher; these require the fridge to use more energy to cool its contents.
- After you've purchased a brand new, energy-efficient fridge, check with the Steel Recycling Institute for a recycling location near you.
- You can also check with your municipality's waste department: they'll tell you what the standard disposal procedures are for your area. They can also tell you if they offer scheduled pickup or if they require appliances to be taken to a local recycling center. They might even offer a rebate to pick up old machines.
TAX BREAKS ON REFRIGERATORS
- Energy Star has information on Federal Tax Credits available for Consumer Energy Efficiency.
- The Database of Sate Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency offers state- and federal-based incentives for energy-efficiency upgrades.
(photo by Lowes)