Refrigerators & Freezers: Buyer’s Guide
Your refrigerator is one of the most energy-intensive appliances in your home. If you’re in the market for a new one, it’s a good idea to buy the most efficient model possible within your price range. The energy a refrigerator uses varies based on the size, style, and features.
Look for the Label: Energy Guide
Most major appliances, electronics, and lighting must meet specific energy standards outlined by the U.S. Department of Energy. Appliances are tested, and their energy use and efficiency are displayed on the yellow EnergyGuide labels in stores. Although there are some differences between specific models, generally each label compares the estimated annual operating cost with similar models and states how much energy the appliance is expected to use annually. The EnergyGuide label will also display the ENERGY STAR® logo, if the particular model qualifies.
You’ll see an estimated yearly operating cost on a scale showing a range for similar models. The amount is based on the national average rate for electricity. Look for models with the lowest operating costs.
You’ll also find the estimated annual energy consumption for this model based on typical use. Multiply this by your local electricity rate to get a better estimate of your actual operating cost.
Look for the Logo: ENERGY STAR®
ENERGY STAR® is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. The program sets minimum efficiency standards for appliances and building products and recognizes and labels the top performing models on the market. The standards are more rigorous than federal standards, and vary by product category. A list of qualified products, and more information on energy efficient central heating options can be found online at energystar.gov.
Current Refrigerator Standards:
- Full-size refrigerators greater than 7.75 cubic feet are at least 20% more energy efficient than the minimum federal government standard (NAECA).
- Full-size freezers greater than 7.75 cubic feet are at least 10% more energy efficient than the minimum federal government standard (NAECA).
- Compact refrigerators less than 7.75 cubic feet and less than 36 inches in height are at least 20% more energy efficient than the minimum federal government standard (NAECA).
Top-Bottom vs. Side-by-Side
Keep It Small
The most efficient models are generally between 16 and 20 cubic feet2. A refrigerator over 25 cubic feet uses more energy than smaller models3. Also keep in mind, using one large refrigerator is more efficient than having two smaller fridges4.
Keep It Simple
While ice- and water-dispenser options can limit the number of times you open the freezer and refrigerator, the EPA estimates that they can take 14% to 20% more energy to run, and add $75 to $250 to the price of your new refrigerator. For most families, it’s more efficient to use the humble ice tray.
Manual vs. Automatic Defrost
Consider defrosting your unit manually. According to the California Energy Commission’s Consumer Energy Center, manual defrost models can use up to half the energy of automatic defrost models (40% for freezers). However, these models are only more efficient if defrosted regularly, when ice reaches 1/4 inch thickness.
Freezers: Chest vs. Upright
If you need a freezer, remember chest freezers are generally more efficient than upright, front-loading models.
Find More Info
- American Council for Energy Efficient Economy
- California Energy Commission
- Energy Guide Home Analyzer & Energy Calculators
- Home Energy Advisor
- U.S. DOE Energy Savers
- CNET Appliances
- ENERGY STAR® Refrigerator Retirement Calculator
Places to Buy
Content in part adapted with permission from Rocky Mountain Institute’s Home Energy Briefs.
If you’re thinking about making efficiency improvements, the Refrigerator & Freezer Overview is a great place to get acquainted with the basics and your options, before you buy a new fridge or freezer for your kitchen.
1ENERGYSTAR. (2012). Refrigerators for Consumers: Buying Guidance. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.showProductGroup&pgw_code=RF
2ENERGYSTAR. (2012). Refrigerators for Consumers: Buying Guidance. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.showProductGroup&pgw_code=RF
3ACEEE. (2010). Consumer Resources: Refrigeration. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from http://www.aceee.org/consumer/refrigeration
4ACEEE. (2010). Consumer Resources: Refrigeration. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from http://www.aceee.org/consumer/refrigeration