Your Refrigerator

Considering it runs nonstop 24/7, the fact that your refrigerator is one of the biggest energy consumers in your household shouldn't be earth-shattering news. The upside? You can keep your icebox's carbon footprint as petite as possible with a few easy-peasy tips, while keeping it purring like a kitten for years to come.

Choosing Your Fridge

Technology has come a long way since we had to schlep snow and ice from the wintry slopes to keep our ocean catch from stinking up our log cabins, which is good news for our tired gams, but less than stellar news for the planet. The refrigerator is the biggest energy hog in any household, guzzling up about 14 percent of a household's electricity, or 1,383 kilowatt hours per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Although fridge makers have made tremendous leaps and bounds in energy efficiency over the past two decades, you can still do better by the planet by choosing an Energy Star model that uses at least 15 percent less energy than required by federal standards. In fact, if your fridge is more than 15 years old, it's time to say sayonara, according to Maria Vargas, spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program. "With an Energy Star-qualified appliance, you can have the energy savings without sacrificing your personal comfort," she says. "So you can have your cake and eat it, too."

If your fridge is more than 15 years, it's time to replace it with a newer model.

Because a brand new Energy Star-qualified refrigerator siphons roughly 40 percent less energy than one built before 2001, it's often worthwhile to replace a prehistoric clunker with a svelte new model, especially if you have to icepick your way through the Arctic Circle to see the back of your current freezer. Swapping a 1993 refrigerator with a brand new Energy Star model could save you up to $88.94 per year, according to Energy Star's savings calculator.

With the variety of refrigerator types available for purchase, from diminutive dorm-room coolers to SUV-size behemoths, picking the right one isn't just a matter of finding one that will sit flush between your kitchen cabinets and look fetching doing so. Generally speaking, the larger the fridge or freezer, the more energy it consumes, so consider your needs before you reach for your wallet. Unless you're feeding a family of 10.5 or throwing elaborate dinner parties every other night, a supersized 72-incher (as in wide, not tall) is an unnecessary squanderer of electricity, Energy Star-rated or no. "As long as you get a fridge that fits your home and lifestyle, and has the Energy Star rating, you can feel confident you've made the right decision," Vargas says.

Aesthetics and convenience can also play powerful factors. Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer combos may be all the rage in the showrooms these days, but they also use 10% to 25% more energy than their top- or bottom-mounted brethren, according to Energy Star. (The most energy-sipping freezer models are typically chest freezers, not unlike the type you grab popsicles from at your neighborhood mini-mart.) And if "frugal" is your middle name, consider nixing the automatic ice-makers and through-the-door dispensers; not only do they bump up energy use by 14% to 20%, but they also raise the purchase price of your Frigidaire by an extra $75 to $250

Want to make some lucre off your purchase? Some states offer rebates as much as $150 just for choosing an Energy Star-rated appliance. To find out what local rebates and tax credits are available to you, punch in your zip code online at Energy Star's Special Offer/Rebate Finder.

Assume the Position

Think of it as refrigerator feng shui, but for your improving your energy consumption: To keep your Sub-Zero running cool, keep it away from heat sources such as the oven, dishwasher, or direct sunlight. Air needs to circulate around the condenser coils, so leave a space between the wall and your fridge, as well.

Store perishables away from the door, where the temperature can fluctuate more than inside the cabinet.

Moving inside, you'll want to keep your fridge well-stocked but not overstuffed preferably with organic, local, and seasonal produce so that when you get an attack of the munchies, there will be less room for warm air to rush in and cause its motor to spin into overdrive. If your refrigerator is running on empty, try sticking a few large water-filled containers inside to create a chilly mass that will help your icebox recover more quickly after you open the door. Also, be sure to let leftovers cool to room temperature before you put them away, since hot food will raise the air temperature and give the compressor an unnecessary workout.

The temperature sweet spot for your cooler should be between 37F and 40F, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), cold enough to inhibit bacterial growth, but not so frigid that it's sucking more energy than necessary. Because most refrigerator temperature dials use arbitrary numbers, instead of degrees, you can find out how cold your unit is by placing an appliance thermometer (such as the Oxo's Good Grips Refrigerator/Freezer Thermometer or the Taylor Precision Classic Refrigerator Thermometer) on the middle shelf for 24 hours. Adjust your dial just one number on the "colder" or "warmer" end of the scale, then wait another 24 hours before testing again.

Whatever you do, don't store perishables on the door, no matter how tempting those specialized compartments appear. Eggs, says the USDA, should be stored in their carton on a shelf because the temperature of storage bins on the door fluctuates more than the temperature within the cabinet.

Keeping It Clean

To clean and disinfect refrigerator shelves, you can't go wrong with wiping them down with equal proportions of white vinegar and water. If you want to give that stalwart carton of baking soda a boost, swab your fridge and freezer walls with a clean, dampened cloth you've perked up with a few drops of pure vanilla extract. Placing a vanilla-dabbed cotton ball in the freezer also does the trick.

Accumulated dirt and pet hair can cause your fridge to work harder than it should.

Dust, grime, and pet hair can build up on the condenser coils located on the back of the fridge or across its lower front edge causing it to overheat or run less efficiently, so you'll need to do some maintenance work at least once a year, depending on how large a menagerie you have. Gently removing whatever is caught on the coils with a dedicated coil-cleaning brush or a vacuum's nozzle attachment can prevent compressor failure and keep your fridge humming along for an extra 10 to 15 years past its expiration date.

Air leaks can also prove costly in the long run. To check the effectiveness of your seal, take a dollar bill and try to move it around the gasket, which is the strip of rubber around your door that makes your fridge airtight. If George Washington is doing the mambo, you'll need to call in professional help to get your gasket replaced. Wipe your gasket regularly with a sponge and some warm water detergent can damage the rubber to prevent sticky messes from gluing the gasket to the frame and tearing it the next time you open the door.

Saying Goodbye

When it's time to bid your refrigerator adieu, arranging its final rites in a responsible manner is imperative, especially if it's in no shape for donation to a charity like Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, or the Salvation Army. "The material within a refrigerator itself is recyclable," says Anne Reichman, director of, which provides a searchable index of recycling locations according to zip code. "All those pieces the metal, the plastic, the insulation, the refrigerant can go back into new products, so it's important to keep them out of the landfill."

Proper disposal also prevents hazardous chemicals, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), freon, and mercury, from fouling up our landfills, where they can contaminate our air and leach into our drinking water for some major karmic payback.

Visit to find out if a curbside pickup service is available in your neighborhood, advises Reichmann. (Commercial facilities are sometimes also listed.) When in doubt, call your municipal waste-management program; some cities and towns hold special appliance round-up days or have designated drop-off locations.

At 14.8 cubic feet, this frost-free, Energy Star-qualified icebox features enough room for milk, OJ, and the occasional takeout, as well as freezer space for busy-girl essentials like Ben & Jerry's and frozen burritos.

This bottom-mounted refrigerator boasts 18.6 cubic feet of room, Energy Star compliance, and an electronic temperature-management system. You also get a rack for your vino, so you can wine and dine your sweetie for years to come.

If you have your hands full feeding your ankle-biters the most-nutritious meats and produce available, you'll need the 22.1 cubic feet this Energy Star-certified fridge offers to maintain freshness. Bonus: It comes with sealed crispers, with adjustable humidity controls, to help keep your veggies in tip-top shape for longer.

Constantly wowing large parties with your homemade cassoulet? This 25.8 cubic-foot Energy Star-rated cooler has all the room you desire, plus an ice maker, so your guests will never be left bereft of a cold one. The door alarm also ensures you'll never accidentally leave your fridge wide open in the ensuing kitchen chaos.


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