My friend Fabulous Frank is always coming up with neat ideas and inventions; one of his best designs boasts a refrigerator with a glass door on it. And while that may mean some extra-tough cleanups, just think of the one glorious advantage it offers: "Every time you'd go to check the fridge," he says, "you wouldn't have to open the door to see what's inside." Which of course means less energy wasted.
Until Fab Frank's fridge becomes a regular consumer option, we have our work cut out for us. Even if you have an EnergyStar refrigerator, you know these big appliances still eat electricity — about 500 kilowatt-hours per year even for the stingier models. The question is: Can we improve on that? You betcha. Below are some tips for making fridges (both standard and EnergyStar models) run more efficiently. And we'll start with a tip that comes courtesy of Frank himself.
1) Open The Door Less
Particularly if you have kids, you know fridge doors get opened dozens and dozens of times a day. Whenever that happens, warm air rushes in, making it harder for your appliance to keep cool. Leave the doors open longer than two minutes, and you're putting strain on the fridge. So until they invent glass doors, do what you can to limit how often and how long your doors get yanked open. With shopping trips, I lump all the refrigerated items into one big pile and then load up as fast as possible. Try determining how much time you need to shave off your loading time with this Presto Electronic Clock & Timer ($10.68 with free shipping via Prime).
2) Pack It Up, Baby
After each shopping trip, I love to stuff the fridge — and there's a reason besides the fact that many Italian Americans like myself do this. A full fridge means that there's less hot air that needs cooling. Of course, a stuffed fridge means poor air circulation, and any well-stocked cooler begs to be opened many times. But so long as you police your clan from peeking out of boredom (or swinging on the handles) you should come out ahead on the energy-savings side.
3) A Freezer on Top is Tops
For those of you considering a new fridge, keep in mind that not all EnergyStar models are created equal. The government's EnergyStar website reports, "Models with top-mounted freezers use 10% to 25% less energy than bottom-mount or side-by-side models." Besides, a bottom-mounted freezer means stooping over to get the Haagen-Dazs, which isn't exactly my idea of how to launch an indulgent dessert experience. The GE Top Freezer Refrigerator in White or Black ($448 via "APP50B2" with free shipping) is an inexpensive option that fits the bill.
4) Chill Out on the Ice-Cube Maker
Maybe we could stand to learn something from the Europeans, who don't take ice in their drinks. Icemakers and through-the-door dispensers not only increase a refrigerator's price by up to $250, they also increase energy use by 14% to 20%, EnergyStar figures show. So if you have an icemaker, why not give it a rest? And if you really need crushed ice, consider the merits of these Tovolo Perfect-Cube Ice Trays (two for $14.99 with $3.99 s&h) and a hammer.
5) Location, Location, Location
This one comes courtesy of our friends at allyou.com, who point out that a fridge shouldn't rest close to obvious hotspots. "Place your fridge away from your oven, stove top, radiator, or other heat sources, and make sure there are a few inches of space around it. The unit can nestle, but it shouldn't abut walls, counters, or other appliances." I suppose that means no cold storage for my Twinkie flambé, either.
6) Check the Seals and the Frost
Just as leaky window and door seals yield a drafty house, a fridge with bad seals around the doors can't do its job well. If your seals have suffered from wear or damage, check out RepairClinic, which stocks just about every type of replacement part for large appliances. As for the frost side, it's a good idea to periodically defrost your freezer, as that will help it work better. If you see more than a quarter-inch of frost all the way around, it's time.
7) Clean Those Coils
Dust is the enemy of many large appliances, from air conditioners to stereo systems. In the latter, dust blocking the vents can cause overheating, and dust on the coils of your fridge forces it to work harder. Getting in back of that monster may conjure visions of an emergency room visit, but tidying up isn't hard if you consult a reliable resource, like your appliance manual. A vacuum with a crevice attachment is crucial, as is a small brush (like a paint brush) to reach more troublesome areas. Your efforts will not only keep the fridge working better, but also preserve its longevity.
8) Pick the Right Temperature
Going colder than the preferred temperature wastes electricity, and for refrigerators, that ranges between 35 and 38 degrees, according to howstuffworks.com. There are other benefits as well to sticking in this range: "Anything higher and foods will spoil too quickly (it also presents food poisoning problems). Anything lower and freezing becomes a problem."
Common to all these tips is one overarching principle: habit. Once you get in the habit of checking on the appliances you take for granted, they'll reward you in kind with extended years of service and extra savings in the bank — all while making a dent in your carbon footprint.
Photo credit: susansimon via Flickr