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Fridge facts: scrapping the old saves on keeping things cold

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Summary:

Pop quiz: which is the one appliance in your house that is on all day every day? Fitting with the chilly temps of the season, we investigate how to save $$ on keeping things cold...

Now that temperatures in much of the US are as cold as the inside of a fridge (34-37 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.7 to 3.3 degrees Celsius), I’ve started wondering how much it costs to keep my food that cold year-round – my fridge isn’t the newest model out there, but would buying a new one really knock so much off my power bill that it’s worth the switch?

Fridge

Pop quiz: which is the one appliance in your house that is on all day every day? Fitting with the chilly temps of the season, we investigate how to save $$ on keeping things cold..

Hand BeerNow that temperatures in much of the US are as cold as the inside of a fridge (34-37 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.7 to 3.3 degrees Celsius), I’ve started wondering how much it costs to keep my food that cold year-round – my fridge isn’t the newest model out there, but would buying a new one really knock so much off my power bill that it’s worth the switch? And what’s the scoop on all the different types: freezer-on-top, freezer-on-bottom, or side-by-side – which one gets me the most cold for my cash?

It turns out that, as with washing machines, it’s less about the type and more about the age – appliance efficiency has come a long way in the past decades, and nowhere is this more evident than fridges: models made in the past couple years use about one quarter the electricity average 1980’s models did.

Old ones like the side-by-side model my parents got 30 years ago use a whopping 2600 kilo Watt hours per year compared to only 550 kWh/year for the same type built today. At the national average electricity rates of about 10 cents per kWh, that’s $260 vs. $55 per year spent keeping food cold! With new fridges starting around $600, the electricity savings alone pay for the new fridge, and a few extra cold ones, in just a few years.

To sweeten the deal, most states or utilities have rebate programs for buying energy efficient appliances and will pay you to recycle the old one. In Maryland, for instance, the utilities give you up to $150 for getting a very efficient fridge and pay another $50 for the privilege of hauling your old one away. Under those circumstances, scrapping the old clunker is a no-brainer: my mom has stopped saying “but ours works perfectly fine, dear” and is busy surfing the web and the home improvement stores for EnergyStar and “EnergyStar Most Efficient” models…

So assuming you’re getting a new fridge, what’s the best kind? I keep hearing that those with freezers on the bottom are more energy-efficient than top-freezer fridges, with something about how heat rises and cold air sinks along with a behavioral argument that people will open the freezer less frequently if it’s not conveniently located at eye level. I was pretty surprised, therefore, when the ClearlyEnergy team ran the numbers and discovered that, amongst today’s newest EnergyStar models, the average mid-size freezer-on-top models are actually slightly more efficient as an appliance. Both top and bottom freezers are more efficient than side-by-side models, but even those notable energy bad boys are closing the efficiency gap and now cost on average $15 per year more in electricity than a top freezer.

Average annual power consumption for refrigerators in kWh, by type and age:

Top Freezer Bottom Freezer Side-by-Side
pre-1980 2281 2520 2895
1980-1990 1760 1945 2234
1991-2000 1102 1182 1392
2001-2008 551 604 702

*for models with volumes of 19 and 21.5 cubic feet

After doing this research I am convinced that upgrading to a new efficient fridge really would save me money, especially with the utility rebates. As for the top versus bottom models, I’m leaning toward the top freezer…not so much because of the slight efficiency savings, but because it’s easier to quickly access the ice cream!

By Lisa Zelljadt, you can find me on Google+

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