In my prior post on energy use in our home, I reported that I was using a Kill-a-Watt meter to find out where we’re using the most energy. Well, today I’d like to share the most horrifying tidbit I learned, and what I’m going to do about it. The factoid is that the fridge in our downstairs apartment is about as old as I am and uses more than 2.5 times as much electricity as a new model would. Soul mates though we may be, I guess it’s time for geezer appliance and I to part ways.
My Fridge, the Energy Hog
The Kill-a-Watt meter measured that fridge’s use at 2.4 KwH per day, which comes out to 876 KwH per year. The most efficient fridge I could find (an expensive custom-build model by SunFrost) uses 254/yr. while a simple 14 cubic foot replacement model such by Whirlpool uses 336/yr. When I finally found the model and serial numbers (on the side of the fridge behind the crisper drawer!), I was able to date it to 1979.
Our other icebox is rated at 642/yr. It has been harder to date using Appliance411.com to search by model number. It gave a number of different dates when it could have been manufactured, including 1999 or 2011. Unfortunately, getting behind that behemoth to plug in the Kill-a-Watt meter was more of a job than I was prepared to do, so I don’t yet know what it’s actually using.
Ways to Improve Fridge Efficiency
It would be great to replace both of these, but for various reasons I don’t think that will happen right away. For the more efficient one, I think we will just follow the standard tips for maximizing efficiency: keep the coils and grates clean, make sure the gaskets that seal the cold air inside are in good working order, and keep it full (of pitchers of water or unwanted beer if nothing else – having that cold mass inside helps it recover the necessary temperature more easily after it is opened).
It’s rather obvious in retrospect, but I just heard for the first time that it’s not a good idea to keep a refrigerator next to an oven, because they are working at cross-purposes. I’m surprised I never thought about that. But there it is – a little re-thinking never hurt. So I moved my toaster oven.
Why Replace a Working Fridge?
I am ready to replace my 1979 appliance NOW. I generally hesitate to replace things that are in good, working condition, but apparently for fridges made prior to 1985, that is the recommendation. In his 2004 master’s thesis for the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, Yuhta Alan Horie calculated the optimal environmental guidelines for home refrigerator-freezer replacement. He explains that it makes sense to decommission pre-1985 fridges because they get less and less efficient over time but can be almost completely recycled with very little expenditure of energy. When you consider the energy needed to mine new iron and forge steel, it is easy to believe that recycling an inefficient fridge is a good idea. He writes that according to the US EPA, “approximately 80 percent of the materials in refrigerator-freezer are typically recycled” while some companies recycled up to 100%.
Efficiency standards were updated in 1990, and fridges made after that year are 60% more efficient than those made prior. However, newer styles such as side-by-side fridge/freezer models are less efficient, so Horie does not recommend replacing our old fridges with those. Unlike cars, which are much more complicated and require much more energy to produce, refrigerators use 88-97% of their total life cycle energy during their years of constant use, not during their manufacture (p. 16). This is why it makes environmental sense to replace your old fridge but not necessarily to replace your old car (which sits idle much of the time). As the refrigerator-freezer accounts for 9 to 25% of the U.S. household energy consumption (US EPA 2004), it can also be quite cost-effective to replace an old fridge.
Fridge Replacement Rebate Programs
This process is made even more cost-effective by the energy conservation programs run by many utility companies. Puget Sound Energy will actually replace an old fridge or clothes washer for free! Seattle City Light gives a $50 rebate for purchase of a new EnergyStar fridge from this list or will , recycle, and pay you $30 if you let them remove a working 2nd fridge from your garage or other space. This means it is cheaper to get rid of your fridge while it is still working than after it breaks. I would like to think we could get by on a 10 cubic foot fridge instead of 14. There are many 10 cu fridges that use only 300 kWh, but most of them seem to get pretty bad reviews on Home Depot’s website, and we do use all the space in our current fridge at times. A kind sales clerk at Metropolitan Appliance, Seattle’s family-owned appliance store, told me that Whirlpool is one of the most reliable brands and has nice interiors, so I think we’ll go with the WRT134TFDW, which is only $529 this week and is eligible for the rebate. I’ll let you know how it turns out!