How to buy an energy efficient refrigerator

Maybe it's been a while since you've shopped for a new refrigerator. Refrigerators still look pretty much the same from the outside as they did 10 to 15 years ago. What you can't see, however, is that there have been some dramatic energy efficiency improvements inside today's refrigerators.

Why should you care how energy-efficient your refrigerator is? The more energy efficient a refrigerator is, the lower your utility bill will be each month.

New refrigerators are more efficient

Energy Star

ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerator models use at least 20% less energy than required by current federal standards and 40% less energy than the conventional models sold in 2001.

Two price tags

When you are buying a refrigerator, there are really two price tags. The initial purchase price can be thought of as the down payment. Sometimes, energy efficient models seem to be more expensive than less efficient units. Actually, these energy efficient models can be a better value. Recent design changes include better insulation and more efficient compressors.

The second price tag is the cost to operate the refrigerator over its lifetime. You'll be paying the second price tag on your monthly utility bill for about 15 years. Look to the yellow EnergyGuide label to find how much energy the refrigerator will use annually. Compare the energy use (in kWh) and cost to operate to other models of similar size and configuration. The more energy the refrigerator uses, the more it will cost you to operate it.

When you are comparing two models, be sure to compare both first and second price tags before you buy to figure out the true cost of buying and operating the refrigerator. You may find that although one appliance may cost more to purchase, it could end up costing you less over the lifetime of the unit.

What makes a refrigerator energy efficient?

More efficient compressors and better insulation have greatly improved the energy performance of new refrigerators. Look for heavy door hinges which create a good seal for the door; this prevents cold air from escaping.

On models that have the freezer on top, look for an "energy saver" switch. Switching to "energy saver" mode turns off "anti-sweat" heaters, which can reduce energy use by 5% to 10%. "Anti-sweat" heaters reduce moisture between the freezer and fresh food compartments when the weather is humid, but are not needed most of the year.

Smaller refrigerators use less energy than larger refrigerators -- but it is much better to run one larger unit than two smaller units.

Look for the ENERGY STAR® label

When you're spending hundreds of dollars on a new appliance, you try to get the most value for your money. You look for a reliable product with the features you want and a price you can afford. A great way to find the right appliance is to look for the ENERGY STAR label. Appliances with this label have been identified by the U.S. Department of Energy as being among the most energy efficient products available in their class.

ENERGY STAR-labeled appliances are top performing products that save you money every day, every month, and for years to come. And, they help decrease pollution by reducing the demand for electricity.

Models with ENERGY STAR labels will lower the "second price tag" of on-going energy costs every month for years to come. If an ENERGY STAR-labeled model costs more than a less efficient model of the same size, the energy savings will probably pay back the extra cost in only a few years.

For more information about refrigerator energy efficiency, check the following resources:

U.S. Department of Energy
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse
P.O. Box 3048
Merrifield, VA 22116-0121
(800) 363-3732

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
ENERGY STAR programs
401 M St., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460
(888) STAR-YES

Rocky Mountain Institute
1739 Snowmass Creek Road
Snowmass, CO 81654-9199
(970) 927-3851