Taming the beast: Energy-sucking refrigerators

Every so often, I come across a statistic that makes me pause for a moment. This week, the big stat was 14%, which is the amount of household electricity that the average refrigerator consumes. By comparison, lighting takes up a measly 9%, clothes dryers take up 6%, and color TVs take up 3%. This makes refrigerators the single most energy-consuming appliance in the average home. Incidentally, this also means that roughly $0.14 of every dollar spent on electricity goes to paying for the fridge. That's a lot of money.

One solution, of course, is to throw away the old icebox and pick up a new one, preferably a model with the new "Energy Star" rating. These fridges use half the electricity of models produced before 1993, 40% less than models produced in 2001, and 15% less than the current government regulations require. That having been said, new refrigerators are pricey, and you might not have several hundred dollars burning a hole in your pocket. While you save up for an Energy Star fridge, here are a few things that you can do to put your refrigerator on an electricity diet:

Check Door Seals: If the door seals on your refrigerator aren't able to hold a piece of paper in place when you pull on it, they may be letting out cold air. Double check to make sure your seals are airtight.

Keep It Cool: If possible, position your refrigerator away from windows, ovens, and dishwashers. All of these things increase the amount of heat that your refrigerator absorbs; in the process, they also make it necessary for your fridge to expend more energy. You also might want to make sure that there is some space all the way around your refrigerator. If it is crowded up against walls, counters, or other appliances, it is harder for air to circulate, which means that your fridge will have to work harder.

Cut Back: Extra refrigerators and freezers consume extra electricity. You might want to seriously consider just how much refrigerator space you really need and get rid of the extra appliances.

Clean It Out: If your refrigerator is overcrowded, then the flow of air inside can be restricted. This means that it won't be able to work efficiently, and will have to run harder. Similarly, if your coils are covered in dust bunnies and assorted grime, then they will use more electricity. Clean off the coils, throw out the week-old meatloaf, and help your fridge run a little smoother!

Check the Temperature: Most experts agree that the optimum temperature for a refrigerator is between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you've been getting ice crystals in your milk, you might want to consider turning up the fridge!

In the end, the best advice might be the suggestion, screamed at me by my Grandfather: "Close the damned refrigerator! Are you trying to air condition the house?" Of course, you might want to try a gentler approach with your family!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He likes his milk with shards of ice.

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