Refrigerator Redux: How to Put Your Electric Bill on Ice


With families across the country struggling to economize, the electricity bill looms as a great place to cut expenditures. While unplugging laptops and installing compact fluorescent bulbs can certainly help trim your power bill, those items only account for a fraction of the average household's electricity expenditure. To really cut down, you'll need to take on one of the biggest energy suckers in your home: the refrigerator.

According to the Department of Energy, refrigerators use more electricity than any other kitchen appliance. In fact, with over 51% of the average home kitchen's electrical expenditure going into the fridge, it actually consumes more than all other kitchen appliances combined. In terms of total household energy costs, the refrigerator accounts for almost 14% of the average electrical bill, which puts it right behind the No. 1 item for electricity usage: air conditioning.

But unless you live in an igloo, a refrigerator is pretty much a necessity. So how can you save on your electrical bill without consigning yourself to a life of canned soup and tuna fish?

The most obvious solution is to throw away your old fridge and pick up one with an Energy Star rating. Energy star refrigerators use half the electricity of models manufactured before 1993, 40% less than models made in 2001, and 15% less than current government regulations require. Then again, a new refrigerator is pricey, and while spending hundreds of dollars to save a few dollars per month may make sense in the long term, it won't really help you cut your expenses today. Luckily, there are a few other things you can do to cut your fridge's power bill right now:

Check Door Seals: As refrigerators get older, their door gaskets often develop holes or become brittle, which translates to an incomplete seal that lets out cold air. Luckily, a basic cleaning and inspection can tell you if your seal is working. If it's not, you can probably find a replacement at your local hardware store, and installation is a snap.

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To begin, clean your refrigerator gasket: Mildew can speed up the decay process and can hide holes. Gently stretch out the seal and use a mix of baking soda and water to sponge out any dirt or mildew that has collected in its ridges. Inspect the seal to see if it has any holes. After the seal dries off, perform the paper test: Simply close a sheet of paper in the door and try to pull it out. If the door seals don't hold the paper snugly, they may be letting out cold air.

Keep It Cool: Outside heat sources can warm up your refrigerator, making it work harder -- and use more electricity. If possible, position your refrigerator away from windows, ovens and dishwashers. You also might want to make sure that there's some space all the way around your refrigerator. If it's crowded up against walls, counters, or other appliances, air won't be able to freely circulate, which can also make your fridge work harder.

Cut Back: According to the Department of Energy, 17% of U.S. households have two or more refrigerators, and millions more have spare freezers. Second refrigerators and freezers are usually older than the main fridge, which means that they consume even more electricity. While buying in bulk can certainly save money, higher electricity bills can slash those savings. With that in mind, you might want to seriously consider just how much refrigerator space you really need, and whether or not you could get rid of those extra appliances.

Clean It Out: If the shelves in your refrigerator are packed with food, air will have a harder time flowing through, which can cut down on its energy efficiency. For that matter, it can be harder to find things in a packed refrigerator, which means that you'll end up with more containers filled with mold surprise. In other words, cleaning out your fridge won't just cut down on your electricity bill -- it could also cut your food bill.

Dirt on the outside of your refrigerator can cost you money, too. The coils in the back of the fridge are often neglected by even fastidious cleaners, and can become covered in dust bunnies and grime. This caked-on mess provides insulation, forcing your fridge to work harder to compensate. Clean off the coils and cut your costs!

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, consider turning up the temperature.

Taken individually, these minor changes aren't going to make all that much difference, but taken as a whole, they can really cut your electricity bill. And, if they don't work, there's always tuna fish and canned soup.