Cutting Your Electric Bill: The Refrigerator

by Jan Roland

Cutting Your Electric Bill Refrigerator photo

The fridge is responsible for a good chunk of the average home’s electric bill. So if you’re looking to lower energy costs, start with these tips for getting your refrigerator’s electric usage under control.

Your electric bill is too high. A real budget buster. How do you get it down? Well, how about looking at one of the bigger users of electricity?

Did you know that your refrigerator is the cause for 20% of the average home’s electric bill? There are a number of ways to keep that expense under control without spending much time or money.

Optimal Temperatures Save Electricity

Begin by taking your refrigerator’s temperature. No, not to see if it’s sick. But to see if you’re wasting electricity.

The refrigerator compartment should be set between 38 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The freezer should be between 0 and 5 degrees. Unless your refrigerator is nearly new, use a thermometer to check the temperature. Cooling to a lower temperature will waste energy and may even damage the food you’re storing.

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Fridge Packing Strategies That Save Electricity

How you pack your food for storage can make a big difference in the amount of electricity that you use. The strategy is different for the regular and freezer compartments.

In the refrigerator section, you want air to circulate around the food being stored. You want the cold air to encircle each item on all sides.

In the freezer the opposite rule applies. There you want to pack items in tightly. Once frozen, each item helps to keep it’s neighbor cold. If you have empty space you’ll want to fill freezer bags with water to fill that space.

How is your refrigerator organized? If you know where to find an item you won’t stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open playing ‘find the ketchup’. Mark items for easy identification. Keeping organized costs you nothing and will save time and money.

One simple trick is to defrost items in the refrigerator compartment. Move them from the freezer 24 hours before you plan to cook them. As the item thaws it will release it’s cold into the refrigerator saving work for the compressor.

Inside the refrigerator compartment make sure that liquids are covered. Remember that part of keeping the food cold is removing humidity. An open container of liquid (even a opened can of soda) is a constant source of humidity for the compressor to remove. If you leave a drink uncovered you’re actually paying for your refrigerator to ‘drink’ your soda!

Refrigerator Maintenance That Saves Electricity

If your model has manual defrost, make sure that the ice coating is no thicker than 1/4 inch. The thicker the frost, the harder the compressor must work to maintain a constant temperature.

Take a few minutes to check for air leaks. Take a piece of paper or a dollar bill. Place it between the door gasket and the refrigerator. Try a number of different places on the door. If you can pull the paper out without tugging on it, air is escaping from your refrigerator.

The solution may be as simple as cleaning the gasket with a mild cleaning solution. Also check for tears and places where the gasket has been pinched out of shape. Minor tears can often be repaired with a gasket cement. You may need to replace the gasket. This is a fairly simple do-it-yourself type project that usually only requires a screw driver and some common sense.

Most people neglect to clean the condensing coils. These are the coils that dissipate the hot air. If they’re dirty the compressor has to work harder to get rid of the hot air. On some models the coils are on the back of the unit. Others have them on the bottom. In either case you should use a broom or vacuum to remove the majority of the dirt. Then follow with a cleaning using a non-abrasive liquid cleaner. It’s a twenty minute job that pays big dividends. Put it on your household maintenance calendar once a quarter.

If your refrigerator has a fan, make sure that it’s clean and not blocked. Also check to see if your model has a ‘humidity’ or ‘power- saver’ switch. This switch activates heaters designed to keep your refrigerator from ‘sweating’ on humid days. Unless you have unusually high humidity leave the heater off. Why try to heat the outside of your refrigerator while you’re paying to keep the inside cool?

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Proper Placement Can Save Electricity

Where you place your refrigerator makes a difference, too. If possible keep your unit away from direct sunlight, the oven and the dishwasher. All of these things generate heat making it harder for the fridge to do it’s job.

One common mistake is using the top of the refrigerator as a shelf. These items block the air flow necessary to make your compressor efficient.

None of these items by themselves will make a big difference in your electric bill. But taken together they’re a low cost way to get the most for your utility dollar. Let’s see now, I wonder where that scrub brush is. It’d be perfect for cleaning those condenser coils…

Reviewed February 2024

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