Is your refrigerator running? We won’t ask you to go out and catch it — but if you did, you’d use plenty of your own physical energy, just like your refrigerator uses the energy coursing through your home wiring.
Your refrigerator is a powerhouse, and one that can be easy to take for granted. Even though it’s one of the home appliances with the greatest energy demand, we hardly notice it as long as our food and drinks stay cold. After all, it’s not the kind of appliance you can turn off or use less often to conserve energy. The fridge runs all day and night.
Your electrical utility is responsible for keeping your refrigerator powered up, but what if that responsibility fell to you? We decided to take a look at how much human energy it would take to keep the icebox humming for a whole day. Spoiler: it’s a lot of work.
Converting Your Calories
Last month, we took a look at how much electricity a baseball player could produce if we could harness their physical efforts and convert them into electrical current. The results were less impressive than the players’ feats on the field; an entire team playing a full game would only power a 100-watt light bulb for a little more than 8 minutes.
We calculated those results by looking at METs, a unit of measurement that helps determine the calorie consumption of sports, exercise and other activities. From the Compendium of Physical Activities, we learned that playing baseball generates 5 METs, and that the average American professional player burned just under 1,300 calories in a typical game.
One calorie is the energy equivalent of 4.1868 watt seconds, which is a unit that expresses the amount of energy required to sustain one watt of electricity for one second.
A typical full-size refrigerator runs on about 700 watts, so let’s find out how many calories we would have to burn to keep the refrigerator running for just a single second:
700 watts ÷ 4.1868 watt seconds = 167.19 calories
Phew. Good thing the refrigerator is running, because you’re going to need a cold sports drink to get through this workout.
How Much Would I Have to Bike to Power my Refrigerator?
To complete our calculations, we’ll need to know the weight in kilograms of the person who’s generating the energy, as well as the amount of time we need to run the refrigerator. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American man weighs 88.76 kg, and the average American woman weighs 76.43 kg. There are a lot of variables that affect how often a refrigerator actively cools, but a full-size fridge in a moderate climate will run for about eight hours each day.
Let’s say you want to generate your energy by pedaling your stationary bike, an activity that generates 7 METs. The average man will burn 621 calories per hour with this activity, and the average woman will burn 535 calories. That’s the equivalent of 2600 watt seconds and 2240 watt seconds per hour of exercise, respectively.
2600 watt seconds will power your 700-watt refrigerator for a whole 3.7 seconds. 2240 watt seconds keeps it going for 3.2 seconds.
To keep the refrigerator running for eight hours over the course of an entire day? The man will need to sweat through a mere 7,784 hours of pedaling, while the woman will need to put in an even 9,000 hours of bike time.
Electricity sure saves a lot of work.
What About Other Workouts?
How about something a little more strenuous, like calisthenics? Push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and jumping jacks have to save you a little time, right? At 8 METs, they will: the man will only need to exercise for 6,776 hours, and the woman will spend a little more time at 7,890 hours.
Let’s try something truly exhausting, like running up stairs. Generating a whopping 15 METs, this physical feat ought to get the job done in record time.
The average man will be relieved to know that it only takes 3,618 hours of skyscraper racing to keep that fridge rocking all day long. And for women, it’s just 4,204 hours of full-speed stepping.
But if that doesn’t sound like a walk in the park, we recommend leaving your refrigerator running right where it is: plugged into your electrical outlet.
Fortunately, we don’t have to spend time and effort to keep our refrigerator running. But a little effort to keep it running efficiently can go a long way for your electricity bill and the lifespan of your fridge. Check out our tips on maintaining your refrigerator, or read our energy efficiency tips.