It's tempting to think there's not much you can do about the electricity costs of your refrigerator. You can't live without one, and you can't turn it off. But if your refrigerator has been with you for a long time, it may be that a new one will pay for itself in just a few years through a reduction in your electricity bill. And even if you already have a newer model, there are still a few tweaks that can help you make it as efficient as possible. Read on for tips on figuring out how much electricity a fridge uses and how to determine when it's time to start looking for a replacement.
In the 20th century, it was fairly easy to make a ballpark estimate of refrigerator energy consumption because refrigerators weren't changing much from year to year. But refrigerator energy efficiency has progressed rapidly in the last two decades, and most of today's models use 25 percent or less of the energy consumed by the refrigerators of the 1970s.
Since refrigerators can sometimes keep running for decades themselves, there are all sorts of fridges in today's kitchens — from ancient energy hogs to modern marvels of efficiency. So, if you're curious about how much you're spending in refrigerator electricity usage, one of the biggest clues is its manufacturing date. You can use ENERGY STAR's Flip Your Fridge calculator to quickly estimate how much you might be able to save by replacing your refrigerator with a modern ENERGY STAR refrigerator. All you need to know is your refrigerator's approximate model year and size, plus your electricity retailer's kWh rate (look on your monthly bill).
By way of example, if you have a fridge with a top freezer from the 1980s with a capacity of 19.0-21.4 cubic feet, it's likely to use around 2,000 kWH per year. If you pay $.10 for electricity per kWh, that means the aging refrigerator is costing you about $.55 per day, $16.67 per month, and $200 per year.
A modern-era Energy Star-rated fridge, by comparison, might only use 350 kWh annually. At the same $.10 per kWh price, that's around $.10 a day, $2.9 per month and $35 per year, meaning that you're looking at annual savings of $165 by jettisoning the old refrigerator in favor of a new one.
If you ever find yourself wondering "exactly how much electricity does my fridge use?", you can figure it out as well as your monthly costs if you determine your refrigerator power consumption in watts. Since 1980, appliance manufacturers have been required to participate in the Energy Guide program. Those black and yellow labels you see on every appliance sold at retail stores are designed to make it easy for shoppers to estimate electrical consumption costs before they decide what to buy.
If you saved all the original documentation that came with your refrigerator, you may still have the Energy Guide label. If not, find your refrigerator's model number by looking for a label on the back or behind the kickplate on the lower front. Once you have the model number, you may be able to look up the Energy Guide information on the manufacturer's website or obtain it by contacting their customer service department.
The most important thing the Energy Guide label will tell you is the estimated annual electricity use in kilowatt hours, or kWh. The label will also give you an estimated yearly operating cost, but this figure is based on the national average electricity rate. You'll get a better estimate by checking your exact electricity rate on your bill and multiplying it by the kWh total you find on the Energy Guide label. To see your estimated monthly cost, just divide by 12. Refrigerator power consumption should show very little variance month-by-month, since they run 24 hours per day.
You might be able to make a huge leap in energy efficiency by upgrading to a modern ENERGY STAR refrigerator, but there are lots of free and cheap hacks you can use to get a little more out of the fridge you already own:
Whether you're ready to upgrade or just want to tweak your energy consumption, you're doing the right thing for your wallet and the planet. Make like your fridge and stay cool.