So how old is your refrigerator? More than five years? If your fridge is similar to most, it uses about 40 percent more electricity than the EnergyStar certified units being sold today. And given the fact that your fridge is one of a typical home's biggest energy gobblers, that adds up to a pretty good chunk of change each year.

Replacing your current refrigerator with a modern unit could save you upward of $70 and reduce your home's annual carbon dioxide footprint by 1,000 pounds a year. Given that the life cycle of a fridge is 10 years or more, it makes sense to replace aging units whenever possible. But that's not always financially feasible.

If you're not ready to upgrade, there are some things you can do to improve the efficiency of your current model.

1) Check your door seals. Put a piece of paper in the fridge door and see how easy it is to remove. If it slips right out, you know cold air is doing the same thing. A little silicone spray may renew the rubber sufficiently to improve things. Otherwise, check on the availability of replacement seals.

2) Clean the coils on the back of your refrigerator once or twice a year. Dust build-up insulates the coils, making heat transfer less efficient. Vacuum whenever you notice a dust buildup. Be sure to unplug first.

3) Relocate your refrigerator if it's in direct sunlight, beneath a heating duct, or next to your range or oven. The warmer your fridge's environment, the harder it must work to keep its contents cool.

4) Be sure there's a few inches of clear space between the condenser coils and the wall. There should be similar space on the sides. Give the warm air coming off the coils somewhere to go.

5) Set your thermostats to realistic levels. EnergyStar recommends 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit for the fridge, and 0 degrees for the freezer. It's worth checking these temperatures with a household thermometer.

6) Keep the freezer defrosted. A quarter inch of frost is too much.

7) A full freezer is a good thing for your refrigerator's efficiency. That's not the case in the cold section, however. Avoid overcrowding, and leave room for air circulation.

8) Cover liquids stored in the fridge. Uncovered foods release moisture, making your fridge's compressor work harder.

9) Quick in; quick out. The less you keep the refrigerator and freezer doors open, the less energy you'll use. Organize your fridge so things are easy to find. Label frozen goods for quick identification.

10) You can improve an older refrigerator's efficiency by up to 10 percent by attaching one-inch foam sheeting to the sides. Too ugly? Do the side facing the wall and save five percent. Don't cover coils or electrical lines, and leave room against the wall for air circulation.

Cool off your fridge — and cool your energy bills!

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2008