If you have an ice maker that dumps ice into a tray in your freezer, there's good reason to turn it off frequently. It can save energy and save you a little money, too. Your ice maker is an energy hog. If it's turned on when it's not making ice, a lot of waste is happening.

According to Time, when researchers looked at the energy use of refrigerators, they found that when the ice maker is in use, it increases the fridge's energy consumption by 12 to 20 percent. That increase in energy doesn't happen just when the ice maker is forcing a cube into the ice tray. It happens the entire time the ice maker is turned on. (Now keep in mind that this study was done in 2011, and manufacturers have been improving energy efficiency before and since then, but it's still relevant.)

The answer, it turns out, is the tiny motor inside the freezing system that’s used to release the bits of ice from the mold and dump them into a tray. A motor that is designed to operate in so cold a setting needs an internal heater to keep it from freezing up, and heating elements require a lot of power — in this case, roughly three fourths of the total additional energy the ice maker uses.

When the ice tray is full, you can turn your ice maker off. You'll know it's full because the bar that works as a sensor is touching the ice. When it touches the ice, it tells the ice maker to stop making ice, but it doesn't tell it to turn off. That's something you have to do manually. Fortunately, it's easy to do. On most ice makers all you need to do is lift the sensor and the ice maker will turn off until it's pushed back down.

Here's the ice maker in my freezer. Notice that the metal lever on the right of the ice maker above the ice tray is down. That means the ice maker is on. If the tray was full, the ice would be touching the lever and the maker would stop creating ice.

ice-maker-onWhen the ice maker's sensor lever is in the down position, the ice maker is on. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

Here's the ice maker turned off. All I did was manually move the sensor from down to up.

ice-maker-offWhen the ice maker's sensor level is manually pushed up, the ice maker turns off. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

Not all ice makers work this way. The one in my old refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom had an on/off switch that was easy to get to. All in-freezer ice makers should have a way to turn them off.

If you use about the same amount of ice each week, it should be easy to know when it's a good time to turn off the ice maker. And, when you're going on vacation, definitely turn it off. It's one simple way to make your refrigerator, even an older refrigerator, more energy efficient.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

How to make your refrigerator more efficient
This one tip can save up to 20 percent of the energy your refrigerator uses.