Q: We’ve had the same refrigerator for 15 years, and it still seems to be working fine, but I know that it might be time to buy a new model, since newer more efficient refrigerators can save me some cash, right? When is it time to retire my old refrigerator? Are there ways to make my refrigerator more efficient without having to buy a new one?


A: That’s a great question. The truth is that refrigerators can create the single largest electrical load from an appliance in the house, by virtue of the fact that they run all day and night. Your washer and dryer may use a lot of electricity when they’re on, but unless you’re doing laundry at all hours of the day every day (think Laundromat) then your refrigerator is still using the most amount of energy.

So how do you make your refrigerator more efficient? Here’s a few things you can try:

1. Try slipping a dollar bill in the seal of the refrigerator door. (This dollar bill represents the money you’re losing with an inefficient refrigerator. If you prefer not be reminded, try a piece of paper instead). If the bill slides through easily, or you can pull it out relatively easily, it means air is leaking out of your fridge. Most likely, you have a bad seal and should try replacing the gasket around the door of the fridge. 

2. Make sure you don’t have an empty fridge. That’s right, folks, fill 'er up! I used to try to go to the supermarket only once a month until I was basically out of everything (except ketchup — I never ran out of ketchup) and would only go to the store when my fridge was almost empty. The truth is a full fridge means a more efficient fridge. You see, every time you open the fridge, you let warm air in. The more places that warm air has to go inside your fridge, the more your fridge has to work to cool it once the door closes again. Just don’t overcrowd your shelves to the point where you have to take everything out and put everything back in again just to find the sliced cheese. Then, you kinda miss the point.

3. Know your target; get in and get out. Remember how your mother used to tell you that you were cooling the whole neighborhood by keeping the fridge door open while you stared inside, willing something tasty to appear? Well, she was right! The more time you leave the fridge open, the harder it has to work to cool everything back down once you close that door.

4. Clean your coils. Vacuuming or brushing the dust off the coils in the back of your refrigerator can help increase your refrigerator’s efficiency by as much as 30 percent. When coils are clean, they’ll expel heat more efficiently. The dust acts as an insulator and doesn’t allow the heat to escape as easily. Learn how to do it right here.

5. Don’t put your refrigerator near a heat source, like a dishwasher or an oven. Your refrigerator will have to work twice as hard to cool itself.

If your refrigerator is more than 10 years old and you can afford it, it might be time to look into getting a new one. These days, refrigerators are a heck of a lot of more efficient than they used to be. There are some states and utility companies that have even begun to offer a recycling program for old refrigerators that offer cash as an incentive to trade in your old, inefficient model. Check with your local utility company to see if they offer one. You can also check out the EnergyStar Web site for more info on buying a new fridge and here on MNN for more tips on how to make your old one work more efficiently.

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Photo: lilographik/iStockPhoto 

Is it time to buy a newer energy-efficient refrigerator?
Chanie Kirschner explores ways to make your current refrigerator more efficient and can help you decide whether you need a new one.