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How to Reduce Electricity Use for Fridges and Freezers

Updated on October 10, 2012

Household fridges and freezers run nonstop and account for around a sixth of the typical home's electricity bill. So if you have an inefficient model, it's well worth considering an upgrade. Compared to a typical ten-year-old fridge, an efficient new one could pay for itself in just a few years as well as making CO2 savings from the moment you plug it in. When shopping for a fridge or freezer, always look out for one marked A+ or preferably A++ for energy efficiency, and opt for the smallest model that will comfortably meet your needs. The efficiency ratings are based on the energy consumption per unit of storage capacity, so a large fridge may have the same rating as a smaller one but actually consume far more energy.

If you don't want to invest in a new fridge you could still make energy savings with a SavaPlug, available from various websites and shops. It replaces the fridge's normal plug and has a sensor that reduces the amount of energy needed to pump the refrigerant around the fridge. Savings of more than 20% can be achieved, but before buying be sure to check that your model is compatible.

Whatever type of fridge or freezer you have, its energy consumption is influenced by the amount of time the door is left open and - less obviously - by how clean and ice-free it is. So defrost regularly and once in a while check the grille at the back for dust and dirt. This will reduce power use and lengthen the fridge's working life.

One important but often overlooked consideration is the placement of your fridge and freezer. Cooling appliances have to work much harder if the temperature surrounding them is high, so it's important to always place them away from sources of heat, such as cookers, boilers, hot water pipes or sunny windows.

When's the right time to upgrade appliances?

The standard green advice of opting for the most energy-efficient appliances available is fine when your old model dies and needs to be replaced. But what about old appliances that still function? How bad do they have to be before it's worth binning them and replacing them with new models? In other words, how do you compare the emissions saved by an efficient machine with the emissions caused by disposing of your existing appliance and manufacturing and delivering a replacement?

Comparing the energy consumption of an old and new machine is perfectly possible with an energy monitor. If you don't have one, as a rough rule of thumb, upgrading from a fairly typical machine, five to ten years old, to a new one rated best-in-class for efficiency will typically reduce energy consumption by around 65% for fridges and freezers, 40% for dishwashers and 33% for washing machines. Unfortunately, however, there are few comparable figures to help you work out the energy and emissions used in the production and transportation of the new appliances. Even if this data was available, there would be no way to tell how long your new, greener appliances were going to last, which would make a meaningful calculation difficult.

As ever, then, it comes down to common sense and broad-brush calculations. If you have an old or leaky fridge or freezer, then it would almost certainly be sensible to upgrade to a model rated A+ for efficiency. But if you have a mid­dle-aged dishwasher that you only use once a week, then you might be better sticking with the old model.

When it comes to old-fashioned light bulbs, it's always a good idea to replace them straight away. The energy used in producing low-energy bulbs is only a tiny fraction of the energy they save, so every extra hour you use the old bulb will cause a needless waste of electricity.

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