How Much Energy Does a Refrigerator Use?

By Erin Hynes | Dec. 30, 2021 1:56 pm PST

Wasting refrigerator energy

The ENERGY STAR® website makes it easy for you to find out how much energy your refrigerator uses. Enter your refrigerator’s type, age and size into their Flip Your Fridge Calculator to find your fridge’s annual energy consumption. Key in your electricity rate to find out the yearly cost of running your refrigerator.

For example, an 18 cubic foot, top-freezer refrigerator from 2001 will use 613 kWh per year, according to ENERGY STAR’s calculator. In contrast, the 2021 version of that refrigerator uses 412 kWh per year. At 12 cents per kWh, the older refrigerator will cost you about $74 annually to run. The new fridge will only cost you $49 per year.

Newer refrigerators typically use less energy than older models. When you have an older refrigerator and it breaks down, use the ENERGY STAR calculator to see how much energy it uses. Compare the energy use of your old fridge to energy use of a new refrigerator to find out how much money you can save on electric bills when buying a new fridge.

If you have a refrigerator from the 1990s, you’ll likely find a big difference in energy use compared to a new refrigerator. You almost always benefit economically by replacing an older fridge with a new model. Replacing that pre-2000 top-freezer fridge with a new model saves around $65 per year. After 10 years, the energy savings will add up to about $650 — about the cost of the new fridge.

Why Are New Refrigerators More Energy Efficient?

According to ENERGY STAR, 1970s refrigerators used 3.5 times as much energy as they do now. The vast improvement in energy efficiency of refrigerators is driven by these innovations:

  • High-efficiency compressors. Modern compressors are smaller and use less energy than compressors from the 1970s. Additionally, variable-speed compressors are now used in many refrigerators. Instead of cycling off to regulate cooling temperature when less cooling is needed, a variable-speed compressor just slows down to cool less. Slowing down instead of shutting off eliminates the need for the surge of current needed to restart the compressor when more cooling is needed. A variable-speed compressor will run almost constantly but uses less energy than a standard compressor.

  • Dual evaporators. Many refrigerators now have separate evaporators for the refrigerator compartment and freezer section. Some models also have separate compressors for each evaporator. Using an independent cooling system for each compartment of the refrigerator eliminates air flow between the compartments. That way, when you open the refrigerator door, cold air no longer escapes from the freezer compartment and vice versa. Cooling each section independently saves energy.

  • Adaptive defrost systems. Electronic control boards use sensors to more efficiently schedule the timing and duration of defrost cycles in the refrigerator. Using the defrost heater less frequently and for shorter times uses less energy.

How Do I Reduce Refrigerator Energy Use?

Keeping the refrigerator and freezer door closed as much as possible saves tons of energy. Although it’s tempting to spend time staring into the refrigerator and deciding what you want to eat, make your choices quickly and shut the door quickly to save energy.

Follow the guidelines in the owner’s manual to maintain your refrigerator and keep it operating efficiently. Clean the condenser coils regularly to help the sealed system cool down the refrigerator efficiently and save energy. Keep the toe grill clean to maintain proper air flow through the bottom of the refrigerator so the compressor stays cool and operates efficiently.

To help keep your refrigerator in top shape and operating at peak efficiency, schedule an annual maintenance check and cleaning by a service technician. The technician will thoroughly clean and check all systems in your refrigerator so it cools effectively and works efficiently. Having a technician clean and maintain your refrigerator will save you money on your electric bill and will help keep your refrigerator lasting longer.

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