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Ask the Energy Expert
Energy Expert Maureen Lenk, Member Services Representatives.What should I know before I buy a new refrigerator?
By Maureen Lenk, Member Services Representative
Q. What should I know before I buy a new refrigerator?
A. When shopping for any new appliance, we're all interested in choosing a model that conserves energy for two primary reasons. We're concerned about the environment and about energy costs.
A refrigerator is the single biggest energy-using appliance in the kitchen. The first step to getting a good value when you replace an older refrigerator is to choose an ENERGY STAR model. It will improve both energy efficiency and operating costs.
Q. What does "ENERGY STAR" mean?
A. ENERGY STAR is a government program created in 1992 to reduce pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions and make it easier for consumers to identify and purchase energy efficient products. The program is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Products in more than 50 categories earn an ENERGY STAR rating by meeting EPA efficiency requirements. An ENERGY STAR refrigerator must be at least 20% more efficient than other comparable models.
In a refrigerator, the 20% efficiency gains are due to improvements in insulation and compressor efficiency.
Q. ENERGY STAR models usually cost more. How fast can I recoup added cost?
A. Some ENERGY STAR appliances cost significantly more than other models. If you must buy a refrigerator, you'll recoup the difference in cost quickly through reduced energy use. If you have a refrigerator that's working well, but want a new, more efficient model, compare the operating cost of your old refrigerator to the cost of purchasing a new ENERGY STAR model. It will take longer to recoup the cost, but energy savings will still begin to add up right away.
Keep this in mind: a refrigerator manufactured before 1980 may cost $150 per year more to operate if it's in prime condition. Over time, seals may leak and the energy performance will suffer. At $150 per year, a new ENERGY STAR model could pay for itself in just a few years, simply by using less energy.
A refrigerator that was purchased 1980 - 1993, may cost $50 per year more to operate than a new ENERGY STAR model. In this case, it will take longer to recoup the cost of a new refrigerator through energy savings.
Chances are, if you replace an old model with any model manufactured in the past year, you'll see better efficiency. To compare operating costs of new units with and without the ENERGY STAR rating, check the yellow Energy Guide label. The DOE requires manufacturers to display this label on many appliances. This label shows estimated energy use, compares similar products and lists approximate annual operating costs. Regardless of the model you choose, check the Energy Guide label to find the efficiency of comparable models and estimated annual operating costs.
If you want more "bells and whistles," learn what they cost. These features add to the purchase price and long-term energy use.
Here's an efficiency checklist:
  • Top-mounted freezers use 10-25% less energy than bottom or side-by-side models.
  • Purchase an appropriate size. The larger the size the more energy it uses. Refrigerators that are 16-20 cubic feet are usually more efficient than bigger models.
  • Skip the ice-maker and dispenser, which increase energy use by 14-20%.
  • Choose automatic moisture control. Anti-sweat heaters use 5-10% more energy.
If saving energy is your goal, one of the most important steps you should take is to dispose of your old refrigerator - not simply move it to the garage and plug it in for extra cold storage. A refrigerator in an unconditioned space uses even more energy, especially if it's nearly empty.
Q. Are there any rebates for ENERGY STAR refrigerators?
A. No. Survey data shows this is a low priority for consumers; many want to keep their old refrigerators. This is a primary reason rebates are not generally offered for refrigerators. The goal of most rebate programs today is to save energy, not just encourage you to buy new appliances.
Q. What are my disposal options?
A. Many stores will dispose of your old refrigerator when they deliver the new one.
Your waste management company, city hall or county government may also have an appliance recycling program.
Local scrap metal recyclers may also have appliance disposal and recycling programs. Ask these sources for assurance that the refrigerator will be properly recycled.
It’s important to dispose of your old refrigerator properly because it contains refrigerants, oils, and other compounds that are harmful to the ozone. The EPA formed Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) in 2006 to recycle, reclaim, or properly dispose of ozone-depleting chemicals from refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers. RAD partners include retailers, manufacturers, universities, utilities and municipalities.
For more information about energy efficiency and Cuivre River rebates for other appliances, visit www.cuivre.com or call 800.392.3709, ext. 272, 233, 334, 4732 or 4733. To learn more about efficiency standards visit www.energystar.gov.
Save Energy With A New Or Old Refrigerator
  • Place it away from heat sources, like the oven or dishwasher.
  • Clean the coils regularly, but be sure to unplug it first.
  • Allow room for air to circulate around the refrigerator.
  • Make sure door seals are airtight.
  • Set the temperature to 35-38° F.
  • Keep the door closed as much as possible.