Get the most out of that energy-sucking kitchen device: Your refrigerator


By CCHRC Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: Refrigerators are expensive to operate. How can I make sure mine is using less energy?

In terms of energy efficiency, refrigerators are often ignored but use a large percentage of a home electricity budget. And typically, a new refrigerator with automatic defrost and a topmounted freezer uses about half the energy of a 1990 version.

So use that as a benchmark. If your refrigerator is old and needs repairs or is close to the end of its expected life (which could be around 15 years), then it makes good sense to replace it.

In terms of maintenance, check door seals. Sometimes the seals get brittle or lose their compressive memory which can cause small gaps. As a rule of thumb, you do not want to be able to take a piece of paper and slide that between the seal and the refrigerator case. Another method is to close a flashlight inside the fridge. If you turn off the lights in the room and can still see light coming out of the fridge, then it’s probably time to replace the seals.

Also, the refrigerator compartment should be between 36F and 38F and the freezer should be between 0F and 5F. You can’t always trust the dial in the fridge to do that, so if you really want to be sure, put a thermometer in there and use the fridge dial setting as a point of reference to make sure the temperature is correct. Another important thing to look at is cleaning the condenser coils once a year. Those coils are at the back or bottom fridge. When coated with dust they make the fridge work harder and thus use more energy.

The location of your fridge is key. If the refrigerator is in the sun, next to the stove, or any other warm space, it will use more energy trying to stay cold.

A fridge in a cool space will help save energy.

When you’re preparing food to go into the fridge, let it cool down fully before storing away.

Remember, a refrigerator is a temperature-regulating appliance. Hot food will raise the temperature inside the compartment and the fridge will have to work harder to bring that temperature down to the proper level.

If you are looking into buying a new fridge, top and bottom units tend to be more efficient than side-by-side units. However, the bottom line when buying a fridge or any appliance is to look at the yellow Energy Star tag.

Energy Star information will tell you kilowatt hours per year for your model, which you can compare with other models.

Q: Why is it so important to seal around fixtures like vents, can lights and such?

If these areas are in an exterior wall and not properly sealed, air and moisture will easily move through these areas. You don’t want to be losing heat, or pushing moisture into walls or the roof. Moisture getting into a roof can cause rot, mold, ice jams and a variety of other problems.

Typically on new construction these areas are sealed. Even more convenient: many new building materials have gaskets that seal to the vapor barrier. However, older homes have electrical boxes, recess lighting, exhaust fans and other components that often were not sealed when installed. Air can easily pass into the attic space through these gaps. To seal, use spray foam or caulk which should seal these areas well.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, e-mail us at can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.