How can I maximize the efficiency of my refrigerator?

Refrigerators are often overlooked in the dialogue of energy efficiency. Typically, a new refrigerator with automatic defrost and a top-mounted freezer uses about half the energy of a 1990 version. So 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.

A new refrigerator with automatic defrost and a top-mounted freezer uses about half the energy of a 1990 version.

You can also enhance the efficiency of your fridge through proper maintenance. Seals can become brittle or lose their compressive memory, which can cause small gaps. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be able to take a piece of paper and slide it between the seal. Another way to test the seal is to stick 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.


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, so if you really want to be sure, put a thermometer inside and use the dial setting as a point of reference to make sure everything is working as it should. You may also want to clean the condenser coils, which are located at the back or bottom of the fridge. They can collect dust and force the fridge to work harder to do its job.

The location of your fridge is also important. If it’s sitting in the sun, next to the stove, or in any other warm spot, it will use more energy trying to stay cold. A fridge in a cold space will work the opposite way and save energy.

When you’re preparing food to go into the fridge, let it cool down fully before storing it away. Remember, a refrigerator is a temperature-regulating appliance. Hot food will raise the temperature inside the compartment and the fridge has to work harder to bring that temperature down to the level it is set for.

If you’re considering 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 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.