Homeowners today are always searching for ways to save money around their home. In order to cut down on the electric bill and make their homes more energy efficient, some start by weather proofing their home and repairing any drafty windows, doors, electric sockets and light fixtures. Then move on to switching their light bulbs to the energy efficient CFL light bulbs and having their heat pump serviced twice a year. Then homeowners may be looking to upgrading kitchen appliances that are more energy efficient than the dated ones in their kitchen. If you have been wanting to remodel your kitchen, this is a great excuse to do it.
Today’s new appliances typically use 30 percent less electricity than models 10 years old or older. Updating older appliances to newer models will save you cash in the long run. Did you know that an older refrigerator (more than 10 years old) could possibly be the biggest power consumer in a standard sized house? It can be burning up to 20 percent of the total power you will use in one year. In October 1999 the Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) were put into place. This sets minimum efficiency levels for refrigerators and freezers, thus eliminating the worst performers from the sales market. Even stronger MEPS guidelines were put in force on January 1, 2005. Also using the Energy Stars as a tool to choose a refrigerator is a helpful guide to saving on your electric bill. New models that are Energy Star qualified are extremely energy efficient and well worth the cost. Though despite the MEPS ratings, there can be a huge difference between the best and worst refrigerators for energy consumption.
In today’s market there is a large selection of frost free refrigerators and they all have new features to make them more efficient for your family. It is important to learn the difference between the various models so you can choose one that is perfect for your family and home. Pay close attention to the energy guide label, this will show you the estimated energy consumption and estimated yearly operating cost based on a national average cost of electricity.
When shopping you must also choose the right size. Measure where it will be going and buy accordingly. Make sure a new model will fit through your existing doorways. Remember that the depth listed usually does not include the door and make sure the doors can be removed at delivery, if necessary. Refrigerators also come with different square feet of inside storage space. To judge how much storage space you need, determine the amount of cubic feet you have now, then decide if you need more, less or the same amount. Generally, the larger the refrigerator the more power it will consume but considering you are replacing an older model, it may not use as much power as the one you have now and you get more storage space. If you do not keep your refrigerator more than two thirds full then you need a smaller one. Empty space costs money to cool so it is not energy wise to have a refrigerator that is too large. On the other hand, a small refrigerator that you keep full and it still does not hold everything you need, is not wise either. You spend more time with the door open searching for what you need and rearranging contents and, to top it off, you have to make more trips to the grocery store because it does not hold enough. So you see why it is important to buy the storage space you actually need. Be careful to examine the inside of each refrigerator/freezer you are considering because the cubic square footage that is listed on the tag is not necessarily the amount of storage space that you can actually use.
Different Types of Refrigerators
Top-freezer refrigerators are the standard since the beginning of electric home refrigerators. This traditional style usually has the most storage space and larger shelves for the money and they are the least expensive. Their standard depth is 25”–33”. The biggest con is the fact that you have to bend down to search on the bottom shelf and open the bottom drawers.
Bottom-freezer refrigerators’ popularity is on the rise. These are convenient for households that do not open the freezer often. Meaning the lower shelves and drawers of the refrigerator are no longer at the very bottom. Also, having the freezer at the bottom is more energy efficient because it is under the refrigerator and helps keep it cool. The other style of a bottom-freezer refrigerator contains side-by-side doors, more commonly called French doors on this type. Their standard depth is also 25”–33”. The cons for this type are the fact that you have to bend to retrieve items from the freezer and it is sometimes difficult to find a model like this with an in-door ice and water dispenser.
Side-by-side refrigerators are very popular also, especially for small kitchen spaces. The freezer side is typically smaller than the refrigerator side and these are most likely to come with in-door ice and water dispensers. The freezer usually has more usable storage space than the two listed above but the refrigerator width cannot accommodate wide items such as pizza boxes and the like. Their standard depth is 25”–33” as well. Also with tall and narrow shelving it is not easy to see or reach items in the back.
Built-in refrigerators can be more pricey than the models listed above. They are installed to be flush or almost flush with existing cabinets. They typically come in either bottom-freezer or side-by-side models. Most of them are installed with front panels to match the cabinetry or stainless to give a sleek look to your kitchen. They have vents in the front, at the top or bottom of the unit, since they would not be efficient with them in the rear as traditional units. Built-ins are usually wider because they may be more shallow than a standard refrigerator. Therefore, they may not have as much square foot storage space as non-built ins. Their depth is typically between 22”–30”.
Counter-depth refrigerators invariably have the look of a built-in with the cost between a high end traditional unit and a built-in. They stick out more than built-ins because they are counter depth while built-ins are cabinet depth. Their average depth is normally 24”–31”. Most can also have matching panels installed and they come in all three refrigerator styles. They may not have as much storage space as a standard refrigerator.
Refrigerator drawers are a new luxury to a kitchen that does not have enough refrigerator storage space. These drawers are mounted under cabinets or into islands and are perfect for storing drinks or specialty items. They do not cost very much to run but that is because of their limited storage capacity. These may have poor energy efficiency because of their location and can have a large price tag.
In today’s market, refrigerators have many new bells and whistles. It is important to know your needs when selecting a new one for your family. Here are some of the various features that you may want to consider:
- Reversible doors are an extra feature that you may not realize you need until you get the refrigerator home. Be sure that the doors open to accommodate your kitchen. If not, be sure that you purchase a refrigerator that offers the option to switch them from right handed to left handed.
- Adjustable door bins and shelves can be repositioned to accommodate taller or shorter items.
- Door alarm can be a visual or audible warning feature that will notify you that a door is open or of a power failure.
- Elevator shelves can be cranked up and down without you having to remove items in the front to reach items in the back.
- Full-extension drawers are just that, they extend all the way out so that you can reach into the back of the drawer.
- Pull-out shelves allow you to actually pull the entire shelf forward to reach items in the back without having to remove items on the front of the shelf. This also applies to most bottom freezers because they will have top shelf that pulls out also.
- Split shelves allow you to adjust shelves to different heights without an entire shelf being moved, they are usually side by side inside the refrigerator.
- Shelf snuggers are sliding brackets that are installed on door shelving to hold taller bottles in place.
- Beverage compartments are built in to hold and dispense cans.
- Gallon door shelves are built into the door to hold several gallons of milk, water or juice so you don’t have to use the shelving inside
- Spill proof shelving is built with a taller rim around the edges so that if something spills it will not run over the sides of the shelf to the ones below.
- Temperature controlled drawers allow you to set the temperature several degrees lower than the rest of the refrigerator to keep certain items cooler such as fish, lunch meat, etc.
- Quick chill/defrost drawer is a fairly new feature. There are some models that have drawers that can be set to chill its contents quickly. Or it can be set to defrost the contents rapidly while still being refrigerated.
- Fruit and vegetable crispers feature humidity control to keep your vegetables firm and fresh.
- Moist humidity cooling is a most interesting feature. Moist cold air will keep your food fresher longer because it slows down the aging process. It will also hold the nutrients into the fruits and vegetables better than dry cold air. A refrigerator that delivers moist cold air may cost more up front, but the average delay in spoiling food is between 5–7 days. That means much less food is wasted and less trips to the grocery store. Standard refrigerators do not have this feature.
- Through-the-door water and ice dispenser is a great feature that can give you ice and cold water on demand without having to open the freezer door. Some models also include several choices of ice such as cubed, chopped and crushed. Keep in mind that you will need to add a water supply to use this feature. You can also purchase a refrigerator that has child proof locks on the dispenser so that children cannot push the buttons and make a mess.
- A water filter is a great addition for households that have unpleasant water supplies. They are designed to remove impurities from your water supply either for just ice cubes or the in-door ice and water dispenser. Take note that you can also install a water filter onto the main water line that supplies water to your refrigerator.
- Multimedia combos are coming of age now also. There are now high-end refrigerators that offer high-tech equipment. Such as televisions on the door, digital pictures, music devices and even organizational calendars for the entire family. These are considered a definite splurge.
Energy Saving Tips
There are some simple things you can do to help conserve energy with your existing refrigerator or a new purchase. The placement is very important, choose a cool location. Do not place your refrigerator in direct sunlight or next to a heat source, such as an oven. When placing leftovers inside, let them cool to room temperature first, hot food will make your refrigerator work overtime to cool it down. Position your refrigerator so that there is plenty of airflow around the backside. If the unit is built in, make sure there is plenty of ventilation on the top also. Restricting air flow could add an additional 15 percent or more to your electric bill. For this fact alone, never install a refrigerator or freezer in an unventilated cupboard. The condenser coils on the back of most models need to be cleaned occasionally to maintain energy efficiency as well.
Furthermore, if you do not have a frost free model then you must defrost it regularly to remain energy efficient.
Of course do not open the door more than you need to, try to grab everything you need in one trip and do not stand with the door open because you are indecisive, this lets too much cool air escape needlessly. Make sure the door
seal is tight and secure also.
Most importantly, don’t set the temperature too low. The difference of one degree can up your energy consumption by at least five percent. Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer, your refrigerator should register 3 to 4 degrees Celsius and your freezer between -15 to -18 degrees Celsius. If your model is keeping food too warm, that means your food items are not keeping as long as they should and that you could risk food borne illnesses. Properly packing food into your freezer is important also. Until all items are thoroughly frozen, you should scatter them in the freezer. Stacking several items on top of each other before they are frozen could potentially stop them from completely freezing.
When completely done with a refrigerator or you are going to be away for a long period of time, you should empty it completely, clean it thoroughly, unplug it and leave the doors open. If you are looking to discard an older model refrigerator, check with local churches or organizations to see if they would like a donation. Your model may be much newer than the ones they currently use. You should not just dump your old refrigerator into a landfill either. Check with your local recycler for an appliance disposal center.
As you can see, in today’s market there is a huge variety of refrigerators and new features available. These features were developed to make your storage more efficient and your goods easily accessible. Some will even keep fresh produce, fruit, cheeses, etc. fresher longer. Take your time to shop for the perfect upgrade for your household. Be certain to measure your space and to make sure, if you are changing models, that you have adequate clearance for the doors to open. The ability to manage and store your groceries is important, so pay attention to the shelf and bin space compared to the shapes and sizes of your normal containers. A new upgraded refrigerator will not only make your kitchen happy, it will make your family happy as well.
A special thank you goes to Austin Holsten who shared valuable information for this article.