Having lived in Europe up until my mid-twenties, the average sized North American refrigerator (and stove) seemed giant to me. A few years later, and a little hedonistic adaptation, mean that even my large refrigerator freezer doesn’t seem to have enough space. The good news, though, is that while my personal refrigerator footprint has increased, the energy efficiency of refrigerators and freezers in general has improved by leaps and bounds in the past few years.
This means that if your refrigerator is more than ten years old and is laboring to keep its cool, it’s probably time to upgrade to a more eco-friendly refrigerator. I know, I know, I usually recommend being frugal and avoiding new purchases if you’re trying to be eco-friendly, but in the case of refrigerators, recycling the old and bringing in the new may well be better for the environment as a whole, not to mention for your pocketbook and the health of your home and family.
If your refrigerator really is on its last legs, you may want to consider replacing it with a more energy efficient option; here at Leaf Score, we like Smeg (View Price on Amazon) as a great eco-friendly choice.
Eco-friendly refrigerators – why bother?
Fridges and freezers account for around 17 percent of all home energy use, and if you have an older model, that percentage is likely even higher. If the environmental impact doesn’t motivate you to upgrade your old, tired refrigerator, then, perhaps a significant decrease in your household energy bill will.
In general, an A+++ energy label rating means you’ll save around 5 percent on your annual electricity bill compared to an A+ rating. The difference between an A+++ and a C rating is about 20 percent.
Larger refrigerator models typically use more energy than smaller models, but many small models are less energy efficient than they seem. This can get confusing, especially if you just look at the kilowatt hours per year (kWhr/yr) figure on energy labels or rely on an Energy Star certification. To help you figure out this morass of numbers, I’ll guide you through some math in an article where I look at green certifications for refrigerators and ask, “is this Energy Star refrigerator really energy efficient?”.
As always, energy efficiency isn’t the only factor to consider when looking for an eco-friendly household appliance like a refrigerator. You’ll also want to think about:
- Materials used in construction
- The type of coolant used – CFCs, HFCs, or other coolant
- The model – chest freezers and bottom drawer fridge/freezer models tend to be best (avoid side by side models)
- Where the refrigerator is produced and to what standards
- Means of shipping
- Recycling your old appliance (and ease of recycling the new one at a later date)
Coolants are one of the key things to watch out for when buying a refrigerator as these gases can have a significant impact on the planet even if they’re marketed as being good for energy efficiency.
Other considerations include the company making the appliance. If they do not have a good company policy around environmental sustainability, their manufacturing practices may well negate the energy efficiency of your new refrigerator. In addition, the durability of a refrigerator is now a serious consideration. While efficiency has improved dramatically in recent years, innovation has somewhat plateaued, meaning that an appliance you buy now will likely be just as efficient as most models made in the next decade or so. As such, the most eco-friendly choice is a product that is robust, durable, and reliable, and that you’ll get good use out of for many years to come.
Do you really need a refrigerator?
It’s also important to think about whether you need a refrigerator in the first place. Could you get by with an evaporative cooler, a cool pantry, root cellar, or other cool space? For most people, a refrigerator feels like a necessity, especially if you tend to do one big grocery run each week to the store and the farmers market for fresh foods.
For others, especially single people, couples, or small families who have the opportunity to pick up groceries more regularly throughout the week, you might be better off with a ‘European-sized’ model. These tend to be around 10 cu. ft, rather than the 20-25 cu. ft behemoths in most American kitchens.
You might think that adding in the consideration of eco-friendliness would make it hard to find a new refrigerator, but this condition can help refine your options and make it easier to pick an energy efficient, long-lasting, attractive and economical new refrigerator. And, given that kitchen appliances account for more than 10 percent of energy use in the home and of all the major home appliances, buying an energy efficient eco-friendly refrigerator is a one-time action with huge long-term benefits.
Refrigerators and freezers are now available that include recycled and recyclable components, greater energy efficiency, and fewer toxic chemicals. Before you check out my recommendations for companies to consider for an eco-friendly refrigerator, here are four things to think about if you’re considering purchasing a new refrigerator:
- Opt for the smallest, most energy-efficient model that will work for your family for years to come
- Consider buying more non-perishable goods that can be stored in cupboards or a pantry
- Check your thermostats and set temperatures appropriately: 37-40 degrees for the fridge; 0-5 degrees for long-term freezer storage; 10-15 for short term freezer storage. Any higher or lower means you’re making your appliance work harder than necessary.
- Position your appliance away from heat sources such as the stove or dishwasher (so they don’t have to work as hard to keep their cool)
- Know your climatic class and choose a model to match
And, before you buy a new appliance, think about the best way to dispose of your old refrigerator. For top tips, check out the Leaf Score article, “How to Recycle an Old Refrigerator.”