Can You Make Your Refrigerator Run More Efficiently?

Alex Mcil author
Alex Mcil

Considering the fridge unit is designed to keep food stuff cool, it isn’t hugely inefficient (at any given time) in terms of electricity usage.

The problem is, the system must run at all times and that’s when usage starts to mount up.

This equates to approximately 10% of your total household’s energy consumption, and considering nearly 99% of homes have a fridge in the US, this energy use piles up.

Of course, there are other issues such as greenhouse gases and their effect on the o-zone, and although there are still issues, progress has been made on this front… such as the United States legalizing hydrocarbon gases like propane and isobutane that are friendlier to the environment.

Greenpeace’s contribution using environmentally friendly hydrocarbon gases

However, in this guide we look at ways of maintaining your existing refrigerator while making it run more efficiently. You can do your part until the time comes to get a new one, hopefully one that has less impact on the environment or possibility a freezerless unit that uses less power

Make Room For Air Circulation

This is one recommendation everyone can do. Any machine needs air circulation to function more efficiently, otherwise it has to work harder which uses up more energy and can stunt its life expectancy.

Allow a few inches between your walls and the fridge so air can flow freely – job done!

Clean Condenser Coils

The condenser coils are typically located at the back of your fridge and are fantastic dust collectors. This dust acts as a layer of insulation and therefore retains heat within the coil which ultimately affects the cooling efficiency.

Be sure to unplug the fridge unit to avoid potential electrocution and brush away any dust.

This cleaning process can improve efficiency up to a whopping 25%, reducing your energy bill and helping the environment.

Defrosting The Freezer

Many fridges come with an inbuild freezer and the more modern units have a feature that can automatically do the defrosting.

If your unit does not have this feature, then do not forget to manually defrost it.

Ice build up around the cooling coils acts as an insulator that slows the flow of heat from inside the freezer into the evaporator, making it less efficient.

Cool Food Stuff Off First

Forward thinking is great! You may have cooked a batch of food to last you the rest of the week. I only wish I had the discipline to do that myself.

After a few hours in the kitchen it’s tempting to fling all that yummy food in the fridge so you can then kick back and relax.

Hot food in the fridge means the appliance must work harder to cool it down and in turn regulate the other contents to keep them at the same temperature before the hot stuff came in.

This equates to a less efficient running unit due to the extra energy it requires to regulate itself.

* Be sure to remember to put the food in the fridge in good time. We do not want the food to stay out for longer than a couple of hours once it has reached room temp.

The Seal Is The Most Important Part

This cooling appliance uses a seal on the door to retain cool air inside, however, in time, this rubber can break down or detach itself from the door. Sometimes though, the issue is not so obvious to the naked eye.

To check that your not wasting energy through a loose or worn seal, you can do two things:

Use your bare hand and run it around the door. If you feel cold air, then the seal is compromised in that area.

Alternatively, close a dollar bill between the door and seal and start wiggling it gently. Repeat the process around different areas of the door.

If you feel the bill moving easier in some areas than others, then you are likely losing cool air from your unit.

  • Pro tip: Vaseline (petroleum jelly) can be applied around the door frame. The rubber seal sticks to the vaseline keeping the door shut tight (this is a temporary solution).

Regulate Your Household Temperature

Depending on the outside temperature your refrigerator may be working harder than it needs too.

This is why having your fridge inside a kitchen (which is usually hot due to cooking) will make the system work harder to counter the added heat and protect the food inside.

Of course, recommending people not to have their unit in the kitchen is counter productive, but if possible, consider not having your fridge too close to your oven or next to a window where it is exposed to the heat from direct sunlight.

Every 1 degree increase in ambient temperature, can increase your fridge’s performance by about 2.5%. This can reduce the units lifespan, increase energy bills and most of all, not chill your foods effectively.

The table below illustrates how quickly your unit needs to work depending on room temperature.

Room TempFridge's Increased Energy Usage
70 °F0%
75 °F12.5%
80 °F25%
85 °F37.5%
90 °F50%

My Final Thoughts

As shown, the running costs of a refrigerator can quickly mount up. This is especially true when the ambient temperature of your home increases.

It’s often believed that saving on aircon is a good thing, however, this means a harder working fridge over extended periods of time.

The question is, what’s the optimal time period of running your home’s climate control? This too is expensive and finding the right balance is key.

Unfortunately, I cannot say what that balance is, as it will depend on the size of your home, your fridge model & size and the air-conditioning unit you have installed.

With modern smart meters it might be possible to monitor the energy consumption of both units and consequently figure out the optimal balance?