GBA Logo horizontal Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Picture icon Hamburger Icon Close Icon Sorted
Musings of an Energy Nerd

Choosing an Energy-Efficient Refrigerator

Select a small refrigerator with the freezer at the top — one without a through-the-door ice dispenser

The classic Monitor-Top refrigerator was manufactured by General Electric from 1925 to 1937. Monitor-Top refrigerators used only 244 kWh per year — significantly less than most modern refrigerators.

Because federal appliance efficiency standards have gotten more stringent, new refrigerators use much less energy than those sold in the 1970s. These days, it’s fairly easy to find a full-size refrigerator that requires only 350 to 500 kWh per year — significantly less than the 1,000 kWh/year energy hogs of yore.

Beginning in 2014, the minimum federal efficiency standard for refrigerators will ratchet up another notch, lowering the annual energy bill for a 20-cubic-foot refrigerator to about 390 kWh. Energy Star models will use even less energy.

To reduce the amount of energy used by the typical American refrigerator, several steps are necessary. Engineers, government regulators, and consumers all have a role to play:

  • Engineers need to design more efficient refrigerators; this is done by specifying efficient compressors, thick insulation, and high-performance heat-exchange coils. To varying degrees, appliance designers have been working at this goal for at least 90 years.
  • Since history shows that appliance manufacturers are unlikely to build efficient appliances voluntarily — even when efficiency improvements are demonstrably cost-effective — we need stringent federal regulations requiring refrigerators to meet minimum efficiency standards. Fortunately, after years of shameful inaction, the U.S. Department of Energy has finally enacted better standards.
  • Consumers need to choose small, simple refrigerators without the bells and whistles that waste energy.

Designing an efficient refrigerator

Designing an efficient refrigerator isn’t rocket science; the principles are fairly simple. You want the smallest possible compressor. You want the compressor to be efficient. You want the heat-exchange coils to be generously sized and located somewhere where smooth air flow is possible. And you want thick insulation with a high R-value per inch.

Engineers have traditionally compromised on many of these features. Since thicker insulation reduces the interior volume of the refrigerator, appliance manufacturers have often skimped on insulation so they could brag about the…

GBA Prime

This article is only available to GBA Prime Members

Sign up for a free trial and get instant access to this article as well as GBA’s complete library of premium articles and construction details.

Start Free Trial


  1. zimmerdale | | #1

    Bottom drawer freezer?
    You didn't mention the option of a freezer drawer on the bottom. Do you have an opinion on that style? I've assumed that less cold air is lost than on a freezer with a door. One model I like is the Fisher & Paykel RF175.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to Jason Miller
    That model uses 440 kWh a year -- considerably more than my recommended maximum of 350 kWh/year.

    When in doubt about manufacturers' claims, just compare the kWh/year number with other brands.

    There are lots of better choices; see this Excel spreadsheet with Energy Star models:

    I notice that Frigidaire makes a 21-cu.-ft. model (model 970-4215) that uses only 335 kWh/year. Other manufacturers also make efficient models of refrigerators.

  3. jameshowison | | #3

    Chest with rising lazy Susan
    I've used chest fridges on boats quite a lot. The one design element that I wonder about is this: could you have shelves that rose out of the chest for access? Imagine a central column with shelves surrounding it. For access to other than the very top layer you raise the column and rotate it for access to the back and side shelves.

    Sure the raising mechanism would need engineering, but seems like it could be done (rack and pinion?). And yes, you'd have warm air penetrating everything while it was raised, but I wonder I the cold would fall back into the 'well'. Mostly though you access the top level, so it would only get used like once a day.

    Oh an it would suck on a boat at sea :) But in a kitchen perhaps not.

    I'm shocked and annoyed that the Emergy Star comparison diagram is such a joke and thank you for bringing it up here (and i enjoyed the fun story about Mr Holladay :)

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Reply to James Howison
    The usual solution for users of chest-style refrigerators is to include stacked wire racks that can be lifted out for access to the bottom layers of the fridge.

    But I like your suggestion of a rising lazy Susan. It's clearly time for backyard tinkerers to start inventing better racks for chest-style refrigerators.

  5. Larry Weingarten | | #5

    Lessons from the past
    Martin: Thanks for reminding us that some really smart people came before we did. There are answers to current questions waiting to be found in old equipment, books and buildings. I think our predecessors understood the concept of elegant simplicity much better than we do now. You must have learned at your grandfather's knee!

  6. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    Response to Larry Weingarten
    My grandfather was precise about data and measurement. He was reluctant to acquire unnecessary appliances.

    He loved his slide rule. He also loved his recording thermometer; he had decades of data on outdoor temperatures recorded at his house in Altadena, California. His machine had a vertical cylinder that rotated slowly, once every 24 hours. A mechanical pen recorded the outdoor temperature on a paper tube that slipped over the cylinder. Every morning he removed the old paper tube from the outside of the cylinder and inserted a new paper tube. Each paper tube had a fluctuating line on it, drawn in ink, recording outdoor temperatures over the previous 24 hours. The paper graphs were carefully filed away.

    He saw no reason to replace his refrigerator as long as it still worked. Eventually, toward the end of his life, my grandmother convinced him to finally buy a new refrigerator, and he moved his Monitor Top to a vacation home in the mountains.

    He worked for years as a consultant on air conditioning systems. He never installed air conditioning at his Altadena house, though, because he thought that residential air conditioning wasn't necessary. "All you need is a whole-house fan," he said. When the weather got warm, he opened the windows at bedtime and turned on his fan; when he woke up in the morning, he closed the windows.

  7. user-984364 | | #7

    No mention of CEE Tiers?
    I'd advise looking for a CEE TIer III fridge - that'll go well beyond the current energy star standards. Two years ago I did a blog post ("Going beyond Energy Star") about just this, when I noticed a little "CEE Tier3" tag on a fridge when I was shopping, and found out that it was 30% better than the Energy Star minimum! It was cheap, too.

    FWIW, does a good job of weeding through what's available,and presenting a top-ten efficient list.

  8. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #8

    Reply to Eric Sandeen
    Thanks for suggesting some excellent resources.

    For those interested in further information, here is an explanation of the Super Efficient Home Appliances Initiative (SEHA) launched by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE). Tier III appliances are more efficient than Tier I or Tier II appliances.

    An Excel file of the CEE's list of refrigerator specs can be found here.

    A much more user-friendly document is the Top Ten Medium Refrigerators list from Top Ten USA. For specific model numbers, you have to click a link for further information. They suggest you choose the Hotpoint model HTH17CBC refrigerator with a capacity of 16.5 cubic feet ($626). It has an annual energy use rating of 300 kWh.

    I will include these links in the blog. Thanks for the suggestions, Eric.

  9. user-984364 | | #9

    Thanks Martin
    Martin, if you click through to the product's specific page (where it says "multiple models") you'll get a more detailed list with model numbers:

    General Electric GTH17BBC, GTH17DBC, GTH17JBC, GTJ17BCC, GTK17JBC, Hotpoint HTH17CBC, HTJ17CBC

    The fridge I ended up with is very similar to those. Rated at 324kWh/yr, but I've been closer to 157 - thanks I'm sure to it being a beer/overflow fridge, seldom opened, in a cool basement.

  10. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #10

    Response to Eric Sandeen
    Thanks for the further information. Your only crime: energy nerds aren't allowed to have a beer fridge in the basement.

  11. user-984364 | | #11

    We get no vices?
    It's my guilty pleasure. And you should see the tiny fridge in the kitchen. Combined they probably use less than most households' single fridge. ;)

  12. homedesign | | #12

    Looks Familiar
    the "Monitor-Top" looks familiar

  13. user-1035959 | | #13

    This reminds me of a Green Architect's Lounge Podcast
    They were talking about designing more energy efficient refridgerators and wondering if it could be possible to design one where it opens up to the outside during colder months to take advantage of the winter.

  14. user-659915 | | #14

    Response to Martin Holladay's response to Eric Sandeen
    Y'all would be surprised how often I have to remind folks who are installing a new energy-efficient refrigerator as part of a renovation that it's NOT OK to put the old one in a (hot) garage as backup.

    Or maybe you wouldn't.

  15. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #15

    Is it OK to have a beer fridge in the basement?
    I think we can all agree with James that an old (not very efficient) second refrigerator doesn't belong in a hot garage.

    I'll leave it to James and Eric to settle the question of whether energy nerds are allowed to have a new energy-efficient beer fridge in a cool basement. I'm going to stay neutral on the question for the time being.

  16. user-659915 | | #16

    Beer in the basement?
    I'll not quibble about a few kWh a year in a good cause.

    But.... (the Brit in me is tempted to ask) if the basement is cool, why refrigerate the beer? (ducks head to dodge imminent hail of missiles in the beer wars)

  17. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #17

    Beer at cellar temperature?
    I'm all in favor of beer at cellar temperature, as it is traditionally consumed in Britain -- but only in winter, and only if you have an old-fashioned cellar without any heating appliances.

  18. watercop | | #18

    fridge size
    We are a family of 5 and I am not at all willing to give up much fridge size. Much of the time we use every darned bit of the fridge space. I do agree with the advice to stick with top freezers and interior ice makers. I bought the largest such model I could find, keeping an eye on energy consumption. This ties into one of the hallmarks of my energy solutions company - give folks what they want, but at the lowest feasible energy cost.

    I can't sell people on 3 minute showers using 95 degree water, 25 Watt-equivalent light bulbs, heating setpoints of 60 or cooling setpoints of 85, tiny TV sets, etc.

    There is more in play than the mere fact that euro fridges are smaller. Europeans are themselves smaller, eat less, shop for food more often and closer to home. I'm not saying these are good or bad differences, just noting them.

    A large fridge allows us to buy in bulk at lower prices, shop less often,keep more leftovers, not have a 2nd fridge. I buy beer in refillable growlers from a local microbrewery near where I work, but they must be kept cold from the moment of purchase.

    We do have a small, 7 Cuft manual defrost chest freezer also in our kitchen. We designed the kitchen for it - our kitchen cabinet guy says he has never seen a chest freezer incorporated into a new kitchen.

    The extra buck or so per month in electricity a larger fridge uses is more than offset in shopping economy and convenience.

    Martin's article is long, informative, and thought provoking, but he didn't write much on one of the features of modern refrigerators that makes them energy pigs - automatic defrost. You gotta be really old to remember when manual defrost fridges were sold new.

    Auto defrost, especially as it has been done for decades, is the energy pig within. Every few hours a timer shuts off the compressor and then heats the entire evaporator coil with an adjacent heating element similar to one found in an oven or dishwasher. This does melt water off the coil, and some of it then drains off, but much of it also evaporates into the cabinet. The heating element also adds a bunch of heat to the cainet which the compressor has to remove during the next cycle.

    There have to be better ways to manage the defrost - hot gas in the coil itself, demand based, minimize heat and humidity added into the cabinet. Maybe the newer fridges already have better defrost...

  19. user-659915 | | #19

    Curt makes several excellent points
    not least of which is not wasting food. To that end I have to admit I like the fresh produce at eye level and the less-used freezer drawer below. Perhaps a reasonable trade against an extra ~ 50 kWh per year.

  20. user-984364 | | #20

    On wasted food and cold beer
    TBH, I think a larger fridge would cause us to waste more food. Even our tiny little LG in the kitchen (only one that would fit in the existing cutout space) winds up with too much forgotten stuff in the back. Hm, I wonder if anyone could make a 6ft wide, 1ft deep fridge.

    As for energy nerds being allowed a 2nd fridge, I'll be glad to go up against most of you on electric bills ;) 366kWh/month avg over the past year, family of 4, gas heat, no (ok, rarely window) AC, electric dryer & range & oven. We're under half the state average; I think I've earned a cold beer. :)

  21. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #21

    Response to Curt Kinder
    You wrote, "There is more in play than the mere fact that euro fridges are smaller. Europeans are themselves smaller [and] eat less."

    You have proposed an intriguing possibility: a possible correlation between the fact that Americans are larger than Europeans and the relative size of their refrigerators.

    Your observation may be accurate, but it's not a very compelling argument in favor of Americans buying bigger fridges.

  22. user-659915 | | #22

    USA is number one.

  23. 5C8rvfuWev | | #23

    American "size" to the side
    ... and perhaps our obesity epidemic with it (if that's where the conversation is headed), the previous several posts demonstrate how this topic, more than any other you've covered recently Martin, is susceptible to "occupant behavior." ... like the efficient top-freezer refrigerator I once owned and my former wife's propensity for leaving the door open while she cooked!

    I do have a couple of questions, though:

    Given the propensity of cold air to settle to the bottom, why is a top door freezer more efficient than a bottom "awning" door freezer? Doesn't the cold air flow out of the top door every time it is opened while the bottom unit retains the temperature better?

    And: assuming that people are going to use ice and/or chilled water for drinking, why is it less efficient to have a door mounted ice/water dispenser than it is to open the door ten times a day to get ice or a pitcher of cold water? Why isn't opening/closing the door more of an issue than the dispenser for energy efficiency.

    My own objection to the dispenser in the door is the oft-noted repairs required for such refrigerators -- it's a constant complaint from CR's ratings. And, though they don't measure it, a source of "embodied" waste every time a repairman has to putter with the damn thing.

  24. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #24

    Response to Joe W
    Joe W.,
    To the best of my knowledge, freezer compartments were originally located at the top of a refrigerator-freezer because that was the coldest compartment. Once the refrigerant coils cooled the freezer, a convection loop inside the refrigeration compartment brought cold air from the underside of the freezer compartment down to the refrigeration compartment, because cold air sinks.

    These days, refrigerator-freezers with bottom-mounted freezers are almost as efficient as units with top-mounted freezers. The real hogs to avoid are the side-by-side models.

    My guess is that opening the door of your refrigerator a few extra times a day doesn't incur as much of an energy penalty as the inherent penalty that comes with units equipped with a through-the-door ice dispenser. However, I'm not aware of a monitoring study that has looked into the issue.

    I agree with you that it's important to consider the frequency of required repairs when choosing a refrigerator. I doubt whether a mechanism that dispenses ice cubes through a door will last 69 years, like my grandfather's refrigerator.

  25. tmtrux | | #25

    commercial under counter drawer refrigerator

    I would think that these drawer refrigerators would/could be more efficient. shallow drawers make it easy to find items, drawers keep cold air from spilling out similar to a chest freezer. Unfortunately all the ones I can find are energy hogs with auto defrost and commercial features.

  26. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #26

    Response to Mike Truxillo
    You're probably right that a drawer refrigerator could be made to be relatively efficient. All of the usual design principals apply:
    1. The insulation has to be thick.
    2. The gasket that seals the door/drawer has to be airtight.
    3. The compressor has to be located so that its heat doesn't degrade the performance of the unit.
    4. The heat exchange coils need to be located somewhere that gets decent air flow.

    My guess is that designers don't care much about these issues. But if someone wanted to address these issues, they could.

  27. user-659915 | | #27

    Drawer refrigerators, re Martin's list -
    1) surface area to volume ratio is high, so poor material efficiency
    2) as we know from window technology, compression seals consistently outperform sliding seals in airtightness.
    3), 4) - drawer refrigerators are sold on their sleek in-cabinet installation. Not promising for compressor/heat exchanger performance.

    In addition, drawer refrigerators, though expensive, tend to have a poor reliability profile. All in all, despite the chill retention effect, probably not the most profitable format to explore for energy efficiency.

  28. user-729621 | | #28

    Small Fridges Make Good Cities
    Architect Donald Chong coined the phrase "small fridges make good cities", noting that people in Europe tend to shop every day for fresh food, interact with their neighbours and support their local greengrocers, instead of driving the minivan to Walmart to fill up the 48" side-by-side once a week. If you really want to see the difference, watch Oprah tour a Danish apartment and flip out at the size of the fridge

  29. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #29

    Response to Lloyd Alter
    Thanks! Great link.

  30. user-982477 | | #30

    Auto defrost - the energy hog?
    I write a blog about 1940s and 1950s homes, and whenever the subject of keeping refrigerators from this era comes up, some folks inevitably pipe up and exclaim "but they are energy hogs not efficient as today." Others have replied: "As long as the vintage fridges don't have auto defrost they may likely use LESS electric than a fridge with auto defrost today." Now, I see @curt kinder saying (above):

    "Martin's article is long, informative, and thought provoking, but he didn't write much on one of the features of modern refrigerators that makes them energy pigs - automatic defrost. You gotta be really old to remember when manual defrost fridges were sold new....Auto defrost, especially as it has been done for decades, is the energy pig within. Every few hours a timer shuts off the compressor and then heats the entire evaporator coil with an adjacent heating element similar to one found in an oven or dishwasher. This does melt water off the coil, and some of it then drains off, but much of it also evaporates into the cabinet. The heating element also adds a bunch of heat to the cainet which the compressor has to remove during the next cycle."

    Short of putting a meter on a 50s fridge-sans-defrost and checking the kilowatt usage, do you have any data on this subject, Martin and/or Curt? The discussion often gets quite heated -- haha -- and I would love to know. Note, 1950s fridges were also smaller, I believe.... so even with the meter on, there's also a kilowatt-per-cu.ft issue here - which is also what Martin discusses: e.g. smaller is better. Thank you.

  31. user-1047602 | | #31

    Change the fridge light bulb?
    I sadly inherited a side by side, ice dispenser fridge (yet energy star!) when i bought this house. I did however change all incandescents over to LEDs immediately in the fridge and freezer. They have been doing fine for months.

  32. dryville | | #32

    more notes on the monitor top
    Great article Martin. I've been using a two-door 1927 Monitor Top as our three-person family's one and only fridge for 8 years. It's a 1927 cabinet with a 1936 CK series top unit, and despite the relatively big compartment size of around 11 cubic feet, it uses $48/year in electricity at our rate of 13 cents/kw, according to my Kill-a-Watt meter. We do use a small chest freezer in the basement to supplement the tiny freezer shelf in the GE. It does need a defrost every 6 to 8 weeks, but it's a great excuse to clean the interior. About the beer - when there's more than I can fit, it gets cooled nicely on the basement floor by our GE Geospring heat pump water heater. Wonder if that will still be running in 76 years?

  33. user-659915 | | #33

    Maybe it's not all about kWh.
    Loved the monitor-top history and the heads-up about Energy Star ratings. Led me to a little online reading which revealed that a) appliance manufacturers are more than a trifle coy about actual energy use but b) like the children of Lake Wobegone, all the fridges are apparently above average. Nary a one without an Energy Star label, but to find actual numbers you have to hunt around and download a PDF of the little yellow sticker (LG doesn't even seem to let you do that). Bottom line - the average ES refrigerator from a mainstream manufacturer seems to run about 550kWh/yr for a full-size model with thru-door ice and water, about 100kWh/yr less without that function.

    That's up to 60% more than Martin's preferred number - seems a lot, yes? But in the real world that's just an extra twenty bucks worth of electricity a year - depending on where you live maybe thirty, tops. About the cost of dinner for two at a casual restaurant, no wine or dessert. In return a homeowner gets a year's worth of excellent storage of fresh produce from the farmer's market and the CSA, not to mention a convenient source of chilled tap water in place of the plastic bottles of soda and packaged water your kids otherwise love to to grab. If you're not off-grid and counting every electron, that begins to sounds like a green bargain. Even with the dreaded (but oh so tidy) auto-defrost.

    Sidebar - for putting all that good fresh stuff at eye level where you can see it and use it before it goes bad, I'm liking the french-door layout. Preferably counter-depth so science projects don't proliferate in the depths.

  34. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #34

    Response to Pam Kueber
    The only way I know to check the electrical consumption of your 1950s refrigerator is with a meter (for example, the Kill-a-Watt meter, which is available online for $16 to $20). Some public libraries lend out Kill-a-Watt meters; some utility programs also have free meters to lend out to homeowners.

    Concerning the auto defrost feature: yes, it wastes energy; and yes, it's convenient. Not all refrigerators have auto defrost; for example, my Sun Frost does not. It has to be defrosted the old-fashioned way.

  35. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #35

    Response to Brett Little
    I'm glad to hear that LED bulbs work well in your refrigerator. However, I hesitate to recommend such a swap, because the payback period is likely to be very long indeed for bulbs that are used for only a few minutes each day.

  36. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #36

    Response to Joe Hammes
    It's great to hear from a reader with a functioning Monitor-Top. I hope you get several more decades from your appliance.

  37. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #37

    Response to James Morgan
    You're right, of course -- most Americans can easily afford to pay for the extra electricity to run a refrigerator that uses 60% more energy than a more efficient model.

    Most Americans can also afford to pay their heating and cooling bills, even though these bills are higher than necessary because of basic design and construction flaws in most homes.

    Nevertheless, I will continue to provide advice to the small number of readers who are interested in lowering their energy bills (and their carbon footprint). It's possible that one of these days, new carbon taxes will raise our energy bills; those who live in efficient homes will be ready.

    The other possibility: political leaders will prove unable to address global climate change with a coherent energy policy, and America will sail along -- "business as usual" -- as temperatures rise.

  38. user-659915 | | #38

    Response to Martin
    Respectfully Martin I think you're missing the point. A homeowner could save even more by not having a refrigerator at all: I spent my early years in such a household, and to the day she died my mother felt that her ~ 8 cubic foot model was more than adequate. Of course that was in another culture and another climate. But we should recognize there are benefits as well as costs to refrigerator use, benefits which are environmental as well as economic, and the balance doesn't necessarily support clipping refrigerator energy use to the bone at the cost of utility.

    I live and work in an area where families with two working adults are the norm, where a family of four commonly spends well over $200 a month on its cell phone and cable bills, where nevertheless many are smart and well-educated and want to do the right thing environmentally. Not unreasonably, they would take a lot of convincing that the appliance they use to safely store the family's weekly haul from the CSA or the farmer's market should be judged entirely on its energy cost and not also on the considerable benefits it brings to the family well-being. And compared to the gasoline these good folks pour into the family minivan to get their kids to cello practice and tai chi, the energy used by the family refrig isn't even in the noise. For sure I'll continue to encourage them to read the energy specs on ALL their appliance purchases, and for sure I'll point out the dumbassness of putting the old refrig in the garage 'for overflow'. But I'll also encourage them to go for maximum use value in those new appliances so the backup unit is visibly redundant, and while there's something called opportunity cost for the always-limited and always carefully considered resources they're prepared to allocate to energy upgrades I'm not going to try and sell them on a $3,000 Sunfrost with lower functionality than a $2,000 mainstream model. Even if it saves them twenty bucks a year.

  39. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #39

    Response to James Morgan
    Your points are all valid. Every family is different, and every family will, of course, make their refrigerator purchasing decision based on their own needs, family budget, and ability to pay their electric bills.

    For those interested in a low-energy refrigerator, my blog provides guidance. For those who are happy with a large refrigerator, and happy to pay more for the electricity to run it, there is no need to follow my suggestions.

    One of your points is particularly compelling: for those who are grid-connected, the high cost of a Sun Frost refrigerator can't be justified by any conceivable energy savings. It only makes sense for off-grid homeowners.

    That's why, for some but not all families, a better choice is a model like the one mentioned in comment #8: the Hotpoint model HTH17CBC refrigerator with a capacity of 16.5 cubic feet. It has an annual energy use rating of 300 kWh. At a cost of $626, I think it makes more sense than a $3,000 Sun Frost or your suggested $2,000 "mainstream model" -- for some but not all families.

  40. user-659915 | | #40

    Hotpoint model HTH17CBC
    Thanks Martin for referring back to the excellent-value Hotpoint model, and it's worth noting that its spec sheet reinforces your initial point about how misleading the Energy Star tag can be. Despite its extremely low 300kWh/yr rating this unit is listed as *NOT* ES compliant.

  41. T.C. Feick | | #41

    Beer Fridge efficiency
    A couple of slightly off topic comments; 1: I mourn the loss of the "Best Beer Fridge EVER" that fell victim to my overzealous attempts to reduce home electricity consumption. I had noted, but not measured, that my old fridge used little electricity, and I assumed it had to do with 1: no frost free freezer, thick wall insulation, and thick, well maintained door gasketing. Why best fridge ever? It was beautifully styled, had a freezer for frosty mugs, and lazy susan shelves. It was able to hold 7 cases of beer with the crisper drawers removed. I miss it dearly. My embittered self disgust is brought to a full boil as I think of watching the power company subcontractor load my old friend in a truck and hand me a $35 check with a smile. 2:fridge maintenance. Clean the heat exchange coils and intake grates to help airflow and reduce energy consumption on your fridge

  42. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #42

    Response to James Morgan
    According to the Excel spreadsheet of Energy-Star-compliant refrigerators, the Hotpoint HTH17CBC is Energy Star rated.

  43. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #43

    Response to T.C. Feick
    Once again, the age-old story about cleaning refrigerator coils rears its ugly head. I thought I had driven a wooden stake through that story in a previous blog, More Energy Myths.

    At this point, I should probably stop fighting this harmless suggestion. So: anyone who wants to clean their refrigerator coils, go ahead. Just don't expect your electric bill to drop.

  44. user-659915 | | #44

    Response to Martin
    Someone should tell Hotpoint marketing dept.:

  45. lutro | | #45

    a warmer fridge?
    Refrigerators are supposed to stay below 39 degrees F, mostly to protect meat. Fruits, vegetables, and bread, which fill a fair amount of space in the average healthy person's fridge, actually keep better/last longer at 45 or 50 degrees, according to sources I have read. Is this true? Is there a reasonably efficient way to store some things in a warmer fridge, in a modern urban household? Or in an off-grid homestead?

  46. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #46

    Response to Derek Roff
    Some parts of every fridge are a little colder than other parts. In my fridge, the coldest area is in the back, and the warmest area is on the door rack. If you want to take advantages of these differences in temperature, you can.

    As far as I know, as long as foods don't freeze (freezing can obviously hurt the texture of many foods), colder is better than warmer if all you care about is storing food as long as possible. However, if you want your food to taste good, you don't necessarily want it to be cold. The only fruits I would ever put in a refrigerator are apples and possibly grapes; other fruit -- bananas, peaches, pears, and tomatoes -- should definitely be kept at room temperature.

    I hate cold bread. If you don't plan on toasting it, bread is also best stored at room temperature. Of course, that means you should bake frequently, or stop by your local bakery frequently if you are lucky enough to live near one.

  47. mouse311 | | #47

    Sun Frost refrigerator
    Martin, I read your months-old post on energy-efficient refrigerators just yesterday, and thanks for the useful information as well as the story of the Monitor-Top. I am remodeling my 30-year-old kitchen for the first and last time, and after reading your comments about your Sun Frost jumped to their website. Now I am thoroughly smitten, but a little further web-surfing has left me cautious--a few complaints about door gaskets, condensation and the like. Would you be willing to share some more of your experience with your Sun Frost with a fellow Vermont resident, although one who alas does not live off the grid and moved away from the Northeast Kingdom many years ago? If you are, but feel such a conversation does not belong in this post, I'm happy to continue it via email.

  48. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #48

    Response to Bonnie Barnes
    My 12-volt Sunfrost refrigerator-freezer is now about 21 years old. It still works fine.

    The original compressor has never needed any maintenance. I replaced the thermostat once. With telephone advice from people at Sunfrost, it was easy for me to replace the failed thermostat myself.

    The original shelves on the door had plastic components that failed. I had new aluminum shelves made by a local sheet-metal worker. These work fine.

    One of the glass shelves in the main compartment broke when I took it out to clean it. I replaced it with an aluminum shelf (again, made by a local sheet-metal contractor).

    There is occasional condensation. If everything works well, the condensation drips out a tube in the back and evaporates. Occasionally this tube gets clogged and needs to be cleaned out.

    You need to do some trial-and-error adjustment of the thermostat so that lettuce doesn't freeze in the refrigerator compartment, but ice cream still stays hard in the freezer. For mysterious reasons, the thermostat has to be adjusted seasonally -- you need a slightly different adjustment in hot weather than in cold weather.

    The refrigerator has a different shape from most refrigerators. It's deep. You may find that inconvenient.

    If efficiency is your number-one priority, it's hard to beat the Sunfost.

  49. Danny G | | #49

    Solar Powered Refrigerators and Freezers
    Talking about efficiency and saving power, did you know that solar powered fridges and freezers existed?! Well here you go

  50. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #50

    Response to DG
    Q. "Did you know that solar powered fridges and freezers existed?"

    A. Yes. I've had one in my home for 21 years. (It's a 12 volt DC Sunfrost.)

  51. Chimonger | | #51

    Dinosaur Tech and faux Energy Star refrigeration? Yes...
    RE: ALL refrigerators and freezers.
    I used packing tape to attach 2" solid foam insulation from Home Depot, on sides, top and front [never on the back] of our old refrigerator, AND put it on a HD appliance timer to shut it off for a few hours per night.   Yeah, it's ugly--but VERY effective.
    These measures are the ONLY way all our food was saved during a 3 day power outage. 
    Some Ice chests have better insulation than most refrigerators or freezers in mainstream markets!!! Only 2 companies make units with at least 4" thick foam insulation; those are hard to get, and costly...they get away with high prices, because they have little competition.
    Foam insulation is cheap--any company can add more.
    There's even some high-tech phase-change insulation that's very thin, that could be used to keep unit boxes the same size they currently are, while adding larger amounts of R-value. 
    Refrigerator and freezer makers have had YEARS to improve insulation, yet haven't.
    WHEN is Industry going to offer vastly increased R-value insulation in their units, to average buyers, at more sane prices?  I want to be able to run my refrigerator or freezer off a Solar Panel during the day, and not worry about it at night.  
    Kitchen cabinetry can be redone to fit larger boxes if foam insulation is increased; “bigger boxes won’t fit most kitchens” was always a poor excuse—I heard that long ago and didn't believe it for a minute., then. People buy what industry leaves them no choice but to buy; most buyers don’t take time to really dig/search for better, and they want to be able to go to a nearby store to buy one they can see and touch, not wait weeks for delivery of something they’ve never seen nor touched. 
    SO, INDUSTRY MUST be the ones to offer far better units.
    That Energy Star program?! Bad joke—Especially in refrigerators and freezers. I learned some years ago, one of the refrigerator/freezer industry tricks to fudge compliance, was to "bench test" components, get THOSE to pass compliance parameters, then install those in larger boxes. The Net result: smaller but “compliant” works in larger box must run more to keep the box cooled. Direct experience: a new, 19’ Energy Star GE top-freezer /refrigerator unit, cost us notably MORE to run.
    The bottom line? That new, smaller, GE unit cost as much to run, as the much larger, 40-yr.-old, side-by-side unit with leaking seals we got rid of. We gave that new POS back to the landlord, replaced it with an older, larger, side-by-side donor unit, with my taped-on foam insulation—saving about $180 per YEAR, x several years? That’s a significant Energy Star fail!!
    My solution:  
    I’ll keep using older units with taped-on foam insulation, rather than spend more money on pseudo-complaint, "bench-tested" Energy Star units that, real-world, cost more to run.  
    I vastly dislike feeding an industry that chronically stalls on making far better insulated units—and maybe are also stuck in dinosaur cooling technology, as well.

  52. jwbaker | | #52

    What about highly integrated refrigeration?
    Thank you for writing this fascinating article. It made me wonder what kind of efficiency could be achieved through custom integration of the refrigerator into the building. For example why can't the compressor and its coils be in the crawl space under a kitchen, or in a large multi-family dwelling be on the roof? I guess nobody would want to try to troubleshoot and fix a building-sized coolant leak, but we already do that for air conditioning. I'm sure either of these would cost a fortune in terms of custom fabrication but it could be amusing to find out just how efficient you could make your refrigerator.

  53. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #53

    Response to Jeff Baker
    Q. "Why can't the compressor and its coils be in the crawl space under a kitchen, or in a large multi-family dwelling be on the roof?"

    A. First of all, in most of the U.S., the heat given off by refrigerator coils is desirable during the winter. It helps keep our homes warm. If the refrigerator coils were moved outside of the thermal envelope, the home would lose that beneficial source of heat, and energy bills would increase during the winter.

    Of course, this same heat is undesirable during the summer; so it's a trade-off. In most of the U.S., winter heating bills are higher than summer cooling bills -- so keeping the refrigerator coils indoors is probably a good thing, on balance.

    Second: the strategy you suggest is uniformly adopted by supermarkets. Commercial properties with large refrigerators routinely locate the condensers outdoors. So that strategy is not only possible, it is routine when the condensers are large.

    Third: While a crawl space might be a reasonable location for a condenser serving a small residential refrigerator, you have to be cautious about putting a condenser in a confined space. For more information on this topic, see Does a Heat Pump Condenser Need to Go Outdoors?

  54. solarman08 | | #54

    Energy Guide Numbers - Question
    You wrote "you should only use the yellow EnergyGuide labels to determine the number of kWh used per year" . I have used the number shown on the Yellow Energy Guide to compare similar refrigerator models. I bought a Maytag bottom freezer model a few years ago which showed a yearly electricity use estimate of 404 kWH - I measured the actual use with a Kill-A-Watt on a Summer month and was happy to see it uses less than this estimate. While checking the Energy Guide for refrigerators available today, I noticed that the Energy Guide posted online by appliance retailers includes both the U.S. Govt Yellow Energy Guide and the Energy Guide for Canada. Both list DIFFERENT NUMBERS of kWh for yearly estimate electricity use ?? On some models like the one shown below, the difference, 161 kWh is HUGE. Which number (if any) can you trust?

  55. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #55

    Response to Marc Fontana
    My guess is that the two labels that you have reproduced in your comments do not come from the same appliance. Either (a) one of the stickers was mistakenly affixed to the appliance you looked at (in other words, it was an error by a store employee), or (b) you have looked up the ratings on two appliances which you assume are identical but which, in fact, are different models.

    Here is some relevant information from a website maintained by Natural Resources Canada:
    "Major electrical household appliances and room air conditioners sold in Canada must meet minimum energy efficiency standards and are required to display an EnerGuide label. ... The governments of Canada and the United States work together to ensure that standards and testing procedures are harmonized in both countries. For all appliances that carry the EnerGuide label, test procedures are essentially the same or similar in Canada and US. ... You may see both the black-and-white Canadian label and the black-and-yellow American label on new major appliances. The American label may be removed before a new appliance is sold at retail locations or leased in Canada. The Canadian EnerGuide and American EnergyGuide labels can be printed back to back on a hang-tag or side by side. Canada and the United States usually use similar test methods to determine the energy rating. However, the range on the scale [not the rating or annual kWh usage] may differ because of differences, for example, in the test procedure."

  56. solarman08 | | #56

    Energy Guide Numbers - Continued
    Martin, Thanks for your response and for the Natural Resources Canada web link. I must disagree with your guess about the kWh discrepancy between the U.S. and Canada ratings. First of all, I did not download these labels separately, I found them as one image link on a major appliance supplier's web site. Furthermore, the inconsistent ratings appear consistently on various refrigerator brands and models. I invite you to check the Energy Guide links yourself at and I think you will agree that something is "rotten in Denmark" as they say. Also, both the Yellow U.S. Energy Guide Tag AND the Canadian label contain the model number and IT IS THE SAME. So, there is either a major screw-up in documentation, OR, the ratings are not produced by the same testing procedures. Until this is cleared up, I cannot trust either number... Here are the tags again with the model number circled in RED on both and they look the same to me...

  57. jk96 | | #57

    Martin I'm a little late to
    Martin I'm a little late to this article as it was bumped by another reader and just finished reading. While I don't have a problem with better efficiency and a lower carbon footprint I wonder how many of your readers look at the bigger picture and not just the 200 KWH per year they may save on the smaller fridge. Sure most Europeans get by with a fridge half the size, they also are likely to live in more densely populated city centers and travel using public transportation, walk, or bike.

    For our family of 5 we have 4 gallons of milk in our 27 cubic ft fridge at all times and the remainder of space is fully utilized as well. We make a trip to the grocery store once per week to 10 days and buy in bulk when possible to avoid extra trips. I could take the advise given and buy a 14 cubic ft fridge and tell everyone about my lower carbon footprint and my $22/year in electricity I saved but I would have to leave out the following information

    1 extra trip to the grocery store each week at 12 miles one way, 24 miles round trip.
    24 miles x 52 weeks = 1,248 extra driving miles per year.
    1,248/26 mpg = 48 gallons of gasoline
    48 gal @ 2.28 = $109.44
    1/2 an oil change = $25
    5% tire wear = $

    I could go on but you get the point. I've lost the convenience of a larger fridge, burned 48 gallons of gasoline, and spend an extra $112 dollars annually to be more carbon friendly.

  58. ethant | | #58

    Jeremy inadvertenlty points out the irony of all of this...
    I once lived "off the grid" in the desert of New Mexico. I had to drive about 30 miles each way to work... SO I moved in to town, bought a small Rastra Block condominium and walked to work. I was no longer "off the grid" but I sure burnt a lot less gas!

  59. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #59

    Response to Jeremy K and Ethan T
    Jeremy and Ethan,
    Your points are well taken. Transportation energy makes up a very large segment of Americans' energy use, so those who aspire to a green lifestyle should consider living in a high-density neighborhood where stores are withing walking distance. For more on this topic, see these articles:

    Can Rural Living Be As Green As Urban Living?

    Houses Versus Cars

    Location Efficiency

    Location Efficiency Trumps Home Energy Efficiency

Log in or become a member to post a comment.



Recent Questions and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |