Energy tip #6: tame your fridge

refrigerator.gifThe scene: ‘Twas a typical night in the Johnson house. The 1.8 cars resting in the driveway and 2.2 children scarfing down chicken soup and fresh greens at the dinner table. But, just when dinner was coming to a close and with sleep time beckoning, Lynda perpetrated the pecuniary mistake of putting warm soup directly in the fridge. $.03 — gone. Never to be seen again.

The crime: Eating up your discretionary spending.

The suspect: Your circa 1971 refrigerator, a.k.a, ‘The Fridge.’

Okay, so it may have just been a few pennies, but there are a number a ways we can avoid throwing money away and save energy, including refraining from putting warm food in the fridge. The following suggestions represent one detective’s way to solve the matters at hand:

  • Set the temperature for only as cold as you need. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Don’t keep that old, inefficient refrigerator running in the basement for occasional refreshments. It could cost you $150 or more per year in electricity.
  • Resist the temptation to overfill the refrigerator, as this blocks air circulation. Conversely, a full freezer will perform better than an empty one.
  • Check your refrigerator’s door seal by closing the door on a $5 bill. If it’s held tightly in place, the seal’s OK; if not, the door should be adjusted or the seal replaced.
  • Clean your refrigerator’s coils and air intake grill every 3 months.
  • Keep refrigerators and freezers out of direct sunlight, and allow at least a few centimetres all around (or as recommended by the manufacturer) to allow heat to escape from the compressor and condensing coil.
  • Allow hot foods to cool before putting them in the refrigerator. Learn from Lynda’s mistake.

Apart from these energy saving tips which will no doubt help secure a nice nest egg, the following is a spreadsheet based example of what types of savings you can get if you purchase an Energy Star refrigerator (if anyone knows of a way to recycle your old refridgerator, please tell).

Initial cost difference: $30
Savings over the life of the refrigerator: $62
Net savings: $32
Lbs. of CO2 reduced over lifecycle: 1,121

Of course if you want to avoid the $1,100 cost of a fancy new refrigerator, I suppose you could always dig a hole in your back yard as storage, but that sounds like the pits to me.

54 people checked to see if they were using the right oil last week (Tip #5). Now, I’m going to get a little greedy and say that 70% switched to the manufacturer’s recommended oil, which means that 38 people will be saving 2% in gas costs over the next year. This equates to 7828 lbs. of CO2 savings, enough to take one Hybrid off the road for a full year. Wait, umm, on second thought, make that a Expedition removed for 1/2 a year. We like our hybrids.

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  1. Anonymous - August 9, 2006

    Love the tips and the blog in general, but I don’t really recommend delaying putting warm food in the fridge that you wish to eat later. Most food poisoning bugs grow very well in luke warm temperatures. By getting the food in the fridge, and thus cold, quickly you reduce the probability of making people sick.

    Instead put the warm soup in a shallow container(s) to maximize soup surface area and make it easier on your fridge to cool it.

  2. Orrin - August 9, 2006

    I knew I would be exposed for not being an expert in the kitchen.

    Let me be clear, I’m no advocate of letting food sit out for a long time and definitely agree that food should be put in the refrigerator within a timely manner. But, presumably you could let the food cool on it’s own for awhile (15-30 minutes?) and then put it in the fridge? I’ll have to check my sources on this one.

    If, in fact, the most sanitary thing to do is to put things in the refrigerator right away, I would happily trade the extra ‘umph’ of energy required to cool it for a pleasant night’s sleep.

  3. Mac - August 9, 2006

    More surface area on the soup may make it cool more quickly, but if you are putting it in the refridgerator immediateley, it is not going to make it any easier on your fridge. It will have the same heat energy, regardless of the surface area.

  4. Anonymous - August 12, 2006

    Yes, it has the same heat energy, but it’s more efficient at transfering heat out into the fridge. Since most fridges do not have variable compressor speeds, etc. the high surface area allows the fridge absorb the heat more quickly and thus complete the cooling cycle with less energy outlay.

    Any yes 15-30 minutes probably won’t hurt anyone, if the food is prepared in a relatively clean environment.

  5. EcoChick - August 20, 2007

    Hello, hello. A friend of mine works as a meat cutter for a grocery chain and takes food safety and handling courses several times per year.

    He tells me that putting something directly into the fridge that’s very warm or hot will increase the bacteria levels dangerously and quickly. Others here say the opposite. Who to believe???

    Because of all the differing opinions, and my relentless pursuit of eco-knowledge, I decided to look into it further… here ya go, folks….
    (I found this article to be the most well-rounded.)

    The answer? The truth is, based on the multiple articles I read, leaving foods out for an hour is fine, even good for you/energy savings.

    An example I saw on another site was… would you put a steaming pot of chili fresh off the stove into the fridge next to raw chicken?

    Putting hot things in the fridge not only makes the fridge work harder, it can compromise the other foods in there. I wait til they cool to a level I can reasonably touch the pan without it feeling too hot… probably around 200 degrees or less? Not exactly room temp, but closer to it than fresh from the oven!

    I saw on one site that bacteria grows best from 60-140 degrees, so I’d try to avoid letting it get too low.

    Be safe everyone, and be green! 😉 EcoChick

  6. Bosch Refrigerator - September 3, 2008

    All those pennies add up….and breaking down to how much it costs with energy if the fridge door isn’t sealed/closed completely is astonishing.
    After work, I’m going to check my fridge at home to make sure I’m not throwing money out the door solely because of my fridge.