Eco-Tip for 9-29-19
Cool the Planet with Your Refrigerator
By David Goldstein, VC PWA, IWMD
If your teen age child was inspired by Greta Thunberg’s speech at last week’s United Nations Climate Action Summit and is asking to participate in Thunberg’s Friday boycotts of school to protest adults’ insufficient action in combating climate change, here is a test of a teen’s true intentions. See if your teen displays the typical teenage behavior of standing in front of an open refrigerator door and staring at the contents while deciding what to eat.
Don’t believe them when they say, “Hey, I’m just trying to cool the planet with our refrigerator.”
You really can cool the planet with your refrigerator, but not that way. You might have to get rid of the one you have and replace it with a more efficient model. I mean the refrigerator, not the teen.
In general, refrigerators have become more efficient, so a newer one, if comparable, will usually use less energy than an older one, but there are many other factors to consider. Size matters, of course; more space to cool requires more energy. Layout is another factor; heat rises, so a freezer on the bottom is the most efficient design, and side-by-side is the least efficient. If you buy a new refrigerator, look for Energy Star certification and compare annual energy cost projections, both of which should be posted on refrigerator doors by retailers.
When people replace refrigerators, they tend to “trade up,” according to Abul Faleh, Sales Associate with Warehouse Discount Center Kitchen and Bath in Oxnard. Customers replacing refrigerators buy bigger units with more features, he said, some of which require more energy. Newer refrigerators, for example, are more likely to have ice makers, a major energy using device.
Sometimes you can get better cooling and more efficient performance out of your existing refrigerator without replacing it and without adjusting the temperature settings downward. Tips from the Southern California Edison’s energy efficiency web site include the following: Cover liquids, thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator, maintain space between items for air circulation, keep the refrigerator a few inches from walls to maintain air circulation, keep your refrigerator nearly full, and clean the condenser coils at least once per year by unplugging the unit and brushing or vacuuming the coils.
Michael Bluejay’s “Mr. Electricity” website notes “food safety experts say you should refrigerate hot food to prevent contamination,” but he claims consumers have two hours from the time of preparation, or one hour if temperatures exceed 90 degrees.
Therefore, to save energy, he recommends putting hot items in smaller containers and soaking them in a pot of cold water for 15 to 30 minutes before refrigerating.
If you reduce your refrigerator’s energy consumption but are still not happy with your refrigerator’s cooling performance, the problem might not be the condition of refrigerator’s mechanical parts, but rather the way you are using the refrigerator. First, check the temperature settings. Second, arrange food items in accordance with the areas of the refrigerator most suitable to those items. According to Annabelle Lau, who lists her title on the Edison Website as “Energized by Edison Writer,” the top shelf of the refrigerator has the most consistent temperature, so use it to store items needing no cooking, such as drinks, herbs, and bread. Lower shelves have the coldest temperatures, good for storing raw ingredients, such as meat, eggs, dairy and seafood. Side doors are the warmest part, so use them to store only the foods most resistant to spoiling, such as water, juice, salsa, salad dressing, ketchup, and oil.
Improving both the energy efficiency and the performance of your existing refrigerator also has other benefits. Keeping an older, relatively efficient refrigerator going, and not replacing it with a newer, bigger one also saves “embodied” energy. Embodied energy is the term for the energy used to make the old refrigerator.
A few years ago, Southern California Edison discontinued a popular program paying up to $50 each for old, working refrigerators. There was a big jump in energy efficiency starting with 1993 model years, so once they stopped retiring units of that vintage, it no longer made sense for them to prioritize refrigerator buyback over their other energy efficiency programs. Anyway, if your refrigerator is still working, you can probably make more than $50 by selling it through Craigslist, OfferUp, LetGo, or other apps . Most thrift stores do not accept refrigerators, but another option is to donate your refrigerator directly to a charity wanting to replace their older, less efficient one.
Non-working refrigerators may be recycled as scrap metal, although only the largest metal recycling companies accept them, due to special handling required to extract freon. For example, SA Recycling, in Oxnard, pays $30 per ton for refrigerators. That is 1.5 cents per pound, or $4.50 for the average 300-pound refrigerator.
To have a discarded refrigerator picked up from your curb, you can call your household refuse hauling company. The two biggest local haulers include refrigerators in free, annual bulky item collection allocations for each home. Alternatively, the company selling you a new refrigerator may have haul-away service for your old one, or you can hire workers to take it from your kitchen through apps such as BuddyTruck, Lugg, or TaskRabbit or by contacting companies such as Haul4Me.com, 1800GotJunk, or u-callwe-haul.
Of course, the most energy conserving refrigerator is an unplugged one. If you have an extra refrigerator in the garage and you need it only on special occasions, unload and
unplug it. The small amount of money you are saving by storing year-round the extra food you buy on sale or in bulk probably does not justify your electricity cost, which the Energy
Star web site states averages $300 per year.
Calculator to determine how much your old refrigerator is costing you:
SCE residential rebates: www.sce.com/rebates
Edison energy efficiency program information (800) 234-9722