Are Older Refrigerators Less Energy-Efficient? Must Know

The answer is yes, older refrigerators are less energy-efficient than newer models. This is because older refrigerators use more electricity, have outdated technologies, and lack proper insulation and maintenance. In this article, we will explain why older refrigerators are less energy-efficient and how you can save money and energy by replacing or upgrading your old refrigerator.

How Much Electricity Do Older Refrigerators Use?

One of the main factors that affect the energy efficiency of a refrigerator is its electricity consumption. Electricity consumption is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), which is the amount of energy used by a device in one hour. The more kWh a refrigerator uses, the more energy it consumes and the higher the cost of operating it.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average electricity consumption of a refrigerator in 1973 was about 1,800 kWh per year. By 2010, the average consumption dropped to about 450 kWh per year, thanks to the federal energy efficiency standards that were introduced in 1975 and updated over the years. This means that a refrigerator built in 1973 uses about four times more electricity than a refrigerator built in 2010.

The Energy Star program, which was launched in 1992, provides a voluntary certification for energy-efficient appliances, including refrigerators. Energy Star-certified refrigerators are about 9% more energy-efficient than models that meet the federal minimum standard. According to the Energy Star website, a new Energy Star-certified refrigerator can save more than $220 over a 12-year lifetime compared to a standard model.

To calculate how much electricity your old refrigerator uses and how much you can save by replacing it with a new Energy Star-certified model, you can use the Energy Star Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator.

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What Technologies Make Older Refrigerators Less Energy-Efficient?

Another factor that affects the energy efficiency of a refrigerator is the technology it uses. Older refrigerators have outdated technologies that are less efficient and more prone to malfunctioning than newer technologies. Some of the technologies that make older refrigerators less energy-efficient are:

  • Compressor: The compressor is the part of the refrigerator that compresses the refrigerant, which is the substance that absorbs and releases heat to keep the refrigerator cold. Older compressors are less efficient and create more heat and noise than newer compressors. Newer compressors have variable speed and inverter technology, which allow them to adjust their speed and power according to the cooling demand, resulting in lower energy consumption and longer lifespan.
  • Refrigerant: The refrigerant is the substance that circulates in the refrigerator and transfers heat from the inside to the outside. Older refrigerators use refrigerants that have high global warming potential (GWP), which means they contribute to climate change if they leak into the atmosphere. Some of the common refrigerants used in older refrigerators are R-12, R-22, and R-134a. Newer refrigerators use refrigerants that have lower GWP, such as R-600a and R-441A, which have less impact on the environment.
  • Insulation: The insulation is the material that prevents heat from entering or escaping the refrigerator. Older refrigerators have poor insulation that allows more heat to leak, which makes the refrigerator work harder to maintain the desired temperature. Newer refrigerators have improved insulation that helps keep the refrigerator cold and reduces energy loss.
  • Defrost: The defrost is the process of removing ice and frost from the freezer and the evaporator coils, which are the parts of the refrigerator that cool the air. Older refrigerators have manual or automatic defrost systems that consume more energy and cause temperature fluctuations. Manual defrost systems require the user to turn off the refrigerator and remove the ice and frost manually, which can be inconvenient and wasteful. Automatic defrost systems use heaters and timers to melt the ice and frost periodically, which can increase the energy consumption and the temperature of the freezer. Newer refrigerators have adaptive defrost systems that monitor the frost level and the usage patterns and defrost only when needed, which saves energy and maintains a consistent temperature.
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How Can You Improve the Energy Efficiency of Your Old Refrigerator?

If you have an old refrigerator that is still working, but you are not ready to replace it yet, there are some ways you can improve its energy efficiency and reduce its operating cost. Some of the tips are:

  • Clean the condenser coils: The condenser coils are the parts of the refrigerator that release the heat from the refrigerant to the outside. Over time, dust and dirt can accumulate on the coils, which reduces their efficiency and makes the refrigerator work harder. You should clean the coils at least once a year with a vacuum cleaner or a brush to remove the dust and dirt and improve the heat transfer.
  • Check the door seals: The door seals are the rubber gaskets that seal the gap between the door and the refrigerator. If the seals are worn out, cracked, or loose, they can allow cold air to escape and warm air to enter the refrigerator, which increases the energy consumption and the temperature. You should check the seals regularly and replace them if they are damaged or not sealing properly.
  • Adjust the temperature settings: The temperature settings are the controls that allow you to set the desired temperature for the refrigerator and the freezer. If the settings are too high or too low, they can waste energy and affect the quality and safety of the food. The recommended temperature settings for the refrigerator and the freezer are 37°F and 0°F, respectively. You can use a thermometer to check the actual temperature and adjust the settings accordingly.
  • Avoid overloading or underloading: The amount of food you store in your refrigerator can affect its energy efficiency. If you overload your refrigerator, you can block the air circulation and prevent the refrigerator from cooling evenly. If you underload your refrigerator, you can make the refrigerator work harder to cool the empty space. You should try to keep your refrigerator about three-quarters full to optimize the energy efficiency and the food quality.
  • Minimize the door opening: The door opening is the act of opening and closing the door of the refrigerator. Every time you open the door, you let cold air out and warm air in, which makes the refrigerator work harder to restore the temperature. You should minimize the door opening by planning ahead what you need to take out or put in, keeping the most frequently used items in the front or on the door, and closing the door as soon as possible.
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Conclusion

Older refrigerators are less energy-efficient than newer models because they use more electricity, have outdated technologies, and lack proper insulation and maintenance. By replacing or upgrading your old refrigerator, you can save money and energy and reduce your environmental impact. You can also improve the energy efficiency of your old refrigerator by following some simple tips, such as cleaning the coils, checking the seals, adjusting the temperature settings, avoiding overloading or underloading, and minimizing the door opening.