10 Ways to Improve a Refrigerators Energy Efficiency

"Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build, and nobody wants to maintenance." ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Do the Unsexy

Seriously, who really thinks about 10 Ways to improve a refrigerators energy efficiency?

Apparently, geeks like me do.

We take fridges for granted but they are actually pretty amazing machines considering what they do for us and how little we do for them.   

Sometimes, practicing sustainable living strategies just isn't that sexy but it’s those seemly mundane little things that add up to bigger change.  

This post looks at two categories of steps you can take to improve the energy efficiency of a refridgerator:

  • Refrigerator Maintenance
  • Refrigerator Use Habits

I personally have owned refridgerators in the past that I never did maintenance on, however I now do an annual checkup on my refrigerator to keep it running in peak condition.

I will confess though I am still working on improving on how I use my fridge. Old dog, new tricks!

Before I dive into 10 ways to improve a refrigerators engery efficiency.  I first want to answer a couple of commonly asked questions:

  • Why Should You Care About Your Refrigerators Energy Efficency?
  • How do you know if you need a new refrigerator?

Why Should You Care About How to Improve Your Refrigerators Energy Efficiency?

  1. It extends the life cycle of your refrigerator.
  2. It lowers your energy consumption.
  3. It saves you money.

Buying New vs Maintenance of the Old

According to the U.S. appliance industry, standard refrigerators have an average life expectancy of 14 years. The recommendations made in this post can improve your refrigerators energy efficiency and extend its life cycle indefinitely.

However, your fridge might be past the point of no return and you are in need a new one. If this is the case for you here are three quick tips for what to do with your old fridge and how to find a new one.


How to Dispose of a Refrigerator

Please dispose of your old fridge safely & responsible


The Energy Star website is your friend when shopping for a new appliance.  Familiarize yourself with its Product Finder tool, and Savings Calculator as well as its plethora of other options to help you find the best appliance for your application.  The site also can assist you in finding rebates to offset the cost of replacing an older less efficient model with a new energy efficient refrigerator.


Appliances Connection 

This is one of the long-standing reputable appliance outlets that Energy Star recommends through its Product Finder tool. I have found their selection to be large, their pricing competitive and their customer service super friendly.

10 Ways to Improve a Refrigerators Energy Efficiency 

Improving your refridgerators energy efficiency is inexpensive and relatively easy to do.  Try all or mix and match these easy 10 tips to help your fridge do its job a little easier while saving you money at the same time.

Keep Your Fridge Away From the Wall & Heat Sources

Your refrigerators one job is to keep your food chilled and you want to make it easy as possible for it to do that job.   

Two simple things you can do to reduce the load on your refrigerator’s compressor and condenser system.

  1. Keep your fridge at least 2 inches from the wall on all sides.  This will allow your units condenser to receive a constant source of fresh air and thus rum more efficiently.  Note that a little caution should be used when pulling your fridge out from the wall so that you don’t disconnect the external water supply that serves ice maker and door eater dispenser.
  2. Keep your refrigerator away from all heat sources to reduce the load on its compressor. This includes your dishwasher, oven/range, toaster oven, anything that creates heat.  It should also be noted that prolonged exposure to direct sunlight or heating events will also affect your refrigerators performance.
Give Your Fridge Plenty of Space...

Give Your Fridge Plenty of Space...

...And Keep it Away From Heat Sources

...And Keep it Away From Heat Sources

These two simple tricks will reduce how hard your appliances compressor/condenser system needs to work, will extend the life of the system and improve your refrigerators energy efficiency.  

Clean Your Condeser Coils to Improve Energy Efficiency 

A condenser coil is the device that removes heat from your fridges refrigerant system.

The compressor pressurizes and heats the refrigerant turning it from a gas into a liquid right before it enters the condenser coil.  

Air is then blown across the coil transferring the heat from the coil to the air which is then dispersed from the unit.  That warm air you feel coming out from the back or bottom of your refrigerator, depending on your unit, is coming from the cooling coil.

When dust and dirt build up on the coils it creates additional work for the system thus increasing energy consumption and shorting your refrigerators life cycle.

Cleaning Your Fridges Coil is Easy to do & Only Needs to be Done Once to Twice a Hear.

Below is an excerpt I took from my own refrigerators manual.  Note item J Condenser, these are the coils that need to be cleaned.  In this diagram you can see that my coils are on the bottom towards the back of the unit.  The coils are accesable by removing the front bottom grille.

Frigidaire Refrigerator Components

Frigidaire Refrigerator Components

The only tools you will need to clean the coil are a vacuum cleaner and a refrigerator coil cleaning brush.

It is best that you follow the manufactures instructions for how to clean your units’ coils but here are my 7 simple steps:

7-simple Steps to Cleaning Your Coils

Cleaning your refrigerator coils is a great way to reduce your power bill and extend the life of your fridge. Refrigerator coils, sometimes called condenser coils, are black coils that are found on the back or bottom of your fridge. 

If there is lots of dirt or dust on the coils, the refrigerator requires more energy to cool your food and can eventually break down. To clean the coils, simply use a brush to extract the dirt and then suck it up with a vacuum. This process is easy to complete and only takes about 15 minutes.

  • Unplug your fridge at the wall. No need to worry about food spoilage cleaning your refrigerators coils is a quick process.
  • Pull your fridge out from the wall approximately 3’-0 or far enough so that you have ample room to work. Older models typically have their coils located on the back of the unit.
  • Disconnect the front bottom grille if your fridges coils are located on the bottom.lement
  • Next thoroughly loosen as much of the dirt and gunk from the coils as you can with a refrigerator coil cleaning brush.
  • Use a vacuum with a nozzle wand attachment to suck up the dirt. Repeat, as necessary until all the dirt is gone.
  • Reattach the front bottom grille.
  • Plug your fridge back in and push it back into position.
Tough Guy 15" Refrigerator 15" Condenser Coil Cleaning Brush

Tough Guy 15" Refrigerator 15" Condenser Coil Cleaning Brush

If your refrigerators coils are located on the back, you can follow the above instructions but just omit steps 3 and 6.  I highly recommend though that you consult your owner’s manual for specific instruction for your make and model.

Coils should be cleaned on average once per year so add it to your annual home maintenance schedule and you will be good to go.  Cleaning your  coils is one of the most important step of the 10 ways to improve a refrigerators energy efficiency.

Let Your Leftovers Cool Off

This may seem like a trivial tip but it’s the little things that add up and make a difference.  If you let your leftovers cool down before putting them in the fridge it simply reduces the heat load of additional heat the unit needs to cool

Also storing your food in airtight food storage containers,  further reduces any remaining heat emitting from the food into the interior of your fridge.

EcoLunchBox stainless steelcontainer seal cup-trio-3pk

EcoLunchBox Stainless Steel Tiffin

EcoLunchBox Stackable Stainless Steel Tiffin

Stainless Steel Medium To Go Container – 30oz

U KONSERVE Stainless Steel Medium To Go Container – 30oz

Keep the Doors Closed

Another seemingly simple but important tip is to limit the amount how often and for how long you open your refrigerators doors. This is a simple one; The longer your fridge door is open the more cool air escapes thus requiring considerable energy to return the temperature back to its set point. 

Before opening your refrigerator, doors make sure you know what you intend to pull out and limit your trips back and forth for snacks and drinks.

Use the In-Door Water & Ice Maker

This tip is building on the previous one.  If your refrigerator has an in-door water/ice dispenser use it as often as possible to reduce the frequency in which the doors are opened. If your unit doesn’t have this feature a portable countertop ice maker is a good option.

If you don’t use ice cubes often you can opt to turn off the ice maker section of your refrigerator which can reduce energy consumption as much as 20%.  Check your owner's manual for detailed instructions.

Keep Your Fridge Organized

Refrigerators come with compartments specifically designed for specific types of food.  Using those compartments correctly not only keeps your food at the right temperature but makes getting in and out of the refridgerator quicker.

The less time spent with the door open digging through your fridge trying to find an item the more energy you will save.

Here is a list of the typical compartments found in a refrigerator and what to store in it.

  The Upper Shelf

  • Preserves (Chutney, jams & jelly)
  • Peanut butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Hummus & Yogurt
  • Leftovers

  The Meat & Cheese Bin

  • Bacon/deli meats/sausages
  • Deli Meats
  • Sauages
  • Cheeses

 The Door

  • Cooking Oils
  • Condiments
  • Butter/Margin
  • Juice / pop / Water

   The Lower Shelf

  • Dairy (Eggs & Milk)
  • Raw fish, Meat & Poultry

  Crisper: Drawer 1

  • Broccli
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Green Onions
  • Leafy Greens

  Crisper: Drawer 2

  • Apples & grapes
  • Mushrooms
  • Oranges
  • Peaches, Pears & Peppers
  • Melons & Squash

Check Your Tempature

The U.S Department of Energy (DOE) recommends a temperature setting for most refrigerators between 35-38°F and your freezer between 0-5°F. It can take up to 24 hours for some fridges to completely reach set point so be patient.

If your fridge does not have a temperature readout (ie. high, mid & low) or if you feel like your temperature setting are out of calibration you can buy a refrigerator thermometer like this one so that you can obtain an accurate temperature read out.

TAYLOR Refrigerator/Freezer Thermometer, 3" Dial

Defrost It

Defrost Your Fridge.

Frost and ice can buildup on the coils require your machine to work much harder than it should.  Regular defrosting of your refrigerator will make it easier to maintain setpoint, thus lowering it’s energy consumption and saving you money.

First: unplug the appliance & leave the doors open

Second: Place towels on the floor all around the fridge and a couple on the fridges inside floor.

Third: Unload all the food from inside into place into an ice chest

Fourth: Remove all the shelves and clean the inside of the fridge

Fifth: Defrost the unit by following one of these methods:

  • Method 1: Leave the door open and let it melt on its own.  This is the easiest method but can be up to a full day depending on the amount of frost buildup.
  • Method 2: Fill a large bowl with boiling water and place it in the refrigerator and/or freezer compartment and close the door. Check it every 15 minutes or so to replace the cooled water with a new bowl of boiling water.  This takes less time than the first option, but the length of time depends on how bad the frost buildup is.
  • Method 3: To loosen the frost, place a dishcloth into a bowl and pour over with boiling water. Add a small amount of rubbing alcohol, then lay the dishcloth on the buildup.  Check after 5 minutes and use plastic scraper or spatula to remove the buildup.
  • Method 4: Aim a box fan into the open refridgerator to increased air circulation.  This will accelerate the rate at which the melting occurs. Check back in periodically, to clean up the melted ice but the whole process should take about an hour.
  • Method 5: Use a wet/dry shop vacuum. Switch back and forth between the blow setting and the vacuum setting to loosen and suck up the melted mess.  You will still need to use absorbent towels to clean up any water the vacuum doesn’t.

Defrosting improves energy efficiency by using a heater to melt away built-up ice and frost, allowing for the free flow of cold air throughout the compartment. If you are not frequently opening and closing the door, there is no need for defrost mode, which conserves energy.

Replace Your Fridges Rubber Door Gasket

If your fridge door is not sealed completely it’s like leaving the front door of your house open on a hot day with the A/C running.

The door gasket mitigates infiltration of warm air into the unit and stops cold air from escaping.

Through years of use gaskets wear out and lose their ability to make a tight seal between the refrigerator’s door and body.

Although your refrigerator may have gaskets that need replacement it will still most likely keep food cold but at the cost of a higher energy bill and a shorter appliance life.

To check the condition of your gasket, look for noticeable cracks, tears, loosing of adhesives or if the rubber has turned brittle. If you have any of these conditions, then you need a new door gasket.

Testing Your Seals

To figure out how well your fridges gaskets are sealing all you need is a dollar bill. Work around the door and repeat placing the dollar between the door seal and the door.

Give the dollar a little tug, if it does not move easily then your gasket is Ok but if the dollar moves easily its most likely time to replace your seals and improve your refridgerators energy efficiency.

How to Replace a Gasket

There are 5 basic steps to replacing your refrigerators door gasket:

  • Step 1: Find the correct gasket for your refrigerator. Check your owner’s manual or use the Google machine to visit a site like this one to find your models gasket.
  • Step 2: Prep the gasket. To make it as pliable as possible you’ll want to soak it in warm water for about 10 minutes and lay it flat to dry. This will make the gasket easier to work with.
  • Step 3: Remove old gasket. *See Below
  • Step 4: Remove old gasket. *See Below
  • Step 5: Test. Close and open the door several times to test the gasket. To prevent sticking rub a bit of talcum powder around the hinge side corners of the door seal. The gasket should smoothly seal to the refrigerator on all sides of the door if not use petroleum jelly on the hinged side of the door to help the seal to flatten out.

*In order to make sure that I could accurately explain this process I decided to replace the gasket on my own fridge. I have a 12-year-old side-by-side Fridgeaire that has ran like a champ every minute of use, and is a perfect candidate for updated gaskets.

I located my units model number and found its owner’s manual online. The manual wasn’t that helpful, so I took my search to Youtube.

I quickly discovered...

...that there are several different designs of refrigerator door gasket assemblies that vary from manufacture to manufacture. They also vary with a manufacturer’s offerings depending on the age and model of the appliance.

Since the focus of this post is how to improve your refrigerators energy efficiency and not intended to be the ultimate guide to refrigerator door gasket replacement I recommend that you find the specific instructions and gasket for you make and model.

Watch a Video

Here are links to videos of the 9 most popular refrigerator manufactures and how to replace their gaskets.  Make sure to double check your fridges door gasket assembly with what is shown in the video to verify they match before ordering. 

Just click on your manufactures logo below to be taken to their video.

Make sure to double check your fridges door gasket assembly with what is shown in the video to verify they match before ordering.

Use the Power Saver or Humidity Control Feature

Not all models are equipped with a power-saver feature, so it is essential that you check your user’s manual.  Units that are outfitted with this option have small heaters that are in the walls of the refrigerator to prevent condensation forming on the external wall of the appliance.

If your machine does not experience visible condensation buildup, then you can opt to use the power-saver option which will deactivate the fridges in-wall heaters and improve your refridgerators energy efficiency


It can be so easy to ignore the maintenance of your refrigerator because it is just one of those appliances that typically just keeps doing its job until it doesn’t.  These steps are simple to do but done together can add up to significant savings of money and improve the efficiency of your refrigerator. 

Make sure to refer to your refrigerator's users guide to uncover all other energy saving features your unit have come equipped with.  Now grab what you need and close your refrigerator door!

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