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How to make an old fridge more energy-efficient

Want to cut your kitchen power bills? Then give your old fridge a tune-up.

Last updated: 04 June 2020

Need to know

  • New fridges are more energy-efficient than old ones, but they’re also expensive, so it may pay to stick with one a little longer.
  • Just as servicing an old car can help it run more efficiently, there are a few simple things you can do to get the most out of an old fridge.

There are some surprising parallels between cars and fridges, which is why the blandest of modern cars are sometimes referred to as whitegoods on wheels. Both are large metal boxes, expensive to buy, and considered by many to be an essential modern convenience. And like cars, fridge design continues to improve on performance and energy efficiency.

Why are modern fridges more energy-efficient?

Firstly, manufacturers are constantly working to improve performance and reduce costs. Competition is fierce, so they're all striving to develop better fridge technology. As well as smart fridges that use Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth, there are a lot of different technologies in fridges. Compressors, insulation, refrigerant gas and internal design are all areas where advances make for more efficient operation – which leads to lower running costs.

Secondly, under the rules which give us the energy star rating on the front of a new fridge, the minimum efficiency required for Australian fridges is being driven down. A fridge that performed well by 1980s standards may be too inefficient to be sold legally today. With the introduction of the recently ratified amendments to the Australian standard for fridges, we're about to see these rules tightened further. Any fridge that would have scored only one energy star under the old standard is now deemed too inefficient to sell.

So it's true to say 'they don't make fridges like they used to', but in this case that's a good thing. New fridges are cheaper to run and do a better job of keeping your food at the optimal temperature – or at least they should.

Should I buy a new fridge?

When deciding whether to repair or replace an old fridge, consider its energy efficiency. It may be cheaper upfront to repair an older fridge than to replace it with a new one, but any replacement will be a lot cheaper to run. It will also come with a new fridge warranty, so you shouldn't have the worry of repairing one part only to have something else break – a risk you have to take when repairing an old fridge.

Six tips for getting the most from your fridge

Old or new, you can improve your fridge's efficiency by using it sensibly:

  1. Set the temperature correctly: Take a fridge thermometer and check the temperature of both fridge and freezer. For optimal performance, adjust the settings to 3°C in the fresh-food compartment and -18°C in the freezer.
  2. Keep it stocked: A full fridge is a happy fridge because the thermal mass of its contents help maintain temperature. This means the compressor doesn't need to cycle on and off as much. So keep it stocked, while leaving room for air to circulate.
  3. Let hot foods cool on the bench: Putting in a container of piping hot leftovers makes your fridge work harder and use more energy, so let leftovers cool a little on the bench first. The food Safety Information Council recommends dividing bulk cooked food into small containers and refrigerating or freezing as soon as it has stopped steaming. Refrigerated portions should be eaten with 2-3 days.
  4. Keep door opening to a minimum: Think ahead when you're making dinner by getting out everything you need in one go – multiple door openings will pump out all the cold air, driving up running costs. Got teenagers in the house that stare aimlessly into the fridge for what seems like hours? If it's too late to have them adopted, politely ask them not to leave the door open.
  5. Don't waste existing cold energy: Defrosting leftovers for dinner? Don't leave them on the bench. Instead, move them from freezer to fridge the night before so they can defrost slowly (and safely), and the cool stays in the fridge. Likewise, let others do the cooling for you. Buying beer or wine? Grab it from the bottle shop's cool room rather than a warm one from the shelf, and stick it straight in the fridge when you get home.
  6. Consider location: You may not have a lot of choice, but if you have the option of a shady or a sunny spot in your kitchen, choose the shady one. And if your fridge or freezer are in another part of the house, bear in mind that places like the garage tend to be hotter and have more widely fluctuating temperatures than your kitchen. This means the appliance has to work harder, so move it to the kitchen if you can. And if you do have a dedicated drinks fridge in the garage, get rid of it – it's costing you the equivalent of two or three slabs a year to run it. Just use your main fridge instead.
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