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Six ways to make your old fridge more energy-efficient

Want to cut your kitchen power bills? Here's how to give your old fridge a tune-up

fully stocked fridge to use less energy lead
Last updated: 13 August 2021

They don't make fridges like they used to – and that's not a bad thing. New fridges are cheaper to run and do a better job of keeping your food at optimal temperatures. 

But what if you've inherited your folks' old beer fridge, or your housemate left a mid-century model behind when they moved out? If you don't fancy paying through the nose for energy use, these tips will help you make your fridge more energy efficient. 

Energy efficiency is improving

A fridge that performed well by 1980s standards would be deemed too inefficient to be sold today. The Australian standard for fridges has been tightened to ensure that modern-day fridges are as efficient as possible. 

Under the new standard, which came into effect this year, a fridge or freezer that would have scored one star for its energy rating under the old system would now be deemed too inefficient to be sold.

This means that competition between fridge manufacturers is fierce – they're all striving to develop better fridge technology in areas like compressors, insulation, refrigerant gas and internal design. The winner in all this is you, the consumer. You get a better, more efficient fridge that costs less to run.

Should I buy a new fridge?

If you're deciding whether to repair or replace an old fridge, consider its energy efficiency. It's probably cheaper to have an old fridge repaired in the short term, but it will still cost you more to run than a new fridge will. You also run the risk of fixing one part only to have another break – which won't be a problem with a new fridge that comes with a warranty.

But if a new fridge is out of your budget, try these tips in the meantime to keep your energy costs down. 

setting fridge temp to save energy

Check the temperature settings of your fridge and freezer.

Six tips for getting the most from your fridge

Old or new, you can maximise your fridge's efficiency by using it sensibly. These tips will help get you started. 

1. Set the temperature correctly

Are your fridge and freezer keeping their cool? Check the temperature with a fridge thermometer. For optimal performance, aim for 3°C in the fridge and -18°C in the freezer. 

And check it regularly – a fridge with poor response to outside temperature may need adjusting to keep it at the optimal temperatures as the seasons change.

2. Location, location, location

Placement matters. If you have the option, position your fridge in a shady place in the kitchen. A fridge in full sun will have to work harder than one in the shade. 

And if you have a second fridge or freezer elsewhere in the house, bear in mind that temperatures in places like the garage tend to fluctuate widely, and will be hotter overall. This means they'll have to work harder to stay cool. Consider moving them to the kitchen if you can. 

And if you do have a dedicated drinks fridge in the garage, remember that it's probably costing you the equivalent of two or three slabs a year just to run it. The money you'll save on electricity could be spent on fancy craft beer instead. 

fully stocked freezer fridge efficient

A full fridge can be more energy efficient than an empty one.

3. Keep it stocked

A full fridge is a happy fridge because the thermal mass of its contents help maintain temperature (or in other words, the cold stuff helps keep it cold). 

In a full fridge, the compressor won't need to cycle on and off as much, which will extend the life of the compressor and reduce running costs. So keep your fridge stocked, while leaving room for air to circulate. But don't overdo it – having to throw way spoiled food will negate any energy efficiency savings, and then some. 

4. Don't you open that (fridge) door

Try to minimise how often you open the fridge door. Each time you open the door, the fridge has to work harder to cool down again, which will drive up your electricity costs. 

Think ahead when you're making dinner by getting out all your ingredients in one go. And try to discourage teenagers from staring aimlessly in front of the open fridge while deciding what to eat. 

leaving food out on the bench to cool before fridge

Leave leftovers to cool before putting them in the fridge.

5. Let the hot stuff cool down

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 within 2–3 days.

6. Don't waste the cold energy you already have

You can help keep your fridge cold by defrosting items in the fridge rather than on the bench – the cold temperature of frozen goods will naturally keep the temperature low, so the fridge doesn't have to work as hard. It's actually safer to defrost food this way, too. 

Likewise, let others do the cooling for you. Buying beer or wine? Grab it from the bottle shop's coolroom rather than a warm one from the shelf, and stick it straight in the fridge when you get home. Chilling a warm six-pack or bottle of wine will use up your electricity; if you're paying for the drinks you might as well cash in on the free electricity used to cool them too!

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