Choosing an energy-efficient refrigerator

11/01/2008 12:00 AM

10/30/2008 8:48 PM

Q. My 17-year-old refrigerator still works. I am remodeling my kitchen and I heard I should get a new, more efficient one. What style and size of refrigerator/freezer is most efficient and functional?

New refrigerator/freezers are much more energy efficient than a 17-year-old model. Energy Star-qualified models are 20 percent more efficient than the most recent federal energy efficiency standards – a new su- perefficient model may use less than half as much electricity as your old one, and sends less heat into the kitchen during summer.

The energy savings from a more efficient compressor and insulation should pay back the cost of a new model over its lifetime.

When selecting a new refrigerator, the size is the most important factor affecting electricity usage. Select as small a model as will meet your requirements. You can base what you need on how full your current refrigerator typically is, not on the few holiday occasions when you are making dinner for the entire extended family.

Don't buy one which will be consistently too small – and consider buying a small backup, or keep your old one running in the basement or garage. This will use much more electricity than just buying a larger one initially. Features such as split shelves that crank up and down and pullout shelves can increase the usable space in a smaller size.

A top-freezer style is most energy efficient because the cool air naturally drops from the freezer to help cool the refrigerator section. Top-freezer models also tend to have the most interior space for a given exterior size, so they are ideal if space is limited in your kitchen. You can figure on about 80 percent of advertised interior volume as actual usable space.

French-door models with the freezer below are becoming popular. These offer greater access to items in the refrigerator portion. Some have two separate freezer drawers below, with one specifically for large items. The drawbacks are that they're less efficient than top-freezer models, and you have to bend down to access the freezer.

For efficiency and interior brightness, some of the better models now use LED lighting. The following are among companies offering refrigerator/freezers: Frigidaire, www.frigidaire.com; General Electric, www.geappliances.com; KitchenAid, www.kitchenaid.com; LG, www.lge.com; and Whirlpool, www.whirlpool.com.

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