Appliance Shopping with The Dilettante

“Hi. I need a new fridge. What’s the smallest one you’ve got that is Energy Star rated?”

This has been my opening line for the last four months in every appliance store in Sydney. Nobody was able to answer it. Not one salesperson on any floor in this town was able to point me at an Energy Star appliance of any variety, even though (except for one) they all had at least one available. It strikes me that nobody is looking for these appliances after years of this program, at least in Sydney. So, since I had to find the answers on my own, and that is the sort of thing I do as a dilettante, I would share the information I have gleaned.

In case this is new to you too, Energy Star ratings are granted to appliances that use at least 20% below the average for that type of appliance. In this case, smaller fridges are compared against one another, and larger fridges are grouped together. Since I’m focused not just on the relative use of energy, but our absolute consumption, I chose to go for a small fridge. For the sake of comparison, I will point out that our family of six has been using an all-fridge of approximately 14 cubic feet for the last 4 years, and it has been quite adequate to our needs. However, it is clearly on last-legs, making groaning noises, and leaking inappropriate amounts of water. All the dividers have broken over the years, and the drawers in the bottom were removed about two years ago when the lowest shelf snapped off. Pretty much we’ve got a big leaking box with a couple of shelves in it. It does still keep things cold, most of the time. Since we are food people, who also need to store several dozen eggs at a time, it is about time for a new fridge.

In my moments of perfection, I desire a Sun Frost RF 16, which uses only 0.48 kWh of energy per day, but would set me back about $4000, including shipping from the other side of the continent. We measured the power consumption of our old fridge, which surprised us by coming in at 0.7 kWh. With these numbers as my standard, I have been wandering the world for several years with the mythical number of 1 in my head… that is, I have been trying to keep our refrigeration under 1 kWh per day. (Please ignore the upright freezer in my basement, which appeals to an entirely different type of efficiency, and will get its own post someday.) My eventual goal is to be able to get our refrigeration and water systems off-grid so that we continue to have the most important technologies during power outages, so the lower the power, the better. The difference in power system cost for 0.48 and 1 kWh per day is several thousand dollars. However, I don’t have $4000 for a fridge right now, no matter how super-duper it may be, and no matter how much it would save me on a hypothetical renewable energy system (that I also can’t afford).

Since energy consumption is documented on new appliances in kWh per year, the key number was 365. I assumed that to stay below that number, I would have to continue to use an all-fridge in my kitchen. However, the only company that made them in Canada went out of business, and none are available. I went back to the drawing board, looking at very small fridges – but the very smallest fridges are designed to appeal to the discount market, and are not particularly well-constructed, or well-insulated. Therefore, they often use more power than the mid-sized versions. Hence, the precise wording of my question: “… your smallest Energy Star fridge.”

Since nobody could answer that question, I resorted to opening the door of every fridge in town, including the fancy-shmancy side-by-side with bottom freezer drawer, $4000 jobbies. Whoah, is all I can say about that. 700 – 800 kWh per year, mostly on “features” and width (read, sacrificed insulation). “Well,” said the salesperson in all honesty, “nobody who can spend $4000 on a fridge cares how much it is going to cost to run it.” Once again, we are back to the question of entitlement… so many battles to fight. Hey, here’s one: how about we have required energy standards, instead of this voluntary Energy Star thing? Oh. Sorry. Ranting. Back to the fridge.

Just to be clear, I’m not overly fussed about the cost to run my fridge. At the moment, an extra 100 kWh of energy only sets me back $12. I’m not doing all this for the sake of saving $1 a month. Nor do I think that my family reduction of 198 pounds of CO2 will make a difference. (This is based on our power coming from a coal plant, and coal generating ~900 g of CO2 for each kWh, found here.) It’s a nibble in the big scheme of things. However, the nibbles DO add up. If we all applied a reduction of 25% to each of our activities, we’d achieve, oh… a 25% reduction. As long as we didn’t just start doing other things with the savings (which is actually what tends to happen, but that is for another time).

In the end, the winner was a GE 18.2 cubic foot, with glass shelves and a deep door. It is pretty, it has a freezer, and it claims to use only 335 kWh per year, which is within striking distance for renewable power. Most of the comparable fridges I looked at came in around 475, so it amounts to a power reduction of about 30% for essentially the same features. Oh, and it was on sale, too, so the delivered cost was under $700. Frugal, energy efficient, and feature-rich: We’ll call that a win. And someday soon, you can anticipate the series on building the renewable energy system to back up the fridge.

3 responses to “Appliance Shopping with The Dilettante”

  1. I hear you sister. We went with the Danby silhouette, 4.4 cubic foot. Way smaller than would meet your needs, but fits under my counter and was energy star certified.

    Fact is, energy star only refers to how efficient the fridge is in relation to other fridges of the same size. Not really a comment on how efficient the technology could be, or even should be.

    Danby isn’t the best brand, I am hoping this baby holds out for the long haul. Cheers to the new fridge.

  2. […] Which brings me to my real point… green consumerism, and the idea that we can buy our way to sustainability. Don’t get me wrong: if you are planning to buy a new appliance or television, you should consider its power consumption. Keep in mind, however, that the Energy Star designation means that the item is more efficient than a target set for comparable items, not necessarily that it is a low power consumer in absolute terms. If you really want to make a difference, you should choose a smaller TV and watch it less. Or buy a smaller refrigerator. […]

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