Refrigerator: Check   Leave a comment

This weekend we got our new refrigerator. There was some frantic research scrambling on my part at the last minute, but I’m kind of proud of myself. Lesson learned: companies do NOT make appliance shopping easy. Real lesson learned: advanced research is not all it is cracked up to be (yeah, I know, most people don’t have to learn that lesson).

As I mentioned previously, I started the research back in June by downloading the Energy Star refrigerator list, which is reeeeally long. To help narrow it down I measured the inside of the fridge in our rental. I calculated approximately 15.5 cubic feet, so I assumed that our fridge, which is too small for us, was a 16 cubic foot refrigerator. Since all the buying guides advise buying the smallest practical size for the best efficiency, I decided to shop in the 18-20 cubic foot range. Then I spent weeks massaging the spreadsheet, looking at models online, and slowly filtering it down to my top 4 models. When we went to look for those models in the stores we found: none of them. We resigned ourselves to buying online, but before I did the purchase I decided to double check the size of our current fridge. We looked up that model, which is discontinued, and discovered that we are currently squeezed into a 17.9 cubic foot fridge. So at the last minute I had to start my research from scratch in the 20-22 cubic foot range. This time I didn’t really narrow down the list (just removed models with door dispensers, manual defrost, non-reversible hinges, and brands not available at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Sears) and instead printed out the five pages so that we could rank all of the models in the stores.

At the start of my research I spent three weeks or so pondering “bottom freezer is more efficient” and “top freezer is more efficient”. For years I have seen mention after mention that the green choice is bottom freezer units because they are more energy efficient. So imagine my surprise when the Energy Star website says that top freezer units are more efficient. I put my spreadsheet nerd-iness on the case and in the end my conclusion is that I think both statements may be correct. To start: all refrigerators must meet federal minimum standards that are determined through a formula that takes into account the size and style of the unit among other things. Apparently the formulas set lower energy usage for top freezer models than bottom freezer models, and side-by-side models have the highest energy usage. I have no idea why this is the case. But in effect it does mean that for two units of the same capacity, the top freezer model uses less electricity. I noticed, however, that bottom freezer models have larger freezers. I calculated top freezers to be 20-24% of the total volume, while bottom freezers are 30-33% of the total volume. A larger freezer will mean more electricity usage for the entire unit, and may therefore skew the results. Top freezer versus bottom freezer is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Maybe when I keep hearing that bottom freezer units are more efficient, they mean the energy efficiency of the mechanical systems not the entire unit. If you compared a top freezer and bottom freezer model with the same proportion of freezer/fresh food capacity, how would they stack up?

To add more confusion: in the 18-20 cubic foot range the 80 most efficient models are top freezer models, but in the 20-23 cubic foot range 7 of the top 10 most efficient models are bottom freezer models. This made my head spin and I didn’t know how to proceed. Luckily for me I’m married and my husband is learning how to handle me.

We ended up buying a bottom freezer model that is Tier 3 so it has essentially the same efficiency as a Tier 1 top freezer model. (To qualify for Energy Start the unit must be at least 20% more efficient than the federal minimum. Tier 2 Energy Star models have to be 25% more efficient, and Tier 3 models have to be 30% more efficient.) No door dispenser, but we did get an ice maker. And the model was on sale, too, so it didn’t cost too much more than a top freezer model.


Posted July 27, 2010 by mayakey in energy use, home, shopping

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