Refrigerators are one of the largest energy guzzlers, as they use about one-sixth of all electricity in a typical American home. However, these large appliances don't need to be such a significant expense. Ideally, you have a fairly new ENERGY STAR-approved refrigerator, which uses 20-30% less energy than non-qualified refrigerators. Compared to refrigerators of the 1970s, these models save the nation about $20 billion per year, or $150 per year for the average American family.

Not everyone has the money to cover the upfront costs of a new environmentally friendlier unit, though. Don't worry, there are still many opportunities to improve your refrigerator's efficiency. Here are five ways to save up toward that new fridge.

  1. Don't make it too cold: The ideal temperature to maintain your refrigerator is 37-40 degrees Fahrenheit, and about 5 degrees for the freezer. Any colder is no more effective, wastes energy and may freeze some vegetables and dairy products. A refrigerator that is 10 degrees colder than necessary can use 25% more energy.
  2. Keep it clean: Give you refrigerator space on all sides for proper ventilation, and clean the back coils twice per year with a brush or vacuum. According to EarthEasy, this can improve the unit's efficiency as much as 30%.
  3. Keep it full: Pack your food items close together in both the refrigerator and freezer to maximize the unit's efficiency. This also ensures the cold air is evenly distributed throughout the unit. Additionally, be sure to leave some space for air circulation.
  4. Unplug your second fridge: If you're using an additional refrigerator for snacks or beer, it's likely your old kitchen model and it probably uses more than 1,500 kWh per year while newer models use fewer than 700. This can cost you about $120 per year, so help keep your primary refrigerator full by emptying out and unplugging this second unit.
  5. Have a plan: Before you open the refrigerator or freezer door, have an idea of what you're going to take out. Home Energy Magazine says door openings account for 7% of your fridge's energy use. The University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences estimates poor opening and closing habits waste 50-120 kWh per year, equivalent to the emissions of about 8 gallons of gasoline. Another way to avoid overstraining your unit is to let hot foods cool off before putting them away. A hot dish in the refrigerator or freezer will force the appliance to work harder to compensate and maintain the unit's temperature.

As part of President Obama's energy strategy, the federal Energy Department is continuing to push for higher appliance efficiency standards to reduce our overall energy consumption. A new set of efficiency standards are set to take effect in 2014 and are projected to save the country 4.5 quadrillion BTUs over 30 years, more than three times the total energy currently used annually by all refrigeration products in the U.S. These five quick fixes can be our first steps toward increased savings and an energy efficient future.

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