Refrigerators use more electricity that any other single appliance in your home. Why? Because they’re on all the time. There are a few ways you can improve the efficiency of a refrigerator you already own, but if you have an older model, it could make a lot of financial sense to replace it with something new – especially if your utility company, like mine, helps foot the bill.
I held on to my refrigerator for 27 years! But finally, we needed a new one. The seals on the old one were cracked, the drawers were broken, the door handle was chipped, and mold was starting to build up in places I couldn’t keep clean. The old fridge still kept my food pretty cold, but it was depressing and unhealthy to use. And being as old as it was, I suspected it was using much more energy than newer models.
As you can imagine, I wasn’t wild about spending hundreds or maybe even a thousand dollars or more on a new fridge. I was relieved when I learned that Pepco, my electric utility, would give me a $150 rebate if I bought the most energy-efficient refrigerator available to meet my needs. Pepco would also pay me $50 if I let them recycle my old fridge. With $200 guaranteed off the price of the appliance, I went shopping! I ended up buying this Whirlpool pictured above. Here’s how.
HOW TO BUY AN ENERGY-EFFICIENT REFRIGERATOR AND GET MONEY BACK
1) Figure out what size you should buy. One way to reduce the amout of energy any appliance uses is to buy the smallest appliance that will meet your needs. It stands to reason that, the bigger the appliance, the more energy it will use. Today’s refrigerators come with many bells and whistles, and it seems that, the bigger the fridge, the more bells and whistles it includes! In my case, the size was restricted to the space available – a nook in the kitchen, opposite the stove, that would accommodate nothing bigger than 21 cubic square feet.
2) Check with your local utility company to determine what rebates they offer if you buy an Energy Star refrigerator. ENERGY STAR is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that encourages manufacturers to design more energy-efficient appliances. The ENERGY STAR website gives consumers shopping guidelines and links to manufacturers that meet ENERGY STAR’S efficiency standards. Many utility companies offer rebates to customers who trade in energy-hogging appliances for more efficient, Energy Star models. Pepco, my local utility, offered a $100 rebate for the purchase of any Energy Star fridge, but $150 for the most efficient model in my size category. That was a no-brainer for me – not only would I get an extra $50 for the best option, but I’d save money on my electricity bill, as well.
3) Comparison shop for the most energy-efficient refrigerator that will meet your needs. First, I reviewed the recommendations on TopTenUSA.org and ACEEE.org. Both offer guidelines to help consumers buy appliances that use the least amount of energy and reduce your electric bill. I also checked online product reviews to see what others who had bought the refrigerator I was considering had to say about it. Then I went to the websites of Home Depot, Best Buy, and Sears to see if they carried the model I was interested in, and at what price. Finally, I checked in with a local appliance retailer, the same one I’d bought my clothes dryer from a few months ago.
4) Negotiate and purchase. All of the retailers were willing to deliver the appliance for free. The local retailer’s price was initially $100 more than the best price I got at Best Buy. After we talked, he cut his price by $50. I decided that, given the $200 rebate I was going to get, I could spend $50 more purchasing the fridge to support a local businessman.
5) Recycle the old appliance. When my local retailer showed up, he gave me the forms I needed to send to Pepco to get the rebate. Pepco was also willing to pick up my old refrigerator and give me $50 for recycling it. The only catch was that I needed to prove that the refrigerator still worked. When the new fridge was delivered, the delivery men took out the old one and put it on my back porch. The morning the recyclers showed up, I plugged in the old one to prove it was still functional. They loaded it up on a dolly, wheeled it down to their truck, and whisked it away. (Here’s a cool graphic that shows how a refrigerator is recycled.)
The entire process, from the time I decided I needed a new refrigerator, until the time the new one was installed and the old one recycled, took about two weeks. And within six weeks, I had received the $200 rebate.
The EPA estimates that it costs about $100 a year to operate a refrigerator manufactured before 1993, which mine definitely was. The new fridge is so efficient, it is only supposed to cost $39 a year to operate! Granted, the new model does not feature an ice maker, which is a bit of an energy hog. Its standard design – freezer on top, main compartment below – is inherently more efficient thant a side-by-side model, but not quite as trendy. It’s in basic white, not stainless steel, which costs more. But all in all, I was more than willing to make those style trade-offs to buy a new refrigerator in my price range that would also use a minimal amount of energy.
BOTTOM LINE? IT’S “GREEN MATH”
I bought a Whirlpool 21 cubic foot refrigerator. The negotiated retailer price was $849 (list price $899). But with the $200 rebate, my brand new refrigerator only cost $649 plus tax, with free delivery. Since energy usage each year will only cost $39 instead of $100, I’ll be saving $61 every year on energy, as well.