Why it’s time to put a smart plug on your refrigerator

The smart hack members use to rack up big energy savings.

By
Kevin Hoffman
on
August 19, 2022
Category:
Smart Home
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Is your refrigerator running?

No, I’m not going to say, “Then why don’t you go catch it!”

I mean, do you know if your refrigerator is running at this moment? And if so, do you have any idea how much you are paying for it?

Everybody is looking for ways to shave their electric bill, especially now that everything is costing so much more. But if you aren’t looking at your refrigerator, you’re missing the elephant -- or energy hog -- in the room.

Other than your HVAC (which you should totally be controlling with a smart thermostat), your refrigerator is probably the biggest source of electricity costs on your monthly bill. If you happen to have a garage fridge for your beer (no judgment) or deep freezer for long-forgotten leftovers, then you’re paying twice as much.

How much? A typical refrigerator runs at 50 watts, which over the course of a day adds up to 1 to 2 kilowatt-hours (kWh). Over the course of a year, you can expect to pay around $150 to keep each fridge you have running 24/7.

So what? You may be thinking this is a fixed cost that you can’t do anything about. You just have to pay for it.

Don't do it!

Wrong! 

If you’re a member of OhmConnect, you know that you don’t have to just pay for it. There are clever hacks around when you use electricity that can protect your wallet.

The key to successfully reducing your fridge’s electricity cost is to narrow in on the hours between 4-9 p.m. This is when energy is most expensive if you are on a time of use plan (which most of us in California are on). You could be paying as much as 3x for electricity at 5 p.m. as you were at 3 p.m! 

With other appliances, such as your washer and dryer, you can simply choose not to wash clothes during the expensive hours. The clothes will get just as clean if you wash them at noon as if you do it at 5 p.m. The difference is you’ll pay 3x more for the same clean clothes. When you think of it that way, doing laundry during off-hours is a no brainer.

The refrigerator is different. It is always on. You can’t just choose to keep your food chilled at noon -- it needs to be kept below a certain temperature at all times.

But do you know how to turn your refrigerator off without dragging it away from the wall and pulling the plug?

Most people don’t, or haven’t even considered doing so because they’re worried about food spoilage.

How long can you safely keep your fridge turned off?

Food starts to spoil at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Once food reaches that temperature, you have two hours to cook it or cool it down before it begins to spoil.

People typically keep their refrigerator at 34-36 degrees Fahrenheit. So there are several degrees of cooling that provide a healthy margin of error for when the power goes out.

You can use this margin to save energy and get paid during OhmHours and especially AutoOhms.

We recently conducted an experiment. We used a smart plug to turn off a refrigerator to see how it affected the temperature inside. We found that if our refrigerator stayed closed, the temperature stayed below 40 degrees Fahrenheit even after four hours.

Think of your refrigerator as a tiny house. Just like you can pre-cool your home and remain comfortable while your HVAC is powered down for an hour, so too can you take advantage of the slow rate that a well-insulated fridge loses its cool.

(Incidentally, one study found that over 50% of a home’s cooling can be shifted to off-peak hours using this strategy. Get a smart thermostat.)

You can use the same strategy with your refrigerator. Set the refrigerator a little lower for a few hours before 5 p.m., when electricity is plentiful. Then, use a smart plug to automatically turn off your refrigerator for an hour or two during peak usage from 5-9 p.m., when energy can be 3x more expensive.

Here’s another trick: A half-empty fridge loses its cool faster. If you load up the bottom shelf with containers of water, it will stay cooler even longer as the water keeps cooling the fridge even when the electricity is off (those ice cubes in the freezer are even better).

Still unsure? You can put a specially designed digital thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer so you get a live reading without having to open the door. Here’s an example of a well-reviewed fridge and freezer monitor to make your home even smarter.

As a bonus, when you put a smart plug on your refrigerator, you will be able to answer conclusively, whether you are at home or away: “Why yes, my refrigerator is running. But I can turn it off when electricity is expensive.”

Photo by nrd on Unsplash

Kevin Hoffman

Kevin is a multimedia journalist and brand strategist who writes about science and technology.

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