A woman looks at her open refrigerator, wondering what maintenance it needs to be energy-efficient.
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Chill smarter, not harder

Energy Saving 101: OhmConnect’s Deep Dive on Energy-Friendly Fridge Maintenance

Kimberly Hutchings
January 5, 2024

When it comes to home energy use, did you know that outside of heating and cooling systems like your air conditioner, furnace, and hot water heater, your refrigerator is the BIGGEST contributor to electricity costs? It's true! But powering your fridge is also necessary, so how do you reduce your energy spending while keeping food fresh and cool?

That's where proper maintenance comes in! And no, we're not just talking about throwing away that two-week-old lasagna that's been growing an ecosystem of its own in the back of your fridge. Effective cleaning can help your fridge run as much as 35 percent more efficiently than a fridge that isn't regularly maintained (that's major!) — plus, it can extend the life of your appliance, helping you save money in the long term by avoiding expensive replacement costs!

But what exactly does proper fridge maintenance look like? Well, the good news is you don't need special skills or mechanical knowledge to keep your refrigerator running at its best! All it takes is a little elbow grease and some good organization, and we're breaking it all down step by step right here in this blog.

Keep reading for eight essential tips to master energy-friendly fridge maintenance at home.

Taking Care Of Your Fridge With Efficiency In Mind

1. Consider refrigerator placement.

First things first, it's important to consider placement!

You might not guess it, but how you position your refrigerator and its location within the room can significantly affect how efficiently it runs. First, keep some distance between your fridge and hot appliances like your oven or big windows where it may be exposed to extended periods of sunlight. External heat can warm your appliance, causing it to work overtime to maintain its cool internal temperature!

The second thing you'll want to consider regarding fridge placement is how much space you leave around your appliance. As a good rule of thumb, it's recommended that you leave at least one inch of space around each side of the refrigerator to allow for proper airflow. Fridges positioned more tightly against walls, counters, and other appliances will have difficulty keeping cool, using more energy (and spending more money!) to operate effectively.

2. Make sure to clean your condenser coils.

The next thing you'll want to make sure you do regularly is clean your fridge's condenser coils!

Your coils are responsible for helping to cool the refrigerant in your fridge, which in turn allows your appliance to maintain its cool internal temperature. Basically, without them, your fridge wouldn't work.

But, because they are located outside of your fridge (either at the bottom or at the back of your appliance), they can also get covered in quite a bit of dust and debris, making it a good idea to give them a clean every six months or so, and more often if you have pets that regularly shed.

Dirty refrigerator condenser coils

To clean them, you'll first want to unplug your fridge and locate the coils! In older appliances, coils are typically found exposed on the back of the refrigerator, but for newer models, you may find them underneath with a removable panel at either the front or back of the appliance that allows you to access them.

Once you've found them and your fridge is safely unplugged, it's time to clean! Start by using a vacuum with a narrow attachment (like the kind you might use to clean your couch cushions) and suck up any easily accessible dust on or around your coils. Next, take a trusty feather duster (or a refrigerator coil brush like this one) and clean between the coils, knocking away any remaining dust and using your vacuum to clear it away. Plug your fridge back in, and you're done — easy!

3. Check your fridge and freezer’s temperature!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the optimal fridge temperature for energy efficiency is 35-38° F, and the ideal freezer temperature is 0° F. These temperatures are suitable for keeping your food cold enough to avoid spoiling and maintain freshness without wasting energy making your fridge overly cold.

PRO TIP: If your fridge or freezer doesn't come with an internal thermometer, consider buying one so you can keep tabs on temperature shifts and adjust accordingly. We like these ones from PECULA.

4. Remember to change that water filter!

If your fridge has a built-in water and ice dispenser (like the kind you find on the front door), you'll also want to make sure you're changing the water filter at least every six months. While this tip won't help save energy, it helps keep your drinking water safe and clean, and that's just as important if you ask us!

Old water filters can stop working effectively, leading to dirt, debris, and other contaminants getting into your water — yuck!

PRO TIP: Use daylight saving time as a reminder! If you live in a state where you set the clocks back, make that your cue to change your fridge’s water filter.

5. Make a note to check your seals regularly.

Checking your refrigerator's seals should also be part of your regular maintenance routine — perhaps when changing those water filters!

Someone replacing broken fridge seals

Leaky fridges can lead to a ton of wasted energy, and seals can loosen over time, reducing your appliance's efficiency.

Test your seals using the one-dollar bill technique! Use a one-dollar bill (or any piece of paper, really) and close it half in, half out of your fridge door. If the paper pulls away with resistance, you're in good shape! But if it pulls away easily, it may be time to replace or repair your seals.

5. Check for frost in the freezer!

The final piece of regular fridge maintenance you'll want to add to your to-do list is conducting a frost check in your freezer.

Built-up frost can indicate that your appliance has a leaky gasket or that moisture has gotten in from leaving the door open for too long. Plus, when frost is present, your freezer has to work harder to keep cool, wasting energy and money unnecessarily.

If you see frost building up, scrape it away with a plastic spatula or wooden spoon. You can also use a warm cloth to help encourage melting. Just make sure to put some towels on the ground to soak up any stray ice!

Tips for Energy-Friendly Food Storage

The other type of fridge care you'll want to keep in mind when making the most of your energy savings is food storage! Consider the following.

1. Be strategic about how you store your food.

Good organization is critical to energy-saving food storage.

Store similar items together, for instance, fruits and vegetables in one spot, condiments in another, and leftovers grouped from oldest to newest. This makes it easier to quickly open the fridge and locate what you're looking for, rather than standing in front of an open door looking for what you need, wasting energy as cold air escapes.

PRO TIP: Label your leftovers with masking tape, noting what they are and when you cooked them. This way, you can easily spot which dishes need to get used up first and avoid accidentally eating anything spoiled.

2. Keep your fridge and freezer full, but not overly full.

Another essential tip for energy-saving food storage is to keep your fridge and freezer full but not packed.

Because food has a denser thermal mass than air, once foods are cold, they retain their coolness more effectively than empty space, helping your fridge stay cold more efficiently.  You’ll want to ensure that your fridge and freezer still have airflow so the sweet spot for efficiency is around three-quarters of the way filled.

If you're done with your weekly grocery run and still have spare space, consider filling the gaps with bottled water or other drinks to keep things stocked up and ready to chill!

And there you have it! A deep dive into energy-friendly fridge maintenance. We hope you've picked up a new trick or two and that next time someone calls asking if your refrigerator is running, you can confidently reply, "Yes, it is! Efficiently!"

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