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Be especially careful in choosing a refrigerator because it will use more energy than any other kitchen appliance. Fortunately, new refrigerators use less than one-third as much energy as similar models built in the 1970s. Just remember, size and features do make a difference. As a rule, larger models use more energy to operate, so buy the smallest model that meets your needs. A side-by-side refrigerator/freezer is less efficient than a unit with the freezer on the top or bottom; automatic ice makers and through-the-door dispensers will add to energy use and to the initial cost; and manual defrost uses less energy than automatic defrost, but only if someone defrosts the freezer regularly. Consider these options very carefully. Remember, refrigerators are on constantly. Will you use these conveniences frequently enough to justify the cost of paying for them 24 hours a day?
Placement of the refrigerator is particularly important. Room temperature, direct sunlight, and close contact with hot appliances will make the refrigerator's compressor work harder. Even more important, heat from the compressor and condensing coil must be able to escape freely or it will cause the same problem. Don't suffocate the refrigerator by enclosing it tightly between cabinets or against the wall. The proper breathing space will vary depending on the location of the coils and compressor on each model. Find out where they are before cabinets are designed to fit around the refrigerator.
For the most environmentally sound choice, look for the superefficient models containing no chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). And avoid the temptation to keep that old, inefficient fridge in the garage for those few occasions when you need extra refreshments. A typical ten-year old refrigerator could cost you $100 to $150 a year to operate. Utilities or organizations in many communities will pick up old refrigerators and take them to recycling centers where CFCs are recovered.
Excerpted with permission from No-Regrets Remodeling by Home Energy (1997)