August 31, 2008

Should you replace an old refrigerator to save money on energy?

When I moved into my home I had to buy a refrigerator. I bought a relatively cheap fridge. My fridge is not an Energy Star compliant model. Whenever I'm at a store that sells major appliances I see the Energy Star models and I wonder if going with an Energy Star fridge would be a good idea to save money.

Energy Star has a calculator to figure how much you'd save on energy by upgrading your fridge to an Energy Star compliant model.

I used the calculator to estimate what my fridge uses versus an Energy Star model to see how much I could save. My model in the 16.5 to 18.9 cubic foot size range and it was bought around 1999. At 10¢ per kWh the calculator estimates that I'm spending $79 a year. A new Energy Star fridge would run me about $38 per year. Therefore based on the calculator estimate I'd potentially save $41 a year if I replaced my current fridge with a new Energy Star model.

I then dug up the actual energy guide for my fridge which was buried in my paper work drawer. My fridge uses 691 kWh/year so thats about $69 per year. The calculator was off by about $10 so its in the right ballpark. Based on my actual fridges energy usage I'd save about $31 a year by upgrading. Of course energy use will vary by exact model so to get the best figure you should find the model # for your fridge and either plug that into the calculator or research its energy usage on your own.

I did a quick check on prices at Home Depot for Energy Star fridges. They have a Maytag model that is Energy Star compliant that is on sale for $701 right now. It uses $41 a year in electricity. On the other hand a relatively cheap fridge sells for $449 and uses $48 a year in electricity.

If you were buying a new fridge right now you are looking at spending about $250 extra to get $7 annual energy savings. Thats only a 2.8% annual return. That amount of savings won't pay for the extra cost over the lifetime of a fridge. So I'm concluding that :

Paying extra for an Energy Star fridge isn't worth the extra money.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to discourage people from saving money on energy efficient home improvements. But based on the actual savings an Energy Star fridge is not a good way save energy for its cost. If you want to save energy then consider putting the money into other home energy saving improvements that will give you a better return on the money and potentially save you more energy over all.

My fridge is not too old and upgrading to a newer fridge wouldn't save a ton of energy. However older fridges are a lot less energy efficient so replacing them could save you quite a bit. Looking again at the calculator on the energy star site I ran the numbers on some older fridges. If your fridge is from before 1980 and of the 18.2 cu. ft. size then they estimate it is using $210 a year in electricity. You could replace that with a relatively cheap new fridge like the $449 model at Home Depot and cut your energy bill by $162 a year. Thats a 36% annual return on the cost of the new fridge. If your fridge is from 1980-1989 then they figure it is using $163 a year in energy so replacing it with a new model would save $115 a year. Thats a 25% annual return on the fridge cost.

If your fridge is over 20 years old or so then it is probably worth it to replace your fridge with a new model. You could get a 25-36% return on the cost of the new fridge.

You could start with the calculator to get a ballpark estimate and then I'd recommend trying to check the details on your actual fridge model. The exact energy savings will depend on the exact model of your current fridge. If you get the model number of your fridge then you can put it into the calculator and they may be able to give you specifics for yours. Or if you have the old energy guide document still then it will say the models energy usage.

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