Your refrigerator may be wasting a lot of energy and causing your home energy bills to soar. If your current refrigerator was made prior to 1993, it uses twice the amount of energy used by new models, says Energy Star's website.
When you upgrade to an Energy Star-certified refrigerator, your fridge could use 20 percent less energy than required by current federal standards.
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In addition to upgrading to a new refrigerator, or if yours is already newer and Energy Star-rated, there are other ways to create a greener, more eco-friendly fridge that saves energy and money and can also be healthier for you and your family. Here are some ways to green your fridge:
• "Check door seals frequently," say the experts at green-home site Inhabitat.com, because "90 percent of environmental impacts occur during the use phase of a fridge." If your refrigerator door isn't sealed tightly, cooled air escapes, and your refrigerator has to keep running to keep inner temperatures at safely cold levels, wasting energy and money. "If the compressor is constantly running, it may be a sign that your door is leaking air and therefore wasting a ton of cooling energy." A good seal should hold a slip of paper in place securely when tested at several spots all around your refrigerator doors.
• Vacuum the condenser coils every three months or once a month if you have pets. When dust builds up on condenser coils on the back and bottom of your fridge, your refrigerator has to work harder, and this constant work can shorten the life of your refrigerator, as well. Just pull the unit out from the wall and use your vacuum's brush attachment to remove dust. If your condenser coils are on the bottom of your fridge, you may need to remove the bottom panel to access them. Consult your refrigerator's user manual for care instructions to avoid causing damage or cleaning inefficiently.
• Set your refrigerator to the right temperature. The green-living experts at National Geographic say that refrigerators should be kept between 37 degrees and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and freezers at 5 degrees. Colder temperatures waste energy and can spoil your food and drinks.
• Clean the drain hole and the dripping pan. Most refrigerators have them to remove condensation, and it's important to ensure yours is free of blockage so water can drain and not reduce your system's efficiency or cause mildew or bacteria to grow inside your refrigerator.
• Clean the gaskets on your refrigerator doors. These can get gunked up and inhibit a tight seal, so use an all-purpose cleaner to wipe these parts down, and then dry them.
• Change the water filter. If your refrigerator has a water dispenser, it's important to have a fresh filter in place to keep your water and ice pure and germ-free. Keeping all of your refrigerator's parts clean helps it work to its best efficiency.
• Make sure your refrigerator is level. If yours is sitting on an angle, even a slight one, it won't run as efficiently, because door seals may be less than tight. Place a carpenter level on top of your unit, and adjust your refrigerator feet by hand or with a wrench to get it perfectly level.
• Use nontoxic cleaners. Amanda Hearn, editor of the blog "The Eco-Friendly Family," says, "If you are using toxic chemicals to clean … your surfaces … you are exposing your food to toxic chemicals that don't belong in your home -- let alone in your body. To eliminate this risk, choose to use natural cleaners like vinegar." A recent Heinz survey reports that vinegar can kill 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold and 80 percent of germs. "Vinegar is fantastic, and you can always kick it up a notch with antimicrobial essential oils." Hearn also suggests baking soda stored in a Mason jar with holes in the lid as a natural product to remove odors from within your refrigerator.
• Cover food and drinks stored inside your fridge. The National Geographic team says that uncovered food and drink create evaporation inside, which causes your condensers to have to work harder.
• Keep your refrigerator and freezer as full as possible. When there are very few items inside, there's more air to circulate, and your machine will run longer and harder to keep temperatures low.
• Defrost your freezer regularly. Do not allow frost buildup to reach a half-inch.
• If you're remodeling your kitchen, don't place your refrigerator next to an oven or dishwasher, because the heat from those machines can impact your fridge's efficiency.
• Think also about what you put inside your refrigerator. Because 90 percent of plastic water bottles are not recycled, according to the earth-friendly site www.50waystohelp.com, and take thousands of years to decompose in landfills, it's greener to buy a reusable container and fill it with filtered tap water. It's a big savings to the environment and to your wallet, and the EPA's standards for tap water are more stringent than the FDA's standards for bottled water.