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Energy Efficient Fridges: What’s in a Letter?

7th May, 2020

The combined energy consumed by a fridge and freezer can account for as much as 7% of all the energy consumed by your home appliances in a year. The high energy consumption of these units means that upgrading to a slightly more efficient model could make a big dent in your energy bills.

But how can you tell if a supposedly energy efficient fridge or freezer will live up to your expectations? This guide from Robin Hood Energy will give you everything you need to make an informed decision when you consider upgrading your appliance to a more efficient model.

Are newer fridges worth the money?

The average annual household energy bill was £1,625 in 2017 (source). If your fridge and freezer are consuming 7% of your energy bill, they could be costing you around £114 a year to run. Even shaving a small percentage off that total could add up to a lot of money over an appliance’s life span. A new fridge is also likely to work more effectively to keep your food and drink in good condition.

Newer fridges are likely to be better than older fridges because EU regulations came into force in 2012 that required fridges to be manufactured to a higher energy standard from then onwards. The energy efficiency of all fridges and freezers is rated on a scale of D to A+++ and the EU’s regulations now require all new fridges to be manufactured with a minimum rating of A+. Fridges made before this time are likely to be rated somewhere between D and A.

What do these energy ratings actually mean?

The energy ratings for fridges and freezers are calculated using an index that compares the appliance’s volume to its energy consumption. It’s important to note that the energy ratings are not a direct representation of how much energy (in kWh) a fridge or freezer consumes. It’s possible that an A+ fridge could consume more energy than an A rated fridge as long as its index of consumption to volume is better.

The metrics for the ratings are always calculated under set conditions. The fridge or freezer is tested partially filled in a room set at 25oC. The volume measurement takes into account any shelving and trays that are sold with the appliance (as opposed to using the official volume measurement from the manufacturer).

The key takeaway from the above is that you should always buy the smallest fridge and freezer you can get away with if you want to minimise your actual energy consumption. If you have doubts about any particular appliance’s energy usage, the energy label will tell you its annual consumption in kWh alongside its letter rating.

Is there anything else I should look for?

A fridge or freezer’s label will show a number of other metrics alongside the energy rating and the kWh it consumers in a year:

  • Volume in litres
  • Frozen storage volume in litres
  • Noise rating in decibels

None of these other metrics have any direct bearing on the energy rating and consumption figure but they can help you to make up your mind between comparable fridges. The volume figures are particularly helpful if you’re looking to buy a smaller appliance to keep the energy consumption down.

By comparing these metrics across different units and against your current appliances you’ll be able to get an idea of how different models might benefit you. The fridge or freezer that’s best for you is likely to be completely different from person to person. We prefer to let you know what information is available so that you can make an informed decision for yourself. There is no one model or manufacturer that will suit every consumer.

How has the technology in fridges made them more energy efficient?

Skip to the next section if you’re not interested in the mechanics behind the improvements in fridges and freezers.

The technology in fridges and freezers has improved considerably over the years to make them more energy efficient. Some of the biggest gains can be put down to the insulation of polyurethane foam, the introduction of high-efficiency compressors and better mechanisms for temperature control. This list is not exclusive but it does highlight some of the most significant improvements.

Using polyurethane foam for insulation

Polyurethane foam has a number of properties that make it an ideal insulator for fridges and freezers. It is excellent at retaining heat, robust, lightweight and cost-effective. It improves energy-efficiency without significantly raising the costs involved in an appliance’s manufacturing process.

Polyurethane is also very good at insulating even when used in small amounts. This means that just a thin layer can provide all the insulation an appliance needs without taking space away from the fridge or freezer’s interior. It is estimated that the inclusion of polyurethane makes A++ rated fridges around 60% more efficient than models from 15 years ago (source).

More efficient compressors

The compressor is an important component in any fridge or freezer. It compresses refrigerant vapour into a liquid that passes through the coils to absorb any heat from within the appliance. Improvements in technology for compressors mean that they can extract more heat with the same energy input and don’t need to run constantly for the fridge to stay cool.

High efficiency from automatic defrosting

More efficient compressors work in tandem with better defrosting and temperature control technology. Auto-defrost freezers are now commonplace. They work by briefly heating the cooling coil to melt any frost that forms on it. This process is normally regulated by a timer that sets it off every few hours. Defrosted coils work more efficiently than ice-covered coils so the appliance needs to use less energy to maintain a constant temperature.

How can I keep my fridge’s energy consumption down?

There are several steps that you can take to make your fridge more efficient. These habits are good to get into whether you’re planning on buying a new appliance or not.

  • Regularly check the seals. The door seals are one of the most important components on any fridge or freezer. They keep the interior airtight and stop warmth from leaking in from the outside. You should wipe your seals every now and then to prevent dirt and grime from building up and making a gap.
  • Keep the appliance at least 10cm from the wall. Doing so will allow the components to function at their optimal temperatures for longer periods.
  • Keep dust off the back of the appliance. Use either a duster or a low-powered vacuum cleaner setting to keep the coils on the back of the unit from getting too dusty. This will allow them to exchange heat at the rate they should do and stay effective.
  • Don’t put warm food inside the fridge or freezer. Warm food raises the temperature inside the appliance and makes the compressor work harder to keep it cool. Wait for food to cool naturally to keep compressor activity to a minimum.
  • Don’t leave the door open for longer than you need to. Leaving the door open allows warmer air from the kitchen to get into the fridge. This means the compressor has to work harder to bring the appliance back down to its normal temperature when you close the door again.

Is it worth buying a new fridge?

Only you can make that decision. Which? recommends buying a new fridge or freezer if yours is over 10 years old but there are really no hard and fast rules to follow. Buy a new fridge if you have the desire and the money but don’t worry about replacing an older model if its energy consumption or performance is good enough for you. If your fridge and freezer were manufactured after 2012, it’s unlikely that you’ll gain much from replacing either of them at this point.

The aim of this guide is to give you the information you need to go and compare newer fridges if you want to do so. Make sure you keep your needs in mind when you’re looking around and compare the labels to see how each appliance stacks up. Energy efficient fridges and freezers are going to be the future but there’s no need to buy one before you’re ready.