By Larry Bilotti for Home Sweet Solutions
The appliances in your home — particularly the refrigerator, clothes washer and dryer — account for about 17 percent of your home’s electricity usage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Since the refrigerator is the one appliance that operates 24/7 year after year, it’s a key contributor to your home’s monthly energy consumption. If your refrigerator was manufactured before 1993, you’re already using twice the energy as a new Energy Star-rated model. But age isn’t the only reason you may need to consider purchasing a new fridge. While appliance repair could still be an option, here are the five warning signs that say “It’s time to replace your old refrigerator.” Ask yourself:
1. Do you see signs of moisture?
Are there signs of condensation on the inside of the door frame? If so, the rubber seal designed to keep cold air in and warm air out isn’t as airtight as it needs to be. While the energy loss may seem negligible, anything that requires the motor to run more frequently over time is costing you energy — and money. You may be able to change the seal yourself or have a handyman do it. But if your refrigerator is old, and this is only one of several problems, it might be wise to start shopping for a new one.
2. Is your unit generating heat?
We all know refrigerators are meant to keep food cold, but if your unit is generating noticeable heat from the back coils or the sides, a replacement is in order. New refrigerators have improved insulation in the doors and exterior walls to help maintain better temperatures and muffle motor noise. With more energy-efficient compressors and more precise temperature and defrost mechanisms, new models produce less heat, operate more quietly and insure temperatures are kept at the optimum settings. To be sure that the unit you buy meets these standards, look for the blue Energy Star label.
3. Is the motor running continuously?
The old joke Is your refrigerator running? Well, you’d better catch it! isn’t far from the truth. Refrigerators have an on-off timer that lets the motor operate just enough to maintain the temperatures inside. Door openings and closing will, of course, contribute to the motor running more frequently. But if you suspect your refrigerator is running more than normal — or continuously — it may be a sign that your refrigerator needs replacing.
4. Is your food staying fresh?
Refrigerators need to maintain an inside temperature of 35 to 38 F to keep food fresh. Anything higher and it will spoil too quickly. Anything lower and freezing becomes a problem. You can purchase a refrigerator thermometer to test temperatures, but if you have been inching the colder setting lower over time — or notice that vegetables, dairy products and leftovers don’t keep as long as they used to — it’s time to shop for a new refrigerator.
5. Do you manually defrost your freezer?
Finally, if your freezer compartment requires manual defrosting, there’s no need to contemplate whether you need a new refrigerator — you do. Although freezers that require manual defrosting are somewhat more efficient than frost-free models, they have to be maintained regularly in order to operate at peak efficiency. The more frost and ice that builds up on the inside of a freezer, the harder the unit has to work. Taking into account the time it requires to defrost a freezer and the problems with temporary food displacement, a new fridge will eliminate the chore (saving you time) and still be more energy-efficient than your current model (saving you money).
TIP: Be sure to look for the Energy Star blue seal when purchasing a new refrigerator and other household products. These models are guaranteed to be energy-efficient and save you money over time. How much money? Find out here: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=refrig.calculator
And while you may be tempted to keep your old refrigerator for additional storage in a garage or spare room, don’t! The reason you purchased a new model was to eliminate the cost of operating the old one. Instead, look for a refrigerator-recycling center in your area. Find one by visiting http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=recycle.pr_refrigerator_rec.
Larry Bilotti has an extensive background in DIY home improvements and home maintenance, not only from his years as executive editor of Country Living magazine, but from personal hands-on experience restoring his Catskills, N.Y., retreat — Trout House.