Your refrigerator accounts for about 17 percent of your electric bill and uses more energy than any other appliance you own, largely because it runs constantly, unlike ranges, ovens and laundry equipment. Even a new, energy-efficient unit can use your help in operating as thriftily as possible. To minimize the impact on your budget, keep your refrigerator running in tiptop shape, load it with care and set its controls for sensible storage.
Fill the Interior
Although you don't want to leave leftovers out at room temperature for long, let them cool just enough so that your refrigerator doesn't have to work extra hard to offset the heat they introduce inside. Your refrigerator also works harder when it must cool empty spaces within its interior. You want air to circulate around refrigerated foods without leaving gaps on shelves and in door racks. To fill a void, insert a covered jug of water. Keeping the freezer full but not crammed to the gills also helps maintain temperature. For tips on which foods to put where for best storage in a new refrigerator, look at the manufacturer's open-door photos of the unit with food in place. You'll find these shots on specification brochures and advertising materials, both online and in print.
Clean the Exterior
Keeping your refrigerator's cooling system clean and free of dust helps it work more efficiently, especially if you have pets whose shedding can add to household cleanup. Check your user guide for recommendations on where to vacuum and how often to do so. Verify that you leave at least two inches between the back of the refrigerator and a wall behind it—potentially even more space if your appliance includes ice and chilled water service —and at least three inches between the unit and a side wall. This clearance promotes exterior air circulation and proper operation.
Your refrigerator works most efficiently when you locate it out of direct sunlight and away from cooking appliances that force it to work overtime to offset the heat they give off. Set the unit's operating temperatures at between 37 and 40 degrees F for refrigerated compartments and 5 degrees F for freezer areas. If you choose an electronically controlled appliance with a touchscreen, you may be able to set these temperatures numerically rather than through sliding or dialed controls. To verify interior temperatures, set an appliance thermometer in a container of water, put it in the refrigerated compartment and check it after 24 hours. Place the thermometer between containers in the freezer to test temperature levels.
Just like an air conditioning system, your refrigerator removes humidity as well as heat from its interior. To enhance its operating efficiency and improve the consistency of refrigerated foods, keep containers covered to avoid contributing moisture to the air. Standing in front of an open refrigerator door introduces warmer air from the kitchen and forces your appliance to cool down this warm air. Likewise, don't open the refrigerator door for long periods of time when you put away the results of a grocery shopping trip.
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