Anyone in the market for a new refrigerator faces an almost dizzying array of great looking and operating units in a range of sizes and interior and exterior finishes. Prominent and desirable features include in-door water and ice dispensers, which are almost standard in most homes and a desired feature when people upgrade their refrigeration center in a new home or after a remodeling job.
Bottom freezer units are also very popular and functional because they provide easier, eye-level access to the main refrigeration area that is used most often.
We will look at four of the eco-friendliest refrigerators on the market at the moment and consider how they stack up in terms of the most desired features and try to get an understanding of their overall carbon footprint.
There are three main designs for mid-sized to extra-large refrigerators, so we have decided to review the leading energy efficient units and features for each design.
An appliance’s carbon footprint is not necessarily the first factor considered when upgrading a refrigerator or other piece of equipment or technology. It is, however, the measure of the overall level of environmental friendliness related to the product’s manufacture, delivery, and disposal at the end of its life cycle.
We typically look first and foremost to the cost of operating a unit after the initial purchase. In fact, that may be all we look at as we make our purchasing decision. That number is certainly much more easily calculated and determined based on the information provided by the manufacturer as well as the Energy Star rating provided.
It’s usually featured in advertisements and online reviews, and, therefore, a positive Energy Star rating is the first number we consider. In fact, replacing an aging unit with a refrigerator that has a higher Energy Star rating can save you 10-50% over your existing refrigerator. That’s a wide range, and your results will vary, but considering an upgrade can directly benefit your pocketbook as well as the environment immediately.
Let’s look at these four featured units:
Feature for feature, this refrigerator covers most of the bases and includes a thru-the-door-dispenser for water and ice, an LED display, LoDecibel™ Quiet Operation and IcePlus™ Accelerated Freezing Function, all while offering 21.9 cubic feet of usable cold and frozen goods storage space.
With an Energy Star rating of 530 kWh/year to refrigerate and freeze contents in its 21.9 cubic foot interior, that comes to 24.2 kWh/year per cubic foot. You might be surprised how well that stacks up to other units without that range of features. Of course, other manufacturers provide refrigerators with built-in water and ice systems with replaceable filters, but this LG unit simply has the best Energy Star rating in the group.
We’ll do that math on the other units below to see how they measure up the cubic foot for cubic foot. The calculation can be made by dividing the kilowatt-hour per year (kWh/year) rating by the cubic foot capacity (ft3) of a unit.
Bottom Freezer Model
This bottom freezer unit has a capacity of 11.4 cubic feet—less than half of the LG Side-by-side model. It does consume considerably less energy per year (314 kWh/yr.), but the energy cost per cubic foot is significantly higher, at 27.5 kWh/year per cubic foot.
Its major features include a well-lit interior with efficient LED lighting, an available wine rack, and a compact vertically structured design that fits into smaller spaces. The unit is well over six feet high, however, making the bottom freezer feature almost a must. There is no thru-the-door-dispenser, however, and its unique height requires the right space.
This, and similar Bosch units with a vertical design, is the most energy-efficient bottom freezer unit on the market today, in terms of kWh/year for the entire unit.
Top Freezer Models
Top freezer models continue to represent the largest group of refrigerators today. They are consistently lower-priced than the other two styles and usually highlight a smaller range of features. None of them provide thru-the-door-dispensers, but they typically feature reversible door openings to accommodate the most efficient use of the adjacent countertops and kitchen workflows; some top freezer models do have ice makers. If you are looking to replace an aging, inefficient unit, one of these can serve the purpose well, if you are willing to forgo some often-desired features.
This basic refrigerator gets among the best overall energy efficiency ratings from Energy Star. It comes in at 296 kWh/year of annual energy use. For its 9.9 cubic foot capacity, which includes both its cooling and freezing compartments, that amounts to almost 30 kWh/year per cubic foot.
By comparison, this made in the U.S.A model from Frigidaire is significantly larger in cubic foot capacity and is rated at 348 kWh/year, for a cubic foot capacity of 16.3. That rating leaves it with a cubic foot per year calculation of 21.3 kWh/year; significantly lower than its trademark brother above. It retains the basic style profile but does have several specific USA components, like a one-gallon door shelf and a clear dairy bin.
The other USA feature, a thru-the-door-dispenser to provide filtered water and ice, is missing here as well. That feature is reserved for split door units like the LG unit. This Frigidaire is, however, the most energy efficient unit by our per-cubic-foot calculations.
It’s Your Turn
Based on the most readily available data points, the above four units are among the most energy efficient on the market today. It is easy to be distracted by the full range of colors, features, and other selling points held out by the manufacturers. None of these units can access the latest technology of IoT (Internet of Things), but they are featured here for their energy efficiency and modest features.
If you have your latest energy bill in hand, you should be able to calculate the difference in actual operating costs for each refrigerator based on the cost of energy in your area. The additional eco-friendly factors like the materials used in construction, means of shipping, and the recycling costs are part of the total carbon footprint.
Above all, you will need to figure out your size and space requirements and settle on the significant features you need.