Can I go without a refrigerator?

By: Julia Layton

Saving Electricity: Cool Green

Using a freezer as a fridge replacement doesn't necessarily result in super energy savings.
Using a freezer as a fridge replacement doesn't necessarily result in super energy savings.
Image courtesy of the TVA

If someone would go so far as to stop using a refrigerator, it must use up a whole lot of electricity, right?

In fact, it doesn't. Compared to other major home appliances, it uses very little energy. A quick run-down of common, newer appliances shows that the refrigerator falls pretty far down on the list [source: Wisegeek]:


  • Electric furnace -- 6,000 kilowatt-hours/year
  • Central air conditioning -- 2,000 kilowatt-hours/year
  • Clothes dryer -- 765 kilowatt-hours/year
  • Refrigerator -- 450 kilowatt-hours/year
  • Washing machine -- 360 kilowatt-hours/year

Since the home refrigerator is not a top consumer of power, some eco-minded individuals think getting rid of it is a waste of energy (so to speak). For one thing, the cost-benefit trade-off may not work out, since you might end up dealing with a lot of rotten food that goes to waste. For another, buying food in smaller amounts can mean you consume more packaging and burn more gas driving to the grocery store more often.

Finally, for people who go the freezer route, the small energy savings achieved by unplugging the fridge is reduced by plugging in the freezer. A small chest freezer (less than 6.4 cubic feet or 0.18 cubic meters) can consume more than 200 kilowatt-hours per year [source: EERE].

So, what to do if you want to reduce your refrigeration footprint, but you're not giving up the fridge? First, you can replace an old unit with a new, high-efficiency Energy Star rated appliance. But you can also use better refrigerator habits (which won't cost you nearly as much), such as cleaning the coils annually to keep the unit running efficiently; testing the door seal to make sure it's tight; deciding what you want to eat before you open the door so you don't stand there losing cold air; and keeping the fridge relatively full, which helps the temperature bounce back faster after you open and close the door.

And, as with most technologies, keep your eyes open for innovations. U.K. scientists are trying to revitalize an old refrigerator invented by Albert Einstein and colleague Leo Szilard, which has no moving parts and runs only on pressurized gasses. It requires no electricity at all. A Cambridge, Mass., group is working on a fridge design that runs on a diesel (or biodiesel) generator and solar panels, and that cools using thermoelectrics instead of toxic Freon.

Eco-friendly refrigerators like these are far from hitting the shelves, but you never know -- in 20 years, home refrigeration could be as green as a picnic cooler.

For more information on "green" refrigeration (or the lack thereof) and related topics, look over the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "Green Refrigerator Tips." GreenerTrends. Jan. 14, 2009.
  • Jha, Alok. "Einstein fridge design can help global cooling." Guardian UK. Sept. 21, 2008.
  • Kurutz, Steven. "Trashing the Fridge." The New York Times. Feb. 4, 2009.
  • Lite, Jordan. "Going the extra green mile: No refrigerator." 60 Second Science. Scientific American. Feb. 5, 2009.
  • McDermott, Matthew. "Solar Powered Refrigerator Could Bring Health and Energy Savings to Rural India." TreeHugger. Oct. 1, 2008.