Our refrigerator, nearly 17 years old, started to make a loud clunk when the compressor stopped running. It was very loud, like a heavy object falling off the kitchen counter. An Internet search and a conversation at an appliance store confirmed that our refrigerator was on its last legs. The compressor still did its job of cooling the fridge, but one day soon, maybe in a week, maybe in a few months, it was going to die, and the expense of repairing it would be substantial.
Time for a new fridge, we decided. But the task proved to be more vexing than I expected.
In our 1970s-era kitchen, maximum height for a fridge, without renovating the cabinets, is 65.5 inches. The majority of the full-size fridges on the market today are over 66 inches. Another Internet search took me to a couple of fridge discussions where people who also live in older houses lamented their lack of fridge options because of height constraints. My problem turned out to be a common problem. Manufacturers have largely abandoned people who need less-tall fridges.
After a tour of appliance stores, I found a grand total of two fridges that would fit our space. They were among the least expensive full-size units, and were described to me as perfectly good fridges that landlords like to buy for their rental apartments. They don't have the latest technology, they're not as quiet.
We bought a white one (because it was in stock) that is 65.5 inches tall. I sanded away a quarter inch of cabinet trim on one side of the fridge alcove so that the new unit would fit. (The old one was 64.5 inches tall.)
The new fridge cost $700, versus the $1,000 we paid 17 years ago. I found the receipt and the manual in our manuals box. The old fridge was fancier, with sturdier drawers, shelves that had more adjustment options, and dials to control condensation. But paying $300 less after 17 years — that’s not bad, even if the fridge is less fancy. Though I wonder if the new unit will also last 17 years.
The new fridge is rated at 388 kWh of power use in a year, versus 683 for the old unit. That’s roughly 40 per cent less power hungry.
B.C. Hydro is charging 11.27 cents per kWh. So, that translates into $43.73 to run the fridge for a year, versus $76.97 for the old fridge, a $33.24 saving.
In a way, it’s good that we were constrained by our cabinets (and our reluctance to renovate.) Without that constraint, we would have probably bought one of the $1,000-plus stainless steel units that dominate the showrooms. Apart from their higher cost to buy, they tend to cost more to run because they are bigger than our modest model. The money savings soften my disappointment in not getting a spiffier fridge.
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Judging by what the appliance stores stock in their showrooms, stainless steel is by far the most popular finish for kitchen appliances, with white a distant second.
Back in 2012, a Wall Street Journal story noted the dominance of stainless steel and how appliance makers were having limited success in highlighting other colours. Not much appears to have changed since then on the colour front.
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Newer fridges use considerably less electricity than ones made more than a decade ago.
Energy Star has a giant spreadsheet listing residential refrigerators and their expected annual energy use. You can download a PDF here.
It also has advice on what to look for when buying a fridge if energy conservation is important to you. Here's the link, click on the Buying Guidance tab. In summary, pay attention to the Energy Star power consumption estimate, fridges with top-mounted freezers use less power than bottom-mounted or side-by-side, skip the ice maker, and 16 to 20 cubic feet models tend to be the most energy efficient.
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