Americans Doubling Up on Refrigerators, Cutting into Efficiency Gains

Call it the must-have accessory to the super-size-me generation. The number of Americans with more than one fridge is growing–and that’s not good news for the environment.

According to a recent Department of Energy survey (PDF), about 26 percent of American homes have two or more refrigerators, and this is increasing by 1 percent a year.

This latest addition to the list of “standard” American household appliances carries an environmental double-whammy: since the second fridge is often an older, less efficient one, the energy burn more than doubles compared to single refrigerator homes.

Be honest: how old is your refrigerator?

Did you know a third of all refrigerators in use in the U.S. are over ten years old, and almost one in ten over twenty? Beyond obvious hygienic concerns, older refrigerators use a lot more energy than the newest models.

Since 1978, when California first implemented efficiency standards, average power consumption by refrigerators has dropped by over half, even as average capacity has risen by 2 cubic feet (equivalent to two big jugs of milk).

1 step forward + 1 step back = 2 refrigerators

The problem is, as those older fridges are replaced, many end up being sold or utilized as a second unit, thereby negating, or at least slowing, the effect of energy conservation programs like Energy Star. Ten percent of households keep their old fridge when they buy a new one, according to the Department of Energy report.

Jennifer Thorne Amann, buildings program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, told the New York Times that home owners aren’t always aware of how much a second fridge can cost them. Avid hunters sometimes keep “beer and deer” fridges, as they’re known in the Redder parts of the country.

“You’re not saving any money on efficiency if you’re keeping that old one plugged in,” Amann said.

The Department of Energy said unplugging older units would save individuals $420 to $750 over the life of the fridge, and save the country 25 million megawatt hours of electricity.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.