Economics of Keeping Your Old Refrigerator

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This interesting chart from the Appliance Standards Awareness Project shows how dramatically cheaper and more energy-efficient new refrigerators have gotten over the last few decades. Even as the average size has grown slightly, since 1980 the average cost has dropped by roughly half while the annual energy usage has dropped by nearly 2/3rds.


This WaPo article says this means it’s wrong to have a second refrigerator. Keeping your old, energy-wasting fridge could cost you $100 a year or more in extra electricity costs. At that rate, it may be better to either throw out the old fridge or even buy a new one.

Doing the math. If you don’t have your specific energy usage numbers, a fridge built to 1980 standards would use approximately 1,000 kWh more per year than a 2014 model. At the national average of 13 cents per kWh, that’s $130 a year. (I would recommend checking your own power bill because your actual per-kWh electricity cost could vary significantly.)

This caught my eye because we have an extra standalone freezer. It may use additional electricity, but it also reduces grocery trips and allowed me to fit 20 pre-made slow cooker meals inside at one time! More on that experiment later.

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  1. Cool graph and interesting analysis!

    We have a pretty old fridge (as our only fridge) and I’ve never really thought about the ROI of buying a new fridge due to increased efficiency.

    Time to do some research…! 🙂

  2. A standalone freezer may not be so bad. If you only open it once a day, for instance, instead of the constant traffic a fridge gets, it will be far more efficient. You could try plugging in a Kill A Watt monitor into it for a month to see what it’s really costing you.

  3. Standalone freezers, even old inefficient ones, are more dependent on the mass stored in them than any thing else. More mass means less energy used over time. Even with few items stored in them, they are pretty efficient. Chest freezers being more efficient.

    • Low on mass in your standalone freezer … create some by filling empty plastic jugs with water and letting them freeze while taking up space in the freezer. Just be sure to leave some head space in the jug when filling.

  4. I wish studies like this took into account the energy needed to manufacture the new refrigerator as well as the diesel burned to transport it. Buying a new appliance for back end energy savings may not be as “green” or efficient as people think.

    • Sounds like that information would be useful to you and anyone concerned exclusively about using less energy due to focused environmental concerns. A lot of people may just be interested in saving money though. And of course to some extent the cost of something is often correlated to the amount of total “energy” put into its creation (not that there aren’t other factors contributing, naturally).

  5. All well and good and something to consider when refrigerator/freezer shopping.

    Reliability is paramount when it comes to refrigeration.

    Mom has a 1968 Amana Freezer that has never missed a beat and has moved with her several times.

    Her 1980 Amana Refrigerator has also been flawless with the exception of a freezer fan which cost about $20 in parts to replace.

    There is something to be said for ease of service, low cost parts and of course reliability.

    Older appliances are often very service friendly when compared to modern day counterparts.

    My friends have all had problems with new appliances… be it TV, Washer/Dryer, Refrigerators… seems everything has a circuit board… wonder how hard it will be to get parts for a 20 year old LG?

    Seems only in America do we send perfectly serviceable consumer appliances to the trash heap!

    Besides… all of mom’s appliances from her Zenith console TV to her washer/dryer, microwave, etc are all made in USA.

    • I’m sure that people in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s also had appliances fail. I think what you may be seeing here is survivor bias. Yes your mom has a fridge from 1968 that is working fine. I have a fridge from 2012 that is working fine. What about your moms neighbors in the 60’s who had their 1968 fridges fail? They were forgotten in the trash heap long ago.

      • I was going to mention that…

        In the garage we have Grandma’s 1955 Philco refrigerator… The last 10 years it has only been plugged in occasionally… as when neighbors were hosting a 50th anniversary party and needed to store a lot of food or during the holidays when we host.

        These old boxes are made like tanks… heavy in every sense… compressor made of cast iron and sleeved.

        The 1955 box is almost 60 years old and never fails to work when needed… before that grandma didn’t have refrigeration… it was the cellar or icebox.

        I was in retail sales for a time and the fact is much of what we buy is based on wants and not need.

        Doesn’t matter if it’s a floor that looks dated or some new feature like water/ice in the door…

        Much of the rest of the world could live well on what we toss out.

        The first car I bought, a 1929 Model A Ford, I still have to this day…

        An Engineer by profession, I admire the craftsmanship from the time when America actually built things and we did make quality products…

        • Paul Rhodes says

          Amen to that, sir. The resources wasted and pollution created to replace perfectly serviceable equipment are two often overlooked factors in environmental arguments. Both factors are quite significant.

  6. PS… want to add we live in a 2300 square foot home circa 1958 and use a consistent 12 kWh daily even with my old appliances…

    So even though we have antiques appliances… we use very little electricity compared to our neighbors.

    One thing I have done is convert to Cree LED lightbulbs and I give them away as Christmas presents too!

  7. nice article. Makes me interested to know the economics of replacing a car too.

    • Normally you can buy a LOT of gas for the amount it costs to get a new car. Even pretty extreme differences in fuel efficiency will often take more than the lifetime of a car to pay off. My opinion is that it’s normally better to think of better fuel efficiency as icing on the cake when you’ve already decided it’s time for a new car. But run the numbers yourself for any given comparison and see. And naturally it’s heavily dependent on the future cost of gas.

  8. Freezers are about the same situation. An older freezer will use a lot more energy than a new model and may be worth replacing with a new one simply for the energy savings. We just bought a small chest freezer for our garage and it only uses ~$25/yr.

  9. At the risk of wandering to far from point… I would like to share a real life example.

    My 85 year old neighbor was talked into by her Granddaughter to go Green…

    She replaced all her appliances that she like with ones she can’t figure out… I’ve been called many times because she gets frustrated… she especially hates the new flat screen TV…. so many times I get called because the TV is broken when she just pushed the wrong button…

    Her 18 cu ft fridge was replaced with a 27 LG monster with french doors… not sure how this is going green?

    Granddaughter even convinced Grandma to trade in her 82 Olds Cutlass with 42,000 miles for a Toyota Prius… one she is afraid to drive.

    If a person wants the latest and greatest… more power to them.

    On the other hand… much of going “Green” is little more than marketing when looking at the big picture.

    Grandma could live 50 years and the economics of her new Prius will never pencil out.

  10. The old ones lasts for decades. The new ones lasts a few years costing you more.

  11. Update…

    Today the Utility visited Mom to explain the benefits of their energy saving program for seniors.

    On the list of about 24 items… only one thing caught the eye of the program coordinator… I had already done the weatherstips, low flow, insulation, etc.

    The 1980 refrigerator was the only thing on his list… Mom qualified to trade in her old 1980 refrigerator for a new 2014 energy saver refrigerator at no cost… we looked at each other and thanked the man… told him it’s been working so well for so long… we rather keep it…

  12. Wow, I never even thought about this.I never estimated the price I would have to pay in a year.This insight is not only useful with an old fridge but with any electrical appliace.If an equipment uses less energy but it is costs more I am going to see how much electricity I can save in a year.Thanks.

  13. Don’t throw away old things that work just because they are old and theoretically inefficient. I have some incandescent light bulbs in my house that I have not had to change in 16 years because they are not used very much or very often. If I replaced them with CFLs (which contain poisonous mercury) or LEDs, it would take a lifetime to recover the costs unless the price of electricity suddenly goes up astronomically.

  14. I don’t think the takeaway from this article is to just chunk out everything old but rather to crunch the numbers. And just because something is old doesn’t make it great. The old fridge might be a tank and a product of a high quality manufacturing line but it can also be extremely inefficient and the ROI might be there to toss it. Or maybe you should wait until the next major repair is required (1 yr from now, 5 yr, 10yr, etc.)

    And almost no one recommends throwing out incandescent lightbulbs until they burn out. And if that bulb is still there in the seldom-used lamp in 10 years, that’s ok. No one is going to be arrested for that.

  15. Sure, you can save money on the power bill, but the long term savings are not there.. my parents bought a stand alone deep freeze in the late 1970’s. Recently they decided they don’t need it and it is now in my basement wasting energy… before I inherited this machine, I had bought and replaced three new energy efficient freezers. I saved a little on the power bill, but it cost more in the long run factoring in the purchase price of three freezer units as well as the fees to have them properly decommissioned for disposal. Not to mention the added environmental costs of the manufacturing, transport and disposal of those three units.

    In the long run, the old units are likely cheaper and better for the environment.

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