Old chest freezer

008: Update old fridges and freezers

Cost of taking action: £/$/€ MED

For this action you will need to make a financial outlay, although you will make it back very quickly. We want you to replace your fridge, freezer or fridge/freezer combination if it is more than 10 years old.

The reason is simply that modern appliances are increasingly energy-efficient, meaning that a new appliance uses less electricity and therefore reduces the demands on our power systems. Reducing the overall demand for power is key to phasing out the use of coal, gas and oil power stations around the world, thus reducing our carbon emissions.

This is a household-level action which, by being multiplied many times, becomes significant overall.

Let’s take a look at some maths!

In Europe, appliances are rated according to their energy efficiency, an A grade appliance uses less energy than a B graded appliance, for example. Let’s assume that you buy an A++ graded appliance (the top grade). Also, a combined unit with fridge above the freezer (or vice versa) is more efficient than separate appliances too, so let’s assume you do that.

The old units

Woman opening fridge door

A 12 year old fridge of a size to fit under the kitchen worktop is likely to use about 1,700 kilowatt-hours of energy (units of electricity) each year. This is because when the fridge was built, the insulation and cooling technology would have been less advanced. Also, older appliances do deteriorate … door seals and motor efficiency will have degraded over the years.

A 12 year old small chest freezer in a utility area is likely to use around 900 units in a year. Both of these figures will depend on the level of usage and the room temperatures of course, but they are reasonably guestimates for our purposes. Incidentally, the reason the chest freezer uses less energy even though it’s driving temperatures lower, is because the lid is not opened so often, and cold air doesn’t fall out of a chest freezer in the way that it does from a fridge.

OK, so that’s a total of 2,600 units each year. You’ll be able to do similar maths for a single appliance or a front-opening freezer if you want the exact calculations for your own situation.

The new unit

Let’s assume you buy a single unit fridge/freezer for £400; we will use as our example the Samsung RB31FEJNDSA Graphite 60cm Frost Free Fridge Freezer simply because it popped up on Google at that price (not a recommendation or endorsement!). This unit is very typical and the manufacturer estimates its energy consumption in an average household to be 240 units per year. However, let’s be conservative and multiply that by more than 150%, to a budget of 400 units each year.

So the saving over the two old appliances is 2,200 units each year.

The savings

If your power comes from coal, a saving of 2,200 kWh each year saves about 2 tons of CO2 emissions (www.freeingenergy.com). If your power comes from a typical (2020) source mix in Europe or the USA, the saving is about 1.4 tons of CO2 emissions (co2.myclimate.org).

In the UK, a unit costs around 20p, so there is also a cash saving to the household in our example of £440 each year.

Obviously, this is one example and savings could be more or less than this. However the point is that this action, while it does need an initial investment, does save energy and carbon emissions, and will pay for itself after a year or so.

Other fridge/freezer advice

There are a few other things you can do to save energy, emissions and money using your fridge and freezer, here are some tips:

  • place your appliance well away from your cooker and/or direct sunlight – it will operate more efficiently if it’s in a cool spot
  • keep it at least 10cm from the wall to allow the coils to work efficiently, and vacuum them every few months for the same reason
  • keep your fridge at around 4°C and your freezer at -18 °C. These are the optimums for keeping food cool and energy down
  • don’t put hot food in the fridge – it takes more energy to cool it, so wait for it cool first
  • keep your fridge and freezer filled. Bottles of tap water can fill empty space in the fridge, and fill empty space in the freezer with ice packs or screwed up newspaper. Otherwise you’re just cooling down air which escapes when the door is opened, and making your fridge work much harder for nothing
  • make sure door seals are effective and keep them clean so a good seal is maintained. Door seals are the key to a good fridge but they’re also the first thing to wear, so look after them
  • if your fridge doesn’t defrost automatically, watch out for ice and defrost it regularly. A build up of ice will stop your fridge/freezer from working effectively, but it’s easily remedied


Your old fridge or freezer can be recycled effectively if it enters the waste management system properly. It will be emptied and made safe without releasing refrigerants and oils into the environment. Refrigerant gases – especially older types – can be very destructive to the ozone layer and are greenhouse gases too. They are also toxic and very flammable.

The empty compressor then has to be removed before the appliance is shredded and the resulting material recycled.

Take action

Replace old fridges and freezers. It saves on energy, carbon emissions, fossil fuel use and money and is a simple thing to do. However, it is important that old appliances are disposed of safely. Why not take advice from wherever you buy the new ones, they may even recycle the old one(s) for you?

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