Refrigerators and Freezers

Although the efficiency of refrigerators and freezers has increased dramatically over the past twenty years, they are still the largest energy consumers in most homes. Recently passed legislation going into effect July 1, 2001, will have new refrigerator standards for American produced products to operate approximately 30% more efficiently than many models sold today. This efficiency will show itself in consumer monetary savings, cleaner air to breathe, and a reduction of pollution-related diseases. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy stated, "The standards ..... will give American consumers the most energy-efficient selection of refrigerators in the world. These new appliances will eventually save US consumers over 25 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, equivalent to the power typically supplied by eight large (500 megawatt) baseload power plants. That's good for consumers' pocketbooks and good for the air we breathe."

To help promote energy efficiency in the State of Maryland, legislation was passed in April 2000 that allows some Energy Star products, including refrigerators, to be purchased tax free. SeeThe Maryland Clean Energy Incentive Act.

For excellent sources of updated information on refrigerators, see the the U.S. EPA Energy Star site.

Installation and Location of Refrigerators and Freezers

  • If possible, place the refrigerator or freezer away from heat sources and direct sunlight.
  • In the kitchen, try to keep the refrigerator away from the dishwasher and the oven.
  • Allow at least one inch of space on each side of refrigerator or freezer for good circulation.
  • Freezers can operate in attached basements or garages which will boost energy performance somewhat during the cooler months and reduce cooling loads in the house during the warmer months.
  • Do not put a refrigerator or freezer in a space that frequently drops below 45 degrees--the refrigerant will not work.

Ways to Boost Energy Efficiency of Your Existing Refrigerator or Freezer

  • Check the temperature. The refrigerator should be kept between 36 and 38 degrees, and the freezer should be kept between 0 and 5 degrees. Keeping temperatures 10 degrees lower than the recommended levels can increase energy use by as much as 25%.
  • Check the door seals. There are two ways in which you can check to see if your door seals are functioning properly. First, insert a dollar bill into the door as you close it. If it does not stay firmly in place, the seals probably need to be replaced. This procedure may not work for units that use magnets in the door. If this is the case with your unit, you can check your seals this way. Place a bright 150 watt flood lamp in the unit and close the door. Check seals for any areas where light shines through. Reposition lamp inside the unit so that you can cover all of the seal. If no light shows through, your seals should be in good shape.
  • Move refrigerator to a cooler location. Doing this will increase its energy performance.
  • Check the power-saver switch. Many refrigerators have small heaters built into the walls to prevent moisture from condensing on the outer surface. On some newer units, this feature can be turned off with the energy saver or power saver switch. Unless you have noticeable condensation, keep this switch on the energy saving setting.
  • Defrost as necessary. Manual defrost and partial defrost refrigerators and freezers should be defrosted on a regular basis. If not, the build up of ice on coils inside the unit can cause the compressor to run longer, wasting energy.


  • Avoid putting hot foods directly in the refrigerator or freezer. Let them cool at room temperature first.
  • Cover foods, especially liquids. Otherwise they will release moisture into the refrigerator compartment, increasing energy use by the refrigerator.
  • A full refrigerator and freezer will perform better than when they are nearly empty. (This can be especially true during a power outage.) If they are not full, store plastic containers with water to keep interior temperatures more stable when their doors are opened.
  • If you have a freezer or second refrigerator that is nearly empty, turn it off. You will do no harm to the unit by turning it on and off periodically. If you will not be using it at all, unplug it and remove the door to make sure that children cannot get trapped inside accidentally.
  • Mark items in the freezer for quick identification so that you do not have to search with the door open.

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