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11 February 2022

Beware of the energy vampire – the humble garage fridge could be driving up your power bill

Analysis from Consumer NZ has found an innocuous kiwi classic, the old fridge residing in the garage or shed could driving up household power costs across the country, adding approximately $200 annually to electricity bills.

A typical fridge today uses 40 percent less power than a comparable fridge from 20 years ago due to efficiency improvements. When you put away an old fridge in the garage or shed as a spare, you could be inadvertently introducing a nasty energy sucker to your home.

Fridges work best in spaces like cosy kitchens, where temperature variations are relatively small. Fridges in areas with large temperature fluctuations – such as an uninsulated shed or garage – have to work extra hard to keep contents cold and use more power to do so.

“You’ll typically pay about $110 a year to run a relatively new fridge. That’s about $70 per annum less than the running costs of a 20-year-old fridge. Put that old fridge out on the garage and things get even worse – you can expect to be paying more than $200 per year in electricity costs just to run it, and that’s assuming the fridge is in good working order. Costs rise when fridges get older as the seals degrade and internal parts lose their efficiency”, said Paul Fuge, Consumer NZ Powerswitch manager.

Wellington couple Madeleine and Kevin inadvertently inherited an energy vampire when they bought their home ten years ago. The previous owner had left an old fridge in the shed. It seemed useful for additional cold storage, and it seemed to work fine when they plugged it in. Consumer NZ contacted the manufacturer and determined the fridge was 22 years old.

Consumer NZ placed a power meter on the fridge and found running the secondary fridge was costing hundreds of dollars a year. The couple have now banished their energy vampire, by turning it off.

“There are times a second fridge comes in handy. Parties, visitors, and family reunions can create a sudden need for extra fridge space temporarily. To have one without breaking the bank, ensure your fridge is only on when needed, keep it aired when empty, and try and keep your fridge full when you're using it – thermal mass helps regulate the temperature inside, so it doesn't have to work as hard”, said Fuge.

Using Powerswitch, Madeleine and Kevin were also able to find a cheaper power plan. By turning off the old fridge and changing power plans they will be shaving approximately $800 off their annual electricity bill.

How to safely dispose of an energy vampire

  • If you need to get rid of your old fridge, don’t throw it in the landfill. It contains freon – a fluorocarbon that does the hard work keeping the fridge cold. Freon will melt ice caps if released into the wild, so it needs to be safely extracted and disposed.
  • The extraction of freon is usually why you’re charged a fee to dispose of a fridge or freezer. Newer fridges don’t use freon, as they were banned in most countries and replaced with a less environmentally damaging refrigerant.
  • Most councils accept fridges at a transfer station, but you’ll need to transport it there. Recycling businesses can also come to collect the fridge, usually charging a small fee of $20 or $30.