This summer with our new special series we’ll be investigating four different home appliances to learn about efficient energy use, green design, and eco-friendly choices. First stop on our green appliances tour: the refrigerator.

We take the humble refrigerator for granted, a machine owned by over 99.5% of Americans, but the fridge has some important history lessons for the eco-conscious consumer than can inform our choices today. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute uses the refrigerator as an example of what happens to a product that evolved to serve American appetites, but with negative effects for the environment.

As Americans in the 60s and 70s wanted a bigger refrigerator box, designers removed interior insulation to make room inside the appliance for weekly grocery trips and larger bottles of milk. The exterior of the fridge became so cool, it would start to “sweat.” So, designers ingeniously installed mini heaters outside of the refrigerator to evaporate the dew. All of this design and workaround put bigger energy demands on these appliances, so that a refrigerator in the mid 1970s used four times the consumption of a 1950s model. Meanwhile, Europe and Japan kept their standards high, their ice boxes small, and to this day total energy use is half that of American fridges.

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Thanks to scientists advocating for higher efficiency standards, over time the bar has been raised. Freon, a refrigerant famous for its ability to burn holes in the ozone layer, was slowly phased out over time. The good news is that refrigerators today are 70% more efficient than those built in the mid-70s, a good reason to consider retiring your olive green vintage model.

This year, over 12 MM US consumers are expected to buy a new refrigerator. So…

What are the best options for eco-friendly designs?

First, lets consider the 12 million fridges and freezers that will be put into retirement this year. The EPA has launched a voluntary Appliance Disposal program, to make sure CFCs are carefully accounted for, and to discourage the continued use of these energy-hogging older machines. So make sure your older fridge finds a responsible place to spend its golden years as you look for a newer model.

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Next, since 90% of environmental impacts occur during the use phase of a fridge, the most important indicator is energy use, and the easiest way to know you’re making a good choice in the US is to find an Energy Star rated machine. Energy Star is a program backed by the EPA, which aims for 15% higher efficiency standards than federal standards, and 40% more than models sold in 2001.

Also be sure to check the door and seals frequently- if the compressor is constantly running, it may be a sign that your door is leaking air and therefore wasting a ton of cooling energy.

Lastly, remember that refrigerators, like all most high-powered appliances, produce heat. When placing a refrigerator within a kitchen, your best bet is to locate it in a ventilated area that will help disperse some of the heat and keep your environment temperature-regulated, while minimizing excess heat getting trapped and requiring additional air conditioning, etc.

Check the facts. Sites such as the Energy Star consumer guide will tell you where to look for the most efficient fridges. You will find a range of eco-friendly refrigerators that come in sleek, high end models,
and mid-range, more standard designs.

Are you looking to upgrade your home refrigerator? We’d love to hear what models you’re considering. And stay tuned for next week’s installment of Green Your Appliances: Washers/Dryers….

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“Bosch is committed to preserving the environment through innovative approaches to the products we manufacture, as well as the partnerships we form with key leaders in sustainable construction and design. Sustainability, responsibility and continuous improvement are the tenets of our company and are shared by our partners across the United States.

Bosch practices low-impact manufacturing processes while designing the most efficient machines on the market. In fact, we introduced a global integrated management system for environmental issues that makes certain we maintain our high standards for environmental responsibility wherever our operations take us.

Bosch regards innovation as something more than exceptional product quality, functionality and design. Not only our technical developments, but also our commitment to society has an effect on the world of tomorrow.”

+ Bosch Green Thinking Resource Center

Jennifer Van Der Meer, o2-nyc chair, Inhabitat contributer, green design consultant

Jennifer is a leader in brand and product innovation, and is a founding principal at research design house Risqué Consulting. A former Wall Street analyst and economist, Jennifer transitioned into the design industry upon graduating with an MBA from HEC in Paris. She has held strategy and executive management positions at Organic, Inc., Frog Design, and Fahrenheit 212. A leader in the green design community in NY, Jennifer serves as chapter chair of o2-NYC, and lectures on the topic of sustainable innovation.

+ o2-NYC