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DayCreek Journal

July 5, 2003

A Chilling Subject

For the last five years a small, simulated wood panel refrigerator has done an adequate job keeping food cold, but its quite energy inefficient and it can only store a few items in its freezer. The refrigerator is barely adequate for one person and when Jo comes to visit, it gets quite packed to say the least.

Jo and I have discussed the idea of a new fridge for a while now, but my interest was again peaked with the latest issue of Home Power magazine. There was an article written by a solar user in Hawaii who increased the efficiency of his refrigerator by encasing the fridge in sheets of 2" foam panels. It increased the efficiency by 20%. The article also mentioned that newer refrigerators were quite a bit more energy efficient than models that were on the market just a few years ago.

I decided to do my own research to see what was available. The Minnesota Power website has a very good section on Energy Star rated products. I downloaded a list of refrigerators and converted it into an Excel spreadsheet. Once in the Excel spreadsheet format, I sorted the list from the lowest kWh/year to the highest. The goal was to find the most energy efficient refrigerator in the range of 18 to 20 cubic feet. At the top of the list were the Sunfrost models. Sunfrost has the most energy efficient refrigerators and with this honor, the highest price tag. For someone who is not connected the the grid and produces their own electricity, this might be more economical than buying extra solar panels but for those who get their power conventionally, it might be a better choice to purchase a less expensive, energy efficient model. A 19 cu.ft. Sunfrost goes for around $2,500 and uses 281 kWh/year (1/2 fridge, 1/2 freezer).

While at the MREA Fair, I looked at a number of refrigerators including some that are powered by LP gas. I was amazed to find that LP gas refrigerators are not very efficient at all when compared to electric models. To top it off, most of the LP gas refrigerators are quite small while still using quite a few gallons of LP gas per year. For example, a Crystal Cold 18 cu. ft. model uses at a minimum 1.7 gallons per week. This equates to 88.4 gallons per year.

In our neck of the woods, LP gas is currently going for a little over $1.00 per gallon, (Last summer it was .86 per gallon.) while Tri-County electric charges .07/kWh. It would cost about $90 per year to operate the Crystal Cold LP Gas refrigerator. For comparison, an electric refrigerator would have to use 1,285 kWh/year to equal the annual cost of operating an LP gas refrigerator. I don't know of any comparable electric refrigerator that uses that many kilowatt hours per year! Even at last year's LP gas rates, that still equates to over 1,000 kWh/year.

Now to be fair, the prices of both LP gas and electricity vary greatly, but the bottom line still remains that LP gas refrigerators aren't nearly as efficient as electric models. If there is any advantage to LP gas refrigerators, it would have to be that there are no moving parts other than the doors (as Steve Krug likes to say). No matter if you choose LP or electric, for those who are off the grid, there is a high price to pay for refrigeration.

Usually there's an arrow above the black bar indicating a comparison with other models in its class, but the Kenmore refrigerator is so efficient, the arrow is off the left side of the scale .

Back to the spreadsheet...
Ignoring the efficiency of the Sunfrost models, the next best on the list for the 18 to 20 cu.ft. range is none other than a Sears Kenmore model. The Kenmore model 73982 is manufactured by Whirlpool and uses 392 kWh/year. Interestingly, Whirlpool themselves do not have a unit that is as efficient as the Kenmore.

The price for the Kenmore unit lists at $850, but quite often it is on sale for $750. At $750, it's a lot less expensive than the Sunfrost models and uses about 100 kWh/year more than the Sunfrost. For those of us who are on the grid, it seems to me to be a good compromise between the cheap energy inefficient models and the costly, Sunfrost unit.

So with that in mind, I waited for the refrigerator to go back on sale and bought one. It was delivered this week and delivery was free to boot! Hopefully, it will last us a long, long time.

Click here if you would like to see the spreadsheet.

Other News
As usual, I spent the week doing cordwood work and I'm happy to report that wall #37 was completed before making the trip back home for the 4th of July weekend. As mentioned in the last journal, I've gone back to the raised, beveled look and I think it looks a lot nicer than a flush wall. Although it's a bit of extra work, I'm planning on doing the rest of the interior walls in the same manner.

I'm getting concerned though regarding the amount of humidity in the house. With four freshly mortared walls, the indoor humidity is quite high. Of course,the sultry weather with dewpoints in the mid 70's has not been helpful either. (This week's weather was more like New Orleans than Minnesota.)

I tried a dehumidifier, which did take some of the humidity out of the air, but in return raised the indoor temperature by a good six to eight degrees. The whole-house fan does a fantastic job of ventilating the house, but with such high humidity, it's not doing much to dry things out. If the weather stays humid, I may be forced to purchase an air conditioner to help keep things cool while removing the humidity. (Ugh!) I'll have to monitor the weather reports and make a decision soon—I don't want mold growing on the walls.! But then again, maybe I could start raising mushrooms in the house.

An Indigo Bunting trying not to be seen.