New smart fridges can save you money

You already have a smart phone – maybe even a smart thermostat. What's next? Believe it or not, refrigerators are next in the line of devices with advanced features and technology to improve our domestic lives. A new smart fridge, manufactured by GE, is scheduled to come on the market this spring.

Welcome to the Future

For the average household, the refrigerator is the third-largest energy drain after the HVAC system and the hot water heater. That means there's a lot of room to improve on efficiency.

Your garden-variety refrigerator really only has one setting to manipulate: the temperature. And the EPA recommends setting it between 35 and 38 degrees, so there's not a lot of leeway in that regard before you risk spoiling your food. The real value in a smart fridge  is in its communication with you, reminding you to adjust your behavior and not waste any unnecessary energy.

For example, if you leave the door open, a smart fridge can alert you to close it rather than wasting all that cold air. If it's time to clean the coils, it gives you a heads up, so it can continue to operate at peak efficiency. If the power usage suddenly spikes for no apparent reason, the fridge lets you know so you can have it serviced to correct the problem.

The EPA is encouraging manufacturers to include such smart features in their products. “These features would offer consumers more ways to reduce the energy consumption of their refrigerators and freezers, help lower their utility bills, and better protect the environment and the climate,” the agency says. “Refrigerators and freezers with connected functionality will also be “smart grid”-ready, meaning that with consumer permission, they will be able to respond to utility signals, including curtailing operations during more expensive peak demand times.”

Savings Beyond Belief

If your refrigerator is more than a decade old, it's costing you more money than it should in electricity usage. If it's more than two decades old, it's really draining your finances. That good news is that the new models are so efficient they could pay for themselves in utility savings within a few years. New federal standards kicked in for refrigerators last fall, which means that the latest models are performing at an all-time peak.

When you go fridge shopping, make sure you purchase a model that bears the Energy Star logo, which means it performs at least 10 percent above and beyond the minimum federal efficiency requirements. “We can all do our part in meeting the challenge of climate change,” said Janet McCabe, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, in a press release. “By choosing Energy Star appliances, families can save energy, save money, and reduce carbon pollution.”

If every fridge and freezer in the country were updated to meet just the minimum requirements, homeowners would save a cumulative $890 million annually on their energy bills. Even if your share is just a small fraction of that, every bit counts.

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