Outside Fridges: Things to Know

May 16, 2014

An interesting question was posed to me a few days ago by a good friend: Would I save energy by placing my refrigerator outside?. My quick answer was “yes”, but I followed it with a few helpful opinions. 

Refrigeration systems are typically one of the larger consumers of energy in any home. Most refrigerators are poorly maintained, and secondary refrigeration systems used for overstock are often underutilized. Refrigerators are more efficient when well stocked (but not overly packed), when ice buildup is limited, and when compressors are kept clean and free of dust. In fact, dust alone can reduce the efficiency of a refrigerator by 30 percent.

The system is designed to maintain an ideal cooling temperature, set by the consumer, at 40 degrees or less. This is done using a thermostat in the refrigerator similar to the one used in your home. When the thermostat senses an increase in temperature, it tells the compressor to compress the refrigerant gases, which, in turn, cools down the contents. The system is affected by ambient temperatures and, when placed outside or in a garage at temperatures around 50 to 55 degrees, the compressor will not run long enough to keep the internal temperature adequate to keep foods safe for consumption. This is due to the narrow difference between internal and external temperatures, causing the thermostat not to respond as designed.  

For those who keep refrigerators in the garage, remember these rules:

  1. Contents must be able to withstand extreme temperature swings.
  2. Compressors should be kept clean and allowed adequate air flow.
  3. Seals should be kept clean, and, if sweating occurs, replaced.
  4. Contents may absorb volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from other items stored nearby.

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