10 June 2014

Keep your fridge on a power diet

(Leaving the planet as we found it)

Icy chillies on a stall in Santa Fe -
no refrigeration required.
It's difficult to imagine what life was like before the refrigerator (or 'fridge') was invented. Those who lived in countries where ice and snow were available in winter would find ways of storing it during the warmer months to keep things cool. In Australia the only option was to use deep cellars or a system like the 'coolgardie safe'. Later when a way of manufacturing ice was invented, ice was delivered to households by the iceman.

Household fridges became available in the US in the 1920's, but many households in Australia didn't have fridges until the 1950's. The earliest models were powered by kerosene.

Modern fridges are highly efficient, but they are still a major user of electricity because they have to be kept running day and night. Here are some ways to make your fridge as efficient as possible:

1. Keep it well stocked. A lot of power is used in cooling the air inside the fridge, especially after the door has been opened and closed. Some circulation of air is needed, and you should avoid blocking any vents, but otherwise it's better to have the fridge full rather than empty. If you don't have much perishable food to store, you can fill up the space with non-perishable items like jams and chutneys, nuts and dried fruit, bags of rice and flour etc. (This will also protect these items from moths, weevils and other pests). In the freezer, frozen containers of water can act as a space-filler. Some people thoughtfully fill their empty fridge space with beer.

2. Make it easy to find what you need. This will help to avoid having the door open for long periods while you search for that jar of mustard that you were sure was in there somewhere. Keep non-perishable foods near the top of the fridge, dairy and other perishables such as cooked meats in the middle, uncooked meat on the  bottom shelf and vegetables in the crisper drawer. Use baskets or trays which you can quickly pull out to get to stuff that's near the back of the fridge.

3. Cover anything which will dry out. This not only keeps the food in better condition, it also reduces the amount of power the fridge uses in getting rid of condensation.

4. Don't put hot food straight into the fridge. It's important not to leave warm food standing around breeding bacteria, but you can allow it to cool slightly before it goes in the fridge. Speed up the cooling process by standing it in a bowl of iced water.

5.Keep the door seals clean and replace them if they're worn. There are people who will do this for you or you can order the seals and do it yourself. If your fridge is one that has exposed coils on the back, keep these clean too.

6. If you're in the market for a new fridge, check out the energy rating and go for the best star rating you can afford. Use an on-line guide like this one to decide how big your fridge and freezer need to be.

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