Buying Guide

There are a few design options to consider when buying an energy efficient refrigerator and freezer. While there are many Energy Star rated appliances on the market, this label by no means guarantees exceptional efficiency. In other words, your purchase should be Energy Star rated, but that is not the only criteria to look at.

What To Look For

An Energy Star refrigerator may have an efficiency anywhere from 10% to over 50% better than the energyguidelabel-220x300 Buying Guideaverage model for that particular design. However, whether it saves 10% or 50% they both receive the same Energy Star label.

What consumers should really pay attention to is the Energy Guide Label, a bright yellow label required on all appliances that shows the average annual electrical consumption based on government tests. The label will also show where it ranks on the spectrum of efficiency for similar refrigerator models.

However, the spectrum on the Energy Guide label can also be misleading because it only references the same narrow category of refrigerators as Energy Star. The one metric that really matters is the annual energy rating.

To find an appliance with a low energy rating, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of how different designs can affect the overall efficiency. Since Energy Star and the Energy Guide Label always compare efficiencies between similar types of models, they do not help consumers choose the most energy efficient types of refrigerators and freezers.

Side-by-Side versus Top-Bottom

There are basically three categories of combined refrigerators and freezers: side-freezer, top-freezer, and bottom-freezer. Tests show that top-freezer models are 10 to 25 percent more efficient that side-by-side models. Bottom-freezer models are in between the two.

Chest Freezers

Chest freezers are usually more efficient than upright freezers. Besides being better insulated, the chest freezer is positioned correctly to hold cold air. When you open a freezer, you have probably seen the cold air spill out because it is heavier than the room’s air. Since a chest freezer opens from above, it prevents the cold air from “spilling”.

Manual Defrost

Automatic defrost freezers can consume 40 to 50 percent more electricity than manual defrost freezers. Automatic defrosters alternate between heating cycles and cooling cycles. Because the compartment must be kept at freezing temperature during these alternations, the compressor must work extra hard. In other words, the heating and cooling cycles inevitably fight against each other. The buyer must ultimately choose between convenience and saving energy and operational costs.

Automatic Ice Makers

Automatic ice makers introduce another necessary choice between convenience and efficiency. Through-the-door ice dispensers decrease refrigerator efficiency by 15 to 20 percent and increase the up-front cost of the unit by $75 to $250.


This Samsung Energy Star Refrigerator with Bottom Freezer rates 21% above Federal Standards for efficiency. With a stainless steel exterior, 18.72 cubic feet of storage, and sticker price of $900, it is running a 5 star rating on Amazon.