Millions of refrigerators are put into retirement every year. They make have broken down, or the owners may have just wanted a different size, look, or style. An executive from Brody, Weiser, and Burns found that 16% of discarded refrigerators are still in working condition.
Most refrigerators can be refurbished or reconditioned to be in like-new condition. This may involve replacing drawers and shelves, mechanical parts, and putting on new coatings. This requires some work, but it is invariable more ecologically sustainable than manufacturing refrigerators from scratch. Buying a refurbished refrigerator is a good “green” choice for a few reasons.
Refurbished refrigerators have lower “embodied” energy. These days we always pay attention to the efficiencies of our technologies, but often forget the energy consumed in manufacturing the product or appliance itself. Refrigerators use most of their energy in the act of cooling, but the energy used in producing them is not negligible, nor is the usage of natural resources.
The efficiency of refrigerators has been steadily increasing over the past couple decades. However, this doesn’t mean we have always moved in a forward direction in all aspects of design. The refrigerators of the 50s and earlier were often heavily insulated, even taking on a “puffed” appearance.
Jennifer Van Der Meer, a leader in the green design industry, notes that throughout the 60s and 70s insulation was sacrificed for a more spacious refrigerator box. However, this caused the outside of the refrigerator to become cold and start to “sweat”. Designers remediated this by installing heaters within the refrigerator walls, further worsening their efficiency.
While refrigerators from the 70s have similar shapes as modern ones, refurbished refrigerators from the 30s, 40s, and 50s are becoming popular for their unique style and appearance. Several companies refurbish vintage and antique refrigerators to a clean, functional, and durable state. Some companies even imitate the appearance of the antique design in newly manufactured models.
Modern Technology, Classic Design
Refurbished refrigerators sometimes contain the best of both worlds. The refrigerator cabinet may be thick and insulated, while the compressors are replaced with newer, energy efficient compressors and the system recharged with more environmentally friendly refrigerants. One company, Big Chill, designs new refrigerators with “retro” cabinets, made using traditional processes. These are combined with mechanical equipment efficient enough to earn them Energy Star ratings, each at 443 kWh per year.
While it’s possible to pay a hefty sum for a restored vintage refrigerator, many good deals can be found through trading sites like Craigslist and Ebay. For those who could care less for the antique status or state of the art efficiency, a reliable unit can sometimes be found for less than half the original price. By keeping the refurbished refrigerator in top condition, one may even rival the efficiency of a new Energy Star refrigerator that nevertheless recieves negligible maintenance.