The Refrigerator Incident
The Start ….
Recently our refrigerator died!
Five years ago we purchased a new fridge. Our goal was to buy the most energy-efficient one that we could afford. We looked at a variety of web-sites to help us in making the decision but Sokitt was the only site we could find at the time, that compared actual brands and styles of refrigerator. A recent, quick look for updates didn’t return anything better.
The best refrigerator we could get at the time was rated at three and a half stars. Other sites told us ratings could go as high as six or ten stars but we couldn’t find a fridge that went this high. We found many sites were quite generic and didn’t provide brand comparisons. Maybe if we lived in a city we could have gone and look at various brands in the shops but we didn’t make the trip.
And now to the incident itself. A few months ago I woke up wondering why the fridge was running. I went and checked it. It was the fridge’s motor that I could hear. I opened the door to feel the temperature and it seemed warm so I put my trusty old fridge thermometer in. Half an hour later I went back and no, the fridge was not running at the expected 4° Celsius; it was closer to 12°.
And Then ….
Clearly something was wrong so I turned it off. Time to find out which business in the nearby regional centre was the service agent for this brand. I was keen to use a brand specific agent because I assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that a five-year old fridge would still be in warranty. Not so. Two years was the extent of the warranty so our fridge was well out of time! Anyway, I used the brand specific repairer and a technician duly came to the house. It took no more than five minutes to establish that there was a leak in the gas circulating system and it would have to be taken away for repair. The quote for repair came back at 25% of the original value of the appliance. We decided to have it repaired, rather than replace it, for a whole variety of reasons some of which are described in The Range-hood Incident.
And Then ….
Having established that the fridge needed to go to the fridge hospital and then we would have to wait for parts to arrive for its repair, it became clear that this was not going to be a quick process. The obvious issue was how we were going to manage without refrigeration. As it turns out, we had a 41 litre camp fridge that we could use. I wondered if 41 litres would be enough.
And Then ….
I had already taken everything out of the fridge so it could go for repair. Once I had the camp fridge working, I went through all the things that had come out of the main refrigerator. There were one or two things that had passed their use by date so out they went. Then one by one, I looked at all the jars and bottles that had come out of the fridge to see if they really needed refrigeration and many didn’t! We had been using the fridge like a cupboard and an expensive one at that if you consider the energy needed to maintain a temperature of below 4°.
The next consideration was whether or not the vegetables that we stored in the fridge really needed to be kept there. The root vegetables didn’t so off they went into a dark cupboard. Many other vegetables seemed to quite easily survive a week in the fruit bowl so that’s where they now live. With the warmer and more humid weather, that we have recently experienced, keeping vegetables out of the direct sunlight and well ventilated is very important or they do deteriorate more quickly than in the earlier, cooler months. As we are vegetarians, the issue of keeping meat didn’t arise. In the end, 41 litres for two people turned out to be fine. We even managed to entertain a couple of times and keep everything chilled (including the wine and beer!
And Then ….
During this incident there was a question of whether or not the fridge could actually be repaired so I took the opportunity to look at what is currently on the market in terms of energy-efficient appliances. I had heard a bit of a radio program that suggested that there was a new type of fridge available that didn’t need to be powered all the time. This sounded really interesting in terms of not having to run it overnight when the sun isn’t generating solar power or in case intermittency of power supply becomes a reality. I did a bit of research and found that some students at the University of Calgary have done a wonderful job developing a fridge for people without electricity in Africa but it wasn’t the same as the program I heard. A bit more research and I came upon Sure Chill which sounds as though it might be something to watch out for in the future. At present the company seems to make its fridges for transporting vaccines to remote places as the temperatures can be set to remain constant for 10 days without electricity.
To Conclude ….
It looks like dramatically new fridges, that don’t need to be powered 24/7, may soon be with us so if you are looking to buy a new refrigerator, do your homework on the very low energy options. You might also think about what is stored in the fridge versus what really needs refrigeration. I suspect we over-refrigerate and then sometimes have a second fridge as a back up. With a bit of judicious culling of the contents of our fridges, one smaller fridge may be all most people really need. The last thing I have learnt from this incident is that energy efficiency should be about the energy needed to manufacture something, and how long the appliance will last, as well as how much electricity it uses in day-to-day operations.