Cold cash for old fridges

Check the energy guide label on appliances, such as this refrigerator/freezer, before buying. Although an energy-efficient appliance might cost more, it will save money over the long run.

Do you have an old refrigerator in the kitchen, or perhaps in the garage?

Several electric utilities are offering incentives to upgrade, or simply get rid of, those inefficient applicances. They aren’t huge rebates, but enough to prompt some thought about what those chillers cost to operate.

I just replaced my 17-year-old fridge, which was still working but not working well. Because it was still running, I was eligible to have SCE&G pick it up and give me a $50 check for recycling it.

That was a nice little bonus, considering the fridge needed replacing anyway, and I expect to save some money on electricity now that I have a more efficient, modern fridge in the kitchen.

Refrigerators are expensive, and they consume the most power of anything in the kitchen. It’s been pointed out that even efficient new refrigerators use more power in a year than the citizens of some nations consume for all purposes.

However, the energy consumption of a fridge doesn’t come close to that of an electric water heater or an air-conditioning system. Increasing the efficiency of something that accounts for about 5 percent of a home’s electric bill will only get you so much savings, but there are many variables.

From a strictly financial point of view (ignoring convenience, features and environmental benefits of a new fridge), energy savings can offset the cost of upgrading. over the life of the appliance, but the monthly electric bill reduction could be hard to notice.

A key question is, just how old is your old fridge? The further back you go, the more inefficient they are. Energy Star has an online tool that will let people calculate the savings, at energystar.gov (search for “Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator”).

That calculator suggests that replacing a fridge built in 1993 or later with a new model of the same size would save about $50 yearly in electricity. Replace a fridge built in 1990 through 1992, and the annual savings jump to $100. And if the old fridge was built in 1980 through 1989, the savings jump to $145.

Most fridge’s have a model information sticker on the back that shows the year of manufacture, plus a sticker inside that shows the model number. The Energy Star website lets people use model numbers to calcuate energy use.

Now, if someone has a working refrigerator built before Hurricane Hugo, perhaps sitting in their garage keeping beer cold, the math suggests getting rid of it, or upgrading. Just unplugging the thing should save nearly $200 a year in electric bills, upgrading to a new one would save $145 a year, and in either case customers of some utilities can get a $50 rebate for recycling the old one.

Both SCE&G and Duke offer the $50 rebates to residential customers who turn in a working fridge or freezer (they’ll come and pick it up). Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper does not offer such as rebate, but it has in the past.

A key point is that the appliance has to be working. If you have an old fridge and wait until it stops working, you can’t get one of those $50 rebates, and you’ll likely face the added cost of throwing away spoiled food.

It’s always a good idea to check the websites of your electric utility, and the S.C. Energy Office, if you plan to replace a major appliance or improve your home’s energy efficiency. There are often rebates and incentives for heating and cooling systems, water heaters, insulation, duct-sealing, programmable thermostats and more.

If you are in the market for a new fridge, as I was a few weeks ago, be prepared for a surprising range of choices and price-points.

A new Energy Star qualified fridge can cost less than $800, for a traditional freezer-on-top model, or cost several thousand dollars for a top-line, three-door model loaded with features. And a new fridge can be larger, or smaller, than the one you’re replacing (but most likely larger — so don’t forget to measure the space where it will go).