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Cold comfort: American-style fridge freezers proving energy guzzlers

They may look the part, but when it comes to energy bills, American-style fridge freezers are proving a not particularly positive addition to UK kitchens.

In, fact, they can cost three times as much to run as conventional models, according to new data from ToptenUK.org.

Energy Saving Trust runs the best-in-class product listings site, and product manager Stewart Muir laid out the numbers starkly.

He said: “The lifetime running cost of an A+ rated American-style fridge freezer can be as much as £350 more than a smaller A+++ rated free standing unit – almost enough to buy a second fridge freezer.”

woman looking in large american style fridge

The problem, compressed

So, why is this the case? Well, quite simply, traditional models are split into compartments above and below, while the US-style sit beside each other. And when it comes to keeping food cold and bills low, up and down is a better bet than side by side.

The key reason for this is that in an American-style unit, the compressor – which gets hot – sits close to a large vertical  freezer compartment. It doesn’t take a physics expert to see the problem here. In short, the compressor needs to work extra hard to keep things suitably chilly, and so uses more energy to do so.

Size matters – but not that much

It’s commonly thought that running cost differences are all a matter of size. Yet while fridge freezer sizes have indeed been on the rise in the UK in the last 20 years, the most efficient bottom freezer design with similar volume to its US counterpart from the models sampled by Topten was still found to consume only 47% of the energy.

With over 19 million fridge freezers in the UK, and side-by-side designs on the rise,  cooling should be a hot topic. If you care about keeping your energy expenditure under control, it’s worth thinking about the size and design of what you’re investing in.

Make an informed choice

ToptenUK is also working to bust other appliance myths – for example, around the current energy labelling system. A significant push to higher energy efficiency standards, plus technology improvements across the board, means that refrigeration in particular is potentially a tricky area to make an informed purchase.

Muir explained: “Some consumers may think A+ means they are buying one of the most energy efficient products – however this is currently the lowest rating that a fridge-freezer can be sold at.  However, this will be addressed by the decision to revert back to the A-G scale and ensure that the scale reflects the market by leaving the top classes empty initially. The current system will be in place for a couple more years though.”

Whether you’re considering your next fridge, vacuum cleaner or TV, the ToptenUK.org site is well worth a visit. You’ll find all the facts and stats you need to make a decision that brings long-term benefits. 

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.