Fridges and freezers vary hugely in price. The average price paid for a fridge-freezer is £341, but you can easily pay well over £1,000.
It is hard to make price comparisons between fridge or freezers because there are so many different models with different capacities and features. However, to get some very loose guidance on what kind of money you can expect to pay for extra energy efficiency, we looked for a couple of the cheapest A+++ rated fridges on the Currys website, and the cheapest A+ rated ones of a roughly similar size.
||kWh per year
||Cost to run per year*
||Total lifetime cost**
*Assuming UK average electricity cost of 14p/kWh 
**Including purchase price, assuming 13-year lifespan
In this tiny sample the super energy efficient ones and the less energy efficient ones will cost about the same – give or take a bit – over their full lifetime, including the purchase price.
The story is very different if you are replacing older, much more inefficient fridges and freezers. In that case, replacing can easily save you hundreds of pounds.
Energy efficient fridges and freezers do not always cost more. The reason that A+++ ones currently tend to be more expensive is largely that they aren’t yet being produced in sufficient quantities. So buying them is also helping to make them cheaper for other people.
Using your fridge and freezer to avoid food waste
Food waste is a big deal. About a quarter of all food sold in the UK is thrown away, with households being responsible for 70% of that.
And this really matters, since food has such massive impacts on land, pollution and animals. In total, food accounts for about 20% of an average Brit’s carbon footprint.
Using your freezer better
A lot of supermarkets say on their packaging “freeze on day of purchase and use within one month”, and many people now believe that it is dangerous to do otherwise.
This is nonsense – it is safe to freeze food right up to the use-by date, and to keep it there indefinitely. The guidance was aimed at ensuring quality, not safety but, in most cases, you won’t even get a loss of quality for significantly more than a month.
In general vegetables can be kept frozen without any loss of quality for 8-12 months.
Cooked meat is likely to start to lose its flavour and texture after 3-6 months.
Bread will lose its mojo after about 3 months
Which foods to keep in the fridge
The anti-waste organisation Wrap, wants to encourage people to keep more foods in the fridge. Most people don’t keep fruit in the fridge, for example, but in a fruit bowl where they can get a prime view of the rotting process. Yet the vast majority of foods, including fruits, do last substantially longer in the fridge. Oranges and pears will last for up to two weeks longer.
In the case of most fruit and vegetables, they last even longer if they are also kept in a polyethylene bag to prevent the fridge air drying them out: peppers and carrots, for example, last about a week more in the fridge, but two if they’re in a polyethylene bag.
Food to not keep in the fridge (although you are sometimes advised to on the packaging):
Potatoes and onions – it will wreck them.
Bread – it goes stale up to six times more quickly in the fridge. Although, to be fair, it does go mouldy more slowly.
Honey – it will crystallise in the fridge. Also, there is no need as it doesn't go off.
Pickled veg – pickling is a preservative. You don't need to put pickled veg in the fridge as long as you are careful not to contaminate it.
Unripe bananas – cooling them disrupts the ripening process, and even if you remove them later, it may not resume.
Tomatoes – this one is a trade-off. It does make them last longer, but it also seriously damages the taste and texture.
There is also potentially a case for keeping fridges at a colder temperature. A survey showed that the average temperature of UK fridges was about 7°C. Wrap argues that reducing them to 4°C could add an average of about 3 additional days of storage life to perishable foods like vegetables and meat, potentially reducing the amount thrown away.
However, as keeping fridges colder uses more energy, there is a complex trade-off involved. Wrap crunched the numbers on an A+ rated fridge and estimated that if lowering the temperature was combined with putting more food in the fridge it may be worth it in climate terms, but otherwise it probably wasn’t.
The trade-off between fridge and food waste
Fridges and freezers are responsible for about 1% of an average Brit’s carbon footprint (they are responsible for about 13% of our electricity use, but most of our carbon footprint is not from electricity, but from transport, heating, food and products).
Meanwhile, as described above, food is responsible for about 20% of that footprint. You can easily see how increased food waste could start to swamp any carbon savings you’d make from not running a fridge.
Greenhouse gases are clearly not all we need to worry about, but there are a lot of other fronts on which food has impacts too.
Whether it is overall a good idea environmentally to run a fridge and freezer, or how big they should be, are thus not simple questions. It depends, fundamentally, on how much food you are likely to waste in each scenario. However, if you think that you can pull it off, you can use homemade evaporative coolers and/or larders to reduce your need for an electric fridge, or at least to allow you to run a smaller one.
When to replace your fridge or freezer
The average freezer has a life of about 17 years and a fridge about 13 years, although some last much longer. They tend to be replaced when they die – few people are interested in getting a new fridge for the sheer toe-tingling excitement of it.
However, in this instance, there is actually an environmental, and financial, case for replacing early.
Because fridges and freezers are on all the time, the vast bulk of their life-cycle energy – in the region of 90% – is expended in use. And, as described above, they have been getting hugely more energy efficient. Obviously, energy is not all that matters – there are materials too. However, most materials in fridges are recycled.
It is also worth being aware that many old fridges and freezers can develop faults and start consuming substantially more energy than they should. You can find out how much your old fridge or freezer is actually using with a plug-in energy-usage meter.
But get one that will last
The fact that there is a case for replacement now doesn’t mean that you should buy a trashy fridge that will conk out in a few years because you’ll want to replace it quickly anyway. Energy efficiency is not expected to keep improving at the same rate. As one review said: “Today’s cold appliances are technologically mature and further dramatic improvements are not expected in the short to medium term.”
Basically, it seems that flighty fridge relationships were great in the past, but now is looking like a good time to choose your long-term fridge partner.
The London Fire Brigade has suggested that fridges with non-flame-retardant plastic backs may be a fire risk. As a result, Which? is no longer recommending any fridge that has one. They examined a sample of those that are currently on sale in the UK, and found that 46% of them did not have a fully flame-proof back.
It is worth bearing in mind that the likelihood of a fridge fire is very low, and nobody has called for any fridges to be recalled. Which? suggests not being alarmed if you have one of these fridges already, but if you are buying a new one, make it a fireproof one.