Building the Ultimate Green Kitchen

Keep your fridge full. It takes more energy to cool an empty space.

Refrigerators account for about 15 percent of your energy bill. When looking for a green one, first consider size. A bigger refrigerator generally uses more electricity than a compact one. If you just want a place to stash the occasional box of leftovers, look for a small—think dorm-size—fridge. But if you require more space, try to find a single model rather than relying on two: the new one and the old one in the garage. The best option is a model that has the freezer on top, rather than a side-by-side, because the former’s smaller freezer requires less energy. On that same tip, refrigerators have accumulated many bells and whistles over time (icemaker, water dispenser, etc.)—the more features it has, the more energy it requires, so try to go spare. Also:

» Place your fridge away from heat sources like the oven, direct sunlight, or a dishwasher. If a refrigerator is warmed by external sources, it needs more energy to keep the interior cool.

» Don’t let the cold air out. It’s obvious: If you stand around with the refrigerator door open, warm air gets in.

» Keep your fridge full. It takes more energy to cool an empty space. (A good tip is to store jugs of water in your refrigerator to take up the slack.)

One reason you might want to consider buying a new model: Refrigerators made prior to the late 1990s used really bad ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) for the coolant and insulation systems. Newer fridges use hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a less harmful type of greenhouse gas. Better yet, go with an energy-efficient model that uses even fewer HFCs in the cooling system. Below are some good bets.

Refrigerator with Top Freezer

Sun Frost RF12, prices start at $2,079

The most energy-efficient model in its class, this Sun Frost exceeds the minimum federal energy standard by 51 percent for top-freezer models. (The closest competitor uses 31 percent less energy.) It’s wisely bare bones: no ice machine or automatic defrost setting. Each unit is built to order and can be customized in a variety of colors, wood finishes, or stainless steel. Available in 12- or 24-volt DC, it can also be used in off-grid homes that have renewable energy systems, like solar panels or hydropower. Approximate energy cost per year: $20.

Refrigerator with Top Freezer

Whirlpool ET1FTEXS, prices start at $859

This is a straightforward refrigerator, the kind you’d find in most rental homes: freezer on top, two crisper drawers on the bottom, and storage space along the door. It’s affordable and energy efficient, with space enough for the average family. Approximate energy cost per year: $40.

Refrigerator with Bottom Freezer

Samsung RF266AAWP, prices start at $1,600

Rated best in its class by Consumer Reports’ GreenerChoices.org site, this model is for those who need more storage space. The fridge-within-a-fridge system allows you to program different internal temperatures for the built-in drawers. Approximate energy cost per year: $53.

Side-by-Side Refrigerator

Amana ASD2627KEW, prices start at $1,349

If you must have a side-by-side model, opt for this one from Amana. It uses the least amount of energy in its class, and was given high marks by Consumer Reports. In terms of features, it pretty much has everything you’ll need, including a tilt-out door that accommodates tall bottles and humidity-controlled crisper drawers. Approximate energy cost per year: $62.