Putting the heat on 2-fridge households

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Putting the Heat on 2-Fridge Households


Electricity: Utilities intensify bid to cut the numbers of spare iceboxes and freezers, which experts say use enough energy to power 200,000 homes.

By MARTHA L. WILLMAN, Times Staff Writer

Parked next to the two cars in Gordon Gould's Valencia garage is a side-by-side white Whirlpool refrigerator, stocked with all the TV dinners, Dreyer's ice cream and cold Pepsi he can't squeeze into the duplicate fridge in his kitchen.

To conservationists, Gould's extra refrigerator--and 1 million more like it in garages throughout the state--is a symbol of how our energy-guzzling lifestyle is straining the state's power supply. To Gould, it's something he can't bear to live without. "I need it for drinks and frozen foods," said Gould, 78, who has lived alone since his wife died last fall. "We've always had two refrigerators. I absolutely need it."

You wouldn't think of this dilemma as a key part of California's electricity crisis. Yet the state Public Utilities Commission is prepared to spend nearly $10 million this year to persuade people to turn in their garage iceboxes.

The California Energy Commission estimates that spare refrigerators and freezers throughout the state suck up enough juice to collectively power 200,000 homes. After air-conditioning units, refrigerators are considered the largest consumers of electricity in the typical household.

Many owners of spare refrigerators view them as a necessity. Whether that is true or not, people will tenaciously cling to the appliances because they offer "a little extra security" at a time in which many still do not believe that an energy crisis is real, said Dallas Willard, a USC philosophy professor.

"It represents the idea of something in reserve, and there is not very much that people have in reserve in this culture," Willard said. "We go for elaborate security systems such as SUVs with giant tires that look like they could run over small buildings, or huge ugly dogs that serve no purpose but to scare people. It's a sense of a fragility of the system put together with not being sure there is a problem there."

Then, too, homeowners can expect scant financial rewards, at least immediately, for giving up their garage refrigerators. In Southern California Edison's territory, owners are paid just $35, or offered $50 worth of compact fluorescent light bulbs, in exchange for working refrigerators. As the program expands to Northern California and San Diego County, the bounty will rise to $75.

Die-hard adherents of spare refrigerators, such as Gould, scoff at such offers. "It's important to me," he said, adding that he wouldn't consider even a $75 rebate. "There's not enough room in my other one." He's got plenty of company.

A few blocks away, Robin Ray keeps a similar grip on the 1980s-vintage Kenmore standing tall in his garage."I utilize that refrigerator way too much to get rid of it," said Ray, 38, who lives with his wife and their 5-year-old son. "We use it to store all the extra meat, fish and chicken we buy every time we run to Costco."

Mary Potts has both a gleaming black 23.5-cubic-foot, side-by-side refrigerator and a 20-cubic-foot upright freezer in her garage nearby. "I know it's a luxury--we try to watch our power usage--but you need it to keep drinks, soda pops and food for parties," said Potts, an insurance executive.

State officials believe that with energy costs rising, residents will be more willing to decommission their spare refrigerators. And they point out that a recycling program in Edison's territory has been a huge success, resulting in 254,000 refrigerators being turned in over the last seven years.

Still, with more than 9 million new refrigerators sold in the U.S. each year, according to Appliance Magazine, the secondhand fridge market flourishes in classified ads and thrift stores. No one knows exactly how many refrigerators are permanently disabled or sent out of the country, but energy experts say the number of total units is not dwindling, despite recycling efforts nationwide.

With a median life span of 19 years, refrigerators and freezers "often take on a second, third and fourth lifetime," said Wayne Morris of the Assn. of Home Appliance Manufacturers, an international trade organization.

Paul Janzen, who recently moved to Telluride, Colo., is advertising "an old junker refrigerator for $25" among the furnishings he is trying to shed at his Orange County apartment. He bought the full-size, used refrigerator for $45 from a Salvation Army thrift store 10 years ago. "It probably uses a whole lot of energy, but it still works wonderfully," Janzen said.

Indeed, experts say old refrigerators use up to four times the energy of the newest models. "Most people simply don't think about the refrigerator as a major energy user. It's not like a hair dryer that you have to turn on," said David Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group that has pushed for more efficient appliances.

Energy experts estimate that 10% to 14% of California households harbor an extra refrigerator or freezer. Appliance repair workers informally guess that the number in Southern California is higher, based on their firsthand experience in servicing refrigerators in affluent suburban neighborhoods.

"Most people have a spare refrigerator, as a convenience," said Terry McVicker, owner of Certified Service in Anaheim. But he said calls to fix spares in the last six months have dropped as more people have complained about energy costs. Others, however, are so attached to the convenience that they are willing to fix or replace their garage iceboxes."A lot of times, people get used to them," said Scott Kassner, general manager of Angel Appliances in North Hills. "So if one dies, they are just as likely to find a used one to put in its place."

Within the next few weeks, the three major private utilities in California will intensify a campaign to capture spare appliances with advertising, bill inserts, roving exhibits and other promotions. "This year we are trying our best to get as many of these refrigerators and freezers offline prior to the summer season," said Jeannette Duvall-Ward, refrigerator recycling program manager for Edison, which is also coordinating the effort by Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric.

To qualify for rebates, refrigerators must be 10 to 25 cubic feet and in working condition. Edison customers have a choice of a $35 rebate or a five-pack of compact fluorescent lightbulbs worth $50. Because the programs are new, consumers in the Bay Area and San Diego will receive $75 rebates. In exchange, customers can expect annual energy savings of $150 or more.

Among those taking advantage of the rebates is Ruth Beatty of Covina, who has turned in three appliances in the last year, collecting $35 rebates on each. He said the first was a refrigerator only 5 years old that required repeated repairs. The second, recycled from a neighbor's garage, "would talk to me, like a dog moaning" and caused his monthly electric bills to double. The latest was a 15-year-old freezer he turned in as a cost-cutting move. "When the electric bill becomes more than the rent, you start investigating," he said.

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), April 06, 2001


Quote: "It represents the idea of something in reserve, and there is not very much that people have in reserve in this culture..."

Exactly. Havng extra food in a second or even third freezer means one can survive disruption of normal services just a little longer...especially if one has a backup power source. Even if people don't have backup power, I suppose they could feed the neighbors when the food thaw gets too far along. (And of course a deep freeze left unopened will stay frozen for days. In that regard, the garage is a really lousy place to keep a freezer. Too hot and mkaes the unit run too hard.)

An official effort to make people "get rid" of extra units is contrary to personal preparedness.

To the extent that people with extra 'fridges or freezers have them filled with junk food and especially soda, I don't have much sympathy. But the family that buys bulk stuff at the "buyer's club" store has the right idea, more power to them so to speak.

The article does make a good point about poorer energy efficiency in older units. But can most people really afford to throw away an old but still-working unit to buy a new model? At some point I suppose the financial balance from higher energy costs works in favor of buying a new unit, but most people don't see things that way in this country.

Myself, I have *two* chest freezers in my basement filled with good healthy food, including lots of venison. I have the ability to keep those extra freezers running for many months if the power grid evaporates, but I'm just a survivalist nut on the mountaintop...ummm, I'll stop talking here.

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), April 06, 2001.

As I live an alternative lifestyle, I am
forced to look for alternative choices
in food storage. My battery system would
be woefully inadequate to handle a freezer.
For my long term food needs I rely on stored
grains, canned vegetables, honey, and salt.
From that base I can make a variety of meals
that are tasty and nutritious.

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), April 06, 2001.

Andre and Spider- Guess it is a difficulty for the majority of the people! We bought a low energy fridge- considerable expense, btw. It takes only a third of the energy of your average fridge, but has much less storage room for the same size, due to the thick frame. So, most of the supplies are in canned and dry form. However, the expense was part of a larger plan- Swissrose.

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), April 06, 2001.

Multiple refrigeration units are often wasteful, especially freezers. These are often purchased primarily to save money on bulk meat purchases. However, each device must be judged on its own merits. For example, I bought a second small ordinary top-opening but surprisingly energy efficient freezer turned refrigerator via external thermostat, which can run off a battery/inverter system, for Y2K preparation. Its efficiency is 0.14 Watt/Fahrenheit (delta temperature), plus 6 watts overhead. As Y2K was initally mild, it has been used as a "semi-perishable" refrigerator, set at 45F, for those "refrigerate after opening" foods that keep at less cold temperatures, than very perishable foods such as milk. Since the delta temperature is thus 75F - 45F = 30F (75F is typ. coastal summer temperature), it consumes less than half the peak load power than the same unit used as a freezer, which must maintain a 75F - 5F = 70F delta temperature.

If an only refrigerator is so full and cluttered that food ends up spoiling, then a second refrigerator of this type (but not a freezer) may be energy cost effective, esp. if set at a higher temperature and used to store less perishable items. After all, it costs much energy, water, and other scarce resources to produce food, and wasting food is wasting energy.

Second freezers are quite another matter, as frozen food spoils very slowly, if stored properly. So it can be full and cluttered without wasting food. Granted, some freezers in refrigerator combo. units, esp. older ones, are too small, in which case a new energy efficient refrigerator-freezer combo., with larger freezer, is the best solution. Due to the high cost, this is the situation where the incentive payments should be allocated: Turn in an old refrigerator- freezer combo, with a too small freezer, plus that second freezer; buy a new energy efficient refrigerator combo. unit with reasonably sized freezer, and get a large incentive rebate.

-- Robert Riggs (rxr.999@worldnet.att.net), April 06, 2001.

spider wrote: "For my long term food needs I rely on stored grains, canned vegetables, honey, and salt. From that base I can make a variety of meals that are tasty and nutritious."

Agreed--same here, probably same for most of us reading/contributing to GICC. Let's be clear, this little discussion was started because of a mass media report specifically about second refrigerator or freezer units held by the general public. I hope no one reading this thread comes away with the immpression that that's the first best choice for long term preparedness. I too rely primarily on bulk packed items, canned goods(home and commercial), and so on. Extra freezers do have a role, but their utility drops as the time frame of what one is preparing for is extended out.

None of which is what the article mentions: let's face it, very very few people in California, even the family with the extra unit full of stuff from Costco, are really prepared the way I would imagine most readers of GICC are.

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), April 09, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ