How to Improve Refrigerator Efficiency

By Carolyn Shearlock, copyright 2010 . All rights reserved.

Refrigeration is usually the biggest drain on a boat’s power supply.  Here are four almost-free ways to improve your galley refrigerator’s efficiency:

1.  Stop the Drain! Hot air rises, cold air falls.  You want to keep all that cold air IN the refrigerator box, right?  But many boat refrigerators were built with a drain in the bottom so that any condensation won’t build up but will just drip into the bilge.  Well, this is an open pipe for cold air to leave the refrigerator and warmer air from the bilge to enter the refrigerator.

Think of it this way:  would you leave the drain plug open on a cooler?  No one does.  So why would you have an open drain in the refrigerator?

The easiest way to solve the problem is to stick a wine cork in the drain hole.  You may have to use a knife and trim it down a bit, but you want a tight fit and enough of the cork protruding that you can remove it if you want to when defrosting the refrigerator.

No wine cork?  You can use a rubber stopper or a tight little roll of duct tape to stop the air.

2.  Let it Flow. A refrigerator condenser needs lots of nice fresh air to work efficiently.  Basically, a refrigerator works by taking heat inside the refrigerator and moving it outside the refrigerator.  The heat is conducted by the refrigerant and it dissipates into the air around the condensing coils.  The less fresh air around the compressor and coils, the harder the refrigerator has to work to get rid of the heat and the more energy it uses.

Boats are generally designed with the compressor and condenser “hidden” somewhere, often in the lazarette, the engine compartment or a locker.  There is usually a cut-out for air to reach the condenser, and usually the compressor itself has a fan to keep the air moving.

To keep the refrigerator working at peak efficiency, keep the air flow pathways unobstructed and clean, and clean the fan blades, too.   While you’re at it, dust off the tubes carrying the refrigerant — dust acts like a little blanket, keeping the refrigerant warm instead of allowing the heat to dissipate.

3.  Do the Most Work at the Coolest Time. The cooler the air around the compressor and condenser, the more efficiently it works.  So if you’re going to place a big load on the refrigerator, you want to do it when the air is the coolest.

In the tropics, paying attention to this can have a big impact on the power drain.  Nighttime temperatures may be 30 degrees cooler than the daytime.  By putting a fresh load of drinks in the refrigerator just before bed — instead of after breakfast — you can use 10% (or more) less power in chilling them down.

4.  Keep it Defrosted! As ice builds up, it actually tends to insulate the chill plate.  By keeping the refrigerator defrosted on a regular basis, you’ll make it much easier for that “coolness” to transfer to your food.

Defrosting doesn’t have to be a pain and take forever.  Read my tips for quick and easy defrosting.

Do you have other ways to improve the efficiency of your refrigerator?  Let others know in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. Love the site, thanks so much for tips!

    Another something for the fridge is: add insulation if possible. There might be space around the reefer to add some sort of foam or gel insulation, and it’s well worth the effort

  2. Nancy Greg Hershman on Facebook says:

    These are all good ideas…We on Festima Lente also hang an insulated pad off the side of the boat over the area of the refrigeration. Have an insulated pad on top of the refrigeration and have seem some cruisers that put clear plastic over the opening to keep from loosing so much cold air.

  3. Judie Ashford says:

    I rotate frozen containers of water from freezer to refrigerator. This helps to keep the air in the refrigerator cool during the hottest part of the day. This trick is good for keeping items not terribly vulnerable in a cooler with a rotation of frozen water bottles. I do this with produce, but would work with canned drinks or cold water, I would think.

  4. I also find that keeping a cooler for drinks is a must. That way the fridge is opened less during the day.

  5. Adding an extra layer of insulation, silver reflective stuff is awesome. Reflective barrier as well as a vapor barrier. R4 with single layer, R6 if you run strips, then apply full sheet.

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