Did you know that you can convert a common chest freezer into an exceptionally energy efficient chest refrigerator? The electricity savings are so great that I think the entire world should make it a top priority to legislate all new refrigerators must be top loading. Why has the world standardized on a system where the cold air falls to the ground every time the door is opened?
Something tells me that if all the world’s refrigerators were top loading it would save more power than all the photovoltaic solar panels ever manufactured. Since chest freezers are cheap, there’s no economic reason not to do this. A chest refrigerator only costs $5 a year in grid electricity to operate.
Yes, kitchens would have to be redesigned to accomodate top loading refrigerators, but the collective power savings probably amount to dozens of full size nuclear power plants.
The appliance industry has been pushing in counter drawer refrigerators at the high end for years now. What I suggest is that chest refrigerators be designed to look like kitchen base cabinets from the front, and that the top be surfaced in the same material used for the kitchen cabinet countertop. This would mean the refrigerator would be accessed by flipping up the countertop, which would be perfectly counterbalanced with a weight on a rope behind the refrigerator, so that the contents could be accessed with just one finger. I’m sure the appliance industry could figure out how to make a combined chest refrigerator/freezer, and each compartment could have its own section of hinged countertop. Note that even granite counter tops can still be used since the counterweight could be made of cement in a flat plate shape. It might be even more efficient to put three or four hinged lids on a horizontal refrigerator/freezer. While the world waits for the appliance makers to construct a horizontal refrigerator/freezer, we can just install separate refrigerators and freezers, side by side, just like we do today with laundry washers and dryers.
To make the contents easy to access, there could be lift out racks, perhaps even motorized for high end units. Yes, there will be challenges to get people used to this kind of food storage, but this technology has been here for decades and the savings are so great that I believe this is among the lowest hanging fruit for efficiency savings in home energy usage. I am nearly certain switching a home to horizontal refrigeration would save more than switching all the incadescent bulbs to flourescent.
Another big benefit is I believe food lasts longer if not subjected to constant temperature fluctuations that result from the vertical refrigerator door being opened throughout the day. Since a vast amount of food is thrown out due to spoilage, switching to horizontal refrigeration might well save food and reduce hunger worldwide.
Yes, I haven’t run the numbers to support these bold claims, but I have a hunch I’m entirely correct. Anyone care to run the numbers and post them in the comments?
I didn’t think up horizontal refrigeration, and I’m not sure who did, but here’s a thoughtful PDF describing the process, written by Dr. Tom Chalko, MSc, PhD.
Chalko maintains a fascinating website about his advanced energy self-sufficient home in Australia. Dr. Chalko inspired me to incorporate a horizontal solar powered 24 volt refrigerator in the RTS bus conversion I am building.
While it’s easy to convert a common chest freezer from Sears or Home Depot into a chest refrigerator, some people want to just buy a finished product. Thankfully, there are already commercially available low power chest refrigerators for sale, including these models by SunDanzer. The prices start at $699 and top out at $1,249 , which are high compared to chest freezers from big retailers, but not out of the question considering that some people spend thousands on wasteful vertical refrigerator/freezers today. Even at their current prices, a SunDanzer chest refrigerator is a bargain since you’ll save dozens of dollars per year in electricity costs. SunDanzer is a tiny niche appliance maker. If Kenmore or General Electric were to start making energy efficient chest refrigerators, I suspect their prices would be lower than their chest freezers today, as people need more refrigerator space than freezer space, so more chest refrigerators could be sold than chest freezers.
What’s really needed to make all the above work is that top loading refrigerators must be made sexy and hot, like drawer refrigerators and freezers are today. If you’ve seen the Ikea dishwasher that can be customized with any of the Ikea kitchen cabinet styles, you can envision how attractively top loading refrigerators and freezers could be installed into kitchens. A kitchen would not even appear to contain a refrigerator if installed with matching cabinet facing. If you see a cabinet clad Ikea dishwasher, you can’t tell it’s a dishwasher until you look very closely. Ikea gets a premium price for this dishwasher. I would hope that manufacturers would not overprice their horizontal refrigerators, to speed adoption, but even if they do, that might help get this plan moving, as it will help persuade people this is the next big kitchen innovation they really, really want. Big change happens when people really want it, not because it’s good for the planet.