MARQUETTE - When Zach Bartel and Monica Lambert tested the energy used by a standard refrigerator, they discovered it was consuming 520 watts per hour. When the two Northern Michigan University students blocked off the air flow to the refrigerator's condenser, they recorded 615 watts per hour.
"If you're cleaning the condenser, you can definitely save yourself energy," said NMU instructor Nick Griewahn at a hands-on energy efficiency seminar held at the university's Jacobetti Center Wednesday. "You have to make sure the exit point of your refrigerator is clean."
Griewahn explained to about 10 NMU students and community members that a refrigerator consumes a large amount of energy year round. Since the appliance is a heat transfer device, it absorbs the heat from the inside of the fridge and gives it off to the outside via the condenser.
Northern Michigan University instructor Nick Griewahn, left, shows Zach Bartel and Monica Lambert, Northern Michigan University students, how to test internal components of a refrigerator for energy efficiency. (Journal photo by Miriam Moeller)
If that device is blocked - due to dust or an enclosed wall, say - the appliance will use more energy than it needs to, and it will consequently cost the consumer more money, Griewahn said.
He advised to take a brush, broom or vacuum to clean off the condenser, which can be found in most refrigerators either on the back or underneath.
"What are some of the things we can do to maintain or improve energy efficiency?" Griewahn asked his audience.
"We're remodeling our house, and I'm interested in anything that makes it a greener home. It's extremely important.
I think our future depends on turning around our energy."
- Eeva Miller, Marquette
One of the answers was for people to dial down their furnace thermostat at night and when no one is home for a long period of time. The key to saving energy, Griewahn said, is to have a long "off" cycle or "on" cycle, because a furnace uses less energy if it stays in a consistent mode.
"It's a very efficient way to enhance efficiency," he said, adding that dialing down a single degree can save 1 percent on fuel costs.
Griewahn offered some other heating and cooling tips: changing filters and avoiding furnace blockage is crucial to get the most out of a heating system and hosing off the air conditioner with a garden hose will help clean out the coil from top to bottom.
"The tiniest amount of dust can cause inefficiency," Griewahn said, adding that window air conditioners aren't very energy efficient to begin with.
Griewahn also cautioned that some appliances with high energy efficiency ratings are not necessarily saving consumers money. For instance, a washing machine labeled at moderate energy efficiency may actually last longer and may require less repairs than one labeled as a high energy efficiency machine.
Eeva Miller of Marquette came to the workshop to learn more about the little things she can do to improve her home's energy efficiency.
"We're remodeling our house, and I'm interested in anything that makes it a greener home," she said. "It's extremely important. I think our future depends on turning around our energy."