How stuff works: your fridge

Can you imagine a kitchen without a fridge? In days gone by, people had to store their food in ice or salt to stop bacteria from growing on it.

The invention of the refrigerator finally allowed people to store their food in a convenient and safe way. While many of us have a fridge, most of us may not know how it works. We take a look at the mechanics behind the refrigerator and how an efficiently running fridge could save you money on your electricity bill.

How a fridge works

When liquid is evaporated, it absorbs heat and cools its surroundings. When liquid is condensed, it releases heat. A fridge uses these same principles to operate – It works by evaporating and condensing liquid that passes through it, which cools the inside and releases heat into the atmosphere.

A refrigerator has five components that make it function:

  • Refrigerant
  • Expansion device
  • Evaporator coils
  • Compressor
  • Condenser coils

Think of the refrigerant as a liquid that passes through the other components. Think of the expansion device, evaporator coils, compressor and condenser coils as parts of the pipe that the refrigerant flows through.

Firstly, the refrigerant passes through the expansion device. Imagine the expansion device as a pipe that gradually widens. This allows the refrigerant to expand and cool.

The refrigerant is pushed through the evaporator coils and absorbs heat from the food inside of the fridge.

It then flows through the compressor, where it’s condensed (or squeezed), making it hot. The heat is then passed out through to the atmosphere. This process cools the refrigerant back into a liquid, which then re-enters the expansion device, starting the cycle over again.

3 tips for an energy-efficient fridge

1. Check the energy rating

The Energy Rating Label on your fridge tells you how much a particular model will cost to run and how energy efficient it might be, when compared to other models. This is important to keep in mind when purchasing your fridge, since the more energy efficient it is, the less energy it will use and cost you to run.

2. Keep your food stocked properly and safely

You can save money on your electricity bill (and reduce food waste) by stocking your fridge properly. Overstocking your fridge could affect the airflow around it, damaging otherwise good, edible food. You should also try to avoid putting hot food into a fridge; this will raise the temperature inside and place other foods at risk of contamination.

3. Replace broken seals

Seals help keep your fridge cool by trapping cold air inside. If cold air is escaping your fridge, the compressor has to run longer to keep it at the right temperature. The harder it works, the more electricity it will use. You can test your fridge door is sealed properly by placing a strip of paper between the door and fridge. If the paper can be pulled out easily, it might be time for a reseal.

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