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How (not) to save money on a new refrigerator

A few years ago, a friend of mine told me a story, how he had to pay several thousand euros to the utility company for high water consumption. A pipe for his garden watering had broken, but he did not notice this until the bill came. The meter has counted the leaked water, but it was not visible on the surface. The company did not care, he was responsible, so he had to pay.

Several months later, I received a bill for electricity consumption that has surprised me. For years, we were in plus, and we received returns for advanced payments, and now there was more than a hundred missing. It was not a lot, but I did not know how it could happen.

Investigation of sources

Then invasion of Ukraine by Russia came, crisis with energy availability, price volatility, and it seemed, that energy can become much more expensive. It looked like a good idea to try to figure out, what the source can be.

The first, simplest way, was to write down all my appliances and their consumption in a sheet

In the table I put into the columns

  • Appliance
  • Estimated consumption on paper (standard and in save mode)
  • Standard runtime from 0 to 24 hours a day
  • Price per kWh

I have identified the appliances with the highest cost potential savings and marked them in color. E.g. kettle can use a lot of power, but we use it for a couple of minutes a few times a week so it is not a big consumer. But a display used for work running 8–12 hours a day can be a big consumer. Or a fridge running 24/7.

Then I thought about two types of potential savings

  • Cutting down the runtime (either standard or in save mode, as the save mode can consume a lot for some appliances)
  • Replacing the appliance with a newer one with lower consumption

After I identified the most probable offenders, it was a time for an experiment. I bought a cheap meter to measure the consumption exactly (as paper one is not always that accurate).

I have put the meter between the socket and the appliance for a couple of days and write that down also in the same sheet.

Calculating savings on new refrigerator

The fun part was, that I actually did not find any appliance that could lead to significant savings. The save modes of today electronics are so efficient, that it would add up to maybe 20–30 Euros over a year and would require either significant investment into time based extension cords or me disconnecting the devices all the time.

One of the tips I have read was about refrigerator being the biggest consumer as it runs 24/7, especially if it is old. Ours was at more than 5 years old, and my expectations were, that we can save more than a 100 a year. The reality was that we paid 5–7 euros a month for the refrigerator. It is 84 euros in the worst case scenario in total. New fridge which would actually save some money costs about 600 Euros plus. And the saving is not even like half of it. Maybe more like 20 percent. For half of it the price of the fridge would go over 1000 Euros.

So basically replacing even an old fridge for a new one is not worth it, despite what most people will tell you, as the return on investment will be 12+ years. Which is crazy. Of course, if you have a really ancient fridge (15+ years), you should measure your consumption as it can be quite different.

This exercise can be done with any appliance. Measure real consumption over a few weeks, calculate diff from new one, calculate how long to get your money back.

Finding best price plan

I did not want to be surprised again, so I have started investigating the prices and consumption. I have checked my utility provider for electricity ZSE and their rates. Furthermore, I knew nothing about how it works, so I was a bit confused at first, but basically, in Slovakia, you have five different possible rates for homes (DD1 – DD5) and based on the amount of electricity you actually consume, a different rate will be ideal for you.

The price consists basically from two rates (even tough it is broken down to more in the table):

  1. Fixed price for a place
  2. Price for kWh or consumption (can vary between day and night for some plans)

The less you consume, the higher the price for kWh but also lower fixed price. This is why it is very important to know your real consumption – so you can pick the ideal plan for you. The calculation for most people is quite simple

  • fixed price + (real kWh usage x kWh price)

You calculate this for both plans across several months and immediately see which one is best for you (if you have big consumption and use different rates across day, just adjust the equation).

For my flat, the smallest Mini DD1 plan works just fine.

Changing supplier

Another option to save some money is to change your supplier. If your consumption isn’t that big, the difference will be in cents, but if it is bigger, you can save more. Anyway, it is worth it to do a comparison once a year to see what you can save. If you put “utility providers price comparison” you will find many pages that will help you with that.

Tracking real costs monthly

What I have started doing is keeping track of my consumptions on a monthly basis. In this way I can immediately see if there is some outlier and can be easily identifiable. E.g. changing our TV for a newer one shown few euros monthly saving almost immediately. It would also help to identify big consumer you have just bought or connected to your network.

Monthly tracking also allows me to compare various price plans and adjust in case another one would become better suited for our household.

What really helped

So what actually helped, and what do I recommend so you save money on your energy bills?

  • Select best plan for your consumption – this is a big one, takes about 30 minutes, and you will save tens of euros per year
  • Check your monthly consumption to identify anomalies – big prevention for any issues
  • Do not buy the most energy efficient appliances before you calculate return on investment. Buy the one that will cost the least over the lifecycle of a given appliance (e.g. 10–15 years for a fridge, 5 years for a TV etc.)

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