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Replacing My Refrigerator — With or Without Energy Star

There aren’t a lot more opportunities for making my home more energy efficient, but one thing that stands out is replacing my refrigerator. It’s from 1999, and any fridge that old or older was made before federal efficiency standards were increased, so the energy saved by a new refrigerator makes replacing one that old cost-effective. According to the Energy Star refrigerator calculator, my old Frigidaire FRT18SJG uses 833 kWh/year, roughly $127/year. Comparable refrigerators today use about half that.

In looking for a new refrigerator, I immediately looked for which models earned a $50 rebate from Mass Save. Unfortunately, those are only the 17 models rated Energy Star Most Efficient. Looking more closely, I realized that there are some serious flaws in Energy Star’s rating system for refrigerators. Because they split the fridges into categories based on their configuration (top freezer, bottom freezer, french doors) and only grant the label to fridges 9-10% more efficient than others in their own category, configurations that use the most energy (generally french door bottom freezers with through-the-door ice makers) have a larger spread and are more likely to get the label than others. And the thing that can make the most difference in energy use–the size of the refrigerator–is ignored. So I decided to ignore the Energy Star label entirely and just look at the kWh use.

Another important factor was my space limitations. Unless I wanted to remove the cupboard above or the wall next to it, the new fridge could only be an inch or two bigger than the old one. And an 18 cubic foot refrigerator was surprisingly hard to find. There’s been a creep upwards in terms of refrigerator size over the years, so that the most common size I found in stores was 24 cubic feet. Jason also had a preference for a bottom freezer. That and size were our major parameters.


We finally settled on a Kitchenaid KRBX109EWH. (A GE Artistry ABE20EGHWS was our second choice.) Its annual energy use is 469 kWh/year, a savings of 364 kWh/year over our old one. (By comparison, the EnergyStar Most Efficient refrigerators ranged from 448 to 637 kWy/year.)

It’s being delivered next week, and we’re very excited. I’ll let you know how we like it once we actually start using it. And keep an eye out for our experience recycling our old fridge through Mass Save.

What’s the Best LED Light Bulb?

LED bulbs are great. They use a little less energy than CFLs (about 1/6th of what incandescents use) and last longer (around 20 years). And people tend to prefer them to CFLs, because they don’t contain mercury or have a discernible flicker.

Earlier this year we put out an RFP for a lighting distributor at work, and while we were discussing which light bulbs to choose for the program I felt woefully underinformed. I only had one in my own house (the result of a home energy assessment). So I got five different kinds and tested them  out. There are LEDs for almost any type of bulb you can think of, but all of these bulbs are dimmable replacements for 60-watt incandescents—the most common kind in my house. They were, from best to worst:

l_7157Phillips 11-Watt A19 LED – This was amazing. Its design was the prettiest—slimmer than an incandescent, smaller and lighter than the other bulbs. It dims well and has a warm light. Its directions say it shouldn’t be used in completely enclosed fixtures, because the heat will shorten its lifespan, but I ended up using it in my enclosed fixtures anyway, because I liked it the best. If you live in Massachusetts, your local utility buys down the cost of this bulb to make it more affordable—just $7.50.

51dGBqOxv0L._SL1000_Phillips 10-Watt A19 LED – This bulb won the U.S. Department of Energy’s L Prize, which encouraged lighting companies to design an affordable LED replacement for 60-watt incandescents. It’s weird looking, but cool. It has the warmest light, uses less power, and has a longer lifespan than the 11-watt. Like the 11-watt it’s dimmable and isn’t designed to be used in enclosed fixtures. I’m not sure this is available anymore, since the 11-watt is Phillips’ newer, more affordable version.

s_8388TCP LED Dim A Lamp – This is completely unobjectionable. Of all the bulbs, it’s shaped the most like an incandescent. It’s not as warm a light as the two Phillips, but much better than any CFLs that I’ve seen. Like the first two, it’s dimmable and isn’t designed to be used in enclosed fixtures. This is another bulb where your local utility buys down the cost (to $6.25), and it’s most likely the kind you’ll get during a home energy assessment.

71yDWOycm8L._SL1500_Rambus A19 LED – This bulb’s light is as warm as the TCP’s. Of all the bulbs, it diffused light best into the corners of the room.It’s also dimmable. However it’s big, heavy, and weird looking and the ceramic base of it got hot quickly. But this is because the base disperses the heat better than the first three, so it’s designed to be used in an enclosed fixture. It costs around $20.

71xth4u5t+L._SL1500_Bright Value LED A Lamp – Like the Rambus, this is designed for an enclosed fixture, so it’s also big, heavy, and weird looking. However, although it was advertised as dimmable, it wasn’t any more dimmable than a CFL, flickering and going out halfway. It costs around $15.

It can be confusing to figure out what bulb to get if you’re used to thinking of them in terms of watts (or how much energy they use). With all the different kinds of light bulbs out there, it makes more sense to think of them in terms of lumens (or how much light they give off). 800 lumens is the equivalent of the old 60-watt light bulbs—and it actually seems brighter than that to me.

Do you have LED bulbs that you prefer? Let me know which ones and why!

My Thesis! Or Everything You Wanted to Know about Anaerobic Digestion

I haven’t posted here regularly for a year now, but school is officially over, so I can jump back in again. If you’re interested in (part of) what I’ve been doing all this time, check out my thesis: Municipal Development of Anaerobic Digestion/Combined Heat and Power in Massachusetts.

If you just want the CliffsNotes version, anaerobic digestion is basically breaking down organic materials (like food) with bacteria in an environment without oxygen. Composting is aerobic digestion, meaning it does roughly the same thing with oxygen. But with anaerobic digestion, we can collect the gas that’s produced (roughly half methane) and use it to generate energy. This happens in landfills, anyway, and there are some landfills that have gas capture systems, but if we control the process ourselves we can tweak it to be faster and generate more methane, and we can make sure the methane doesn’t escape into the atmosphere (very important, since methane is a greenhouse gas).

Anaerobic Digestion


There are a few places already doing this in Massachusetts. There are six wastewater treatment plants with anaerobic digestion and three farms. Manure and wastewater are both reliable feedstocks, but if you mix food waste with them it’s even better, generating more biogas, reducing the volume of the sludge, and making the process more stable. The three farms are adding food waste to the mix, but the wastewater treatment plants aren’t yet. However, Deer Island—the wastewater treatment plant that serves most of us in the Boston area—is planning a pilot food waste project for the fall.

Anaerobic Digestion in Massachusetts


Here in Massachusetts this is especially relevant, because we have a commercial organic waste ban coming up in October. This only applies to entities that generate a ton or more of food waste per week, not residents. But some towns are  considering doing residential food waste pickup, too. Hamilton has been doing so for about a year now, and Cambridge is doing a pilot project in one neighborhood. Anaerobic digesters are a great place for all that food waste to go.

Carbon Footprint by Zip Code

Have you seen this great visualization from the Cool Climate Network? It’s household carbon footprint by zip code, based on home energy use, transportation, and consumption of goods and services. It’s really striking how green Boston and its immediate suburbs are, and how red the circle around them is. The companion carbon calculator lets you estimate your own carbon footprint more accurately.

Carbon Footprint by Zip Code

That’s dramatic.

Since taking a GIS class this fall I’m really interested in data visualization. Did you know the New York Times dialect map had the most views of any article in 2013? And it was posted on December 20! It really pushes home that we need to be thinking about more interactive ways to communicate information.

Local Energy Planning in Medford

I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted anything (see the usual excuses: school, work, buying a house), but I just had to share some videos that I helped create at MAPC. I’ve been interning in the Energy Division of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council for the last nine months, assisting local governments with energy efficiency and renewable energy work. I think this video about our Local Energy Action Program with the City of Medford sums it up really well. And I especially love it because I helped them with the two residential outreach programs they mention: the National Grid Community Efficiency Initiative and Solarize Medford. More than 550 Medford residents completed home energy audits and 48 residents and businesses installed solar panels in 2013 as a result of these programs.