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March 2021 EnergyWiseSM Tip: Dust Bunnies

March 02, 2021


By: Energy Efficiency Program Manager Cory Fuehrer

Whoever in the middle ages coined the term, "Out of sight, out of mind," must have said it right after discovering one of the favorite hangouts for an elusive and energy-stealing beast well known in the refrigeration world: the Dust Bunny. Okay, maybe they didn’t have modern refrigeration appliances in the 1500s, but dust bunnies are definitely energy-stealing pests that can shorten the life of refrigerators and freezers today. Fortunately, you can rid yourself of their effects with a little extra effort once a year (or twice if you have pets).

Before discussing how to perform this simple maintenance task, answer this important question: "Where are my condenser coils?"

If your fridge or freezer doesn't have a toe-grill on the front, you will find condenser coils attached to the back of the unit or behind a panel held in place by a few screws. If this is the case, you will need to pull the unit away from the wall for access. The coils will look like metal tubes wound in a U-shaped grid pattern. These coils transfer heat from your unit’s refrigerant into the room’s air. If you have never cleaned them before, don’t be alarmed if you find yours surrounded by a dense colony of dust bunnies!

For the heat transfer to occur, air must pass over the coils. That air often contains dust, dirt, pollen, pet hair and moisture which builds up over time to create a great environment for dust bunnies to flourish.

Before starting, you will need the following tools: a flashlight, coil condenser brush and dust mask. As you should before working on any appliance, start by unplugging the unit. Don’t worry about spoilage. The coil-cleaning process will only take 15 minutes or less, and the doors will remain closed the whole time.

Next, don the dust mask. Though most of the dust/debris will get vacuumed up, some will likely become airborne. Start by vacuuming the loose dust and debris along the inside of the toe grill or from the backside of the fridge. If your condenser coils are underneath the unit, the flashlight will come in handy to help spot them.

Next, brush away the dust clinging to the coil with a coil condenser brush. These brushes are available at most DIY stores for around $10. Measuring approximately 27 inches long with short bristles on the top one-third, the brush’s cylindrical design lets you easily slip it between the spaces in the coil grid. Work it back and forth to remove dust while keeping the vacuum running to remove loosened dust. Once the coils and surrounding area are clean, replace any toe grills or plates previously removed, plug the electrical cord back in and push your unit back against the wall if necessary.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a dirty condenser coil can increase compressor energy consumption up to 30%. While the total energy saved of 100 to 300 kilowatt-hours per year may only save $12 to $36, dirty condenser coils can shorten your refrigerator or freezer’s lifetime by up to five years. Considering the cost for repairing or replacing a broken or worn-out unit, even greater savings are realized.

Your local utility and Nebraska Public Power District want to help you make the most from the energy needed to keep your food cold! Contact them or visit www.nppd.com if you would like more information on other low-cost/no-cost energy-saving measures, as well as various EnergyWiseSM incentives that may be available to you.

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