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17 Medium and Small-sized Refrigerators Tested Freezing and Cooling Performance Vastly Varied Direct Cool Models More Energy Efficient than Frost-Free Models but Require Regular Defrosting

  • 2021.08.16

When purchasing a refrigerator, the compact living space in Hong Kong is often factored into the decision. Apart from the energy efficiency and freezing performance, the dimensions and space occupied should also be considered. The Consumer Council tested 17 models of frost-free and direct cool refrigerators of small and medium size on the market, and found that the cooling time for food could vary over twofold. The test also estimated that the annual electricity tariff of certain frost-free models could be higher than that of direct cool refrigerators by over 70%. However, consumers should be mindful that despite direct cool refrigerators being more energy efficient, they require regular defrosting; in addition, the full warranty for a 1-door direct cool model was as short as 1 year and did not offer warranty renewal. On the other hand, although the twin-door frost-free models in the test were estimated to have a higher annual electricity tariff than direct cool refrigerators, consumers could select more energy-efficient models, especially those with an inverter compressor. The Council recommends consumers to carefully select a refrigerator with better energy efficiency and cooling performance while considering personal needs, such as the size of their home, types of food often stored in the fridge, and fridge usage habits.

The 17 tested models included 1-door, twin-door and 3-door refrigerators with claimed total net storage volume of 112L to 252L (medium-sized), and 45L to 112L (smaller-sized). Refrigerators sold in Hong Kong must acquire an energy label under the Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme (MEELS) of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD). 9 of the tested models were labelled as Grade 1, 6 were Grade 2, while the remaining 2 were labelled as Grade 3. Amongst all models, 11 were frost-free refrigerators and 6 were direct cool refrigerators, with retail prices ranging from $1,398 to $6,280. Test items included energy consumption, freezing and cooling capacities, storage temperature, etc. 

Direct cool refrigerators, also known as frost refrigerators, are generally more energy efficient and space-saving. As the evaporator coil is built inside the fridge, moisture will continuously condense on the coils and users must manually defrost regularly. On the other hand, the evaporator of frost-free refrigerators is built into the internal cavity and cool air is blown into the freezer or fridge compartment using a fan to achieve a cooling effect.

The freezing capacity and coldness preservation efficacy of refrigerators are of utmost importance. Amongst the 12 tested models with a freezer compartment, most had a satisfactory freezing capacity. Aside from 1 twin-door frost-free model, the remaining 11 models could freeze the test loads from room temperature to -18°C within 26 hours, of which 3 models could achieve this within 14 hours.

Besides, the cooling performance of the fresh food compartment vastly varied amongst the models. In the test, 3 food samples were placed in the fresh food compartment and the time required for the test loads to drop from a room temperature of 25°C to 10°C was measured. The results revealed that the cooling times of the models ranged from 2.9 hours to 6.7 hours, a difference of 1.3 times.

The test also simulated the coldness preservation capacity of the freezer compartment in the event of a power outage. Each model was measured for the time range for which they could maintain a temperature of -9°C or below. On comparing the 12 models equipped with a freezer compartment, their temperature preservation time ranged from 3 hours to 12.5 hours, a difference of over 3 times. Only 3 models could maintain the temperature of its freezer compartment for 10 hours or more, amongst which 1 model showed the best preservation time of 12.5 hours.

Refrigerators are an essential home appliance and run for 24/7, drawing power around the clock. Therefore, energy efficiency is a key decision factor when selecting a refrigerator. The annual electricity tariff of each model was estimated based on their power consumption in the test. The results showed that the 6 smaller direct cool models had a lower power consumption owing to the fact that they did not require extra power for defrosting; their estimated annual electricity tariff could be lower than certain frost-free models by over 70%. Taking both 1-door and twin-door models into consideration, the annual electricity tariff ranged from $107 to $163. The 11 larger-sized frost-free refrigerator models had a relatively higher electricity tariff, ranging from $257 to $471. If consumers wish to select a more energy-efficient frost-free refrigerator, they could consider inverter models which had a better overall performance in general.

Refrigerators could often last for a few years or even up to 10 years. Consumers should pay heed to details such as the warranty period and maintenance charges when purchasing a fridge, so as to extend the product lifespan. Amongst the 17 tested models, the machine warranty ranged from 1 to 5 years; the compressor generally enjoyed a longer warranty period, for example 4 twin-door inverter models offered a 10-year warranty, whereas a 1-door direct cool model only had a 1-year warranty for its compressor. Consumers should check whether the agent would provide warranty renewal after the warranty period. 9 out of the 17 models claimed to offer renewal, with annual fees ranging from around $180 to $800; the agents of the remaining 8 models stated that warranty renewal would not be offered and an on-site inspection fee would be charged after the expiry of warranty. As for the main circuit board and other parts needed for repair, some of the agents expressed that they would only provide replacement of parts for 3 to 7 years after the refrigerator model has been discontinued.

Consumers should pay heed to the following when purchasing and using refrigerators:

  • Consider whether to select a smaller-sized 1-door direct cool refrigerator based on your lifestyle and living space;
  • Be mindful of the placement of the refrigerator even if living space is limited. Ensure there is enough room for heat dissipation and avoid placing the fridge near heat sources such as the stove, or in direct sunlight;
  • As 1-door direct cool refrigerators are more compact and do not have a freezer compartment, they are less suitable for storing food with more stringent temperature requirements, such as frozen meat or ice cream. They can be used for storing simple foodstuffs such as fruits and vegetables or drinks;
  • Never use flammable chemicals near refrigerators, such as rubbing alcohol, bug sprays and thinners, etc;
  • Adjust the thermostat based on the types and amount of food stored in the refrigerator. Refrain from having the thermostat at the “coldest” setting for long periods;
  • When defrosting direct cool refrigerators, unplug the appliance from the power source; consume or remove foods that need to be stored at lower temperatures, so as to avoid wastage;
  • Reference the EMSD’s MEEL website to select a more energy efficient refrigerator model.

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