Compact refrigerators are designed to use space efficiently—they fit in a home office, master bedroom, bar or dorm room. But they aren't as efficient at using energy. In our latest refrigerator tests, some mini refrigerators used as much energy as a full-sized refrigerator, and one used more energy than several of the largest refrigerators we've tested. Stricter federal energy standards, slated to go into effect in September 2014, should help. But if you don't want to wait that long, our tests found some more efficient models as well as ways to keep energy costs of current models down.
Unlike full-sized refrigerators, which have an external condenser and fan, compact refrigerators typically use their exterior walls to dissipate heat. As a result, they tend to be much more sensitive to room temperature than full size models. The warmer the room, the more energy they use.
Some mini models are more sensitive than others. The Magic Chef MCBR445W, for example, has a claimed capacity of 4.4 cubic feet, along with glass shelves, a can dispenser, and other useful features. It costs $180 but could cost you $80 per year to run if the refrigerator temperature is set to the recommended 37 degrees (based on a national average of 11.8 cents per kilowatt hour). That's more than some 31 cubic foot models. The two-door Avanti RA3100WT, $200, with 3.1 claimed cubic feet could cost you about $50 per year to run. A better option is our top-rated compact, the Frigidaire FFPH44M4L[M], $220. This 4.4 claimed-cubic-foot fridge costs about $27 a year to operate, according to our tests.
These annual costs are different from what you'll see on the models' yellow EnergyGuide label because the Department of Energy's efficiency tests are run under different conditions than the refrigerator tests at Consumer Reports. Based on our limited tests, your energy use could be higher or lower than what the label says depending on how you use the unit. A mini refrigerator will use more energy if placed inside a cabinet or other enclosure, or if squeezed into a corner and surrounded by other things. This could trap heat and drive up energy costs. Try to keep any compact refrigerator in a cooler spot away from heating registers or radiators.
By way of comparison, our top-rated French-door refrigerator, the LG LFX28991[ST], $2,700, has a claimed capacity of 27.6 cubic feet and costs $54 per year to operate. A top-freezer model that we named a CR Best Buy, the Frigidaire Gallery FGUI2149L[P], $850, has a claimed capacity of 20.6 cubic feet and costs $47 per year to run. If you need a second refrigerator and have the space, you might want to consider a larger energy miser over a small energy hog.