Q&A OF THE WEEK: “Is It Okay to Keep a Freezer in an Unheated Porch?”

UPDATED 23Jul2020 

Question: Is it okay to keep my 15 year-old freezer working in an uninsulated, closed-in porch during winter? I know some people keep freezers in garages without any difficulty,  but I’m concerned the motor might seize in cold winter temperatures. The “right” answer could help me win a bet with my husband.

Answer: Like you, I’ve seen lots of people keep freezers in unheated areas for decades without any trouble. Besides freeing up indoor space, the practice also saves electricity if you live in a cold climate. The compressor on your freezer won’t come on very often during winter – maybe never when it gets really cold outside. All this said, the official word from appliance experts say using a freezer in cold spaces isn’t a good idea. Apparently, low temperatures can thicken the oil  and refrigerant in compressors, possibly preventing proper lubrication and freedom of rotation, especially as they start up. The operative word here is “possibly”. I’ve never actually heard of anyone ruining their freezer because it was used in an unheated space. You might want to risk it with a 15-year old freezer to say space and reduce electricity bills. I’d probably do it even with a new freezer that I keep my eye on. But if power savings is your main motivation, you should try something first.

The Kill-a-Watt device here measures how much electricity plug-in items use, and how much the electricity costs.

Just how much does it really cost you to keep that freezer running indoors? I use a device called a Kill-a-Watt to measure the power consumption of 120 volt, plug-in appliances. You plug the Kill-a-Watt into an outlet, then the appliance into the Kill-a-Watt. You can pre-program the unit with the electricity rate you pay in your area, then leave it alone for a while. The Kill-a-Watt screen tells you the total cost of power used since it was last reset (as well as a few other things such as voltage from the outlet and total kilowatt hours consumed). You might not actually be using that much power to keep your freezer cold. It’s easy to get worried about electricity bills, but it can also be surprising how little some things cost to operate when you have the numbers.

Also, new freezers use much less electricity that models build and sold decades ago. An efficient modern freezer can use less than 25% the electricity of an old fossil. The Kill-a-Watt exercise will help you decide what the payback period on a new freezer might be.

Want to learn more ways to boost the energy efficiency of your home? Click here for tips that really make a difference.