Cold Front: Today’s Best Freezer Values

Prices of freezers have increased by $40–$100 over the past 2 years without any innovations to account for the uptick. But you can expect manufacturers to start rolling out more-efficient models at the end of 2013 to meet new mandatory Department of Energy standards.

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Over the past 4 years, freezers seem to be, well, frozen in place. Just as we reported 2 years ago, no innovations have emerged in the market. It seems that manufacturers, like consumers, are content to stash freezers in the basement and forget about them.

“The problem with chest and upright freezers as compared to every other appliance is that there’s a large volume of product at a fairly low price,” says Paul Storch of Summit Appliances, which is a manufacturer. In other words, manufacturers won’t invest money to redesign chest freezers or upright freezers, because the appliances don’t generate a whole lot of profits, and the manufacturers deem technological investment to be better applied to other more-profitable product categories.

Despite the lack of innovation in freezers, unfortunately, prices have gone up in the past 2 years. When we compared the prices of all models in 2012 with those of all of the models that were available in 2010, we found that prices increased by $40–$100. That’s the same increase that we saw from 2008 to 2010, and it’s due to an increase in the cost of materials, such as steel, says Howard Telford of
Euromonitor, which is a market-research company.

And manufacturers tell Consumers Digest that we can expect prices to climb another $40–$100 over the next 2 years.

The only change that we’ve seen in the freezer market in the past 2 years is that Whirlpool is back after a brief absence. Whirlpool freezers disappeared from the market in November 2009 when W.C. Wood, which was the original equipment manufacturer that produced freezers for Whirlpool, went out of business. 

But Whirlpool acquired and reopened the Wood factory in 2010 and now makes three chest freezers and 13 upright freezers, as well as two chest freezers and four upright freezers under the Amana brand.

THE LOOMING THAW. Whirlpool didn’t introduce any new features with its re-emergence, but then again, all manufacturers are biding their time. We spoke with engineers and officials at 11 manufacturers, and all of them tell us that they plan to begin to offer new freezer models in late 2013 and early 2014. That’s because Department of Energy issued a new mandate that all chest freezers and upright freezers that have an automatic-defrost system must become 30 percent more energy-efficient than today’s models are before Sept. 15, 2014. Freezers that have a manual-defrost system must be 25 percent more energy-efficient.

Analysts and experts tell us that freezers will meet these standards by including high-efficiency compressors and evaporator fans, improved defrost controls, better insulation near the door and vacuum-insulation panels (VIPs) around the interior. David Goldstein, who is the co-director of National Resources Defense Council’s energy program and an expert on freezer efficiency, says these changes won’t affect the price of freezers.

“Through eight or nine cycles of new standards, we have never seen a [corresponding] price increase,” Goldstein says. “My guess is that the consumers won’t see any difference in price at all.”

But Chuck Bryant of manufacturer Haier disagrees.

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“Nobody can rightfully say that prices won’t go up,” he says. “You’re going to have to use more-efficient compressors, better motors and more insulation. All of those things add money to the cost of a product.”

Whatever happens with pricing, the new standards won’t save you much money on your electricity bill beyond the savings that today’s energy-efficient models deliver, says Andrew deLaski, who is executive director of Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which advocates and promotes new appliance standards.

The DOE-compliant freezers will use 150–170 less kilowatt hours (kWh) per year, he says. At an average national price of 10 cents per kWh, the new standards would save consumers $15–$17 per year or roughly $180 over the expected life of a freezer, compared with the costs of freezers that conform to today’s standards, he says.

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