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Refrigerators and freezers go hand in hand—both metaphorically and physically. For that reason, it can be tempting to put them both on the same circuit, power them up, and call it a day. But is that the most effective – or safest – choice?
A refrigerator and freezer shouldn’t be on the same circuit. Appliances like these use a lot of power intermittently, and putting too much strain on one circuit can cause frequent cooling issues, food waste, or even surges in your home.
Several variables are involved in deciding how exactly to power up and maintain your appliances, including understanding what dedicated circuits are, why they’re important, and what can happen if you don’t implement them. To do that, we first need to understand how amps work in relation to our appliances—especially our refrigeration units.
Refrigerators: Sneaky Power Hogs
For most refrigerators, the owner’s manual will tell you that they run between 3 and 6 amps. Amps, in terms of refrigerants, refers to the amount of electrical energy needed to maintain a cold unit.
That 3 to 6 amp figure is true—the thing is, that’s after start-up. And that’s where the problem lies. On start-up, refrigerators can pull around three times that 3-6 amp figure in order to get itself going.
When you’ve got that much power matriculating in one circuit, even for a short time, it can be difficult justifying pairing other appliances (like a freezer) on the same circuit—because your average circuit can usually handle around 20 amps. Throwing too much power in one place can ultimately lead to circuits breaking frequently, as well as the untimely end of your appliances.
Freezers and fridges both use compressors that take up a lot of electrical ‘bandwidth,’ so to speak. That’s where the idea of dedicated circuits comes in.
Dedicated Circuits: What Are They?
Simply put, dedicated circuits refers to the practice of dedicating a circuit in your home to just one appliance (like a fridge, freezer, or even a microwave) to create the safest and most efficient environment for your appliances.
Dedicated circuits act as something of a protection system for your home. If there is a dedicated, singular spot in your electrical toolbox for each power-sucking appliance, there’s a lower chance that you won’t ‘overheat’ your electrical system and create damage.
There’s actually a set of recommended rules and regulations set forth by the National Fire Protection Association when it comes to your appliances and the power they require.
In their yearly guidebook, called the National Electric Code, they recommend dedicated circuits for appliances including (but not limited to) refrigerators, freezers, and even devices like space heaters and dishwashers—anything that requires significant amperage to work properly.
Why Should I Use Separate Circuits?
You can technically put a freezer and refrigerator on the same circuit—freezer/fridge combos would generally max out a few amps below what circuits can usually handle (most standard circuits run around 20 amps). But in practice, as the National Fire Protection Association can attest, the numbers may just be too close for comfort.
There are several specific reasons why doubling up on one circuit for your refrigerator and freezer may not be advisable, and they can range from an inconvenience to much more serious issues. Why, exactly, should I use separate circuits?
Less Danger of Food Waste
If a circuit blows, all the stuff in your cooling-appliances is worthless after just a few hours. If you’re at work and your fridge or freezer goes out, the only thing you’ll know for sure is that it’s takeout night.
If you go on vacation and an issue arises with your freezer or refrigerator units, seepage and odor problems can (and will) arise. It’s an unfortunate reality of appliance ownership and something we want to reduce the likelihood of. To do that, make sure your units aren’t overtaxed.
When you’ve got separate circuits running for your refrigerator and freezer, it’s essentially like hedging your bets—you’re operating on the safe side to make sure over-taxation won’t happen. You get the peace of mind that your groceries and other essentials are being stored as they should be when you’re away from home.
We rely on our appliances to flawlessly work when we can’t monitor them, so it’s best practice to set them up to succeed in every way that we can.
Fewer Circuit Breaker Problems
On perhaps a more serious note, we move on to the issue of circuit breakers. Circuit breakers are sort of like the kill-switch of your home.
If it detects an issue like an overheating switch or if it detects too much power flowing through one of the circuits it manages, it will ‘trip,’ effectively turning itself off to protect you and your home. This may happen more often if you have too much power flowing through one circuit source, like a refrigerator and freezer taking up the same circuit.
A tripped circuit breaker is an inconvenience, certainly, and you or an electrician will have to plunder down to your basement and fiddle with your electrical box to get it working properly again.
But more serious than that, frequent issues with the circuit breaker can lead to safety issues. There is a chance of both fire and even electrocution. While that is an extreme outcome, it is definitely one to be wary of!
Your Appliances Will Last Longer
Putting unnecessary strain on your refrigerator and freezer will impact both their performance and lifespan. According to Consumer Reports, most refrigerators should last you at least ten years, and giving them adequate room to power up and down is a safeguard that will ensure you get proper usage time out of your appliances.
Further, placing your refrigerator and freezer on different circuits alleviates electric stress, thus giving you more bang for your buck as your appliances chug along happily. The less stressed your circuits are, the better they can run. It’s a simple principle that pays dividends down the road.
Avoid Surges at All Costs
Interestingly, your freezer or fridge can cause a power surge due to their inherently cyclical nature. They turn on and off frequently during the cooling process. Their ‘on’ cycles can double or even triple their usual needed amperage. When amperage shoots up, surges become more likely.
It is possible that both devices decide to shoot their power needs up at the same time. In that event, there is an increased likelihood that your home system could get itself overloaded and create the problems we talked about wanting to avoid above if they’re running on the same circuit! Putting your appliances on different circuits decreases the chances of a surge.
Surges themselves are actually a leading cause of refrigerator and freezer damage, and, as we know, their likelihood tends to amplify when the circuits are stressed. The reason for this is because when circuits are stressed, the power of the electrical current amplifies, causing a kind of heat to release itself inside the refrigerator or freezer unit.
When that happens, the heat can damage different parts of the unit—whether it be the compressor or the unit’s control board itself. When those get damaged, it costs time and money.
The best way to safeguard against surges is to understand how many amps your units each use and to place them on different circuits as both an offensive and defensive move.
When dealing with heavily-used appliances like refrigerators and freezers, it’s better to be safe and overly-cautious than sorry. They could co-exist on the same circuit. But they really shouldn’t! Appliances like refrigerators and freezers constantly turn themselves on and off, changing their power output throughout the week, so it’s better to give them each extra electrical ‘space’ to do that.
We recommend avoiding the future hassle and giving your appliances the proper space—it’ll create a safer environment for your home and give you the peace of mind that your meatloaf or veggie tofu is keeping at the absolute perfect temperature. And we all want that, right?