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Are Chest Freezers More Efficient Than Upright Freezers?

A Chest Freezer

A typical chest freezer is more efficient than an upright model

A typical chest freezer is more efficient than an upright model

Chest Freezers Are More Efficient, Here's Why...

Have you ever wondered why chest freezers always cost less to operate, according to the yellow Energy Use guides in stores, than the upright version with the same amount of capacity for food? The answer is simple: physics. Cold air is more dense as compared to warmer room temperature air. We can demonstrate this by opening the door on our refrigerator and feeling the cold air rushing over your bare feet. The air that your fridge has worked to cool and keep cool is literally falling out. The same thing happens when you open the door to an upright freezer.

All of that air, which is much colder as compared to a fridge, falls out and is replaced by warmer air. When this happens, the compressor in the freezer has to kick in and run until its cooled that air by removing the heat the warmer air carried with it. The more frequently an upright freezer is opened causes the compressor to work longer and more often to get the temperature at the proper setting and keep it there. However, a chest freezer opens from the top, and as such, the denser cold air can't fall out of it to be replaced by warm air. Therefore a chest freezer would make more sense to have instead of an upright model.

Frost buildup inside a freezer.  The frost building up on the coils acts as an insulator and slows the rate at which heat can be removed by the compressor.

Frost buildup inside a freezer. The frost building up on the coils acts as an insulator and slows the rate at which heat can be removed by the compressor.

Frost Buildup In A Freezer

Ice buildup inside a freezer.  Currently this freezer is being defrosted.

Ice buildup inside a freezer. Currently this freezer is being defrosted.

Refrigerator/Freezer Coil Brush

How Can I Make Sure My Freezer Is Running As Efficiently As Possible?

One thing you can do to make sure your current freezer, whether it's a chest freezer or an upright model, is running as efficiently as it can is to leave at least three inches (3”) of space open around all four sides and the top of the freezer to make sure there is adequate room for air flow around it. Many chest freezers these days will have the condensing coils, the part of the compressor system where the heat removed from inside is dissipated from, wrapped around the outside of the freezer behind the panels that cover and protect the compressor, coils and insulation. Make sure there aren't any blankets or other items draped across the top of the freezer that could hang down and cover the sides of the freezer as these will only act as insulation to prevent heat escaping.

For upright freezers, many older models will have the condensing coils mounted externally on the back of the freezer, exposed to the open air. The same applies with these in that you want to have at least three inches (3”) of clearance behind and above the coils to make sure they can dissipate heat better. And with externally mounted coils like these, you may experience dust buildup on them over time. The dust on the coils acts like an insulator so its best to clean them off with a brush, like one made for cleaning refrigerator coils.

If you have a considerable amount of frost that has built up inside your freezer, either on the coils inside if they are exposed or if you see lines of frost that run along the inside wall of your freezer you should defrost the freezer to get rid of the built up frost. If you have another freezer to transfer your frozen items to while you do this that would be best or you can plan on emptying the freezer out and covering them in ice packs and a blanket to insulate them. Laundry baskets work well for this. Or if you live in a region where the outside temperature is below freezing, plan on a time when you could leave your items outside in something like a laundry basket while you let your freezer defrost. Make sure they're left somewhere where you can see them in case animals or pets getting into your frozen foods. With a chest freezer or upright freezer, you can help speed up the process of melting the frost by using a table top or box fan to blow air into the freezer. Once the frost has finished melting, use towels to soak up the water and dry it out or if your freezer has a drain plug in the bottom, pull it to allow the water to flow out if the freezer is in an unfinished basement or garage so it can flow out and into a drain or evaporate off the floor.

What Does All Of That Warm Air Do To Your Upright Freezer?

Another reason that chest freezers are more efficient than upright models is because frost builds up slower inside on the coils or around the coils where heat is removed. Moisture from the air condenses on the coldest portions of the freezer, which will tend to be the coils or the wall that surrounds the coils which are responsible for removing heat from the inside of the freezer. When the compressor is running to cool the inside air back down, the moisture condenses on the coils or along the wall the covers the coils and then freezes forming frost, causing the compressor to have to run more often as well to ensure the freezer stays at the proper temperature.

When frost builds up, it starts to act like an insulator, preventing heat from being picked up as easily by the evaporator coils in the freezer. All of the moisture that condenses and forms frost on the inside of a freezer comes from the air that often replaces the cold air that is lost when the door is open. Again, with a chest freezer, the cold air inside doesn't fall out to be replaced by warm moist air, greatly reducing the amount of frost that builds up inside over time.

Consider Purchasing A Chest Freezer When You're Looking To Buy A New Freezer

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While upright freezers might offer a lot of cold storage in a vertical format, they're simply not as efficient as the tried and true chest freezer. And in the long run, they also make more work for you in terms of ensuring that you regularly defrost them. Over time a chest freezer will pay for itself in energy savings if you're still using an upright freezer, especially if its more than 10 years old.


AndrewFraser on November 11, 2016:

Chest freezers are great! They store loads and and we have found them to be really good on energy consumption. I got mine from but also found loads on

Jeremiah Simpkins (author) from Pulaski, VA on March 23, 2012:

Hi Healthy Pursuits! I was fortunately able to convince my parents to "adopt" a chest freezer from a family we knew who was moving and no longer needed it. It replaced our ancient upright freezer in the garage and holds more meat (my family raises their own cattle). The old freezer was constantly frosting up inside and needed to be defrosted at least twice a year.

Karla Iverson from Oregon on March 20, 2012:

I bought a chest freezer after my upright freezer died. The first thing I noticed was that no cold air flowed out of it the way the cold air flowed out of the upright. The chest freezer I bought was the size range of the two above, and they are good prices.

Jeremiah Simpkins (author) from Pulaski, VA on January 11, 2012:

That's so true. I was glad to get rid of my parents' ancient upright and get them a chest freezer. Stuff was literally falling out every time the door was opened. Of course, now its saving them some money too, haha.

McQueen3486 from Washington/District of Columbia on January 11, 2012:

It stores more,IMO. Plus, it's so much easier to get things out of the freezer, without all of its contents spilling out.

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