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Covered Product Category: Commercial Refrigerators and Freezers

The Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) provides acquisition guidance for commercial refrigerators and freezers, which are covered by the ENERGY STAR program. Federal laws and requirements mandate that agencies meet these efficiency requirements in all procurement and acquisition actions that are not specifically exempted by law.

Meeting Efficiency Requirements for Commercial Refrigerators and Freezers

ENERGY STAR sets efficiency requirements for commercial refrigerators and freezers in its product specification. Manufacturers meeting these requirements are allowed to display the ENERGY STAR label on complying models. Visit the ENERGY STAR website for the most up-to-date commercial refrigerator and freezer efficiency levels and product specification information, and a list of qualified refrigerators and freezers.

Defining the Product Category

This acquisition guidance and associated ENERGY STAR product specification applies to commercial, food-grade refrigerators and freezers such as:

  • Reach-in, roll-in, or pass-through models
  • Display refrigerators and merchandisers
  • Under counter and worktop units
  • Milk, bottle, and back bar coolers
  • Beer-dispensing and direct draw units
  • Glass frosters
  • Deep well and bunker freezers.

Open-air units, deli cases, prep tables, drawer cabinets, laboratory-grade products, residential refrigerators, freezers, and refrigerator-freezers are excluded, and residential refrigerators and freezers are covered by separate ENERGY STAR requirements.

In the Federal sector, commercial refrigerators and freezers are typically used in commercial food service operations like cafeterias, dining halls, snack bars, and officer clubs.

The Federal supply sources for commercial refrigerators and freezers are the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). GSA sells products through its Multiple Awards Schedules program and online shopping network, GSA Advantage! DLA offers products through the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia and online through DOD EMALL. Products sold through DLA are codified with a 13-digit National Stock Number (NSN) and, in some cases, a two-letter Environmental Attribute Code (ENAC). The ENAC identifies items that have positive environmental characteristics and meet standards set by an approved third party, such as FEMP and ENERGY STAR. When buying commercial refrigerators and freezers through DLA, look for models with the ENAC "HD" attached to the end of the NSN.

The United Nations Standard Products and Services Code (UNSPSC) is a worldwide classification system for use in eCommerce. It contains over 50,000 commodities, including many used in the Federal sector, each having a unique eight-digit identification code. Using the UNSPSCs will assist buyers with identifying covered product categories and improving record keeping. Below are UNSPSCs for some commercial refrigerators and freezers.

  • Cabinet refrigerators: 24131508
  • Under-counter refrigerators: 24131509
  • Worktop (preparation station) refrigerators: 24131512
  • Chest freezers: 24131601
  • Upright cabinet freezers: 24131602
  • Under-counter freezers: 24131609

Reducing Energy Costs: Save More Than $500 When You Buy Energy Star-Qualified Products

FEMP has calculated1 that the required ENERGY STAR-qualified product is cost-effective if priced no more than $540 above the less efficient alternative. The complete cost-effectiveness example and associated assumptions are provided in Table 1 below.

  Required Model Less Efficient Model
Maximum Daily Energy Consumption (MDEC) 2.71 kWh/day 4.44 kWh/day
Annual Energy Use 990 kWh 1,620 kWh
Annual Energy Cost $90 $145
Lifetime Energy Cost $850 $1,390
Lifetime Energy Cost Savings $540 ========


Determining Cost-Effectiveness

An efficient product is cost-effective when the discounted savings (from avoided energy costs over the life of the product) exceed the additional up-front cost (if any) compared to a less efficient option. ENERGY STAR and FEMP consider up-front costs and lifetime energy savings when setting required efficiency levels so that federal purchasers can assume that ENERGY STAR-qualified and products meeting FEMP-designated efficiency requirements are life cycle cost-effective. However, users wishing to determine cost-effectiveness for their application may do so using ENERGY STAR's Commercial Kitchen Equipment Savings Calculator.

For most applications, purchasers will find that energy-efficient products have the lowest life cycle cost. In high-use applications or when energy rates are above the federal average, purchasers may save more if they specify products that exceed the federal efficiency requirements.


Products meeting FEMP-designated efficiency requirements or ENERGY STAR performance specifications may not be life cycle cost-effective in certain low-use applications, or in locations with very low rates for natural gas or electricity. In these cases, the agency may pursue an exception to the federal procurement requirement.

Complying with Contracting Requirements

These requirements apply to all forms of procurement, including construction guide and project specifications; renovation, repair, maintenance, and energy service contracts; lease agreements; acquisitions made using purchase cards; and solicitations for offers. Energy performance requirements should be included in both the evaluation criteria of solicitations and the evaluations of solicitation responses.

Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 23.206 requires federal agencies to insert the clause at FAR section 52.223-15 in solicitations and contracts that deliver, acquire, furnish, or specify energy-consuming products. FEMP recommends that agencies incorporate efficiency requirements into both the technical specification and evaluation sections of solicitations. Agencies may claim an exception to these requirements through a written finding that no ENERGY STAR-qualified or FEMP-designated product is available to meet the functional requirements, or that no such product is life cycle cost-effective for the specific application. Additional information on federal laws and requirements is available.

Buyer Tips: Choosing Efficient Products

When buying commercial refrigerators and freezers, specify or select a model that is an appropriate size for its intended use. Oversized products will increase the initial cost and lead to excessive expenses due to additional energy losses. Since very few food products benefit from temperatures below -5°F, low temperature freezers should be kept small and used to store ice cream only. When buying new refrigerated merchandisers or when replacing existing open merchandisers, select closed products (those with swinging or sliding doors). Only closed merchandisers can qualify for the ENERGY STAR label—these products use substantially less energy than open merchandisers.

Compressor Location

When deciding on reach-in refrigerators and freezers, designers or purchasing agents can select from top or bottom-mounted compressors. Bottom-mounted compressors tend to operate more efficiently because the air near the floor is cooler, especially in commercial kitchens. Ergonomics is another advantage to this configuration because food products are placed in the easier-to-reach storage spaces. This should help users find what they need faster and close doors sooner. Products with top-mounted compressors should be considered in commercial kitchens where a lot of flour is used, such as bakeries, because as flour dust settles near the floor it can be sucked into the refrigeration system and impact performance.

Door Configuration

Doors can be solid or glass and come in either full or half heights. Solid doors are better insulated and easier to clean, while glass doors allow kitchen staff to see the contents of the unit, which may eliminate unnecessary opening and closing. Units with half-height doors tend to be more energy efficient, although this can impact storage space.

Non-Energy Features

Many commercial refrigerators and freezers can be purchased with casters instead of legs. Casters allow the units to be easily moved for maintenance and cleaning. Consider purchasing products with this feature. Make sure the casters are equipped with locks so that once the unit is in the desired location, the wheels can be locked in place.

User Tips: Using Products More Efficiently

Most commercial refrigerators and freezers are equipped with an "anti-sweat" heater. This device warms the exterior of the unit so condensation does not form on the surface. Typically this device only needs to be used when ambient conditions are very humid, such as during the summer or in some coastal areas. A switch mounted on the exterior of the unit allows users to turn this device on or off. Train kitchen staff to check anti-sweat heaters regularly and turn them off when not needed.

Make sure door gaskets and auto closers are maintained and in good working condition. Worn gaskets and malfunctioning closers allow warm, moist air to enter the refrigerated compartment, increasing energy use and possibly leading to food spoilage. The presence of frost on shelves and stored products indicates that gaskets are worn or closers are not working properly.

Clean the refrigeration system, especially the coils, of dust and any other airborne particulate. Clean coils are more effective at transferring heat. Also make sure the unit has adequate space around it to ensure good airflow over the heat exchange coils.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provided supporting analysis for this acquisition guidance.

Updated August 2014

1 Based on the following assumptions: Assumes 24-ft3 capacity, vertical, solid-door refrigerators operated year round. The performance of the less efficient model just meets the U.S. Department of Energy Appliance Standard for this product category. The performance of the required model meets the current ENERGY STAR eligibility criteria. The annual energy use is calculated by multiplying the MDEC for each model by 365 days. The assumed rate for electricity is $0.09 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), the average at federal facilities throughout the United States. Lifetime energy cost is the sum of the discounted values of annual energy cost with an average commercial refrigerator life of 12 years. Future electricity price trends and a 3% discount rate are based on federal guidelines (NISTIR 85-3273-28) and are from the Annual Supplement to NIST Handbook 135 and NBS Special Publication 709, Energy Price Indices and Discount Factors for Life Cycle Cost Analysis - 2013.