Should a Refrigerator Be on a Separate Circuit?

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It is good to keep your refrigerator on a separate circuit.
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When designing, renovating or simply reviewing a kitchen, the electrical power is often a key component to be considered. The kitchen features appliances that can draw on utilities. For example, the microwave can be a potent electrical load on the line, and a refrigerator is a constant draw on its circuit. If you are looking to renovate or change electrical circuits in your kitchen, you should always check with a certified professional electrician. However, here are some basics to help you understand the process and whether your refrigerator should be on its own circuit.

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National Electric Code Basics

The United States is led in this area by the National Electric Code (NEC), which puts forth the standards professional electricians follow to keep electrical work safe. In this case, general electrical best practices end up shaping the way a kitchen is wired for electrical power. Most refrigerators run between 3 to 6 amps (the unit of measurement for electrical current), but this represents normal operation and cycling of the cooling system. A refrigerator can spike at peak usage up to 15 amps, and that's what most electricians design circuits around, since that's the worst case scenario.

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Power for a Refrigerator

Power, which is measured in watts, is the actual amount of energy the refrigerator uses. Most refrigerator models can consume anywhere from 100 to 250 watts, between 1 to 2 kilowatt-hours per day, according to Reduction Revolution. Most modern refrigerator models have been energy rated, which means you may be able to look up specific information for your exact model online or in the product manual.

Problems with Electrical Surges

Why would it be bad if a fuse blows or a circuit breaker trips? First of all, while fluke electrical surges can happen from time to time, repeated tripping of the breakers indicates a definite problem in electrical wiring. Electrical problems can be incredibly dangerous, and can lead to fires, electrocution and even death. If a particular circuit is having repetitive problems, it's time to take a look at it before the situation gets worse.

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Why Safeguard Your Refrigerator?

The refrigerator is a particularly important appliance in the kitchen. You can probably manage a few days without a microwave, for example, but if the refrigerator loses power, you only have a few hours before all of the food in the refrigerator and its freezer warms into a dangerous temperature and needs to be thrown out. Discarding the entire content of your fridge and freezer is a waste of money and will probably be expensive to replace.

An unexpected thaw will be messy, costly and a real annoyance in addition to the issues posed by the potential safety hazards. This is one reason why it's best practice to keep a refrigerator on its own circuit.

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Refrigerator Amps and NEC Requirements

The NEC has no specific requirements directly for refrigerators, but it does list requirements for allowances and safety margins to be made with household appliances. Most appliance manufacturers thus recommend their refrigerators to be installed on a dedicated circuit, meaning an independent one that only serves the refrigerator, with a 15 or 20 amp circuit breaker or time-delay fuse.

This mental math may seem a bit excessive for an appliance that normally draws between 3 and 6 amps, but safety departments design for the worst-case scenario. This will protect the power to the refrigerator if it happens to surge due to an outage or other extreme conditions.

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Having the refrigerator on its own dedicated circuit is the recommended best practice from electricians and manufacturers alike as well as the NEC. If you're finding difficulties keeping the circuit breaker from tripping, be sure to contact a qualified electrician to come have a look at your breaker panel and determine a better electrical layout.

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Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She holds a Master of Science in Publishing from Pace University. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing, and she enjoys writing home and DIY articles and blogs for clients in a variety of related industries. She also runs her own lifestyle blog, Sweet Frivolity.