Updated on 01.26.12

Don’t Install Your Refrigerator Next to Your Dishwasher (25/365)

Trent Hamm

Your dishwasher gets hot. Your dishwasher also gets moist, meaning it’s harder to cool down the air around it. Your refrigerator gets cold. So does your freezer.

Why would you put a device that gets hot next to a device that gets cold? No insulation is perfect, after all, so they would both be using energy to fight the effects of the appliance next door.

So many elements of frugality and personal finance come down to paying attention to the details. This is one of those little detail things that so many people will overlook, but over time it just continually costs you money.

Don't Install Your Refrigerator Next to Your Dishwasher (25/365)

When we moved into our current home, one of the things that annoyed me about it was the relatively small kitchen. It wasn’t much larger than the kitchen in our small apartment, having only a small counter that the other did not have.

Even worse, the refrigerator was installed next to the dishwasher, and the only way to fix it would involve an extensive reworking of our kitchen, as the cabinets are all formed around slots for the appliances.

There’s no doubt that energy is lost in this process. The dishwasher, while running a cycle, puts off a tremendous amount of heat, some of which you can feel on the side of the refrigerator. I often hear the refrigerator kicking on just a minute or two after starting a dishwasher load due to the rise in internal temperature of the refrigerator. It’s actively costing us money.

So, what can we do about this? At the moment, not much. Other than the side-by-side appliance issue, our kitchen is laid out fairly well for its size. Although we’ve looked at alternate arrangements, none of them have provided enough value to be worth the cost of rearranging things.

One short-term fix we’ve done is to insert a piece of thin insulation between the two appliances. There was just enough room for a small piece of insulation to fit between the two, so we purchased a piece of heat-resistant insulation. While this isn’t a perfect fix, it does reduce the heat directly transferred between the two devices.

We also try to make an effort to keep the refrigerator door closed while the dishwasher is running. Opening the refrigerator door while the dishwasher is running causes the cool and dry air to rush out and the warm, damp air to move in, making it that much harder for the refrigerator to do its job.

However, we do plan to build a new house in the future. When we do that, we’ll make sure to avoid having a “hot” appliance next to a “cold” one. In fact, in our latest design sketches (a fun project that Sarah and I work on sometimes in the evenings is doing sketches on the computer of what our dream house would be like), the refrigerator and dishwasher are pretty far apart, with a large counterspace between the refrigerator and the sink and the dishwasher on the other side of the sink.

Another thing to watch out for: avoid having your refrigerator or freezer next to an air vent, particularly if you live in northern climates. During the winter, your air vent will be blowing out hot air, which you don’t want blowing directly onto your refrigerator. This is something else to consider when designing or re-designing a kitchen, as it’s all about the energy efficiency.

Will this save you a lot of money or a little? It’s really hard to measure, as it depends on the modes you’re running in your refrigerator and dishwasher, the amount of insulation between the two, and countless other factors. However, I’d have to be oblivious to not hear our refrigerator kicking on and running almost contiunously when our dishwasher is running. If a simple kitchen design decision will make a real difference in how much your refrigerator is running, it’s well worth keeping in mind as a principle.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Johanna says:

    Not only does your refrigerator get cold, it also gets hot! It’s like that “too hot for Sesame Street” sketch that Elmo did with Katy Perry.

    So make sure there’s plenty of room for air to circulate around your refrigerator’s coils, and clean the dust and gunk off them every so often.

  2. Priswell says:

    I mostly think that the advice here is pretty good, except that most of us do not have the option of deciding where things, such as major appliances, will be placed in a kitchen.

    My DH and I were walking in this fancy new neighborhood one day. We saw that one of the houses hadn’t sold yet, so we walked up to the windows to take a peek. The kitchen was laid out appallingly. The stove and sink were across from each other, but the slot for the refrigerator was several feet on the other side of the room where you’d have to go way out of your way around the other side of the counter and a few more feet to boot to get the the fridge. I can’t imagine ever agreeing to buying this house.

    This is an extreme case, but sometimes all you can do is not buy or rent, and even then, you may be forced to take a less than ideal floor plan in some cases.

  3. Tracy says:

    Tips to living cheaply:

    When you custom design your house, design the kitchen so the fridge isn’t near the dishwasher.

    It boggles my mind that this is something Trent thinks of as coming under “So many elements of frugality and personal finance come down to paying attention to the details. This is one of those little detail things that so many people will overlook, but over time it just continually costs you money”

    I don’t think of something that requires someone 1) move into a new home or 2)do a kitchen remodel is an ‘overlooked detail’

  4. Johanna says:

    Also, when you invest in your deep freezer (spoiler!) don’t install it in your private sauna.

  5. Tracy says:

    Ugh, now I have to redo ALL my blueprints, Johanna!

  6. Jennifer says:

    It boggles my mind to think how hard he must have struggled to come up with this one. Seriously? How much financial loss can we be talking about here? Surely not enough to make one pay to separate the items via a construction project.

  7. Mister E says:

    I wouldn’t have thought this was a big deal with all of the insulation in a fridge to start with.

    Makes sense though I guess.

    On sort of the same note, you should really avoid putting hot things in your fridge. It warms the whole thing up which costs you money to cool down and more importantly is a major food safety risk.

    Keep your fridge cold.

  8. Adam P says:

    Now now guys. I think the takeaway here is to throw some insulation between your fridge and oven if they are next to eachother and it *may* over the lifetime of the house pay for the cost of that insulation material in energy savings.

    And also, well spotted Johanna, to not put your deep freezer in the private sauna.

    I can’t wait for day #237.

  9. Josh says:

    I like this picture. Much better.

  10. Katie says:

    This series is making me depressed about my lack of dishwasher.

  11. Vanessa says:

    I minimize the heat from my dishwasher by using the short cycle and only running full loads ;)

  12. Johanna says:

    @Katie: That’s funny, it’s making me even more determined never to use mine. I mean, so many things to think about!

  13. graytham says:

    I don’t run my dishwasher at all, I put the dishes in and then spray them with a hose :-)

  14. CNP76 says:

    Why oh why didn’t you tell me sooner Johanna?! I just installed my new freezer inside my super deluxe sauna. Drat. Now I will have to redesign it.

  15. George says:

    Wow, the fashion police will be issuing a ticket for the mishmash of non-matching appliances…

  16. lurker carl says:

    My fridge and dishwasher are adjacent with a solid wooden support physically separating them to stablize the end of countertop. The counter is wobbly without that support in place. My only complaint is the refrigerator door hits the dishwasher door when both are open. Regardless, the refrigerator has sufficient insulation to keep cold air cold and the dishwasher has sufficient insulation to keep hot water hot. I can barely hear the fridge running when the kitchen is quiet, especially not when the dishwasher is operating.

  17. Jessica says:

    mine are situated next to each other, not by choice, but because that is how the house was built.

  18. Gretchen says:

    I’d never thought I’d see the day when “remodel your kitchen” became a thrifty tip.

  19. Mister E says:

    Day 237 will be “cut your toilet paper budget to zero – just simply spray yourself off with a hose over the garden”.

  20. sergiogsr says:

    Trent, this “advice” is really wrong (at least on the scientific point of view).

    THIS IS HOW A REFRIGERATOR WORKS (in a general way).

    The refrigerator takes all the heat from the inside and throws it out of the refrigerator using the coils in the back.

    The heat needs to go somewhere! It doesn’t dissapear!! So all the heat that was taken from the inside and the heat produced by the electric pump in the refrigerator is released on the back of the kitchen.

    A refrigerator is actually, one of the things in the kitchen with a higher temperature.


    Putting a insulation layer near or around the refrigerator will make it work with less efficiency, since all the heat from inside will not have anywhere to go and the coils will not absorb enough heat from the inside.

    Just a comment, from a mechanical engineer.

  21. valleycat1 says:

    So, seriosgsr, we need to vent the hot air from our fridge into the oven?

  22. David says:

    Truth Stranger Than Fiction Department: it may actually be a good idea to install your deep freezer in the sauna. If you search for this phrase:

    “A Combined Refrigerator-Electric Water Heater”

    you will see that you do not have to tear up those blueprints just yet.

  23. Josh says:

    sergiogsr you are incorrect. Thanks for keeping up the reputation of arrogant engineer know-it-alls though.

  24. David says:

    Oh, you might as well insulate the fridge. It won’t do any harm, and it will create the illusion of doing some good. But valleycat1 is quite right, or at any rate thinking along quite the right lines – if something useful could be done with the heat generated by the fridge, that would represent a real saving in terms of energy (and therefore hard cash, for we have it on the best authority that e = mc squared, or “energy (e) is worth the square of the monetary cost (mc) involved in obtaining it.”

    Well it was said by the bard:

    So grin and bear it, stupid. Do not bleat.
    You hankered after Progress years ago;
    You wanted Science, and you’ve got it – neat;
    You certainly desired Hygiene, and lo!
    You have it now, and mutter in your woe
    Of bitter knowledge dearer bought than gold.
    But these are things that people do not know –
    They do not know, because they are not told.

  25. jim says:

    Josh, maybe you could elaborate rather than offhandedly dismissing him?

  26. Andy says:

    What program do you use to play around with house designs and layouts?

  27. Jennifer says:

    A tip when building that new house: Install the lighting on the floor. Since heat rises you’ll save on your electric bill.

    If Trent ever tells us to run a hose from the car exhaust into the house to help save on heating expenses, I’m done with this column.

  28. valleycat1 says:

    #3 Tracy that was my initial thought – how many people have the option of where their appliances are located?

    OTOH, our household pets appreciate the heat from the fridge during the winter – one of their favorite spots to nap is in front of the fridge. Ours is in a recess with a cabinet above, or I’m sure the cat would be up on top.

    Maybe you could put the stove next to the dishwasher & only open the oven when the dishwasher is running, to zero out the heat loss/gain from the oven.

  29. marty says:

    At first I thought Josh (@23) was wrong about sergiogsr (@20), in that sergiogsr was correct in stating that a refrigerator is a heat pump and it does (by compressing gases and circulating them to a heatsink) cool the inside by heating up the outside.
    However, the part Josh may have been referring to is the all-caps “SO, IF THE HEAT ON THE BACK OF THE REFRIGERATOR ITSELF DOESN’T REALLY AFFECT THE INSIDE AND COOLING CAPACITY, WHY TO WORRY ABOUT OTHER THINGS” part, since heat exchange works by the heat leaving the coils causing the cooling effect. He even states “Putting a insulation layer near or around the refrigerator will make it work with less efficiency, since all the heat from inside will not have anywhere to go and the coils will not absorb enough heat from the inside.” — so, the heat on the back of the refrigerator DOES have an effect on the efficiency of the cooling?
    If the outside of the refrigerator is cold, then the inside can cool down and radiate more heat out. If the outside is warm, it takes more energy to cool down the inside (the heating coils need to be hotter than the outside temperature for them to get cooler, needing more energy to go into pumping gases around).
    ie don’t put the fridge next to the dishwasher. (washing the dishes by hand isn’t more frugal?)

  30. marta says:

    It’s worth it to endure those mind-numbing posts just to read the comments. :D

    On a more serious note, though, I don’t think there is that much good material from this book to write a year’s worth of posts from. Convenient (for you)? Maybe. Interesting (for me)? Not really.

  31. Robin S says:

    I know that not all tips will work for all people, but I’m getting fed up reading The Simple Dollar and having all the tips be useless for renters. It’s as if the I just can’t save any money. Not just this post, which is pretty useless for everyone, but my utilities are included in my exorbitant rent, so this whole “Save money by living like you’re in a third world country without electricity!” series of posts is pretty useless to me overall.

  32. deRuiter says:

    Well… let’s see, maybe you could wash all your dishes on the cold cycle to solve the heat problem plus washing in cold water is cheaper. On a more serious note, a stove next to a door as shown above isn’t such a good idea. You’re better off with a counter next to the door, instead of a stove. There’s always a slight danger an element might be hot and some unwary type coming in with bundles might unthinkingly put something on stove or touch the element as they attempted to put something donw on the closest flat surface. If you’re designing a kitchen, you’d want a flat place to put bundles of groceries down as you entered the kitchen. If, on the other hand, the kitchen is what it is, train yourslef not to pile things on the stove top as you walk in the door!

  33. Jennifer says:

    After more thought, I realize my comments are a bit snarky and my intent really isn’t to attack or belittle Trent. I guess what would have been more appropriate to say is that if Trent is struggling so much to come up with new material that these types of posts are what he has, then perhaps he should consider the occasional guest writer to provide new, relevant, useful material.

  34. Jon says:

    @Jennifer #33

    I agree. Or even better, don’t force the issue of having to publish 2 posts every day. I would rather have 2 good posts PER WEEK than 2 crappy ones every day.
    But posts = traffic = $$, so it makes perfect sense to post as much as possible from that perspective.

  35. Misha says:

    More precisely, bad posts = great comments = traffic (of people who come just to read the commentariat!) = $$.

  36. Janis says:

    Brilliant! My lack of a dishwasher has just saved me a ton of money because there’s no need for me to remodel my kitchen.

    (Plus, if nothing else, I’m really enjoying the comments on this series.)

  37. Jackowick says:

    haters haters haters who can’t read. Trent says “what can we do about this? Not much” THEN provides their fix of adding insulation between the appliances. The advisement to “custom design a kitchen” isn’t meant to be how the wealthy can save a few pennies.

    Not every home is a custom build kitchen with islands and cutouts for appliances. Many small shotgun shack style homes, beach housing* and cabins are very spartan and the fridge is just “there” in the room.

    *beach housing does not mean a million dollar condo. Anyone who’s owned or rented an apartment in the off-shore towns knows what I mean.

    haters haters haters. Not liking the tone the comments have taken recently. This is a self-help site and NOT EVERYTHING APPLIES TO YOU.

  38. Kevin says:

    @Johanna: “don’t install [a freezer] in your private sauna”

    I had a reaction similar to sergiogsr’s – a freezer generates (exterior) heat. So wouldn’t a sauna be the IDEAL place for your freezer? The harder your freezer works cooling the inside, the less your sauana has to work to heat itself.

    I admit I’m not a physicist, and I’m terrible at explaining this stuff. It’s like trying to explain to someone why leaving the fridge door open will not cool down the house on a hot day.

  39. Johanna says:

    “So wouldn’t a sauna be the IDEAL place for your freezer?”


    “I admit I’m not a physicist”

    Well, you got one thing right.

  40. Cathy R says:

    I have a really old dishwasher that put out a lot of heat. I was advised to pull the dishwasher out, and then wrap a water heater insulating blanket around it. It really helped with the heat output. The counter still gets warm, but not as bad as it did.

  41. Kevin says:

    @Johanna: No attempt to address the physics of it? Did you seriously just post for the sole purpose of taking yet another shot at me?

    One of these days, I’m going to stop being surprised by you.

  42. Johanna says:

    Kevin, I don’t owe you one-on-one thermodynamics lessons.

  43. SLCCOM says:

    Kevin, thermodynamic lesson 101.

    Law # 1. You can’t win.
    Law # 2. You can’t even break even.

    I’ll let Johanna elaborate…. (G)

  44. Johanna says:

    Don’t forget Law #3: You can’t get out of the game.

  45. jim says:

    What if I put a small portable heater inside my fridge then put the fridge inside my sauna and then crank up the AC in the middle of the summer? Will that save me a lot of money? (Please prove your answer with physics and stuff.)

  46. SLCCOM says:

    Maybe that was in the second semester that I didn’t take?

  47. David says:

    Don’t worry, Kevin – there are people who can provide such lessons. Try searching for “Flanders Swann thermodynamics”.

  48. Maggie says:

    I really think the snide remarks here could be eliminated. While each of the things Trent mentions might not save a lot of money, the $20 here and the $5 there add up over time. If you are trying to save a few bucks for your emergency fund and don’t have much to spare, these amounts add up just like the $300 someone else can save. I know some of these comments are said “tongue-in-cheek” but some of you seem pretty nasty. I enjoy Trent’s emails and have learned some interesting things. Quite frankly, if you don’t like it, don’t read it.

  49. Johanna says:

    Same goes for the comments, Maggie. If you don’t like them, don’t read them.

  50. Kevin says:

    SLCCOM: Right, I’m familiar with the law of entropy. :) I understand that there’s no such thing as a perfectly efficient system.

    However, I’m saying that a sauna is inefficient, so it wastes some energy in trying to raise its internal temperature. Of course, a fridge is also not perfectly efficient in trying to lower its internal temperature. Separately, they both waste some energy.

    However, if you assume that the average temperature of a combined fridge/sauna system (that is, a fridge inside a sauna) is the same as the ambient temperature, couldn’t the inefficiency of the fridge (excess heat) offset some of the inefficiency of the sauna, helping it generate heat, thus lowering the sauna’s (and the overall system’s average) inefficiency?

  51. Johanna says:

    “Right, I’m familiar with the law of entropy.”

    No, you’re really not.

    “However, I’m saying that a sauna is inefficient, so it wastes some energy in trying to raise its internal temperature.”

    OK, just think about this for a second. What can it possibly mean that a sauna “wastes some energy in trying to raise its internal temperature”? Remember the *first* law of thermodynamics – energy can be neither created nor destroyed – so where could that “wasted” energy go?

    This is the stuff you have to understand before you have any hope of tackling refrigeration cycles.

  52. Jonathan says:

    I’m admittedly late to the party here, but I was surprised how long it took someone to bring up what I see as the primary fault in most of the complaints in the comments. Jackowick (#37) stepped in and said what I basically planned to.

    Not all houses have kitchens that can’t be easily re-organized. Even ones with wall to wall cabinets may easily be changed around by just taking the cabinets down and moving them. Its not a big deal. I’m not suggesting that its worth having to move cabinets in order to separate the dishwasher and refrigerator, but in kitchens were the refrigerator can be easily removed without moving cabinets, it seems like a simple solution to the problem.

    A lot of people complain when Trent’s article don’t apply to their specific situation. Yet here we see comment after comment that seem to make the assumption that everyone has a kitchen that can never be re-organized without a complete kitchen remodel.

    For those who plan to build a house in the future, or even those shopping for a house, I would suggest this might be a good issue to consider. A kitchen that cannot easily be re-organized is going to be inflexible, or require a significant financial and time investment to change down the road if/when you want something different. How many of us would build a bedroom in which the furniture only fits one way? Why, then, would we build a kitchen that way? What are you going to do when a new must-have appliance comes up in 10 years? Hire a contractor to completely re-do your kitchen in order to make room for it?

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