When we bought our house several years ago it came with a set of matching black kitchen appliances. While this meant we didn’t have to buy any appliances when transitioning from renting an apartment to home ownership, it meant we ended up with appliances we wouldn’t have chosen ourselves. Of all the appliances, the fridge was the one that suited us the least. When we sold our car last December we decided to use some of the proceeds to buy a more environmentally-friendly fridge.

To begin with, the old fridge was too big for a household of two adults plus a dog. If you ever travel in Europe and get to see the fridges that the locals use, you will realise that we are over-fridged here in North America. The one we got with our house was around 24 cubic feet and quite deep so things were always getting hidden behind other things and going bad. The freezer, though large on paper, wasn’t all that useful because a third of it was filled with an ice-maker. I’m not a big fan of ice-makers.  There is no insulation between an ice-maker (and consequently the freezer) and your house, which means a great deal of energy loss. And one peek inside it was enough to turn me off of ever using it.  Yellow gunk used to build up in it all the time.  Energy-wise it was a hog, rated at 850 kW hours per year by the Energy Star program.

Most fridges on the market now use less electricity than our old one did. However, as fridges last a long time (at least I hope they do) we wanted to get one that was as energy-efficient as possible. We also wanted one that was about half the size of our old model. Finally, we wanted one that was eco-friendly throughout its life-cycle from the extraction of the raw materials it is made from through its manufacture and the reuseability (or recyclability) of its components when it is no longer repairable.

In doing research into enviro-friendly fridges in Canada, I kept coming across references to the ConServ Refrigerator (sometimes referred to as the Eco-fridge). For example, the Ecology Action eco-renovation demonstration home in Halifax Nova Scotia has a ConServ Refrigerator, and The David Suzuki Foundation‘s report “Kyoto and Beyond” highlights the ConServ fridge as a tool to reduce carbon emissions.

The Eco-Fridge or ConServ Refrigerator was designed by a designer from Bang & Olufson and is made by Vestfrost in Denmark. Vestfrost was the first company to be awarded the Community Ecolabel from the European Union. The ConServ fridge was awarded an Ecolabel because it uses no ozone-depleting gases or materials in its manufacture or use, it is made out of recyclable materials, and it is highly energy efficient.

Equator Appliances imports ConServ fridges to North America. Equator’s Canadian distributor is Grand Chef, out of Montreal. I phoned up Montreal to inquire about buying a ConServ fridge in Ottawa and they were very helpful. So here’s the scoop…

To buy a ConServ Refrigerator (a.k.a Eco-Fridge) in Ottawa, one must go to Brault and Martineau across the river in Gatineau. Once in the home furnishings store one must find an appliance sales associate (this is the easiest step) and convince him (they were all hims when we went) that you can purchase a “CRF 1200-S” through his store (somewhat more challenging). Once he’s verified that you know what you’re talking about and you have filled out the appropriate paperwork and given over your credit card info the rest is easy.  The “S” stands for the stainless steel model which retailed in December of 2007 for about $1899, the fridge is also available in white for a few hundred dollars less. Our fridge was delivered to our door about a week after we bought it.

Why is it so difficult to buy this award-winning ecologically-friendly fridge? What I found out is that the ConServ Fridge is not certified for sale to residential customers in Canada. I have no idea why. Its got a great track record in Europe where it exceeds all requirements for safety and energy efficiency. But whatever the reasons, here in Canada it is sold as a industrial fridge and so it is only available through special order and there are no floor models to look at in Brault and Martineau. (to get a good “look” at the fridge go to the Oasis Montana website).

We’ve had our fridge for over half a year now and we’re very happy with it. It is about the most sophisticated looking thing we have in our house, very elegant design. (Incidentally, dwell magazine featured the ConServ fridge in its April 2007 enviro-issue.) The freezer is at the bottom and is fitted out with drawers so it’s easy to find things. The fridge section is tall and not that deep so you can see everything at a glance (nothing gets lost and smelly any more). And it runs very quietly. It is a little less than half the cubic footage of our old fridge, which is perhaps its best asset. We find that we hardly ever throw out food these days because we use up vegetables and left-overs before they spoil. Oh, and one last thing: Even brand new there was none of that plastic odour that is so over-powering in appliance stores these days. In fact, I suspect it is PVC-free.

Brault and Martineau, 500 De la Gappe Boulevard (facing the Promenades de l’Outaouais), Gatineau, PQ, (819) 561-5007