It’s a nearly universal phenomenon — that moment of panic in the middle of the night before leaving home for an extended period of time wondering what loose ends you’ve forgotten to tie. Your brother will care for the pets. Aunt Minnie will bring in the mail and water the plants. You’ve unplugged the computer and entertainment center, just in case of electrical surges. Then your mind turns to the kitchen appliances. Consider all variables before unplugging your refrigerator.

Electrical Costs

Perhaps your primary reason for unplugging the refrigerator is to save on electrical costs. It won’t cost much to keep your refrigerator running. Springfield, Illinois’s City Water, Light and Power Company estimates that the monthly cost of running a refrigerator ranges from about $7 to $18. The U.S. Department of Energy website has a more specific formula for calculating appliance energy usage (see Resources). Only you can decide if the hassle of emptying, defrosting and unplugging your refrigerator is worth the small electrical savings.

Time Away and Refrigerator Contents

If a “long” vacation for you means a week or 10 days, it is probably not worth unplugging your refrigerator. If, on the other hand, you will be away for a month or more, the proposition becomes more feasible. Toss or give away all perishables whether or not you unplug the fridge. More hardy condiments and jam may survive if refrigerated but possibly not at room temperature. Get rid of anything that you are not absolutely certain will be safe to consume upon your return. If you have a freezer jammed full of frozen venison or garden vegetables, give the contents away or leave the refrigerator plugged in.

Safety Concerns

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, home appliances cause about 9,600 residential fires in America each year. While clothes dryers, ovens and other heat-producing appliances are mainly to blame, any appliance can be a problem if its electrical wiring is faulty or obsolete. Permanently retire your refrigerator if the electrical cord is damaged or does not have three good electrical prongs. Use heavy duty extension cords only as advised by the U.S. Fire Administration (see Resources). Don’t risk leaving home with a running refrigerator unless you are confident that it is not a fire hazard.

Additional Considerations

Perhaps your brother wants to keep some milk in the fridge for the cat. Maybe Aunt Minnie wants to tuck some meals in your freezer for when you return. If for any reason you leave the refrigerator running, have Aunt Minnie check it from time to time to make sure the contents are staying cold. If you unplug or turn off your refrigerator, remove perishables, thoroughly defrost ice, remove all moisture and leave the doors open. Then you’ll sleep easy knowing mold isn’t invading your fridge while you are enjoying the sunny beaches or snowy slopes.