Your refrigerator is an easy appliance to take for granted. That is, until it stops functioning and your ice bin turns your kitchen floor into a small pond. When it’s time for you to buy a new refrigerator, you’ll have a vast array of choices, styles, features, and price points to review that will leave you with questions about buying a refrigerator.
The tips in this guide will help you keep your cool throughout the shopping process. Buying a refrigerator is a big investment, so take some time to consider this information carefully before you go shopping for your new refrigerator. Be sure to read the wide variety of refrigerator ratings and refrigerator reviews here, too, so you learn about the pros and cons of different refrigerator brands and styles from people who own them.
A side-by-side refrigerator has two cooling compartments: a refrigerator on one side and a freezer on the other. Make certain that you have enough room for both doors to swing open completely before you buy this type of refrigerator. Measure your space carefully – height, depth (flush with countertops or freestanding) and overhead cabinets. If you’re considering a side-by-side refrigerator with a water dispenser or ice maker, you must also make certain that you have the appropriate outlets and plumbing to accommodate those features. Side-by-side refrigerators are recommended for smaller spaces because they take up less space when the doors are open than other types of refrigerators.
Let’s take a look at some of the specific pros and cons of side-by-sides so you can keep them in mind when making your decision:
- They take up less floor space than other styles
- Easy to reach refrigerator and the freezer compartments
- Multiple levels and food storage compartments
- Interior may not be spacious enough to fit large serving platters or your holiday turkey
These refrigerators have a freezer on the top and refrigerator on the bottom. Top-freezer refrigerators are a wise choice if your goal is to maximize storage space. The shelves are wider in both the top and bottom sections, which mean they have the capacity to hold larger food items, such as cakes, platters, and party trays.
Again, let’s examine the specific pros and cons:
- Wider shelves can hold party platters, pizza and sheet cakes with ease
- Space-efficient for taller items (i.e. a gallon of milk or a jug of juice)
- Roomy deli and produce bins
- The freezer space is limited to the top compartment
- Difficult to freeze large items and quantities of food (i.e., turkey, warehouse-sized frozen foods)
If you’re considering refrigerators with bottom freezers, you probably are a person who uses the refrigerator much more often than the freezer. In that instance, a bottom freezer refrigerator will give you more room for the chilled items you use most frequently. Still, you will have to occasionally bend down to access your freezer, so be certain that your refrigerator choice has a well-designed freezer space. Look for sliding drawers, bins, and baskets to help you keep your frozen veggies and TV dinners tidy and accessible.
Some specific pros and cons of this refrigerator type are:
- Tons of storage and easy to reach placement of chilled food items
- Wider shelves can fit an extra large pizza or a caterer’s tray
- Freezer space is more compact than other refrigerator styles
- More difficult to freeze large quantities of food
This stylish model is a combination of the side-by-side and bottom freezer refrigerators. With two refrigerator sections on the top and a freezer on the bottom, the French door refrigerator provides a spacious interior for groceries. Just be sure you’re comfortable bending down to access the freezer, and that you have enough space for the doors to open completely.
The pros and cons for french door refrigerators include:
- Spacious interior for refrigerated items of all shapes and sizes (party platters, extra large pizza, catering trays, gallon of milk, large pitcher of juice, etc.)
- Easy reach to access refrigerated contents
- Takes up most square footage because of wide doors
- Freezer compartment has less interior space than refrigerator compartment
Suitable for use in a dorm room or office, these small-scale refrigerators are popular and affordable. Ranging in size from about 1.5 to over 5 cubic feet, these little chillers are designed to hold beverages, a few leftovers, fruit, and ice. Because of their small size, they can be stacked on counters, stowed away under counters, or even placed on a table. Look for features such as frost-free compartments, soda can dispensers/shelves, ice trays, adjustable thermostats and freezers.
There are a few pros and cons for compact refrigerators, but keep in mind these aren’t meant for large-scale use:
- Perfect for chilling beverages, fruit, and small quantities of groceries
- Affordable – prices start at $80
- Take up very little space
- Not as dependable or sturdy as larger appliances
- Some brands are refrigerator only – no freezer
In these economic times, an important consideration when shopping for a new refrigerator is energy efficiency. The U.S. Department of Energy confers the ENERGY STAR label on appliances that meet government standards for environmentally friendly and energy-saving appliances. Check the refrigerator’s “Energy Guide” label to determine the yearly cost of operating the appliance. With so many different brands of refrigerators to choose from, you should have no problem finding a model that is attractive, efficient, and energy saving.
There are some things you should know when it comes to ENERGY STAR refrigerators:
- An ENERGY STAR refrigerator will cost you 50% less energy to operate than traditional models
- You don’t have to give up helpful features like ice makers and dispensers when you buy an ENERGY STAR refrigerator
- ENERGY STAR refrigerators are manufactured with superior compressor efficiency and improved insulation
- You’ll find that an ENERGY STAR refrigerator provides more precise temperature regulation and defrosting capabilities. This efficiency maximizes energy use.
- Qualified models are available in all refrigerator styles – top freezer, bottom freezer, side-by-side, French door, and compact.
- ENERGY STAR models utilize 40% less energy than refrigerators sold as recently as 2001.
Now that you’ve narrowed down the style of refrigerator that best meets your family’s needs, it’s time to hone in on features. As you can expect, the availability and quality of features will depend on the price point and brand that you choose. However, here are some common features available in most refrigerator brands.
- Capacity: This is probably one of the most important considerations in your refrigerator purchase. Make certain that the size of the refrigerator you buy is in line with your family’s lifestyle and needs. Don’t waste money on buying an oversized refrigerator if you don’t plan on making use of its space. By the same token, avoid buying a refrigerator that won’t fit the amount of food you need to store. On average, a family of four may benefit from a 14 cubic foot refrigerator, while a larger family that frequently entertains may find an 18 to 20 cubic foot refrigerator to be more practical.
- Finish: Stainless steel refrigerators are the current trend in major appliances, and most refrigerator buyers are immediately drawn to that finish. Whether you choose stainless steel, traditional white, modern black, or another color choice, remember that you’ll be responsible for keeping it clean. In general, stainless steel tends to show smudges and fingerprints easily, and may require constant wiping in a household with children.
- Ice maker and dispenser: An icemaker and dispenser are worth the extra expense if you plan to use them frequently. When comparing models, make sure the dispenser will accommodate the glassware that you plan to use. Ideally, you’ll want an ice maker that doesn’t take up too much interior freezer space. Be aware that if you choose this feature, you will need to have appropriate plumbing and outlets available, and you will have the ongoing expense of water filter cartridges.
- Shelving and bins: When you begin shopping for your new refrigerator, think about how much space you need for the items you refrigerate most often. Models with adjustable shelves that slide out, move up, or push back will allow you to maximize your refrigerator’s space. Look for units that offer a minimum of two drawers (produce and lunch meat), butter keeper, egg bin, and in-the-door adjustable shelving for frequently accessed items and condiments.
Now that you know the difference between a side-by-side refrigerator and a French door refrigerator, and you’ve learned the pros and cons of a top freezer versus a bottom freezer, you’re well on your way to making an informed buying decision. Whether you ultimately select an LG, Maytag, Kenmore or GE refrigerator – or another brand – remember to make your selection based on space, quality, price tag, energy efficiency, style, and most importantly, your family’s needs.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on The Goods and written by Viewpoints reviewer LoveisJoy.