Everyone loves to have choices, but too many options can be overwhelming. So it is when shopping for modern appliances like refrigerators. What was once little more than a non-descript “ice box” is now available in countless finishes and styles with extravagant features such as sparkling water dispensers, built-in touchscreens and smart home integration. As an appliance that protects the safety of your food and is (hopefully) always running, the purchase of a new fridge is important to get right. If you’re in the market for one of these appliances, here’s how to evaluate your options and choose the model that is right for you.
Select a style
From classic top-freezer models to the modern French door style, there’s a fridge configuration for every household. You’ll need to weigh convenience, capacity, cost and your home’s unique needs when choosing among the available fridge styles.
Top freezer: This traditional fridge offers the most space for its compact size (usually 30 to 33 inches wide) and is often one of the most affordable options. Just make sure there’s room for the full-sized door to swing, and be prepared to crouch to reach the fridge’s lower contents.
Bottom freezer: Typically ranging from 30 to 36 inches wide, this layout puts the fridge compartment conveniently at eye level, though you’ll need to stoop to access the freezer.
French door: These models have a double-door fridge at the top with the freezer below, sometimes with one or more drawers in between. They come in widths from 30 to 36 inches. The narrow doors require less room to swing, and this style often includes an in-door water and ice dispenser.
Side-by-side: The fridge is on one side and the freezer is on the other with this style. Widths typically range from 32 to 36 inches, and through-the-door ice and water dispensers and temperature-controlled bins are common features. The tall compartments have the advantage of narrow doors that need less swing room, but you may have difficulty accommodating wide items.
Built-in: Made to fit nearly flush with cabinets and countertops, this sleek style commands a steep price. They’re usually 36 inches or more wide and may be available in several of the above styles. Optional front panels to match your kitchen cabinets may be available.
Compact or mini: This space-saving style is a favorite of dorm rooms, offices and kitchenettes. Besides the obvious drawback of the reduced capacity (sometimes as little as one quarter of a standard fridge), some models struggle to keep perishables at a safe temperature and are best reserved for chilling beverages and snacks that won’t spoil.
Choose a size
Few things can put new-fridge-enthusiasm on ice faster than accidentally buying a model that’s too big for your space or too small for your food storage needs. Thankfully, most styles are available in a range of widths and capacities.
Make sure to carefully measure your existing space, including doorways the fridge needs to pass through when being delivered and installed. You should plan to allow one inch of space on the sides and back of the fridge to provide proper airflow. Also, confirm that there is room for the fridge doors and drawers to open and close.
Manufacturers typically recommend a fridge capacity of 19 to 22 cubic feet for a family of four. If you’re a fan of buying bulk or stocking up on big shopping trips, 30 to 33 cubic feet may be necessary. Be aware that the actual usable space found in fridges is often smaller than what is advertised.
Check the energy efficiency
Since your refrigerator is (hopefully) always running, you may want to ensure you get an energy-efficient model. The difference between an efficient fridge and one that’s not could add up to $50-60 a year. Check the EnergyGuide labels for yearly operating costs, electricity usage and other information, such as whether the model has received an Energy Star rating for good efficiency. Note that traditional fridges like the top-freezer models tend to be the most efficient, while models with more elaborate designs and features, like a French door style fridge with an ice/water dispenser, are usually less efficient.
Optional fridge features can provide countless additional benefits and conveniences, but you’ll have to pay more to get them and may have to sacrifice some energy efficiency and storage capacity.
- Ice/water/coffee dispensers: Built-in dispensers are available that provide hot and cold (and still and sparkling) water, cubed and crushed ice and even coffee at the touch of a button or lever, but expect some extra repair bills down the line for these fancy features.
- Door-in-door storage: With a small refrigerated compartment built into the door, you can access frequently used items without opening the whole fridge, saving on energy use.
- Freshness features: Evaporators, air purifiers and vacuum-sealed crisper drawers can help prevent bacteria, mold and odors and keep food fresher longer.
- Temperature zones: This feature lets you set different temperatures for each zone of your fridge, such as keeping one drawer cooler to better store meat.
- Shelf and drawer solutions: There are countless options and arrangements for the storage spaces of fridges, including “elevator shelves” that can be cranked up or down.
- Smart features: Smart-home integration, voice command support, Wi-Fi, flat-screen monitors with built-in apps and even remotely accessible interior cameras are among the variety of smart features found in some high-end fridges.
While there are more features than ever available in fridges, don’t get carried away and purchase more than you need. If a basic fridge has served you well in the past, you’ll probably be perfectly satisfied with a similar but newer model. Keeping it simple will save on your price tag and likely grant you greater storage capacity with less energy use and smaller maintenance bills. Just keep your cool while shopping, and your new fridge will return the favor for years to come.