Refrigerator Buying Guide
Before you start shopping for new kitchen appliances, make sure you have a well-thought-out plan for your kitchen renovation. You should identify goals and priorities, with the help of your completed Day in the Life of Your Kitchen Questionnaire and Kitchen Goals Worksheet. You also should have a clear vision of what your new kitchen will look like, after exploring various kitchen designs and layouts and planning out space and storage. Finally, you should have a solid budget to follow.
"The first question we usually ask a shopper," says Chapman Logsdon, a regional manager with hhgregg, "is how much room do they have in their kitchen for the fridge." Refrigerators can vary greatly in overall dimensions depending on style, brand and model.
Cost Range: Shoppers can expect to pay $350 for a cramped top-freezer appliance in a plain white wrapper and as much as $2,500 and up for a roomy bottom freezer with French doors, through-the-door water and sleek stainless shell.
Types: Refrigerators come in three main body configurations: side-by-side, top-mounted freezer, and bottom-mounted freezer. The popular French-door style is a newer sub-set of the bottom-mounted freezer. Generally, refrigerators increase in capacity and price along with convenience and style.
- Top-mounted freezer: Called such owing to the freezer-above-fridge configuration, these economical fridges are the natural choice for shoppers with space and budget constraints, Logsdon says. Prices largely fall in the $400 to $600 range. But because these models generally offer the least interior capacity (16 to 22 cubic feet), they are less than ideal for large families or those who entertain frequently. Also, because the more heavily visited fridge area is located below the freezer compartment, consumers are forced to bend every time they need something.
- Side-by-side: Because these models offer convenient access to both the freezer and the fridge, and more than adequate interior space (22 to 26 cubic feet), they are the most popular category on the market. There also is a wide range in prices, starting around $700 and climbing to well above $2,000. Because side-by-sides feature a pair of tall, slender doors, these appliances are great for kitchens with little clearance between appliance and island. In exchange for improved clearance, shoppers lose horizontal shelf, most often on the freezer side. The slender freezer compartment makes it difficult to store wide items like frozen pizza boxes and party platters, says Logsdon.
- Bottom-mounted freezer: Though they generally offer the same space as top-mounted freezers (16 to 23 cubic feet), bottom-mount freezers are more convenient simply because the main compartment is at eye level. Even the lower freezer compartment is easier to get into thanks to a pull-out drawer that can be accessed from either side (unlike a door). This convenience comes with a price as most bottom-mount fridges fall into the $800 to $1,200 range.
- French door: "The popularity of this style really soared over the last five years," says Logsdon. A subset of the bottom-mount freezer category, French door models feature two opposing half doors instead of one large fridge door, requiring less clearance when open.
Features: As with most appliances, convenience, flexibility and style improve with a higher price tag. "A lot of the features are lifestyle dependent," says Logsdon. Shoppers should decide what features are important to them and why. Sleek stainless steel models, for instance, come at a premium of a couple hundred dollars over identical white models.
Through-the-door filtered water and ice is not only a nice convenience, says Logsdon, but it actually saves energy by eliminating the need to open the appliance doors. Just make sure there's a waterline nearby for installation.
Almost all fridges have multiple adjustable shelves, but higher models will offer better configurations, more flexibility and spill-proof shelves with raised edges.
High-end models may include fruit and vegetable crisper bins that are precisely controlled, ranging from simple high-low humidity sliders to adjustable settings. A popular trend: a drawer that can be customized for temperature and humidity positioned between the main fridge compartment and the freezer drawer. With names like "FlexZone" or "Glide-N-Serve," these drawers can be set colder for defrosting meats and less cold for beverages or party platters.
When it comes to temperature controls, explains Logsdon, "the low-end fridges will have the good old-fashioned dial with numbers and the higher-priced ones will have digital controls where you can set actual temperatures."
Models priced north of $2,000 will feature separate cooling systems for the fridge and freezer "so your vanilla ice cream won't taste like smoked salmon," Logsdon says.
Energy Use: Residential refrigerators gobble up approximately one sixth of a home's electricity consumption. The good news is that today's appliances are considerably more energy efficient than previous models. Simply by replacing a 10-year-old fridge with a new Energy Star model, shoppers will save roughly $30 off their annual utility bills.