Refrigerators play a central role in every kitchen, allowing you to keep food and beverages fresh and ready for use throughout the week. Finding a model that's right for you is simply a matter of evaluating what you need in terms of space, function and style.
With a wide variety of options to choose from, including top freezer refrigerators, bottom freezer refrigerators, side-by-side refrigerators, French-door refrigerators, specialty and compact refrigerators, you'll have no trouble finding one that combines the right capacity, features and look you want.
Replacing an old refrigerator with an energy-efficient model may also help you reduce your energy consumption and lower monthly utility bills.
Consider the following questions as you learn more about the available options:
- What type and style of refrigerator are you looking for?
- How much space do you have available for your refrigerator?
- How much capacity will you need to store food?
- What organization and storage options are available?
- How can a new refrigerator improve energy efficiency?
Before you begin your search for a new refrigerator, the first step you'll need to take is measure the space you have available. Determine how wide, tall and deep your new unit can be, and remember that you'll need to leave enough space for the doors to swing freely. Don't forget to take into account getting the unit into your home. If your doorways are narrower than the refrigerator, you may not be able to get it into the kitchen.
Once you've determined how much room you have, one of the next decisions you'll need to make is how much capacity you'll need. Large families tend to require significantly more storage space than one or two people living in a small apartment.
Next, consider available features, such as adjustable or spill-proof shelving and in-door water dispensers with built-in filtration systems. Also, you'll want to choose a style that suits the decor of your kitchen. Prices for refrigerators range from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand depending on type, size and features.
Refrigerators are available in several different designs, each of which offers an array of advantages. Choose
from top freezer refrigerators, bottom freezer refrigerators, side-by-side refrigerators, French door refrigerators, and specialty or compact refrigerators.
Depending on the unit, you may even be able to find a cabinet- or counter-depth model that features a shallow design that doesn't jut out past the counter, giving your kitchen a sleek look. The list below provides a description of each type as well as a few points of consideration.
Top-mount: The freezer is located above the refrigerator section. Most common design, provides a spacious interior.
Bottom-mount: The freezer is located underneath the refrigerator section. Makes food in refrigerator easier to reach without bending over. Freezer door may pull out or swing open, may feature a single door or two French doors.
Side-by-side: The freezer and refrigerator are placed directly next to each other, putting frozen and refrigerated food within easy reach. Side-by-side units are designed to accommodate larger plates and platters.
Built-In: Constructed to blend in with the rest of the kitchen cabinetry rather than being installed as a separate unit. Seamlessly integrates with kitchen decor, often has less depth than freestanding units but may be wider to compensate, generally has unfinished tops and sides. Custom-made panels provide stylish options.
Compact models: Small units that can fit into tight spaces or underneath counters. Ideal for dorm rooms, bedrooms, home offices and home bars. Provide less capacity than standard units.Smaller units can be placed on countertops.
Refrigerators are available in a wide range of capacities, from compact refrigerators with around 3 cu. ft. of space to large, family-sized units that feature upwards of 26 cu. ft. Excluding freezer space, you'll probably want to have at least 10 cu. ft. of space if there are two people in your household.
If there are more, a good rule of thumb is to add around 1.5 cu. ft. per person, again excluding freezer storage space. These numbers are dependent on how much food you prepare at home -- if you eat out frequently, you'll probably be able to purchase a smaller unit. Overall, 26-29 cu. ft. of space should suffice for an average-sized family.
- Empty refrigerators operate with less efficiency than fully stocked units
- If you frequently entertain guests, look for a unit with greater storage capacity
- Consider adding a second refrigerator in your garage or basement if you need a great deal of extra space.
The primary means of storing food in your refrigerator are bins, shelves, drawers and baskets. If you like to keep large amounts of milk or juice on hand, look for door bins capable of holding gallon-sized containers.
Many refrigerators have wire shelves, which allow spills to fall through and splatter items below. For easy cleanup and spill control, look for units with spill-proof glass shelves. Adjustable shelving allows you to move them up and down to create space for large dishes while wine racks, snack trays and lift-out baskets in the freezer provide other organizational options.
If you tend to purchase a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, look for produce drawers with humidity controls. Different fruits and veggies require different amounts of humidity to remain crisp, so these drawers offer the ability to set levels depending on what you're storing.
- Bins with adjustable heights can accommodate a wider range of food and beverage containers
- Sliding shelves make it easier to reach items placed toward the back of the fridge
- Deli trays allow you to store large platters of meats, cheeses and hors d'oeuvres
- Built-in beverage holders keep canned or bottled beverages neat, orderly and easily accessible.
Style and finish
While storage capacity, features and efficiency are probably the most important aspects to consider, don't overlook style. Your refrigerator will likely last for a number of years, so it's important to select a model that will fit in with your changing tastes and continue to look great over time.
Stainless-steel refrigerators provide one way to keep your kitchen looking good for years, though they may cost a little bit extra initially. Built-in units let you customize your kitchen's appearance while contoured doors and handles offer a sleek, sophisticated element.
- Common colors to choose from include stainless steel, bisque, and black and white
- Trim kits allow you to give freestanding units the appearance of a built-in refrigerator
- Some materials used to create refrigerators are not magnetic, so bear that in mind if you often keep menus, to-do lists and other important items on the fridge.
Compared to older units, ENERGY STAR refrigerators manufactured over the past few years provide a tremendous improvement in energy efficiency. Units with the ENERGY STAR rating offer even more efficiency, being required by definition to use at least 20% less energy than current federal standards require.
In addition to purchasing an ENERGY STAR qualified unit, there are other ways to improve efficiency. Avoid placing your refrigerator next to a heat source, such as a stove or dishwasher, and be sure to defrost it as soon as necessary if you purchase a manual-defrost model. Don't leave the door open for long periods of time, and make sure to leave space around the unit to allow air to reach the condenser coils, preventing heat buildup.
- Energy-efficient models help reduce utility bills and are more environmentally friendly than standard refrigerators
- Electronic controls and digital displays make it easy to set precise temperatures
- Advanced temperature regulation systems keep refrigerators efficiently functioning at optimal temperatures
Door or temperature alarms: Accidentally leaving the door of the refrigerator open not only wastes energy, it can also spoil food. Units with door or temperature alarms alert you when the door has been left open for more than a few minutes.
Child lock: Units with a child lock will help prevent little chefs from accidentally leaving the door open or getting at treats when they are not supposed to.
Quiet operation: Refrigerators with this feature reduce operational noise and help keep your kitchen atmosphere quiet.
Icemaker/Water dispenser: Fighting with plastic ice cube trays can be a hassle, and there are never enough cubes when you have company. Built-in automatic icemakers ensure that there's always plenty of ice available, and water dispensers provide cold water at the touch of a button. Look for icemakers and water dispensers with built-in filtration systems to provide clean, pure water.
Fast-cooling compartment: If you find yourself needing to get food items or beverages to a cool temperature quickly, look for a refrigerator that features a special compartment that's colder than the rest of the unit. This space cools things down fast without freezing them.
In-door television: For cooks who spend virtually all of their free time creating culinary delights, an in-door television makes it easy to compare notes with cooking shows or keep up-to-date on current news stories while you prepare dinner.
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