Buying a New Refrigerator? Here's How to Pick The Very Best One

Buying a New Refrigerator? Here's How to Pick The Very Best One

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Rachel Jacks
Mar 4, 2017
(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

The right appliances have a huge effect on your quality of life. If you've ever lived in a home with broken, poorly-designed, or just rundown appliances, and then upgraded, you know what I mean. You go from annoyed every time you grab a beverage from your refrigerator, to really looking forward to opening the door. Since your fridge gets get used many times a day, those interactions really add up.

Even if you're someone who primarily eats takeout, you still probably use your refrigerator daily (if only to store condiments and leftovers). Avid cooks likely use theirs dozens of times a day. But for something that gets used so often, you may not think about your refrigerator much...until it's time to replace it.

Before we get to all the fridge options, first try this exercise: ask yourself how your current fridge is and (just as importantly) isn't working for you. It depends on your lifestyle, because what you eat, how you grocery shop, and how many people you're feeding all determine how you use this hard-working appliance. My household of two vegetarians, for example, could use a fridge with more storage space for fresh produce from our CSA box — but that might be a waste of space for a family of dedicated carnivores who love frozen foods.

While keeping your food storage priorities in mind, it's time to get into the nitty-gritty and look at the options. Try searching big appliance websites like AJ Madison, filtering by size and color, then Google for reviews of models your interested in. Or, narrow down your options by style first. Finally, go to a store to test them in person if you can.

Otherwise, here are the main things to consider when picking out your next refrigerator:

Size

First, measure the dimensions of the space where your refrigerator will go. Manufacturers recommend that you leave a few inches around all sides of the unit for air circulation, and there needs to be room for the doors to open.

Tip: Don't forget to measure whether your chosen model can fit through doorways into the kitchen.

The height and width are obvious, but don't forget the depth. Refrigerators are generally 30 to 35 inches deep (including the doors), but counter-depth and cabinet-depth models, at 23 to 27 inches deep, offer a more built-in look, and are an especially good option for smaller kitchens. The drawbacks: they tend to be more expensive, there are fewer counter-depth models on the market, and have a smaller capacity.

If you have even more cash to spend, custom built-in refrigerators make the most of a non-standard space. We'll concentrate on the off-the-shelf choices here, because those are what's practical for most of us. But know that if you can dream it, you can refrigerate it — but you'll pay more for it.

Type

The main option to consider when it comes to the style of your refrigerator is the freezer placement. Models generally come with the freezer on top, freezer on bottom (with standard or French doors), or side-by-side. If it comes down to a choice between a top or bottom freezer, you should decide based on your preference for making fresh versus frozen foods more convenient to access. If it's more important for you to be able to reach the contents of your freezer without bending down, get a fridge with a freezer on top, but if you'd rather be able to reach the contents of the bottom of your fridge without crouching, get one with a bottom freezer. People are more likely to choose the items that are the easiest to see, so you can work with your own psychology to encourage the type of food choices you want to make. If you can't decide which compartment to make more convenient to access, split the difference and go with a side-by-side style model.

Finish

To create a cohesive look in the kitchen, most people choose a refrigerator finish that matches the rest of the appliances (although bright models in retro colors are a fun statement). Silver stainless steel has dominated the field for a while, but today black or bronze stainless steel models are also available.

One of the biggest complaints about stainless steel fridges used to be their lack of magnetism, and their tendency to show fingerprints and smudges. Faux stainless solved both of these problems. You can also find real stainless steel fridges with coatings that repel fingerprints.

With the popularity of white kitchens, white refrigerators have made a bit of a comeback recently. They now come in glossy metal finishes that avoid the dated (but classic to some!) "orange peel" white refrigerator texture. If you go that route, look for fingerprint resistant-coatings if you're worried about smudges. If you prefer dark to light, the same units often come in black versions, too.

Features

The features available in refrigerators these days are crazy! The fancy refrigerators used to be the ones that could dispense ice and water through the door, but now there are models with integrated coffee makers, Bluetooth speakers, computer screens, or sparkling water dispensers. Most of us probably don't need those features, but there are some recent refrigerator advancements that are worth having. Let's go back to the basics first, though.

To narrow down your options, one of the first features you should decide on the importance of is a water and ice dispenser in the door. They're very popular, but according to Consumer Reports the tradeoffs are that models with through-the-door ice and water dispensers need the most repairs, use more energy than models without them, and sacrifice storage space for the feature. Again, it's up to you if it's a must-have feature in your household.

Another big factor to consider is the adjustability of the shelf racks and drawers. Split shelves, removable drawers, and partitioned bins and racks all give you greater flexibility in how to configure your refrigerator. Dedicated bins for certain products can be great, but egg holders, for example, could be wasted space for vegans, so flexibility is important.

Many refrigerators these days have features like advanced temperature, moisture and humidity controls, and air filters. Being able to control these things on a zone-by-zone basis helps keep certain types of food fresh longer. And though I mentioned the main styles above, complicating things is that manufacturers have been releasing versions with extra drawers and doors, some with their own climate controls. Increasingly common is a middle drawer with separate temperature settings that allow you to use it for commonly accessed snacks or drinks. Door-in-door units are designed to achieve the same goal, hopefully saving you money on energy costs in the long run.

Whether these extra features are worthwhile for you depends on your habits and your budget.

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