The best refrigerator for you is the combination of well-defined features that suit your specific needs and preferences. In this guide, I recommend the most important factors you need to consider to find the right fit for your home. You can use this guide to narrow down your search in terms of size, price, and type of refrigerator.
These factors are based on what experts and professional sources have recommended over the years. And once you go through it all, you’ll know your ideal refrigerator when you see one. Finding the ideal refrigerator for your home without understanding the science behind one means you’re buying based on only price.
Fortunately, after this, you won’t find it right to equate price with performance when you can make a valuable investment in what people believe is the most important kitchen appliance. As a result of this, brands are offering an ever-increasing range of color, features, and style of options. You can now buy a refrigerator with smart features at an affordable price rather than settling for anything basic.
I’m confident that after this what’s ahead, you will be buying a refrigerator that’s professional, concise, and efficient. So let’s get started!
1. Considering The Right Style
To narrow down your search, knowing what options you have for a refrigerator is important. There a specific style that suits every home. Some look more traditional with smart features, while some are more energy-efficient and spacious. It’s all a matter of preferences when choosing the right style of refrigerator. The rest will follow.
Here are the common refrigerator styles and its main features on the market:
Top freezer: A top freezer model is the most traditional refrigerator since ages. It is found in most average homes with a simple fresh-food storage with the freezer sitting on top. It’s a good option when you want something affordable and energy-efficient. The best part about top freezer refrigerators is that they are available in a variety of colors and sizes.
Bottom freezer: A bottom freezer model is similar to top freezer models. It’s one of the most common refrigerators used in homes, but with the freezer underneath the fresh-food storage compartment. Slightly bigger than top freezer models, the best part about a bottom freezer is better accessibility.
Side-by-side: A side-by-side model comes with two doors placed next to each other. The left door offers frozen food while the right houses fresh food. Usually on top/bottom freezer models, there’s more fresh-food storage than freezer. But with this models, both come with equal sized compartments.
The best part about side-by-side models is that they usually come with temperature control features along with ice and water dispenser. But one report suggests that ice and water dispensers come with costly maintenance. (1)
All said, a side-by-side refrigerator is good for tight spaces with minimal door movement.
French door: A French door model offers a bottom freezer compartment with double doors for fresh-food storage. Imagine a side-by-side refrigerator, but with a single-door bottom freezer configuration. The dual doors are narrow with either a single storage compartment or shelves on each side for more storage space.
The best part about French door models is that they offer excellent versatility in terms of storage and accessibility. These are also more energy efficient to begin with. If you’re someone who loves plenty of space for storing fresh food and groceries, a French door refrigerator is best for you.
Mini: A mini refrigerator is as the name suggests – compact and affordable. It’s commonly used in offices, dorm rooms, or tiny studio apartments. People who usually live alone or eat out have a mini refrigerator. That’s to only store drinks, left-over food, and snacks. There’s hardly any freezer space in mini refrigerators. But it’s enough to keep ice. (2)
2. What’s The Refrigerator’s Capacity?
Choosing the right refrigerator capacity based on its style is essential to the refrigerator buying process. Most modern refrigerators come with a capacity tag inside the product. There’s a difference between refrigerator size and capacity. The capacity is the total amount of interior space the refrigerator allows for food storage.
If you purchase a larger capacity, it means you can store more food in the refrigerator. This includes both the fresh-food storage and freezer capacity. But it’s also important to remember that the bigger the refrigerator doesn’t always mean it’s a good thing.
Based on what I found, here is the common capacity of different refrigerators on the market:
Top/Bottom freezer: 15 to 24 cubic feet capacity
Side-by-side: 19 to 25 cubic feet capacity
French door: 18 to 32 cubic feet capacity
Mini: 10 to 12 cubic feet capacity
Bigger refrigerator capacity models come with more organization features and accessibility. Some feature adjustable glass shelves, door bins, and pantry drawers. So considering refrigerator capacity also depends on your food-eating and storing habits.
You can calculate your current refrigerator’s capacity with this tool. This will help you upgrade to a better one if you’re not satisfied with what you already have and want replaced.
All this said, relying on just the refrigerator capacity for your final purchase isn’t enough. You should be able to customize and organize your food in an accessible and simplified manner. Sometimes just stacking food items on top of each other isn’t the ideal choice for many homemakers.
The general rule of thumb is that you want something comfortable, organized, and proficient to last for years. (5)
3. Which Size Fits Your Kitchen?
Deciding the right size isn’t so much about preference, but only comfort and space. If you have a compact kitchen, buying an extensive refrigerator isn’t correct. You need something that has a small footprint, but hosts a bunch of smart and energy-efficient features. (6)
Or else, if your kitchen has plenty of space to boast of, buying a new refrigerator is simply a matter of choice and style. You won’t even have to measure your kitchen in terms of width, height, and depth.
Your kitchen space determines the size of the refrigerator you will be choosing. A modern refrigerator, of any kind, requires proper air circulation and door movement. This prevents excessive heat build-up on all sides of the refrigerator and better accessibility. (7,8)
For this, you need to make sure the refrigerator doors can swing wide open without any disturbances in the way. Also, there should at least an inch clearance on all sides of the refrigerator for better airflow.
But if space is truly a problem for you, you can always adjust your kitchen to suit a counter-depth refrigerator. For newcomers, here’s some ‘need-to-know’ information about counter-depth refrigerators.
Counter-depth refrigerators: As the name suggests, it aligns with the entire foundation of your kitchen. That is, it comes in line with your countertops with only the door sticking out when opened. There’s no difference between the edges of the countertops and the front side of the refrigerator. It fits in perfectly well, taking up no extra kitchen space.
The only drawback to counter-depth refrigerators is that they don’t suit all kitchen types. You have to have it custom-built to suit your kitchen’s cabinetry.
Counter-depth refrigerators are less spacious, but more expensive to buy than others. This is primarily because they’re customized for your preferences. (9)
4. Determining The Right Budget
There’s no other appliance in your home that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. It takes up at least 13 percent of your energy bill. So investing in something valuable and cost-effective is a wise decision. (10)
Price-wise, you’ve got many options to buy from, but it’s good to know the basic wavering prices of the different styles of refrigerator today. For example, top freezers on the market fall between the price range of $500 to over $2000. While you can choose a bottom freezer for anything between $1000 to $1900.
Traditional, top freezers are less expensive than French door or side-by-side refrigerators. But they also differ in features and configuration. The amount of smart features in a French door refrigerator is higher than top freezer or bottom freezer refrigerators.
If you’d prefer something fancier, with expert temperature and ice dispenser features, paying a little more is most ideal. Not that price completely equates performance, but as with any large purchase, it is a contributive factor.
Other refrigerators, like French door and side-by-side refrigerators, fall between $1200 to $4000 range. They offer excellent shelving and control features that most standard refrigerators lack. They look extra sleek and classy too.
If you’re worried about adding costs during maintenance, you should know that a refrigerator is extremely durable and efficient to run. Unless you keep your refrigerator unclean and overcrowd it, you won’t need to spend extra bucks for its upkeep. Servicing a refrigerator once a year is the ideal amount of time to prolong its performance. But any less than that is almost never a necessity. (11,12)
5. Is It Energy Efficient?
Monitoring your refrigerator is one thing, but having a refrigerator with expert energy monitoring features is another. The only way you can cut down energy bills costs and encourage an energy efficient lifestyle is by buying a smart refrigerator.
Energy efficiency is relevant to the refrigerator buying process as it helps you reduce energy consumption. And since a refrigerator must run 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, it’s important you buying only an energy efficient rated refrigerator.
Most modern refrigerators come with ENERGY STAR ratings to ensure they don’t drain all your energy consumption. This rating is certified, tested, and unimpeachable; used in most households across the globe. According to reports, if a refrigerator comes with an ENERGY STAR rating, it uses 20% less energy than non-rated refrigerators. (13,14)
According to this rating, you will find refrigerators either with 1 star rating up to 6 stars rating. In simple words, the more stars your refrigerator has, the better the energy efficiency. The ideal refrigerator of your choice will then offer lower running costs and better energy consumption for consistent use. (15)
You can measure your current refrigerator’s energy efficiency with this tool. This will help you compare the energy efficiency ratings on both models and make a smarter choice to your advantage.
You will find refrigerators that save up to $100 a year, which amounts to more than $500 over the shelf life of the refrigerator. According to one review, a refrigerator lasts for a minimum of 14 years or more. So you’d be saving more than $1000 dollars with an energy efficient refrigerator. (16)
6. Does It Offer Digital Temperature Controls?
Just by storing fresh foods in the refrigerator you’re not taking care of them. Having concise temperature controls for both the freezer and refrigerator can help keep the food fresh for longer. You need a refrigerator with accurate and independent temperature controls.
If you have versatile ingredients, leftovers, and drinks to keep in the refrigerator, a unit with defrosting, climate control, and advanced cooling features will suit you best. Some refrigerators come with different cooling compartments based on specific categories including assorted items, fruits/vegetables, and meats.
You can even have a different compartment for cold drinks so the rest of the refrigerator doesn’t get too cooled. A new refrigerator will always be set on normal temperature settings for both the freezer and fresh-food compartment.
The healthiest way to keep vegetables, leftovers, and other food items fresh is staying somewhere close to 37 degrees Fahrenheit. And for the frozen section, keeping it at 0 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature to keep the ice and other food items frozen. (17,18)
Some refrigerators come with temperature ratings between 1 to 5. The lower the number, the cooler the temperature of the refrigerator. So this means a temperature rating of 5 will keep the refrigerator comparatively warmer.
According to another source, the best way to keep your foods fresh during hotter climates is to turn down the temperature to make it much colder than before. This prevents odor, moisture buildup, and bacteria formation on certain types of fruits and vegetables. (19)
On an ending note, some refrigerators come with automatic temperature control settings to suit various conditions. Plus, if the refrigerator gets too cold without your noticing, some modern refrigerators offer a warning sound to manage ideal cooling temperatures.
7. Do You Need A Water Dispenser?
Before choosing your refrigerator, it’s essential to find out whether it offers ice and water dispensing features. There are many types of water dispensing features found in modern refrigerators. Some of the most common ones I’ve discussed below.
In-door: For ice dispensing, a simple unit is built in the refrigerator’s door. It’s most common among French door and side-by-side refrigerators. You press a lever or a button and the ice automatically lands at the bottom of your glass.
For water dispensing, all you have to do is touch a button and you get fresh water without having to open the refrigerator doors.
In-freezer/In-refrigerator: This option, as the name suggests, is built inside the freezer/refrigerator compartment. Unlike in-door units, these take up refrigerator space and you will have to open the refrigerator doors to access fresh ice cubes and water.
The in-freezer unit is more common than in-refrigerator units for both ice and water dispensing. The former model is cost effective and offers plenty of space for ice cubes. In-refrigerator units for water dispensing, on the other hand, can be avoided as it can cause bacteria and isn’t cost effective at all.
Hot water: This is the most talked about feature on the market. Modern refrigerators are able to dispense hot water at different temperature settings. It’s quick and easily accessible without compromising on quality.
Paying extra money for a water and ice dispenser may not be possible for budget-minded buyers. There are many advantages of using a water dispenser, but it comes at a cost. The disadvantages, though, is that it takes up refrigerator space and requires regular cleaning and maintenance.
8. Does It Have Air Filtration?
Buying air filtration along with your refrigerator, that is if your refrigerator supports it, is a good option. It helps you manage various humidity levels and prevents odor or bacteria formation in both the freezer and refrigerator compartments.
You can purchase air filters along with the refrigerator or individually based on your refrigerator’s compatibility. But it’s important to remember that maintaining air filters requires you to replace them once every 6 months or so. But the advantages of an air filtration system overshadow this aspect.
How does air filtration work for a refrigerator? It comes with a durable carbon filter that checks the cooling temperature and humidity level inside the refrigerator and keeps the air fresh accordingly. You will also find specific programmable air filtration settings on smart refrigerators. This allows you set the filter between lowest to highest setting based on your food habits.
For example, fresh fruits and vegetables need cleaner air filtration to do away with bacteria, mold, and odor formation. The goal is to make the air cleaner and safer for extending the life of all types of fruits and vegetables. (20,21)
Either that, or you can opt for vacuum-sealed, filtration drawers for storing fruits and vegetables. This keeps them fresh for longer, prevents mold formation, and fights off odor.
9. Keeping It Organized With Shelves And Drawers
Does your refrigerator have enough wide drawers and shelves? And does it feature door bins for storing drinks, milk cartons, and bottles? To improve accessibility, modern refrigerators offer adjustable shelving units that come in handy during stocking.
It allows you to adjust and re-arrange shelves based on height and space so you can fit tall items without hassle. Most refrigerator doors come with deep storage bins that allow you to keep egg, milk, and butter. This is because it keeps these dairy items away from the coolest corners of the refrigerator. And it helps keep the products fresh and healthy.
The full-width drawers are meant for storing fruits and vegetables, while the sliding shelves allow you to store large food platters, plates, and other wide bowls of food. Here is what you need to know about refrigerator shelving:
Oversized door bins: These are often gallon-sized bins that let you store large pitchers, milk cartons, juice boxes, and 2-litre bottles. Items like these need to be easily accessible to avoid spills.
Humidity-control drawers: These come with intelligent temperature and air filtration features. People often store fruits, vegetables, and herbs in such drawers to keep them fresh for much longer.
Glass shelves: Glass shelves are what make up most of the refrigerator space. They’re adjustable and offer better customized space organization than any other shelving unit. You can flip them vertically to make place for bigger items or organize food in a convenient way by having them slide in and out of the refrigerator.
If you have a severe medical condition, considering shelves and drawers is a major plus point. Looking for intuitive and straightforward design features can make it easier for you to quickly grab what you want from your refrigerator.
So if you have troubling getting along with your refrigerator, knowing this might help you.
10. Does It Have A Door Alarm?
Certain refrigerators come with a smart notification feature that sends a warning sign when the door it left open for longer. When you keep your refrigerator door open for more than a few seconds, your refrigerator should be able to alert you to shut the door.
This is because letting in all the cold air out and filling the refrigerator with warmer air can potentially harm the food kept inside. On the other hand, it increases energy costs in the long run. It has already been established that a refrigerator takes up 13% of your energy bill.
Keeping the refrigerator door open makes it work harder at cooling the food back again. Repeat this process a couple of times in the day and you will notice a big shift in energy costs after a few months. This needs to be avoided. The smart way to do that is choose a refrigerator that warns you when it’s time to close the door.
Such an intelligent sensor works as soon as it detects insufficient cool air inside the refrigerator. If there’s too much air exchange between the cool air of the refrigerator and the warm air of the room, it sends out a clear warning alarm.
That way, the refrigerator’s compressor has to work twice as hard to bring the temperature back to normal. (22)
According to one report, the key to maintaining a refrigerator is proper humidity, temperature, and air circulation control. And by keeping the refrigerator doors shut you can maintain ideal conditions and stop bacteria formation. (23)
11. Looking For Common Problems
As with any large purchase, knowing the common problems beforehand might save repairing costs. And most of the times, it’s hard to detect problems before they get out of control. However, with these simple pointers you can prolong the shelf life of your refrigerator while fixing some of these problems by yourself. (24)
Too much noise: If your refrigerator is make too much noise, it can be that there’s buildup of dust particles, debris, and hair (if you have pets). You need to clean the condenser coils of the refrigerator that block the proper airway between the exterior and refrigerator compressor.
Excessive refrigerator cycling: If your refrigerator is running constantly, it can cut a big hole in your pocket. It can be that the cooling temperature of the refrigerator is set too low for it to function normally. This can not only damage your compressor, but spoil the food faster causing bacteria and odor formation.
Water leakage: If there’s persistent water leakage, it can be that the defrost drain is blocked due to debris and dust particles. Once these particles rest close to the drain, they are automatically pushed towards the opening which can lead to blockage and water leakage.
Another main cause of water leakage is frozen water supply. This is due to the ice maker and dispenser unit inside the refrigerator. By only checking the water supply line can determine whether there’s a tear or clogs.
Sudden ice buildup: This is a very common refrigerator problem found in most homes. It can be that the humidity level of the freeze is below normal which can lead to ice formation on all surfaces of the freezer, including the base. Leaving the freezer door open for too long can lead to sudden ice buildup.
Another main cause of ice buildup is improper seal strength. Cleaning the freezer seal with warm water can result in proper freezer conditions and reduce ice frost.
If the refrigerator you choose seems susceptible to any one of these common problems, looking for a more efficient and durable alternative is critical.
12. Considering Additional Features
Smart appliances have both basic and advanced features to fall back on. These extra features may increase the buying cost of the refrigerator, but they’re extremely valuable and efficient to use.
Here are some additional features most people look forward to:
Chill zones: Some refrigerators will chill zones offer extreme cooling and defrosting capabilities. So when meat takes at least 24 hours to thaw, with a chill zone in a refrigerator, you can do it in less than 10 hours. (25)
Portable legs: You can also attach rollers and adjustable feet to your refrigerator to increase portability and convenience. This is a major plus point for cleaning. With rollers, you can make sure the refrigerator is slightly elevated from front to back for proper door opening and closing. It also ensures there’s enough wiggle room for the refrigeration for proper air circulation.
Handle: Most modern refrigerators come with accessible handles for better accessibility. So you open the refrigerator doors easily and without damaging the door seal.
Door-in-door access: This is exclusive to French door and side-by-side refrigerators. With door-in-door access, you can store beverages, chocolates, and other handy food items in a separate door compartment of the refrigerator. So you don’t have to open the entire refrigerator door to access frequently-used items.
That’s all you need to know about choosing a refrigerator. If it’s time to replace your refrigerator, you need to avoid the mistakes of your old one. That means, considering and re-considering all the factors I’ve discussed in detail above.
Buying smart refrigerators comes with a price. And you wouldn’t want to settle for anything less because let’s face it- you need something advanced to keep up with the lifestyle! Brands are looking for new and better ways to re-define how refrigerators are made and used today.
Going beyond the basic features is a good way to make the most of your investment. While keeping your food fresher for longer. Features such as water dispenser, air filtration, shelving, and digital temperature control make it easier to use a refrigerator. Plus, they prolong the lifespan of the refrigerator.
Instead of spending thousands on something you’d rather not buy, considering all the important factors and investing a decent amount for an upgrade isn’t a bad idea. There are plenty of exciting, professional, and energy efficient refrigerators to choose from. So buying what you love based on its excellent features requires you to put in some effort. That’s where this guide comes in.
It has all the information you need to move ahead. You’ll know what works best for you and what doesn’t. The most basic factors to consider are refrigerator type, size, capacity, and energy efficiency. You can’t affordable to buy a non-rated refrigerator as it increases running costs.
Finally, make sure there’s plenty of room for shelving and organization in both the freezer and fresh-food storage compartment based on the number of people using it.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.