Refrigerator Buying Guide
May 7, 2019 by Waverly Wilde
The refrigerator is the central hub of your home, the place you go for everything from family gatherings to midnight snacks, and you want one that’s perfectly suited to your lifestyle and your space. With so many models, features and styles to choose from, it can be hard to know which fridge is the right one for you. Howard’s teams of experts put together this helpful Buying Guide breaking down all your options, and providing some basic guidelines for what to keep in mind when looking for a new refrigerator.
Fridges come in all different shapes and sizes. You can find a new fridge for as low as $400 and as expensive as $12,000 (and beyond if you’re looking for all the bells and whistles), but keep in mind: with different price points come different levels of features. Basic models will get the job done, but may not be as intuitive or spacious, while more expensive models are packed full of high-tech features that can do everything from optimize temperature control to manage your shopping. Your refrigerator budget should be reflective of your lifestyle and what you find an important part of your everyday refrigerating needs.
There are a number of different door styles on the market and each come at their own price points and with their own specialties. Let’s break down the basics of these different types of refrigerators.
• Top Freezer
Top freezer refrigerators are just what they sound like—any fridge with the freezer section stacked on top of the body of the fridge. This is the most common type of fridge, and typically falls on the lower end of the pricing scale. You can, of course, find high-end top freezer models, but most of your low-budget options will fall into this category. Top freezer refrigerators are great if you’re looking for simplicity, convenience, and a variety of options, but they don’t often include the more modern space-saving and high-tech features other fridge options have to offer.
• Bottom Freezer
If you’re all about frozen food, you might want to consider a bottom freezer model. These have a similar level of ease and simplicity as the top freezer models, but with a larger freezer section at the bottom of the fridge. The freezer on these models are typically drawers rather than cabinets, which allow for easier access to your frozen meats and treats. Bottom freezers elevate your refrigerator by a few feet, making commonly used items easier to reach.
• French Door
One of the more popular refrigerator styles is the French door models which have a refined look and convenient layout that just about everyone can appreciate. French door fridges are similar to bottom freezer fridges in that they both offer a drawer set located at the bottom of each unit, however, the refrigerator itself is behind two doors of equal size that open from the middle. These refrigerator styles are typically wider, providing more storage space, but because the doors require less clearance to open they can still be a perfect fit for smaller spaces.
With a narrow freezer on the left and a wider fridge on the right, side-by-side models are popular for offering easy access to both fridge and freezer with a simple, user-friendly layout. Similar to French door refrigerators, side-by-sides require less clearance on each side of the unit because the doors are slimmer, but this ends up coming at the cost of the horizontal shelf space you might find in other models.
Compact or apartment size fridges are great for supplementing an existing fridge or saving room in smaller living spaces. They’re typically found in dorms or bedrooms, but can certainly be a convenient addition to any kitchen. Compact fridges fit perfectly in a kitchen island or mini bar, while taller compact models, often called “apartment sized” fridges, can work as primary food storage spaces in small studio apartments.
Sleek, chic, and custom-made, built-in refrigerators come in at the top of the pricing scale, and do so with good reason. Built-ins can be made to fit seamlessly with your kitchen, fitting flush against counters and even paneled to match existing cabinetry. Available in a variety of widths, a built-in fridge is the perfect option when aiming for a more streamlined and uniform kitchen profile.
The style of your kitchen is important to keep in mind when deciding on the perfect fridge to fit your needs. Whether you are looking for a sleek, standout fridge in gleaming stainless steel, or a fridge to melt right into the background of an immaculatelystyled kitchen, there are options for all kitchen styles, but a decision this big requires some planning first. Different finishes can give the same fridge a very different effect in your kitchen. Take your time choosing between bright metallic, black stainless, or painted matte to find a finish to perfectly match the rest of your appliances.
Most refrigerators run anywhere from 23 to 36 inches wide, but there are larger and smaller options available. Compact fridges are typically around 17 inches wide and some built-ins are designed to fit up to 48 inches. Consider a refrigerator that fits both the available kitchen space and your household’s needs. Kitchens don’t always allow for the available refrigerator space needed to fit every household, but supplementing with a compact fridge, or even a slim built-in made to fit a narrow kitchen nook, are options to consider.
In addition to the standard stand-alone fridge models, there are a variety of counter-depth fridges to choose from. Counterdepth fridges are about the same width as most fridges but are several inches shallower, allowing them to not extend too much past your existing countertops. Counter-depth fridges seamlessly integrate into your kitchen without the higher price tag of built-in options while helping save space in a cramped kitchen. The downside to these models is the sacrifice of storage space in exchange for a smooth, built-in look. A counter-depth fridge is a great option if style on a budget is the ultimate goal.
Whether you’re committed to eco-friendly living or hoping to save some money on your electricity bill, an energy-efficient refrigerator is the way to go. Energy Star certification is the best way to know whether your fridge will save energy and money over other similar models. Energy Star-certified fridges must meet rigorous requirements set by the EPA, and each comes with a label indicating annual energy usage and operating cost compared to similar fridge models.
Many fridges use between 1,000 and 2,000 kilowatt hours of energy every year, so if you can find a model that’s only in the triple digits you’ll be saving big bucks in no time. An Energy Star certification can bump the refrigerator’s sticker price a bit higher than comparable models, but the initial expense will ultimately save you money in the long run. Top freezer refrigerators tend to be more energy-efficient than many other models, but you should always check the Energy Star sticker to be sure of a refrigerator’s energy use.
Smart appliances are gaining popularity in homes around the world, and many companies now offer top-of-the-line refrigerators with highly customizable functions and internet connectivity. Though not strictly necessary for a stylish and highly functional fridge, some of these features can help you get organized and make grocery shopping and mealtimes much easier. Here are a few features gaining traction in the Smart Refrigerator market:
• Remote Access
Most connected refrigerator models allow remote access via smartphone, allowing you to change the temperature settings or activate the ice maker from anywhere inside or out of your home. Viewing a panoramic shot of the inside of your fridge on your phone while out shopping can save a lot of time and hassle. Some smart fridges even feature a “vacation mode,” allowing you to switch the whole device into low power mode while you’re away from home. Vacation mode can be activated from anywhere, saving you money on electricity, even if you forget to flip the energy saver switch before you leave.
Fridges with built-in speakers and screens are also gaining traction in the smart home market. These luxury fridges let you stream your favorite shows right from your fridge and play music from hidden speakers using any Bluetooth-compatible device. These features are great for family fun in the kitchen and keeping hungry guests entertained.
• Shopping Lists & Schedules
A simple but incredibly convenient feature of many of these smart refrigerators is the ability to make and export notes, schedules, and shopping lists. Never leave your shopping list at home again—because it’s always conveniently accessible from your smart phone! Add to your grocery list while at your refrigerator and let technology automatically sync that list to your phone. Leave memos for other members of the household and manage schedules from the one appliance used daily—the fridge!
Similar to connectivity features, fridges are available with a variety of physical features that add ease and convenience to your lifestyle. Here is a list of a few common features to consider when deciding on the right fridge for you.
• Ice/Water Dispenser
In-door ice and water dispensers are nothing new, but they’ve become so common in the decades since they were first introduced that many shoppers simply can’t get by without them. If looking for a built-in water dispenser in your next fridge, focus on the styles of fridges that more commonly have them. Side-by-side and French door models typically include dispensers, while top and bottom freezer fridges rarely if ever have them. Some models also offer modern upgrades to the classic dispenser, like hot and sparkling water dispensers and a setting that boosts ice production for parties, so you never have to purchase ice again.
This one is a relatively new innovation. More and more high-end fridges are offering a function called door-in-a-door, which is an additional panel built into one of the fridge doors that allows you to access smaller items like snacks and drinks without opening the whole refrigerator. This feature is meant to save energy and provide an extra convenience between meals. Some even have a transparent window that illuminates when touched, so you can see inside your fridge without having to open anything at all. Less expensive than the smart fridges with builtin cameras and smartphone access, this is another way to save time when you want to check your supplies at a glance or need a quick reminder of what you need to buy before heading out to the store.
• Extra Drawer
A riff on the French door model, some manufacturers have introduced refrigerators with an additional, climate controlled drawer above the freezer drawer. An extra drawer lets you cater to foods with special temperature needs, like veggies or frozen meat, and store them without compromising the temperature of your entire refrigerator.
• Adjustable Storage
Adjustable shelves are a life-saver for busy households with overflowing fridges, and for anyone who’s ever felt like putting groceries away was more like an especially frustrating game of Tetris than a household chore. Many fridges now come with foldable, retractable, and re-arrangeable shelves, and even adjustable racks for the door. This lets you maximize your fridge space and customize it to your family’s needs.
By now, you will hopefully have a good sense of the scope of options available when it comes to purchasing a new fridge for your home, but making that choice can still be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve selected a handful of our favorite models offered at Howard’s to suit your priorities. Browse our recommendations to get all the features and qualities in a fridge that fit your lifestyle best.
• Shoppers on a Budget
Recommended by Consumer Reports as the best bargain fridge of 2018, this top freezer GE is affordable and slick. It comes in a few colors, giving it the look and customizability of a much more expensive fridge, and it’s Energy Star certified to boot! So it’ll save you even more money in the long run. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of more upscale models, but it’s a reliable refrigerator with all the basics at a great price.
• Small Space Dwellers
Whether you’re in a studio apartment, or just transitioning between full-sized fridges, this sleek little number fits all the essentials without taking up much space in your home. It has plenty of freezer space, a crisper drawer, and roomy door shelves for storing drinks and other tall items, so saving space doesn’t come at the cost of fresh food.
Samsung Family Hub
Samsung’s smart fridge technology blows the competition out of the water. With a huge display screen, WiFi connectivity, and even an auto-fill dispenser for water pitchers, this fridge has everything you could want to complete your smart home. It comes in a few different finishes and styles, including four-door, French door, and French door with an extra drawer, so you can find one to fit your kitchen no matter your space or style.
• Eco Enthusiasts
Top freezer refrigerators tend to be the most eco-friendly, but this Samsung takes the cake. Not only is it user-friendly, with adjustable shelves and temperature controls that let you switch the freezer into a refrigerator, it also costs only $62 to operate every year according to Consumer Reports. This particular model exceeds Energy Star certification requirements, making it a fridge that’s as easy on the environment as it is on your wallet.
• Pro Chefs
Whether you work in the food business or you’re a passionate home cook, a pro fridge is a must-have for a pro chef. This KitchenAid is just the right balance of ease and professionalism, with a slick, black stainless exterior and two extra refrigerated drawers for keeping food organized. These drawers come with customizable settings to keep produce fresher and meats stored at the perfect temperature, and even include special storage for fresh herbs, so you can rely on having top-tier ingredients on hand all the time.
• Big Families
With a PrintProof exterior and easy access to favorite snacks and drinks from a door-in-door compartment, this fridge is easy for kids to use and keeps parents happy with its intuitive features and modern look. There’s tons of storage for family meals and school lunches, as well as an alarm to remind kids not to leave the fridge door open and a child lock to keep little ones away from munchies after bedtime.