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6 things to consider when buying a new refrigerator

6 things to consider when buying a new refrigerator
(Image credit: Electrolux)

Buying a new refrigerator has gotten a lot more complicated recently, and for an appliance that used to have the simple job of keeping cold things cold, there’s now a whole heap of options, styles, specifications and capabilities to consider before hitting the buy button. If you’ve read our guide to the best refrigerators but still can’t decide between side-by-side, french door, top freezer, bottom freezer or smart fridge; then hopefully our list of six important things to consider when buying a new refrigerator will help you make the right decision.

1. Which type of refrigerator do you need?

There are four-types of freezer available to today’s potential buyers, five if you count “smart fridge”, but that’s a category which can be applied to any of the other four which include; Top Freezer, Bottom Freezer, Side-by-Side and French Door. Once you’ve decided which one is best for your kitchen and your domestic needs, you’ll be well on the way to a successful purchase.

Top Freezer:  With the upper third dedicated to freezer space and the lower third to the main chiller section, Top Freezer style refrigerators remain hugely popular due to being compact, affordable and versatile.
Pros: Great for small budgets and small kitchens
Cons: Lack of flashy features and a smaller capacity

Bottom Freezer: Much the same as the Top Freezer but with the freezer space at the bottom. They tend to be a little larger, with a 50/50 space split between chilled and frozen, this means chilled foods and ingredients are easier to reach but you’ll need to bend down for ice cream or peas.
Pros: Increased freezer capacity and easier-to-reach chilled items
Cons: Less variety, harder to access the freezer

Side-by-Side: Split right down the middle with the freezer section on the left and fresh/chilled foods on the right, allowing the two to be stored at any height. Most models favor the chilled foods and offer a few extra inches on that side. You can read our round-up of the best side-by-side refrigerators here.
Pros: Flashy features in a relatively compact unit
Cons: Sometimes difficult to store wider items, limited compartments

French Doors: By far the roomiest option, French Door fridges have a double-door chiller up top and a full-width, drawer-style freezer on the bottom. You’ll usually find at least a few fancy features inside such as ice machines and drinks dispensers, and the fact that French Door refrigerators are by far the most popular style means there’s a huge variety to choose from too. If you don’t believe us, take a look at our round-up of the best French Door refrigerators.
Pros: Size, massive capacities with plenty of features
Cons: Size, be sure you can get it into your house

2. What size of refrigerator should you buy?

This question can be answered by considering the following; Standard vs Counter Depth, size of the kitchen and cubic capacity.

Standard vs. Counter Depth: Regardless of other dimensions, refrigerators come in two sizes; Standard and Counter Depth. Counter Depth means the fridge is as deep as your kitchen counter tops, so it will align flush with counters, work surfaces and cupboards. Counter Depth fridges look stylish and neat but offer reduced storage space.

Size of the kitchen/property: OK, so that full featured, French Door, Smart Fridge will fit in the kitchen. But are you sure it’s going to fit through the front door, the hallway and kitchen door? Be sure to measure all the openings your potential purchase will have to go through on the way to the kitchen before you buy. It’s also important to check that there’s room for enough ventilation space around the fridge to prevent overheating once installed, you’ll need ½ - 1-inch around the sides and 1 - 2-inches at the back. Finally, double check you have enough space to fully open the refrigerator’s doors once it’s in place, especially if your kitchen features an island.

Cubic Capacity: A quick google search on "what size fridge do I need?" will reveal that you should allow four to six cubic feet of storage space per adult in the household. Once you’ve completed this equation it should give you a good steer on which type of fridge you should go for, with smaller households opting for Top/Bottom Freezer styles and larger ones going for French Door. Do bear in mind how often you entertain or host family gatherings and allow some leeway for this too.

(Image credit: Electrolux)

3. Choose features you’ll use

Leading U.S. refrigerator manufacturer Whirlpool recommends thinking about the features that you’ll use most; including the ice and water dispensers, specialised storage and dual cooling on offer on its higher-end models. It’s sage, if not revolutionary advice. Firstly, if you want ice or water dispensers do consider whether it’s possible to plumb a water supply into the fridge. Secondly, with such a wide selection of features on offer, be sure you’re not paying out extra for things you’ll never use.

4. Pick the perfect finish

Stainless steel is riding high as the most popular finish for contemporary kitchen appliances at the time of writing, but if you want extra hip points then black stainless steel will certainly bag them. Parents beware though, as many stainless steel finishes aren’t magnetic which may hamper displaying the kids’ artwork and those souvenir fridge magnets. 

Many standard, budget fridges are white, which means they can go in almost any kitchen style or set-up, so keep that in mind too.

5. Should you get a Smart Fridge?

Smart fridges were big news at last year’s CES and major manufactures are giving these connected coolers a firm push with more and more becoming available from stores and online retailers since. The benefits of having a refrigerator that’s connected to the internet are as debatable as they are numerous, and only the individual will decide what’s truly a ‘essential feature”. Here’s a few of our favourites though;

Energy monitoring: Some of the smartest fridges can sync with smart grids (where they’re available) and adjust energy usage accordingly, scheduling higher use at times when rates are low.

Reducing food wastage: When fitted with a built-in camera that can be accessed from a smartphone, users can check the contents of their fridge while out shopping to avoid over-stocking and subsequent wastage. Some smart fridges allow you to tag the images of your food with virtual timers that indicate use-by dates, so you can keep track of what needs using up.

Temperature and humidity controls: Different foods require different temperatures to keep at their best. So if you like your beer ice-cold but don’t want to freeze your iceberg lettuce, you might be interested to hear that smart fridges allow you to alter the temperature in different compartments. Very often, users can do this on the fly from the smartphone app, ensuring everything is perfectly preserved.

Connectivity: This could be the most persuasive argument for buying into the smart fridge revolution. Most smart fridges already support a voice assistant such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant, allowing you to ask them everything from tips for recipes to whether the water filter needs replacing. You’ll also be able to add them to a wider smart home network for controlling from phone or tablet.

(Image credit: LG)

6. Check your budget

With all the cool features available from both smart and “dumb” refrigerators, it’s way too easy to get carried away; so set a maximum price and don’t go above it. It could help to make a list of “must-have” and “nice-to-have” features, be it ice/water dispensers, food preserving compartments or energy efficiency, to further define your needs. Very often the more basic models work out far more cost-efficient in the long run and be sure to shop around for the best prices. The widgets on this page are a good place to start and do be sure to check our round up of the best refrigerators to find the best bargains online.