It's one of the most essential appliances in our lives, so it makes sense that choosing a new refrigerator is such a big decision to make. And as some of the best French door refrigerators and best side-by-side refrigerators can set you back $1,000+, you'll naturally want to make sure you pick the right one for your home.
Our expert guide will help you navigate how to choose a refrigerator, from choosing the right refrigerator type and size for your household to comparing essential features and energy efficiency. Plus, we have the lowdown on how to work out whether you’re jumping on a door-busting deal or falling for the marketing hype.
These tips will help you emerge with one of the best refrigerators for your needs at the best price.
1. Choose your fridge type
When replacing an old fridge or redesigning your kitchen, one key decision is what type of refrigerator you need. The main options are freestanding, integrated, under-counter, and specialized models like those with ice boxes or those for wine storage. From there, you can choose whether you want a top freezer, bottom freezer, side-by-side, or a French door style based on your kitchen layout and personal preferences.
By and large, freestanding refrigerators offer the widest selection and lowest prices. They can be placed anywhere and moved as needed. However, they can take up a lot of floor space and clash with some kitchen aesthetics.
If you want a more streamlined look, integrated refrigerators can be installed seamlessly behind cabinetry. But this built-in functionality can limit your choices.
While doing your research, factor in where you’re going to put your refrigerator, the available space, your storage needs, whether efficiency is important to you, and your budget. Consider traffic flow in your kitchen too, and ensure enough clearance to open doors and drawers.
"It’s important to take a moment and check the dimensions," says Brian Johnson, appliance expert at MyJobQuote.co.uk. "Refrigerators vary a lot in size, so you need to check it’s going to fit into the space you have."
Brian Johnson has worked as an appliance expert for MyJobQuote for four years and has worked in the industry for over 25 years. Brian continues to work for clients, providing appliance diagnostics and repairs, while also providing expert advice to industry professionals and homeowners. His expert tips have been featured in a range of reputable publications over the years.
2. Work out what capacity you need
Consider the number of people in your household and measure how much food you usually store across the week. Aim for around 3-4 cubic feet per person, with a minimum of 15 cubic feet for small households and 20 or more cubic feet for larger families. A larger capacity will give you more flexibility and future-proof your purchase if your family grows.
Have a think about your shopping habits too. Do you shop daily, weekly or monthly? The fewer grocery visits across the month, the larger your capacity will generally need to be, as you’ll be buying more items and will need to store them for longer.
And don’t forget your cooking habits either. If you love to batch cook and freeze, your freezer compartment will need to be roomy enough to store all those casseroles, soups and sauces. You'll also need to ensure you have enough space in your refrigerator to defrost them safely.
"Make sure the shelf, rack and crisper layout is right for your storage needs," says Johnson. "Is a wine rack handy, or is it wasted space? Do you need extra compartments to keep all your fruit and veg fresh?" Considering these questions before you purchase may help you maximize available capacity.
3. Think about energy efficiency
As with all appliances, an energy-efficient refrigerator may cost more in the short term, but could mean much bigger savings further down the line and across the life of your refrigerator.
"With bills a big concern at the moment, it’s important to take a look at the energy costs as well as the purchase price of your refrigerator," says Johnson. "A double fridge with all the bells and whistles will cost more to run than a simple, compact model. But some basic fridge-freezers and under-counter models can be just as inefficient."
Look for the Energy Star logo and check the estimated kWh/year for different models. The lower the kWh used per year, the more energy efficient the refrigerator will be, saving you money on utility bills.
Top freezer and bottom freezer models tend to be more efficient than side-by-side units, so if you’re keen on making more energy savings, these may be a better choice. Fridges with advanced compressors and tight door seals will also be much more energy efficient, while smaller freezers will reduce energy consumption.
4. Consider extra features
Refrigerators these days come packed with every conceivable feature you can think of. Want a fridge that orders your groceries when you’re running out? Need temperature-controlled deli and meat drawers, or humidity-controlled crisper drawers for fruit and vegetables? Slide-out shelves can improve accessibility, while LED lights and glass shelves can increase the visibility of your food. Adjustable shelving and door racks can give you the flexibility to organise your fridge space just as you’d like.
It’s a good idea to consider what features are essential to you and which ones are nice to have, then work out what you can afford within your budget. If you’ll only use that icemaker in the summer months, is it really worth paying a premium price for it?
5. Chilling speeds
A refrigerator's ability to quickly chill foods is an important factor for food hygiene. Slower chilling gives bacteria more opportunity to multiply, shortening your groceries’ lifespan. While some refrigerators need several hours to chill items down, others with dedicated ‘super-chill’ modes can do it much more quickly.
However, these modes consume more energy to work harder in chilling your food, so it’s worth considering whether they’re worth the extra outlay in energy bills.
Ideally, look for an efficient refrigerator with chill speeds fast enough to reduce the spread of bacteria and lock in freshness without relying on energy-draining settings.
6. Read user reviews
Yes, it can take time to sift through user reviews, but it’s a vital part of choosing any new appliance, especially a big-ticket item such as a new refrigerator. Reviews will give you valuable insight into how well your chosen fridge operates, how easy it is to keep clean and whether those extra features are worth shelling out for.
You’ll also get a good general idea of how well your chosen manufacturer responds to customer support issues, whether the warranty covers everything you’d expect and whether there are any common problems associated with your chosen refrigerator. Knowledge is power, so get reading! Look for more of a broad view across lots of reviews, rather than focusing on one or two that have problems. Most likely, these are individual issues that don't reflect the overall picture.
7. Get the right price by doing your research
Come the holiday sales, retailers will tempt you with seemingly amazing bargains and discounts, especially on Black Friday weekend. But before jumping on that eye-catching deal on a new refrigerator or other big-ticket item, it pays to scrutinize just how good the offer really is. At Top Ten Reviews, we’ve got the latest reviews on all the best refrigerators, from side-by-side models to smart fridges that order your groceries, so you can be sure you’re buying a great product that meets all your household needs.
Some retailers use sneaky tactics like inflating product prices in October and November, so they appear deeply discounted later. Comparing prices across multiple retailers and tracking price histories on sites like Honey and CamelCamelCamel reveals whether that discount is genuine or inflated.
Do your due diligence before making any blockbuster Black Friday purchases. Verify the discount is based on actual price history, not an exaggerated price hike. And check competitor pricing to confirm you're getting the lowest price available. That way, you can determine if the deal is as epic as advertised or just marketing hype.