Chest Freezers vs. upright Freezers
Stand-alone freezers come in two main types: upright models and chests.
The right type for you will depend on your budget and on how you intend to
use the freezer. An upright freezer is built like a refrigerator, with a
vertical door and shelves inside. This design makes organizing the contents
easy, but it cuts down usable space by as much as 20 percent. Uprights take
up less floor space than chest freezers, but they also cost more and use
more energy for their size. If you frequently move food in and out of your
freezer, you may find the convenience of an upright model worth the extra
Upright freezers come in two types: manual defrost and self-defrost. Manual-defrost
freezers are slightly cheaper to buy and run, and they are also less likely
to cause freezer burn because they don't have fans that circulate the air.
They're also quieter and can be packed more tightly (self-defrost freezers
require you to leave space around items for air to circulate). However, tests
show that manual-defrost upright freezers don't do as good a job of maintaining
a constant temperature, especially for items stored in door shelves. Another
big minus is that manual-defrost freezers need to be defrosted periodically
-- sources say anywhere from once a month to once a year -- and the process
can take a couple of hours.
Chest freezers, which are basically just one large open compartment, offer
the most storage space for the money. Also, the wider shape can accommodate
large or bulky items. Chest freezers are generally more energy efficient
than uprights because the doors open from the top, helping to keep cold air
contained. They can also keep food cold longer in the event of a power outage.
On the downside, chest freezers can be difficult to organize because they
lack shelves (although many models include lift-out storage baskets). Also,
owners have to bend down to access them due to their low height. Finally,
all the chest freezers covered in our sources require manual defrosting.
These factors make chest freezers a better choice for consumers who often
buy bulk foods and store them for long periods of time.
Other things to know before you buy a chest or upright freezer:
- Gauge size
for your needs. Freezers come in four basic sizes: compact (around
5 cubic feet), small (6 to 9 cubic feet), midsize (10 to 18 cubic feet)
and large (19 cubic feet or more). The larger the freezer the more it costs
to run, so don't buy more space than you can use.
- Choose the right spot. Measure
your space to see how large a freezer you can accommodate. Leave a
few inches around the freezer for air circulation, as well as enough room
to open the door. Also, check the path to and from the spot where the freezer
will sit and make sure that it can fit through doors and hallways. If
you plan to keep your freezer in an unheated area such as a garage, check
the freezer's specifications to make sure it can handle the range of temperatures
to which it will be subjected. (In general, most freezers can handle
temperatures between 32 degrees F and 110 degrees F.) By contrast, if you
plan to store your freezer in or near living areas, consider a quieter
- Set it at
zero. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 0 degrees Fahrenheit
is the proper temperature for long-term storage of frozen foods. At
this temperature, bacteria and other sickness-causing microbes can no longer
reproduce, so frozen food is safe from spoilage. A full freezer can keep
food safe for one to two days if the power goes out, but any food that
has reached a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for two hours
must be discarded.
- Don't rely on energy labels. The editors of both ConsumerReports.org
and Britain's Which? magazine warn that estimates of energy usage
on the label aren't always accurate. In the latest tests conducted by ConsumerReports.org,
freezers typically used about 17 percent more energy than their labels
- Look for a drain on manual-defrost models. If you're
purchasing a manual-defrost freezer, buy a model that contains a
drain to help with defrosting. This feature allows you to empty the water
into a pan or run it through a hose rather than sopping it up with towels.
- Select the features you need. An interior light is always handy for finding
food in a jam-packed freezer. Most freezers also have a power-on light,
so you can see at a glance that the freezer is running. A few freezers
include a battery-operated temperature alarm that will alert you if the
freezer fails, so you can remove foods before they thaw and spoil. Locks
are an important safety feature in chest freezers, since unlocked freezers
can trap a small child inside. A quick-freeze feature, found on some upright
models, can freeze large quantities of food more quickly -- handy if you
want to lock in the fresh flavor of garden produce. Finally, many owners
say they really like a soft-freeze zone, which keeps ice cream from turning
into a solid brick.