There are more choices in refrigerators than ever
If you're in the market for a new refrigerator, you have more choices than ever before. Basic cooling technology hasn't changed in decades, but there have been major advances in efficiency, organization and features. The four basic types of refrigerators are top-freezer, bottom-freezer, side-by-side, and French-door models, and each style has a different set of pros and cons. If you need a compact refrigerator, suitable for dorms and other small spaces, see our separate report on mini fridges.
The old-fashioned top-freezer refrigerator is the least expensive option, starting at around $500. We found several models with excellent test scores priced at $1,000 or less. Top-freezers also offer more usable space for their size than other types, while using less electricity. (A typical top-freezer fridge costs between $40 and $65 a year to run.) In addition, they are less repair-prone than other fridges. Their biggest downside is convenience. Since most people use the fridge more than the freezer, they'll have to bend over frequently to reach the lower half of a top-freezer's refrigerator compartment. Also, most top-freezer models have limited storage options -- especially in the freezer, which often has just a single shelf. In professional tests, top-freezer fridges also tend to be a bit noisier than other types and not quite as good at maintaining a consistent temperature.
Bottom-freezer refrigerators are pricier than top-freezer types -- generally between $900 and $2,200, with the best-rated models falling in the $1,200 range. They're generally more convenient to use because the more frequently accessed area is on top. On current bottom-freezer models, the freezer compartment is usually a drawer, which makes it easier to see the contents at a glance. However, you'll still have to bend over to reach the food. Baskets in the freezer compartment help with organization. Bottom-freezers cost a bit more to run than top-freezers, generally between $50 and $80 a year.
Side-by-side refrigerators come next in the price scale. We found good reviews for models priced between $1,100 and $2,700. The biggest advantage of side-by-sides is their narrow door clearance, which can be a plus in a narrow or galley kitchen. They're also convenient for families with kids, who can reach both the fridge and freezer compartments easily. Also, most side-by-sides can dispense ice and water through the door, a feature that's hugely popular with consumers. However, this feature also has a downside, as the ice maker is one of the most repair-prone parts of a refrigerator. As a result, side-by-side models with that feature tend to be less reliable overall than other fridges. Side-by-side fridges also don't use either space or energy as efficiently as other models. Their narrow spaces may not accommodate common wider items and can make food stored in the back harder to reach. Moreover, even the most efficient models cost upwards of $60 a year to run.
French-door refrigerators are the most recent fridge design. These attractive appliances pair side-by-side doors on top with a full-width freezer below. This design lets you open just one side of the fridge so less cool air escapes while still providing space for wider items such as sheet cakes and pizza boxes. French-door models are the priciest refrigerators overall: typically between $1,500 and $3,000, with the best-rated models in the $2,500 range. However, they provide a lot of machine for the money. Most range in size from 20 to 28 cubic feet and come with lots of convenience features such as adjustable shelves and water filters for the ice maker. Many fridges of this type also include through-the-door ice and water dispensers. Although many French-door refrigerators are Energy Star-rated, they're still less efficient than top-freezer models, running $50 to $75 a year in electricity costs.
Counter-depth refrigerators are specially designed so that they don't protrude beyond the edges of cabinets and countertops. These come in side-by-side and French-door models and some even have wood-grained doors that allow them to blend seamlessly into the cabinetry. This type of fridge offers a streamlined look, but they are the priciest type of refrigerator overall, starting at around $2,000. They are also the least space-efficient type. Because they're so shallow, they're built wider than other fridges, leaving less usable space in the middle. Also, because of their greater surface area, they use more energy than other types.
ConsumerSearch editors looked at dozens of refrigerators, narrowing it down to the top picks by examining reviews by experts and owners. We consider features, performance, ease of use and appearance to help you find the perfect refrigerator for your cold storage needs.