Today's refrigerators are available in several varieties: side-by-side models, top-freezer or bottom-freezer units and French-door models, which have a refrigerator section with two doors on top and a single-door freezer or pullout freezer drawer on the bottom.
Top-freezer refrigerators, the least expensive option, are also the least prone to repair. They generally use less electricity for their size than other types. However, most people use the fridge more than the freezer, which means they'll have to bend over frequently to reach the lower half of a top-freezer's refrigerator compartment. Most top-freezer models have limited storage options -- especially in the freezer, which often has just a single shelf -- so organization can be tricky. Professional tests indicate that top-freezer fridges also tend to be a bit noisier than other types.
Side-by-sides generally cost more than top-freezer refrigerators and less than French-door models. If you have a narrow or galley kitchen, a side-by-side unit will require less door clearance, but reviewers say this type of fridge has some disadvantages. Aside from the higher cost -- sometimes twice that of comparable top-freezer models -- their narrow shelves don't generally accommodate common items like wide pans, and they tend to be less reliable. This may be because nearly all models include through-the-door ice and water dispensers, a repair-prone feature. As a group, side-by-side refrigerators are less energy-efficient than top- or bottom-freezer models, even though many are Energy Star-compliant.
Bottom-freezer refrigerators are a little pricier than top-freezer types and generally more convenient to use because the more frequently accessed area is on top. They don't have through-the-door water or ice dispensers, but some have internal ice makers. Conventional bottom-freezer fridges have a single refrigerator door, but these aren't as common as the newer -- and more expensive -- French-door models.
French-door refrigerators 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, and you'll still be able to fit wider items such as sheet cakes and pizza boxes. French-door models are the priciest refrigerator overall, but 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. Owners posting to review sites love this feature, since they don't need to open the door for ice cubes. Many French-door refrigerators are Energy Star-rated, but are still less efficient than top-freezer models.
Any refrigerator will keep food cool if it functions properly. However, side-by-side and French-door models generally regulate temperature a little better than top-freezer refrigerators. Other major differences among types include reliability, door style, noise level, energy efficiency, and extra features that make organization and cleaning easier. Here's what experts say you should consider when buying a refrigerator: