The best refrigerator has
- A flexible layout. A refrigerator should have the ability to store
wide and/or tall items with no hard-to-reach or hidden spots.
- Convenient features. The extras that buyers appreciate most include
ice and water dispensers, adjustable shelves and humidity-controlled
- A well-lit interior. Most models have at least one light inside the
refrigerator compartment; some have additional lights in the freezer or
- Good temperature
control. Any refrigerator
will keep food cool if it works properly, but side-by-side and French-door
models generally regulate temperature a little better than top-freezer
- Durable construction. The doors should be well-balanced and
feel sturdy. The shelving units or bins should not feel flimsy.
- High energy
efficiency. With updated, more
stringent standards, Energy Star compliance guarantees the least energy
usage. Keep in mind that some older models might lack Energy Star
certification, but testing shows them to be very efficient as well.
controls. Controls should be
easy to reach (up front rather than on the back inside wall, where you may
have to empty a shelf to adjust them) and intuitive to use.
surfaces. Solid glass shelves,
rather than wire ones, help keep spills contained; new finishes such as "platinum"
offer the look of stainless steel with less vulnerability to smudging.
- Stylish looks. Some fridges now come in a range of colors,
from basic white to sleek stainless. Where choices are offered, stainless
can add $100 or more to the price of what's otherwise an identical
Know before you go
Measure your space carefully. Shop with a tape measure
and check height, width, depth, and door-swing clearance. Check the direction
of the door swing, too, and make sure the refrigerator you choose opens in the
direction that works best for your space (or has a reversible door). Don't
forget to measure the path to and from your kitchen to make sure your chosen
fridge can make it through the doorway.
Don't assume that bigger is
better. While larger
refrigerators can store more food, they typically cost more and use more energy
to run. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy advises
that refrigerators under 25 cubic feet in size will meet the needs of most
Think about how you will use the refrigerator. For many
people, a bottom-freezer arrangement is most convenient, because the fresh food
section is on top, where it can be reached without bending. The freezer section
is harder to reach, however, so if you use the freezer at least as much as the
fridge, a top-freezer arrangement could work better. Side-by-side fridges often
work best for families with small children, as they can reach both the
refrigerator and freezer compartments without standing on a chair.
Consider your noise
tolerance. One of the most common complaints about refrigerators is that they make too much
noise. If your kitchen is located near sleeping areas, or if you're especially
sensitive to loud noises, then a quiet fridge may be a top priority for you. On
the other hand, if you're looking for a second fridge that will be kept out in
a garage or somewhere else away from main living areas, noise may not matter as
Weigh extra features
carefully. A through-the-door ice and water dispenser is the feature buyers request most,
but refrigerators with them are much more likely to require repairs. Dispensers
also boost energy use and steal space from the interior.
Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it
The lifetime cost of a
fridge includes not just the price you pay upfront, but also the cost of the
energy it uses. To compare the energy costs of different models, check their
yellow EnergyGuide label. Don't go by the Energy Star certification alone;
Energy Star standards vary depending on the type and size of the refrigerator.
Thus, a large side-by-side model with an Energy Star rating might actually use
more energy than a smaller top-freezer fridge without one. The EnergyGuide
label, by contrast, estimates energy usage in both kilowatt-hours per year and
dollars per year.
Buying tactics and strategies
- Shop the sales. Sometimes buying a new fridge
is an emergency affair because your old one just died and you need one
now. However, if you aren't in a hurry, keep an eye on the calendar.
Refrigerators are often deeply discounted around holidays, Veteran's Day
and President's Day in particular. This can knock the price down quite a
bit, in some cases by thousands of dollars.
- Join the club. Many major appliance retailers have
customer loyalty programs where you can get discounts and earn points
toward future purchases. It's almost always free to join, and joining may
net you an immediate discount.
- Use a store-branded credit card. As with loyalty
programs, using a store-branded credit card will often get you a discount
as well as free shipping. Of course, this is only a good deal if you can
pay it off when the first bill arrives -- otherwise the interest will eat
up those savings. However, if you're short on cash at the moment, using a
store-branded card can also net you no interest deals for a period of
time, maybe even up to a year or 18 months.
- Skip the extended warranty. Most shoppers are invited
-- or even urged -- to purchase an extended warranty for a new appliance.
However, most experts agree that it's almost never worth the money.
- Look online first. Most appliances are sold in
retail stores rather than online. Shopping in a showroom allows you to
check size, features and finishes close-up. However, even if you buy in a
store, you can check the price online first (be sure to check multiple
sites) and invite the retailer to match it if it is lower.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Refrigerators | Top-Freezer Refrigerators | Bottom-Freezer Refrigerators | Side-by-Side Refrigerators | French-Door Refrigerators | Counter-Depth Refrigerators | Our Sources