The best refrigerator has

  • A convenient layout. A refrigerator should have the ability to store wide and/or tall items and no hard-to-reach or hidden spots.
  • Useful features. The extras that buyers appreciate most include ice and water dispensers, adjustable shelves and humidity-controlled vegetable crispers.
  • A well-lit interior. Most models have at least one light inside the refrigerator compartment; some have additional lights in the freezer or produce bins.
  • 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 refrigerators.
  • Durable construction. The doors should be well-balanced and feel sturdy. The shelving units or bins should not feel flimsy.
  • An Energy Star rating. In addition to the basic Energy Star label, some fridges now carry a "Most Efficient" label, which means that they are about 10 percent more efficient than other Energy Star models.
  • Straightforward 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.
  • Easy-to-clean 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. Most fridges now come in a range of colors, from basic white to sleek stainless.

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 families.

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 may 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 much.

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. Some new refrigerators come with built-in electronics such as TV screens, music players and digital picture frames, but according to the experts at, "You can save hundreds if not thousands and get better performance by buying such equipment separately."

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

  • Don't hesitate to haggle. According to a survey, consumers who dicker over the price when buying a new appliance save an average of $95. Knowing the market price can help your negotiating position. However, it also pays to be polite; salespeople respond better to courtesy than to aggressiveness.
  • Skip the extended warranty. The experts at say that most shoppers report being invited -- or even urged -- to purchase an extended warranty for a new appliance. However, the editors say it's almost never worth the money, as products are unlikely to break during the extended warranty period.
  • 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 and invite the retailer to match it.

What's to come

The latest addition to the refrigerator family is the four-door fridge. These models take the basic French-door style -- a fresh food compartment with double doors on top, a freezer drawer on the bottom -- and add an extra drawer between the fridge and freezer sections. These drawers can hold a variety of items at a height that both kids and adults can reach easily. Some of them can even be custom-programmed to a specific temperature. However, in professional tests, four-door refrigerators don't match the performance of regular French-door models, and they typically cost around $500 more. This style may become more popular in the future, but it hasn't come into its own yet.

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