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How to Choose a New Refrigerator

Basics to consider when choosing a new refrigerator for your kitchen

By Jan Soults Walker

All jokes aside, your refrigerator really is running day and night—a crucial contender in the pursuit of tasty, healthy eating. And a new refrigerator is a pretty substantial investment. Thankfully, quality appliances are designed to go the distance in terms of reliable service. Refrigerators, for example, should keep cooling for 15 years or more. Here are some refrigerator basics to contemplate before you make your purchase.

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Jenn-Air Refrigerator

Think deep

Do you want a freestanding or built-in refrigerator?
Built-in refrigerators are valued for their quiet operation and flush fit with surrounding cabinetry. And, you may opt to minimize the look of the refrigerator doors with matching cabinet panels. The largest drawback for built-in refrigerators is cost, with prices starting at about $6,300.

Standard freestanding refrigerators extend 4 to 11 inches beyond the face of 24-inch-deep cabinetry. You can construct deeper cabinetry around your standard freestanding refrigerator to create a built-in look or select a counter-depth model, which range from 24 to 26 inches deep. Trim kits are available to give your counter-depth refrigerator a built-in look.

"Always plan for a flush installation," suggests Brookfield, Connecticut, certified kitchen designer Mary Jo Peterson, author of Universal Kitchen and Bathroom Planning. "Either select a built-in model, which costs top dollars, or a counter-depth model, which requires a mid-range investment, or create a more-affordable pocket in a wall to absorb the extra depth of a standard refrigerator. This strategy blends the fridge into the space better and also eases your passage through the kitchen."

Prices for freestanding models range from about $500 to $3,800. Counter depth models start at about $1,800.

Be inspired by these designer kitchens with custom refrigerators.

Get fit

It seems like such a simple thing, but carefully measure the width, height, and depth of the space where you plan to place your refrigerator, and make sure the model you're considering will fit.

Also ensure that the refrigerator door can swing freely. If you can't fully open your refrigerator door, you won't have total access to bins and other features inside. Could anything nearby hinder the fridge door from fully opening, especially if you selected a model with a wide door swing? Consider your refrigerator's proximity to other appliances, cabinetry doors or drawers, or passage doors, for example.

Store more

You likely want as much storage space available to you as possible. You'll find capacities for most refrigerators vary from about 21 cubic feet to 31 cubic feet. "When you shop," Peterson says, "even bring your favorite roasting pan or serving tray and make sure it fits the fridge you're considering."

One energy-sensitive note: A fully stocked refrigerator runs more efficiently than one that's nearly empty.

Pick a door

Consider accessibility and how your refrigerator opens.

  • Freeze high or low? Some refrigerators put the refrigerator on top; others on the bottom. Most bottom-mount freezers pull out like drawer, allowing you to see items at the back without digging around. Cool storage is at eye-level, which is an added convenience if you access fresh food more often than frozen.
  • Slim pickings. Side-by-side refrigerators locate the refrigerator and freezer in narrow abutting columns. The primary benefit of a side-by-side are the doors require little space to swing open.
  • French doors. With this model, the freezer drawer is on the bottom and a pair of doors above open armoire-style to reveal one wide cooling compartment—ideal if you want to store party platters of food, sheet cakes, and other wide items. Like the side-by-side, the narrower French doors require less swing space than one wide door.
PRO 48 Refigerator

Invest in technology

It used to be the most high-tech option on a refrigerator was ice and water in the door. Today, you'll find a host of cool cutting-edge technology that keeps humidity ideal so food stays fresh longer and air filters and dual cooling systems so your fridge doesn't smell like fish and your ice never tastes like garlic. Other features include sensors that temporarily increase the temperature when you add something warm to the fridge. Some models offer a separate cooling drawer that you can pull open to access frequently used items without opening the main refrigerator. Other goodies you'll find: door alarms that let you know when the door's been left open, childproof locks to keep the kiddos from snacking when you're not around, and even in-door televisions so you can watch your favorite cooking show while you whip up your own masterpiece.

You may also want to consider refrigerator or freezer drawers, which integrate within cabinetry beneath the countertop and pull out like a drawer. Use these to supplement your main refrigerator—often outside the work core, such as for storing kids snacks and beverages near the kitchen table. A unit with two drawers starts at about $900.

Check out hot new kitchen products and technology.

Wrap it up

Of course, you want your refrigerator to look great and, if you aren't opting for matching cabinet panels, you can choose from a variety of finishes including stainless steel, bisque, black, and white. You'll also find a host of colors and metal looks other than stainless steel.

All aesthetics and features aside, Peterson offers a final bit of advice: "Ultimately, you want to consider the service record and reputation of the brand you're thinking of buying," she says.

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