Vol.1, No.12

Refrigerator feature reviews

Purchasing a new refrigerator can be simplified by becoming requires a familiar with the many new features and options available.

A refrigerator
Photo Credit: Guillermo Lobo
When shopping for a new refrigerator, your choices can be overwhelming. A new refrigerator can cost as little as $500, and up to $10,000 for high end models, so it is a significant investment. US consumers typically spend between $1000 and $2000 on a residential refrigerator. Whether you decide to shop on the internet or in person, knowing the available features can help you narrow down you choices and purchase the refrigerator that best meets your need with a minimum of work and anxiety.

First and foremost, you'll need to consider the external dimensions of a refrigerator your considering purchasing. If you are moving into a new home, you may have some wiggle room on the size if construction is not complete. If you are replacing an old unit, you could be very limited in size. Another thing to think about is getting the unit into your home. Make sure the appliance you want can fit through your door. Many vendors will not accept a return for an appliance that cannot fit into your home or kitchen, and some will charge a prohibitive re-stocking fee. So measure twice, and measure carefully before you make your final choice.

First choose a style

You option for features will vary depending on the type and style of appliance you need. Start by deciding if you want or need a built-in unit, or a stand alone one. Here are some basic differences between the two.

A stand-alone unit, available in many configurations, can be moved without disassembly. Simply stated, it is not bolted down. This type of fridge can be easily taken with you when moving to a new apartment or house. These are available in regular depth of about 33 inches, or counter depth, about 24-28 inches. While giving up some capacity, the refrigerator appears built-in. If you have a very small kitchen, a counter-dept unit can give you a few more precious square feet to work in. Designer or custom panels can also make a stand-alone unit look built in and more attractive.

A built-in unit usually costs more, but can be custom configured. Sub-Zero is one of the oldest manufacturers of the residential built-in unit and one of the few companies offering dual refrigeration. In these models, totally separate, self-contained cooling units cool the refrigerator and freezer portions. There is no air transfer between compartments, allowing more accurate and uniform temperature control. This allows more humidity for fresh food and keeps frozen food dryer and less vulnerable to "freezer burn". Custom panels to match cabinetry are available. Because there are separate cooling unit, the freezer and refrigerator compartments can be located more conveniently. Many consumers prefer under counter cooling drawers made possible by this technology.

According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, the most current trend for kitchen is a retro look, including stainless steel finishes. Initially, consumers felt stainless surfaces were hard to keep clean and prone to fingerprints. Recent innovations have made more stain resistant stainless surface available.

Both stand-alone and built-in units are available in several configurations. Side-by side units allow top to bottom use of both refrigerator and freezer, but you'll compromise by losing some capacity. It's the least energy efficient style, costing the most to operate. This model is ideal if there is limited room for door swing in your kitchen. This is the most common type to have ice and water dispensing.

Freezer on top models maximizes space and gives you the most food storage per cubic foot. This model puts the freezer at eye level and the more frequently used food below, which can be less convenient. You'll get relatively more refrigerator space than freezer space, however, the full width freezer can accommodate large flat items like frozen pizzas, which are sometimes are too big for side-by-side freezers. The cost for this style is usually less than a comparably sized side-by-side. Ice makers are placed in the freezer which does reduce your available space a bit. In-door dispensing units are rare in this style.

Bottom freezer models give you both maximum space and the convenience of your most frequently used item at eye level. The bottom freeze rolls out and gives access to most of the items in the freezer. This model lacks the shelves available in other models. Bottom freezer with French doors combines maximum storage space, and minimal door clearance.

Features

One of the most popular features consumers request are in-door ice and water dispensers. This feature allows you to get ice and cold water without opening the doors, thus keeping a constant temperature in the freezer, keeping your frozen food more safely and saving on operating cost. Be aware that this is also the most common cause for repairs.

Three defrost options are available. Automatic defrost is very popular feature, which keeps itself defrosted but does use more energy. Manual defrost requires the unit to be turned off and defrosted by hand periodically. This option is the most energy efficient if well maintained and defrosted on schedule. A partial defrost model keeps the refrigerator defrosted, but requires manual defrosting of the freezer. It's important to know that the auto-defrost feature does increase the incidence of "freezer burn" by reducing humidity and thus the moisture in the freezer.

Water filters are now available as a standard feature or option on almost all refrigerators that have in-door ice and water dispensing. If this is a feature that interests you, consider the cost and frequency of filter replacement, as well as the ease of changing the filter. Some models place the filter within the refrigerator compartment, which can be tricky to reach, while some models such as Whirlpool/Kitchen Aid filters can easily be changed from the outside bottom panel.

Shelving in all residential units is highly adjustable for your personal needs. Few refrigerators have any fixed shelving. Mobile shelves can be adjusted to accommodate odd shaped items and easily removed for cleaning. Many offer specialized accessories, including collapsible or convertible shelving for instant modification. Door shelves are now adjustable as well. In some models, they can be removed entirely and taken directly to the table. Many manufacturers offer door shelving that fits a gallon milk container, freeing up much interior space.

Some other helpful features offered by various manufacturers include "door-open" alarms and temperature drop alarms. These features help keep food at a safe temperature and prevent spoilage and waste. A food spoilage warranty covers any food lost if the freezer malfunctions.

The High end

In addition to the specialty suppliers offering built-in units, manufactures, some of the more popular appliance manufactures like GE, and Kitchen Aid are now offering built-ins. All offer counter-dept models. Samsung has upped the ante by offering a model that incorporated a monitor screen. One side-by-side offered by LG included a 13.1" color monitor on the door that is DVD, satellite and Internet compatible for about $3,100. If you are wondering about t he benefits of this option, consider the extra counter space you'll gain by eliminating a TV.

As you can see, picking a refrigerator has become more complicated than it was a few years ago. Many new features and options are now available. Using the information presented here, it will be easier to determine your family's needs and which features are most important to you in a new refrigerator. Once you know the features you prefer, choosing the perfect refrigerator can be much simpler.