Chill Out or Buying a New Refrigerator

Posted by Mhauser on October 25, 2011



So, you want to buy a new refrigerator.  Well there is a great deal to consider when making your choice.  Finding the perfect refrigerator means determining what you need in terms of performance, size and aesthetic design. Since General Electric first unveiled a refrigerator for the home in 1911 a great many things have changed.  There is now a huge assortment of styles both in looks and functional design to choose from.  There are, side by side , bottom freezer, top freezer,  French door , and specialty refrigerators; it can be a little overwhelming.



When looking for a new unit let’s keep a few questions in mind.

  •         How much space do you have available for your refrigerator?
  •         How much capacity will you need to store food?
  •         How important is energy efficiency?
  •         How important is design/style?
  •         How big is your budget?


Lets briefly go over what the different styles are all about and then we will return to the questions.


First of all there is the traditional freezer on top with one big door on the bottom.  This is the classic style and the advantage is that you can get more storage space from one of these models and they are often less expensive.

Top freezer Refrigerator


The Bottom mount freezer:  The door styles on these units can vary.  In most cases the freezer consists of a large roll out drawer, although sometimes a large swing out door is used.  The refrigerator section can be one big door or two “French” doors. The main advantage to these units is the flexibility in door style and the fact that the refrigerator is higher up meaning you do not have to bend over to get the vegetables from the crisper.


French door refer bottom mount

The Side by Side:  Side by side refers to the refrigerator and the freezer being full length and next to each other.  This gives good access to both freezer and refrigerator sections and the short door swing can be beneficial in tight spaces.



Built in units:  These refrigerator units are designed to be integrated into the cabinetry at the time of installation.  They have no sides and the door panels are often custom made to coordinate with the cabinetry.  The greatest advantage to a built in refrigerator is one of style.  The units can be made to “disappear” into the cabinetry allowing for a very clean and integrated design.  Almost all of these units are counter depth (@24″-27″ deep) and are sometimes quite wide to accommodate for the loss of storage space.


Specialty refrigerators:  There is now a wide variety of specialized refrigerator units available.  It is possible to create refrigeration space in a drawer integrated into your cabinetry, placing it in your dining room, or bar area for example.  Smaller freestanding units are also very useful in temporary situations, dorm rooms or out on the deck.




Here is a handy chart to help you compare.




Top Mount freezer

The freezer is located above the refrigerator section.

Most common design

Provides a spacious interior

Bottom Mount freezer

The freezer is located underneath the refrigerator section.

  • Makes food in refrigerator easier to reach without bending over
  • Items in freezer are easy to access
  • Freezer door may pull out or swing open
  • Refrigerator may feature a single door or two French doors

Side by Side

The freezer and refrigerator are full length and next to each other.

  • Puts both frozen and refrigerated food within easy reach
  • Side-by-side units are designed to accommodate larger plates and platters


Designed to integrate with the surrounding cabinetry at the time of installation. Not a free- standing unit.

Blends with kitchen design

Usually counter depth

unfinished tops and sides

  • Custom-made panels provide stylish options


Small units that can fit into tight spaces or underneath counters.

  • Great for use in the dining room, Bar area, Outdoor patio or deck, etc.


Another important choice is whether to go counter depth or not.  A counter depth refrigerator is desirable because it allows for a clean straight line in the cabinet design and also preserves precious floor space.  There are 2 main disadvantages however; price, and capacity.  Counter depth units can be much more expensive than their standard depth cousins, and as a rule you will give up 5-7 cubic feet of storage capacity.


That is a general overview of refrigerator options.  There are innumerable details regarding features; from water dispensers, ice machines, specialty storage bins, electronic monitoring, even door mounted television/computer screens. The “kitchen of the future” is close at hand.


Great!  Now we know what is available, but which one is right for me? Here we return to the questions posed earlier.  The questions are all interrelated as the answer to one question may affect the answer to another.  You should begin by ranking these elements in terms of priority.

For example if capacity is more important than style then opt for a standard depth top mount freezer unit.  If design is of greater importance then a counter depth, or built in unit is a good choice.

When thinking about available space do not forget to take into consideration the door swing, and the overall height of the unit.  If you are remodeling your entire kitchen you can often give up cabinetry space for a larger refrigerator and vice versa.

When thinking about capacity.  You will want at least 10 cu ft of refrigerator capacity for 2 people, and then add 1.5 cu ft for each additional person (this is excluding freezer capacity).  Remember that a full refrigerator is more efficient than an empty one, so do not get one too big.  Also remember that if you have limited space in the kitchen you can perhaps put a second refrigerator somewhere else to handle less frequently used items.

Efficiency:  If like most people you are concerned about your utility costs than you should look for an ENERGY STAR rated refrigerator.  An Energy Star unit is defined as one that uses at least 20% less energy to run than required by federal guidelines.

There is a lot of give and take with all of these different elements, and of course cost is a major player in the negotiation.  As you move from the basic and more traditional to the more technologically advanced and stylish models with more features price will increase.

Ranking your priorities and realizing your limitations, whether it be space, cost or something else, is vital to making a wise purchasing choice.

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