A Concise Refrigerator Buying Guide



Refrigerators now come in an astonishing array of styles and options. Modern refrigerators have almost as many features as Jane Jetson’s futuristic refrigerator from the “Jetsons” cartoon! Now, refrigerators with Smart technology can even talk, play music, and help generate grocery lists.

How to Get Started on Refrigerator Shopping

To avoid being overwhelmed by too many choices, take stock of what you really need this appliance to do. You can save a lot of time and hassle by first reviewing your food storage needs, measuring the space you have for a refrigerator, and establishing a budget for the purchase.

If you eat a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, then you’ll want a refrigerator that maximizes refrigerated space. If you entertain frequently and need room for large platters or tall bottles, then having adjustable shelving may be important. However, if you tend to eat a lot of frozen TV dinners, having more freezer space may be a priority.

What you eat is just as important as how much. Consider how many people this fridge will need to serve every day. If more than four, you’ll want to look at models with more than 18 cubic feet of storage.

Refrigerator Sizing Considerations

Size matters in more ways than just storage space. Modern refrigerators come in four basic styles—top-freezer, bottom-freezer, French-door, and side-by-side—each with a range of widths and heights. How much space you have in the kitchen will help determine which styles and sizes would fit.

Similar to the buying process for other kitchen appliances, like dishwashers, before going shopping for a refrigerator, you will need to measure the height, width, and depth of the space where the refrigerator will go. Also, measure the distance from the wall out into the kitchen to the nearest obstacle. This will indicate how much room there will be for the refrigerator doors to swing open. It would be horrible to purchase a refrigerator only to discover after it is installed that the doors can’t open without hitting the island, for example! Remember all models will need enough space for their doors to open fully so that interior drawers and shelves can be pulled and removed for cleaning or rearranged to accommodate different sized items.

Don’t put away the tape measure yet, though—measure the width of the path and doorways your future refrigerator would need to fit through during installation. It’s not enough to know that a fridge could fit into the kitchen space; it must also be able to fit through the front door and around any corners in the path to the kitchen.

Armed with these measurements, food storage habits, and a maximum amount you could afford to pay, you are ready to go shopping.

Refrigerator Style Options

Top Freezer

Top freezer models, as their name implies, have the freezer compartment on the top third of the unit with the refrigerator section on the bottom. This style is most frequently purchased probably because it is also usually the lowest cost option. It comes in widths ranging from 24 – 33 inches. Keep in mind that because the doors to both the freezer and refrigerator sections span the entire width of the refrigerator, you’ll need at least that same radius of space for the doors to open fully.

With this model, fresh fruits and veggies tend to be in drawers at the bottom of the unit. If those are staples in your diet, you’ll be doing a lot of bending to access them with this style.

Bottom Freezer

Aptly named, this style has the refrigerator section at the top and the freezer on the bottom third of the unit. So, you’ll be bending for frozen goods, but not for mainstay refrigerator items. Those will be at a more ideal viewing level. Bottom freezer models range in widths from 24 – 36 inches. Because their doors span the entire width of the unit, you’ll need enough space to accommodate them. The bottom freezer compartment is often structured as a large drawer, however.

French Door

French door refrigerators have the refrigerator portion on the top and freezer on the bottom. In this style, the refrigerator section has two doors. This feature can save energy because when only one door is open, less cold air is escaping. French door refrigerators have become increasingly popular because all the refrigerated food is at chest height and more easily accessible.

Instead of having a door for the bottom freezer section, the French door style features a large drawer. If you don’t mind digging through frozen goods to find what you need, this style might work. It is ideal for those who don’t need to see at a glance the entire contents of their freezer.

This style comes in widths of 28 – 36 inches. These models cost more than the others and can also come with an increasing number of optional features, like in-door water, ice, and coffee dispensers.

Side by Side

Side by side refrigerators are split lengthwise such that the thinner length houses the freezer, leaving the larger length for the refrigerator. For narrow kitchens, this may be the ideal style as the doors require less swing space. Also, this style of refrigerator allows for better visibility of both freezer and refrigerator contents. Plus, for those who crave organization or who tend to eat a lot of frozen foods, this style’s freezer features adjustable shelving.

Ranging in widths from 24 – 33 inches, the side by side can hold a lot of food. This style also costs less than French door styles. This style can also come with in-door water and ice dispensers.

Refrigerator Design Considerations and More

Built In

For those who don’t want their refrigerator to stand out, built in models are available in widths of 30 – 48 inches. These styles fit tightly within the space and are almost flush with counters. Their door panels can be customized to match cabinetry. The end result is that when the doors are closed, the refrigerator looks just like the cabinets. Because of the customization, these units tend to be the most expensive.

Counter Depth

This is not so much a style of refrigerator as it is a size. Counter depth refrigerators are only approximately 25 inches deep. This gives them a lower profile that is almost—but not quite—flush with counters. They will still jut out an inch or two to enable the doors to open. Counter depth refrigerators are only available in French door and side by side styles. Though they are smaller than standard-sized refrigerators, counter depths cost more.

Energy Guide

Since 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Dept. of Energy have been rating appliances for energy efficiency. Any refrigerator with energy efficiency in the top 25% of all others in that same style will receive an Energy Star label. Look for the yellow Energy Star sticker on the models you’re considering. These stickers indicate how much electricity that unit will need to operate for a year as well as the estimated cost of that electricity.

Refrigerator Features

Refrigerators today do more than just keep food cold and fresh. They can also serve ice, water, and coffee right from the door. Some models even come with their own refillable pitcher that, when placed in the correct spot in the refrigerator, gets automatically refilled.

Shelving in modern refrigerators has also been upgraded. Now, refrigerators can come with glass shelves that are not only adjustable but also can retract and fold up out of the way entirely. Because no one wants to clean the entire fridge when something spills, refrigerators can also come with spill containment shelves.

Drawers have traditionally been plastic that slide on plastic edges or tracks. Now, drawers can have rollers for an easier glide.

Modern options include those that improve temperature control, like dual cooling systems so the freezer and refrigerator have their own separate system.

Some style refrigerators also have drawers instead of doors for the refrigerator section. Each of these drawers can hold items at a different temperature than the rest of the refrigerator.

Smart Refrigerators

Undoubtedly, the most impressive advancements in refrigerators involve Smart technology. These include a touch screen panel on the door and being Bluetooth and WiFi enabled such that you can listen to music or watch YouTube on the fridge. These systems also have apps for your phone so you can use the refrigerator’s system to generate a grocery list for you. Some even have cameras so that wherever you are, you can use your phone to see what’s in your fridge.

While these advancements are impressive, they also come with risks. For one, anything that is WiFi enabled can be hacked. Also, the touchpad screens may not last as long as the refrigerator will.

If you just have to have the latest and coolest, be prepared because Smart technology adds at least an extra $1,000 to the price of the refrigerator.

Best Brands

Now that you know what style fridge you want and the features you need, you’ll still have to choose a brand. The brands that consistently make top ten lists are GE, Kenmore, Whirlpool, Maytag, Frigidaire, LG, and Samsung, all of which we regularly have in stock here at K&A Appliance! When choosing between brands, consider not only the brand’s reputation for quality and performance in that particular style of refrigerator but also their warranty. If you still have questions or you’re ready to shop, contact us or visit our friendly K&A Appliance showrooms in Lancaster and Willow Street, PA.