Refrigerator Buying Guide

Refrigerator designs -- from mini to mighty -- suit a wide array of style, storage, and space needs. Review these refrigerator features to discover the right model for your kitchen.

Today's refrigerators do more than just keep staples chilled or frozen. They dole out filtered water, generate ice cubes, properly sort and corral every food group, and even go digital, with upper-end models housing touch-screen media centers.

Regardless of technological advances, top-freezer refrigerators remain the popular choice due to reasonable prices, spacious, accessible interiors, and profiles that easily slip into existing kitchen layouts. Bottom-freezer styles reverse access, placing cold storage up top and frozen foods closer to the floor. Side-by-side freezer and refrigerator models offer plentiful storage, but their narrow recesses make it difficult to store large items and reach things placed near the back. French-door designs boast two space-saving doors that open to eye-level refrigeration set above a pullout freezer. Some newer bottom-freezer models sport a fourth compartment, such as a full-width pantry, refrigerator, or second freezer drawer.

Since selections vary broadly in size, precisely measure the height, depth, and width of your available space to determine which models best fit your kitchen. Consider clearance for door(s) swing and styles and finishes that match your form and function desires. Built-in and counter-depth models, especially when rendered in stainless steel, add streamlined, commercial appeal. Black finishes emit a contemporary vibe, while white and bisque finishes complement classic and cottage looks.

Quality refrigerators are available at every price point. As costs rise, you'll find more model choices equipped with more interior space, sensors, and alarms, as well as integrated just-for-cooling refrigerators paired with like-size freezers and below-countertop refrigerator and freezer drawers.

Here's an overview of what your money will buy.

Standard refrigerators, priced from $100 to $750, range from compact refrigerators and wine coolers at the lower end to family-size top-freezer models starting at around $500. Basic top-freezer models house up to 19 cubic feet of space and are available in black, bisque, white, silver, and stainless-steel-look finishes. Many qualify for Energy Star status and boast desirable features such as adjustable glass shelves (that, unlike wire shelves, prevent spills from dripping on foods stored below), deli-meat drawers, humidity-controlled crisper drawers, and LED lighting. At the upper end of this range, you'll find stainless-steel finishes, models with 22-cubic-foot interiors, and freezers equipped with icemakers and auto-defrost systems.

Midrange refrigerators, costing between $750 and $1,500, include many of the above features and are available in top-freezer, side-by-side, bottom-freezer, and a few French-door designs. Capacities increase, with some models supplying 26 cubic feet of space. Ice and filtered water dispensers appear on doors. More drawers, shelves, bins, and storage options outfit refrigerator and freezer compartments. Dual-cooling systems, which independently circulate air in freezer and refrigerator sections, nonclean condensers, door alarms, and sound-reduction technology also pop up.

Top-of-the-line refrigerators, ranging from $1,500 to $10,000-plus, offer first-class convenience. Interior capacity stretches to 31 cubic feet on some models. A few bottom-freezer models sport two freezer drawers or a centrally set refrigerator drawer. Undercounter refrigerator and freezer drawers, panel-ready refrigerator-freezers, and individual stainless-steel refrigerator and freezers are available. You'll find interior chilled-water and ice dispensers and exterior water and ice dispensers equipped with locks and digitally displayed water temps. Cooling and blast-chill zones allow you to quickly cool down beverages and still-warm leftovers. On a few high-end models, media centers act as sound systems and digital picture frames that may also be programmed to retrieve recipes, family calendars, and Internet info.

In the market for a new refrigerator? Find out which upgrades are worth the splurge.


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