Back in the day, refrigerators were basic: keep food cold, or, keep some food frozen (if you had an "ice box"). Today, refrigerator-freezers offer a wide variety of interesting features and options. Contemporary refrigerators are cool!

Important considerations for selecting a refrigerator that best meets your needs:

  • Built-in versus free-standing
  • Size (height, width, depth)
  • Storage capacity
  • Freezer and door configurations
  • Surface material
  • External dispenser and water filtration
  • Storage area configurations and options
  • Single- versus dual-compressors
  • Noise
  • Energy rating
  • IoT connectivity
  • Budget.

Built-in Versus Free-Standing

When considering built-in versus free-standing units, cost is often the determining factor since built-ins are substantially expensive. However, if you want to splurge or money is no object, built-ins blend beautifully with kitchen façades, are wider, and look great. Potential downsides of free-standing models include less depth, installation costs and repair costs. Also you probably won't be able to take your built-in with you if you move.

Reasons to choose a free-standing fridge include lower cost, easier installation, no special ventilation requirements, freedom of movement, greater depth, and easier, cheaper repairs.

Since a majority of homeowners buy free standing fridges, we'll focus on those…

Size (Height, Width, Depth)

First, you need to be certain that the fridge's height, width and depth fit your planned space. Leave a little space at the top and sides, although you don't need much.

What's really important is the depth, including door depth and door-swing.

Fridges come in standard depths (deeper), and counter-depth (shallower). A quick look around any showroom will tell you that among free-standing models, standard deeper units are more popular – undoubtedly because they hold more food than counter-depth units. However, counter-depth units have the advantage of fitting more seamlessly into the surrounding space, since they don't "stick out" beyond your counters.

A lot depends on how much space will exist in front of the fridge. If there's plenty of room, go ahead and consider a deeper unit. Also, be aware that refrigerator depth measurements only refer to the body; they don't include the door or the door handles. Together, those can add an additional 4-7 inches of total depth beyond the body of the fridge.

"Door swing" refers to how much additional "depth" is added when your widest door is completely open. It's easy to overlook this in the planning stage, only to find that an open fridge door actually hits or comes very close to an island. So think about not only the door swing measurement, but also, how much space you require between a fully open door and the nearest object, like an island.

Storage Capacity

Refrigerator storage capacity is measured in cubic feet. However, as Consumer Reports notes , manufacturer claims include shelfs, racks and even the water dispenser.

So is this measure even useful? For consumers, it can be, but mainly to compare models. Looks can be deceiving when trying to estimate how much storage space a fridge really has, so comparing cubic foot claims – especially different models from the same maker – can give you a better idea of how much space each model offers.

Freezer and Door Configurations

Freezer placement and door configuration are a matter of personal preference and budget. Single door refrigerators are the most affordable. Side-by-side (freezer beside the refrigerator) and French door (freezer below the refrigerator) models tend to live at the higher end of the price range.

Top Freezer

  • Frozen foods at eye level (perfect if you store and use a lot of frozen foods)
  • Can easily store wide frozen food packages like frozen pizzas
  • Good for smaller families
  • More affordable than side-by-sides and French-door models

Bottom Freezer

  • Commonly used foods at eye level
  • Can easily store wide frozen food packages
  • Freezer placement on bottom means slightly more efficiency
  • Good for smaller families
  • Not ideal if you don't want to bend down for frozen items
  • More affordable than side-by-sides and French-door models


  • Easy access to refrigerator and freezer sections
  • Narrower shelves than most top/bottom freezer models
  • More space in door storage compartments
  • Option for external water/ice dispenser
  • Option for door-in-door storage access
  • Higher price than top/bottom freezer models

French Doors

  • Offers many of the benefits of side-by-sides and top/bottom freezer models (e.g., store wide frozen food packages)
  • More efficient than side-by-sides and top/bottom freezer models (only open the section you need; three temperature-controlled areas)
  • Not ideal if you don't want to bend down for frozen items
  • Higher price than side-by-side and top/bottom freezer models

Visit a showroom to get a better feel for the practical differences.

Surface Material

Refrigerators come in a variety of finishes. Depending on the brand, you can find surface finishes in stainless steel, shiny black slate black, white, gold, copper and other colors.

Your choice of surface material and color is mainly a personal and style preference: you may want a classic look with wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances, or you may opt for lots of color in your appliance choices.

One practical consideration: stainless steel tends to show fingerprints more easily.

External Dispenser & Water Filtration

External water dispensers are a matter of convenience and preference. They require only a simple water hook-up from the wall area behind the fridge.

One caution: some water dispensers flow water directly from your pipes to the fridge door, while others include a filtration step for those who prefer to receive filtered water from their water dispenser.

Storage Area Configurations and Options

Some brands and product lines seem to do a better job than others when it comes to designing shelf placement, specialized compartments and lighting, so pay attention to these features when comparing brands and models.

Ideally, a fridge's storages spaces should be:

  • Flexible and easily configurable
  • Sturdy
  • Well-lit

Look at a variety of models on your store visit to see what strikes your fancy.

Single- Versus Dual-Compressors for Fresher Food

Historically, refrigerators have run on one compressor to cool the fridge and freezer compartments, but some newer models now run on dual-compressors.

Single compressors must operate at cooler temperatures to power the freezer compartment, which in turns removes humidity levels in the fridge – a potential problem for some kinds of fresh foods.

Dual compressor units create entirely different environments for the freezer and fridge, so fresh foods in the refrigerator section stay fresher longer.

Once available only in high-end brands, this technology has migrated to some mid-range brands and product lines, so it pays to find out if the brand and model you're considering offers this benefit.


Some refrigerators are noisier than others. If you think a noisier model might bother you on a quiet evening at home, ask retailers to turn on those models you like, so you can listen to them in operation. You might also pay attention to online reviews that mention high noise levels.

Energy Rating

Every new refrigerator carries an EnergyGuide label that tells you the model's:

  • Key features
  • Maker
  • Model number
  • Estimated yearly electricity consumption (kWh)
  • Estimated yearly operating cost (based on national averages of electricity costs for similar models)

This is a great way for energy- and budget-conscious consumers to compare models.

IoT Connectivity

Many believe that at some point, most refrigerator/freezer units will be "smart fridges," connected to the IoT (Internet of Things).

IoT functionality allows units to "talk" with you about grocery needs and ordering, show you the inside of your fridge from remote locations, and even share messages and photos with other family members.

However, IoT refrigerators connect to the Internet via your home computer network, offering hackers a vulnerable way into your home computers and mobile devices. Decide for yourself just how connected you really want or need to be.


Price ranges for refrigerators run from $500 for very basic models all the way up to $8,000 or more for high end stand-alones, and built-in models. With that kind of range it's an obvious place to look for savings. Our advice: make a list of the refrigerator types, sizes, features, finishes and efficiency ratings you like most, and then see which brands offer the best deals. You might be able to save as much as a thousand dollars or more simply by comparing brands, models and features!

Keep in mind also that late spring is a particularly good time to shop, as clearance sales help showrooms make way for new models that typically arrive in summer. Holiday weekends are another great time to look for deals on fridges and other large appliances.