How to Buy a Refrigerator

So you need to buy a new refrigerator. Well one thing making your shopping a little easier is that the range of quality across refrigerators has been evening out. As long as you look at major brands (or get a good warrantee) you can pretty much just compare styles, sizes and energy efficiency to choose a good refrigerator.

Shown above (left to right), a Jenn Air side-by-side refrigerator, a Kitchen Aid top freezer refrigerator, an Amana bottom freezer, a Sub-Zero built-in refrigerator


  • Side-By-Side – both freezer and refrigerated compartments are narrow and tall. This means that both sides can be organized that commonly used foods are at a level that is easily reached. In addition, side-by-side models can fit in areas with narrower access as the door swings don’t require as much space. However, narrow freezers mean that large items such as frozen pizza boxes, may be difficult to fit in.
  • Top Freezers – this is one of the most popular styles. The design allows for better efficiency, the cold air from the freezer can easily be used to cool the refrigerated compartment. It also allow for easy storage of large items in both the freezer and refrigerator.
  • Bottom Freezers – this configuration is convenient if most of your use of the unit is with the refrigerator. The more commonly used items can be placed at a level for easy access. The less used freezer items require bending to reach.
  • Built-In – refrigerators can be built directly into the cabinetry, usually with custom panels that match the rest of your kitchen.
  • Under-Counter – typically a smaller refrigerator able to fit under standard countertops.


  • Storage Size – measured in cubic feet.
  • Dimensions – the exterior height, width and depth of the unit are an important consideration. Will the refrigerator that you like fit into the space in your house with minimal modifications?
  • Door Swing – depending on your needs, most refrigerators can be ordered to have the doors swing open to the left or to the right (note: this doesn’t apply to side-by-side models).
  • Energy Guide Labels – give an estimate of the annual operating cost of the refrigerator. These labels are required on all models sold in the US.
  • Ice Maker / Water Dispenser – many side-by-side refrigerators have the option of built in ice makers and ice / water dispensers built into the door for easy access.

How to Choose

  1. Determine the size of refrigerator you want. Measure the space the unit will fit into. Will there be enough room for the doors to swing?
  2. Choose the features and finishes that you want. If you have little kids, do you really want an in-door ice dispenser? Would a stainless steel finish fit into your kitchen? Would it be worth the added expense?
  3. Compare warrantees and energy costs across several models.