Refrigerators 101—BYHYU 098
The refrigerator is one of the hardest working, most used appliances in a house. Back in the day, all they had were refrigerators with freezers on top and the main choice they had to make was color. Remember harvest gold and avocado?
Today, we have so many choices in refrigerators that I thought I’d do a quick episode covering the pros and cons of each type of refrigerator to help us choose the best fridge for our new homes.
We’ll talk about top freezer refrigerators and bottom freezer refrigerators, french door refrigerators and side by side refrigerators, counter depth fridges and full refrigerator columns. Plus I’ll tell you the rule of thumb for the amount of fridge space you need in cubic feet.
Alright, let’s get into our refrigerator overview. Starting with the most common type of fridge: top freezer refrigerators.
Top Freezer Refrigerators
This is the type of fridge that most of us grew up with. The freezer unit sits on top, taking up about a third of the entire unit.
Top freezer refrigerators are budget friendly options, starting at about $450 and they are available in many of finishes and brands.
The only real downside of top freezer models is that the freezer takes up valuable eye level space. That matters because most people go into their freezer less often than they go into their refrigerator. And some people argue that top freezer fridges are not quite as pretty or interesting to look at as other refrigerator styles.
Top freezer fridges are best for homeowners who love a bargain and don’t care as much about style or trends.
Bottom Freezer Refrigerators
Bottom freezer units are fairly similar in style to top freezer units except that the freezer is, as you know, on the bottom third of the unit. This means that valuable eye level space is available for fresh, non-frozen foods. You won't have to bend over as much to get to your fruits and vegetables with a bottom freezer model.
But that means that you will have to hunch over to get to your frozen foods. Some bottom freezer models now come with freezer drawers which can make it easier to get to ice cream, frozen dinners and other frozen items.
Bottom-freezer units tend to be slightly larger than top freezers models. They’re also more expensive. Bottom freezer refrigerators start around $1000.
Although I’ve never had a bottom freezer refrigerator, I’ve had a couple of friends with bottom freezer units and they complained that things get lost or hidden in the back of the freezer. Maybe in the same way celery or cucumbers can get lost or hidden in the back of vegetable bins in a regular top freezer fridge. Items at the bottom of fridges are more vulnerable to being lost and going bad simply because they are harder to see.
Bottom freezer units are good for the homeowner who wants a simple fridge with easier access to fresh foods and who doesn’t mind bending over every time they want ice cream.
Side by Side Refrigerators
Side by side units usually have a refrigerator compartment that extends from top to bottom on the right side and a freezer compartment that extends from top to bottom on the left side. Some models have equal sized fridge and freezer compartments, but most side by side models have a smaller freezer unit, allowing for more space for fresh food.
Side by side units are widely available and have many fancy features that are not available in top freezer and bottom freezer models. Features like a door-in-door section that lets you quickly grab beverages or condiments without opening the entire fridge. Other features include humidity sensors, door alarms, frost guard technology and quick cool and quick freeze options that are nice to cool the unit down when you load up the fridge or freezer with leftovers or new groceries.
Adjustable shelves are another feature that might be helpful. If you're constantly rearranging things in your fridge to make space for groceries or leftovers, look for models with movable shelves that slide in or fold up which make it a lot easier to make room for tall or large items.
Side by side refrigerators don't need as much clearance space to open the doors, so they are a great option for narrow kitchens. And an added bonus of the double doors is that they're not as heavy as single doors, which makes it easier for kids and the elderly to open the fridge.
One downside of a side by side fridge is the narrow freezer space of side by side models, so freezing wider items like extra large frozen pizzas can be challenging.
Most side by side refrigerators start around $1100. They’re best for homeowners who have limited clearance space to open refrigerator doors, but who want a fancy fridge with special features.
French Door Refrigerators
French door refrigerators are very popular with homeowners building and buying new homes. French door models have a drawer-style freezer compartment on the bottom and a refrigerator compartment on top. The refrigerator compartment opens with equally sized, side by side french doors. With 2 fridge doors, you won't be letting quite as much cold air out when you're opening just one door at a time. And those narrow fridge doors don't swing as far into the kitchen as a full-width door, leaving more space in front to move about. And those double french doors are some of the lightest and easiest to open.
French door refrigerators have numerous special features, including smart features. Smart fridges can play music, display the weather, show a calendar, and put together a shopping list based on what you’re missing within the fridge. They also let you see what’s inside your fridge with a camera that is connected to your smart phone.
Sounds awesome, right? But here’s a caveat. If the manufacturer of your smart fridge doesn’t reliably keep up with software and security updates, it’s possible your smart fridge could become infected with a computer virus or that the smart features could stop working altogether. Most smart fridge manufacturers will probably make software updates available for several years, but they may not make updates available for the life of the refrigerator. So your smart fridge may become an ordinary, dare I say "dumb" fridge over time.
Most french door refrigerators start around $1500 and go up to several thousand dollars. You’ll probably pay at least an extra $1000 for a smart french door fridge. The expensive price tag of french door models is the main drawback.
French door fridges are best for homeowners who like having the latest greatest appliances with the most advanced features available.
Separate Refrigerator and Freezer Columns
You might see completely separate refrigerator and freezer units in some higher end homes. Buying 2 separate units will obviously be more expensive than buying a combination fridge/freezer model. But you will have significantly more refrigerator and freezer space with 2 separate units. This is ideal for larger families or for folks who need lots of refrigerator space for entertaining or for weekly meal preps. Separate columns will also take up more space, so they are best for larger kitchens.
Homeowners who want a high end look and lots of space for fresh and frozen foods are the best consumers for completely separate units. Most separate fridge and freezer columns cost several thousand dollars. Occasionally, you can find them for less than $2000 each.
Okay, let’s talk about how big of a refrigerator you need.
It varies, but a general rule of thumb is that you'll want about 5 cubic feet (cu. ft.) of refrigerator space per adult/teenager in your household. Add a little extra space for holidays or special circumstances.
Full-size refrigerators range from 10 cu. ft. for compact models to over 30 cu. ft. for extra large models.
So a family of 4 (say, 2 parents and 2 teenagers) will probably need at least a 20 cubic foot refrigerator. A little bigger might be a little better. And don’t forget to account for growing kids and a growing family. The average refrigerator will last 13 years, according to This Old House.com With that in mind, you’ll want the fridge that you buy today to be large enough for your family in the future.
Choose a refrigerator that fits your kitchen and family needs, but don’t go overboard and buy extra fridge space that you’ll never use. You’ll pay for a fridge that’s too large in loss of valuable counter space and with higher monthly utility bills.
So there’s a quick overview of the different styles of refrigerators that are available. As always, I’ll remind you to look for Energy Star models to save on your utility bills and to ask about scratch and dent, floor models and discontinued models to save on the purchase price.
Well, that’s all that I have for you this week. Let’s do it again next week. Join me for the next edition of Build Your House Yourself University-- BYHYU.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete, it’s subject to change and it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.
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