A refrigerator is not an impromptu purchase. It’s a big decision, one you’ll have to live with every day. Since there are so many styles and models, you have a lot of choices.
Whether you can afford to spend under $600 for a basic model, or over $3000 for a door-in-door fridge with a ton of options, there’s a refrigerator out there calling your name. You just have to do some pre-work before you click that "buy" button.
This sequence will probably help you most, but go in any order, as long as you cover these points:
1. Measure, measure, measure
2. Decide on a style
3. Set a budget
4. Determine how much food storage you need
5. Choose a finish
6. Find the features you want
7. Visit stores and sites, and start a list
8. Read reviews
9. Select delivery and installation options
10. Plan for disposal of the old fridge
1. Measure, measure, measure
When it comes to new fridge, you need to measure everything. First, start with where the fridge will live. Make sure the door won't hit an island or a wall. And be sure to leave some extra room—at least an inch all around for ventilation.
Then look at the path the fridge will enter to get into your kitchen. Fridges don't magically appear! Many deliveries end in tears and frustration because the hallway door is too narrow or the stairs are too windy. It may seem like overkill, but if you're living in a particularly tight space, you can piece together a cardboard approximation of the fridge and test drive it from your porch to your kitchen.
Most refrigerators fall into these main categories:
Top freezer—Your grandmother might have had one like this. The freezer is situated above the refrigerator compartment. Though they may look old school, these types of fridges can be very efficient. Generally top freezers are the most affordable type. See our Best Top-freezer refrigerators.
Bottom freezer—There aren’t too any of these on the market, but if you find one you like, they’re cheaper than French door models, with some of the same advantages.
Side-by-side—Just like the name says, the refrigerator and the freezer are right next to one another, keeping most of your food at eye level. If you like to keep large frozen pizzas, pans of lasagna, similar wide foods, be sure the freezer side has room. Many of them don’t, and this can be a make-or-break issue for bakers trying to fit a baking sheet in the freezer. See our Best Side-by-side Refrigerators.
French door—The most stylish look for refrigerators now, this type has two doors for the refrigerator compartment, and a freezer drawer on the bottom. Typically French doors are the most expensive. There are a few common variants on the three-door French door look, including the four-door version that has an additional pull-drawer, and a quad-door version. See our Best French-door Refrigerators.
And then there's width and depth to consider. Dishwashers are all the same width. Washers and dryers come in just two widths. Fridges are all over the place. All the fridge styles listed above come in multiple widths. So once again: measure, measure, measure.
Counter depth—Each of these is also available in counter depth, which is shallower than a standard fridge. The upside? You get a fridge that fits the space, with a more built-in look. The downside? You pay more and get less storage. See our Best Counter-depth Refrigerators.
In our testing at Reviewed, we’ve found excellent refrigerators at a variety of price points. Before you shop, determine how much you’re able to spend. A basic, quality top freezer will cost as little as $600, while French-door fridges start closer to $1000 and go up from there.
The size of your kitchen and your family’s eating habits will determine how many cubic-feet of storage your refrigerator needs. While the footprint of the fridge (i.e. the exterior width and depth) may be restricted due to your kitchen design, there are fridges that make great use of space and those that don't. In-door ice dispensers, for example, are convenient, but they do take up room that might otherwise hold more groceries.
Be sure to consider how you can customize the shelves. You never know when you'll have to fit a sheet cake, a deli platter, and four bottles of wine.
Since you’re going to be looking at your refrigerator every day, choose a finish that looks great in your kitchen.
Stainless—The clean, metallic look of a stainless steel refrigerator is timeless. Many of today’s stainless refrigerators are smudgeproof, so you won’t spend hours polishing off fingerprints.
Black stainless steel—The up-and-coming finish, each brand has its own take on it, making it hard to mix brands. Black stainless resists fingerprints, making it easier to maintain. Although magnets will stick to most black stainless finishes, they can scratch easily, so think twice about using them.
Plain black or white—Select one of these classic finishes if you need to match the rest of your appliances. A fridge in black or white usually costs less than one in stainless or black stainless steel.
Other colors—Bisque and almond continue to survive on the fringes, but have no real popularity. There are also bold color choices from the design-centric company Smeg, but don't expect much in the way of the performance.
Bells and whistles might not be important to you, but if you want ice and water dispensers, gallon-size bins in the doors, adjustable shelves, and a door alarm (oh, yes), ensure that the models you’re considering have them.
7. Touch and feel
Your fridge is usually the most touched appliance in your home. If you close you eyes, you can probably recreate exactly what it feels like to open the door and make a grab for the milk. So how your new fridge feels is important. Even if you're buying online, it's worthwhile to stop by a brick-and-mortar store for some hands-on time.
The exception here is secondary fridges that are headed for the basement or garage. Just go with whatever's affordable and has decent reviews. Speaking of reviews...
8. Read the reviews
Check our site and others to see what experts and owners say. Not all refrigerators do a great job maintaining the appropriate temperatures to keep food safe.
User reviews, taken as a whole, can help uncover trends in quality and reliability. And don't forget personal recommendations from friends and family—often the most useful and personalized reviews of all.
9. Choose delivery options carefully
Delivery day can go smoothly or it can end in disaster. (See rule #1.) Appliance damage is most likely to occur not at the factory, but in the last fifty feet to your house. Once the truck arrives, all the protective cardboard and foam is ripped away.
Investigate the options. Some retailers include delivery and installation with the price you pay for the refrigerator, but don’t assume that’s always the case. Also, ask how your fridge is going to be delivered. If the delivery service uses a two-wheeler, protect your floors, stairs, and door moldings, or they may get damaged.
Make a careful inspection of the fridge before you give your signature. Examine the walls and floor of your house. Any scratches, dents, or holes? Once they leave it can be much harder to plea your case.
10. Make disposal plans for the old fridge
You may have to pay extra to get your old refrigerator hauled away. Most retailers will haul it away from a nominal charge, but be sure to find out ahead of time. Otherwise you could end up having to take care of it yourself, and refrigerators are heavy.