Refrigerators are meant to keep your food and beverages cold. Those cool temperatures help keep food fresh, make it last longer, and ensure your drinks are refreshing. But they can also be cool because of their looks, features, and ability to connect to the internet. They don’t just keep things cold or frozen anymore. They can provide drinks of cold, clear water devoid of impurities courtesy of a refrigerator water filter. They’ll crank out as much pure ice as you need, too.
Your refrigerator is something you will live with for a long time. They are built to last for at least a decade or more. Your lifestyle may change, your family might grow (or shrink as the kids leave the nest), your jobs may change, but one constant will be that cool appliance in the kitchen.
You will have to do some research on the various brands and models when you’re ready to buy. Consider the company reputation as well as reviews of the models which draw your eye. Consumer Reports will provide you with excellent reviews. CNET covers consumer electronics well.
Here we offer some ideas to consider as you go about buying a new refrigerator. Whether you’re getting one for yourselves or for your kids as they set up housekeeping, you’ll want to keep some key ideas in mind.
Historically, many people choose well-known brands when purchasing long-lasting appliances, as well as other consumer goods. That form of loyalty is fading fast. Consumers are looking for brands which support the way they want to live, not the way manufacturers think they ought to.
So, instead of using customer loyalty as a measure, we should look at customer satisfaction as the basis for thinking about a refrigerator purchase. J.D. Power annually surveys consumers who have purchased major items, such as refrigerators. These surveys should help you make your decisions, as should reviews from other sources.
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is the type and style of refrigerator, which often is based on the space you have in your kitchen for it.
French Door Refrigerators
French door refrigerators have two equal-sized doors to the refrigerator compartment, and one or two bottom-mount freezer drawers. These refrigerators help you organize your food, and the shelves are usually large enough to hold a turkey on Thanksgiving. I generally love bottom freezer drawers but, if they are deep, you may be uncomfortable bending and reaching. Make sure the drawer pulls all the way out, and that you can reach into it without too much effort.
These refrigerators can be large, so make sure you’ve carefully measured the space where you want it placed. The doors can open wide, so take that measurement into account also before deciding on the make and model.
In 2016, J.D. Power rated the Electrolux line the highest in customer satisfaction in the French door category. Using a five-circle rating scale, with five being the highest, to judge the appliances, the only 3-circle category for the line was in styling and appearance. All the others were four or five circles.
Other reviews are not as stellar. Another reliable rating site, CNET, notes several models which consistently run warm—requiring you to set the temperature to the lowest setting possible just to keep the unit at 40 degrees. Some of their fancy or luxury features were considered difficult to operate by many users.
Samsung’s line in this style of refrigerator came in second, according to J. D. Power. This company offers a slightly pricier line of products than Electrolux, but the user reviews are significantly stronger across the board. One of the negative features noted by owners for several different models is the size of the ice maker—it tends to block drawers. The company’s four-door versions also have less-than-convenient freezer access. Many advise you to take advantage of the availability of Samsung water filters to keep your ice and water clear.
LG’s line will run you between $1,599 and $4,499. LG includes a “Door-in-Door” feature and InstaView windows on many of its products. CNET notes, however, that the InstaView feature comes at a price—two virtually identical models had a $500 price difference based on whether or not it had the InstaView feature.
The Kenmore Elite version generally gives you an affordable way to get the quality of a high-end brand. The Kenmore Elite 72482, for example, is a rebranded LG model. Many consider this brand, available at Sears, the workhorse of the French door style, as it has provided consistent quality through the years.
The side-by-side design’s biggest advantage is its easy access to frozen foods. With the tall compartment to your left (usually), you won’t have to bend over and shuffle through layers of food to find what you’re looking for. An added convenience is the smaller, more compact icemaker/water dispenser unit. Finally, side-by-sides are generally less expensive.
Looks can be deceiving. One comparison of two very similar Samsung models indicates that the less-expensive plainer model performs significantly better than its nearly identical, though significantly more expensive, attractive cousin. Within all lines, you need to examine the details and reviews carefully.
LG came in second in the 2016 survey. One of the consistent features of the LG models is their volume. They hold a lot of food. As with many side-by-sides, the ability of the refrigerator compartment to hold taller items, such as bottles, is problematic. Side-by-sides also frequently lack a butter dish in the door.
Frigidaire Gallery was also well-regarded by the J. D. Power survey. A glance through the ratings on a Google search shows the line sports a consistent performance of 4/5 stars. Frigidaire has a good reputation among all its lines of product for reliability; service calls should be few and far between. The flagship of their Gallery line, the FGHS2655PF, is well regarded. Its stainless-steel front resists smears and fingerprints and provides consistent solid performance.
Whirlpool’s line of side-by-side refrigerators is worth looking at. Their 6th Sense LiveTM technology allows you to connect with the unit using a smartphone app. Largely focused on maintenance, you can check the temperature, energy usage, and even find out if the kids left the door open. You can also check on the status of the Whirlpool water filter with the app.
Amana’s customer satisfaction does not rank highly at J. D. Power, but the consumer reviews through Google seem solid across the line. Amana’s prices are also consistently lower than most of the other brands. They tend to provide a little less volume than other, comparable brands, but the space inside the units is generally well-organized.
The traditional refrigerator has the freezer on top and generally uses less energy. Top freezer units are also the least expensive sector of this market. Least expensive doesn’t mean cheap, of course. Many of these units range from $500 to over $1,000, and even the lower-priced units have many of the bells and whistles people expect in 2017.
LG makes a quality top opening freezer. It’s big—23.8 cubic feet. As with the French door models, these units take up a lot of space and, depending on your kitchen, you could have a problem fitting it into the space you have allocated. Many top freezers don’t do as well on temperature consistency and accuracy, either.
Another option might be a Frigidaire. These units sell for under $1,000 and are considered by many some of the best on the market. While Frigidaires tend to run a bit warm when using the “normal” setting, they are energy efficient and frequently on sale.
Top vs. Bottom Freezers
Bottom freezer refrigerators tend to cost more than top freezer units. Couple bottom freezers with French doors, and you’ll also have an energy drainer, as they are not as energy-efficient. If you have difficulty lifting heavy objects, then the bottom freezer is also not for you.
Bottom freezers do, however, have some advantages. First, of course, is that the refrigerator section is more accessible. Since it's used far more often, the convenience of food at eye level is essential. It will be easier to find and less likely to get lost. Bottom freezers may have a separate drawer right above the freezer for beverage storage. The drawers in the freezer hold a lot of food, and the bottom is separated from the ice maker by one of the drawers.
Top freezer refrigerators are generally the most energy efficient refrigerator design. The freezer is farther away from the compressor and, thus, doesn’t deal with direct heat. Top freezers generally cost the lowest of any refrigerator type. In addition, if you’re not remodeling your kitchen, the top freezer may be the only kind which fits in the space available.
People rely on their tap water. Tap water is provided by a mix of public and private entities and comes from a range of sources. In most cases, in most of the country and for most of the time, the U.S. has the safest water system in the world. The vast majority of Americans have access to safe, clean drinking water in their homes.
We know of the horror stories. Toledo in 2014. Flint in the past few years. They rightly made news—because problems such as these are, in fact, so rare.
Fortunately, however, water filters are considered a necessity today. You may get water from a well, or your water could be supplied by the municipality. In either case, the well or the city water might have impurities that you need to be filtered. You may also be sensitive to some of the chemicals the city governments use to purify water, such as the taste of chlorine.
The right water filter in your refrigerator will help address these issues, and you can rest assured you and your family are drinking great tasting pure drinking water.
Most water filters have an NSF—National Sanitation Foundation—rating. The NSF is a non-profit that tests and certifies the various types of water filters, such as reverse osmosis filters, distillers, adsorption/filtration (most common), and more. The type of filter, for example, the grade of carbon used to remove contaminants, is also important.
You almost always have several options when replacing a water filter on your refrigerator. The qualities to look for when choosing one often depend on the state of your city or well water. In some places, you may be more concerned with particulates, whereas elsewhere it may be odor or chemical removal.
Review the type of filter you choose carefully to determine what works best for your area.
Refrigerator Water Filters
Most refrigerators, especially side-by-side and French door units, include water filters. Manufacturers recommend filters be changed every six months, and most refrigerators alert you when it is time to replace your filter, usually with an icon or light on the outside of your refrigerator. Most brands sell filters with their name on them, but other generic filters, designed for specific units, are also available.
Today's refrigerators are built to be energy efficient. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy and Energy Star upped the energy-efficiency requirements for refrigerators. The minimum standards require side-by-sides, top-freezers, and bottom-freezers to be 20-30% more efficient than previous generations were.
Energy Star refrigerators are 10% more efficient than previous counterparts and 9% more efficient than non-Energy Star appliances.
Most standard refrigerators are available from appliance retailers in industrial colors like stainless steel, gray, black, or white. If you are looking for something retro in a red, green, or pink, you may have to seek out a specialty retailer and compromise on some features. Customized refrigerators may also have to forgo some of the current trends, such as Wi-Fi enabling and a blast chiller which takes eight minutes to chill one bottle of wine.
A Final Note
Refrigerators are an occasional purchase. You want to get it right because you expect it will last you a good long time. Do your research and pay attention to authority sites like Consumer Reports. Read the online reviews. Shop around—this should not be an impulse buy. Keep an eye out for sales and for discounts and rebates on last year’s models, but, most of all, remember to measure the space available for the refrigerator—because one size does not fit all!