Learning CenterHow to Choose a Refrigerator

How to Choose a Refrigerator

Over the years, the modern refrigerator has come a long way from its icebox origins.


Your grandparents and great-grandparents used the bulky ice box, if they were lucky. Little better than coolers with insulation, or ice that had to be bought from a store, some of them were even kept outside. Now, refrigerators are an expected centerpiece to every kitchen. They make their own ice and keep different sections at individual temperatures, along with many other features that combine convenience with efficiency to keep your food safe, fresh, and ready to prepare. There are many options, so know what you’re looking for before you make the choice.

Plan ahead to find the best refrigerator for your home.

Measure Before You Buy

To help inform your decision on selecting a refrigerator, start with these considerations on the size and space you have available for the appliance:

  • Measure the height, width, and depth of your existing refrigerator and the space it occupies to use as a guideline of what you can replace it with.
  • Measure the width and height of the refrigerator against every doorway the appliance will have to pass through between the driveway at delivery and the kitchen for installation. It doesn’t matter that the refrigerator will fit in your kitchen space if it can’t fit through the doors to get it there!

There are a few additional space considerations when it comes to placing a refrigerator, whether planning for a new kitchen or just a remodel. Fitting the right refrigerator is about more than just the right size footprint for the base.

When considering size and placement options, be aware of any walls, cupboards, kitchen islands, or opening drawers that could block the free movement of refrigerator doors. Add the depth of the door hinge on to the width of the unit to account for the swing of an open door, as well as the handle - you don’t want the refrigerator door putting a dent in the wall. It’s best to account for two inches or more with most doors.

Take care to ensure that wherever the refrigerator is placed, the vent system is not obstructed by cabinets or flooring requirements. It’s important to keep in mind that poor ventilation diminishes performance and shortens the lifespan of a refrigerator, regardless of built-in or freestanding.

What kind of space do you have for a refrigerator?

The Basics

What kind of space do you have? Is it an open floor plan kitchen? Will your refrigerator be boxed in by cupboards and cabinets? In order to determine the best fit in your home, the first consideration is simple: Do you need a built-in or freestanding refrigerator?

Built-in Refrigerators

  • Designed to sit flush with the lines of your existing cabinets or into a wall, with the ability to include more custom food storage options, such as a wine cooler or different sized freezers. It depends on what you want in your kitchen and the space your kitchen design requires.
  • They require professional installation, with your customized cabinetry work built around it to accommodate their size and door operation.
  • Built-in refrigerators have top and bottom front-facing exhausts to vent heat and keep plenty of airflow to the motor and coolant systems.
  • They are also more customizable with options for front panels that can be designed to match the surrounding cabinetry.

The whole family relies on an efficient and reliable refrigerator.

Freestanding Refrigerators

  • Freestanding refrigerators tend to be less expensive than built-in models and are easier to install, which makes them more popular with homeowners.
  • These units come in a variety of sizes and multiple finishes, allowing you to find a unit that fits in your existing space.
  • Freestanding refrigerators are not as customizable and offer more uniform options from model to model, such as more interior depth, shelving, and freezer options.
  • They do not sit flush with the depth of the average cabinetry and can extend into the walkway of the kitchen.

How much room do you need in your refrigerator?

What Is The Best Storage Capacity?

Another key decision for your family’s needs is how much room is needed to effectively store and cool all of the food you use. From as little as 0 cubic feet to over 26 cubic feet, there are plenty of options for refrigeration space to meet most home requirements.

  • A good average would be to plan for 5 to 8 cubic feet per person.
  • Produce, dairy, and meat all have different optimal storage requirements, which most models meet by specially designed drawer systems that change the amount of space available for shelving.
  • Pay attention to where storage drawers and shelf units are located within the refrigerator. Be sure they are easily accessible and will not prove challenging over the long term.

Fresh, healthy food requires an efficient refrigerator.

Choose the Right Freezer Size

When choosing a refrigerator, keep in mind the kind of food you intend to use it for. If your family eats mostly vegetables or fresh foods, you’ll want a larger refrigerator section. If your family buys in bulk or keeps frozen foods in stock, make sure not to skimp on the freezer space.

  • Freezer capacity is different than refrigerator capacity, given the different needs of frozen food. It is stackable, boxed, and preserved, so there are fewer demands on temperature and humidity.
  • Modern refrigerator freezers tend to accommodate the different food storage needs with freezer sections that aren’t as clearly defined or segmented.
  • Drawer freezers are popular for the amount of food they can hold and the fact that they use the space with minimal physical demands - no kneeling or crouching to check the bottom shelves, just open the drawer and look down.

Refrigerator types vary.

Refrigerator Type

With those basic considerations accounted for, you’ll have a good idea of what your family’s requirements are from a refrigerator. Keeping them in mind, the next step is to decide on the style. How do you want the refrigerator to look? What design will best meet your needs while making the rest of your kitchen look good?

Top Freezer

  • Separate freezer and refrigerator compartments.
  • Freezer section above the larger refrigerator area.
  • Features wide shelves for plenty of storage space.
  • Produce bins primarily located on the bottom for best accessible use of space.
  • Most common style and typically the best priced option.

Bottom Freezer

  • Separate freezer and refrigerator compartments.
  • Refrigerator section above the freezers space.
  • Fresh food storage at eye level for easier access.
  • Pull-out drawer freezers.
  • Utility racks or baskets can be used to make sorting and storage easier.
  • A popular style in the modern home.

French Door Refrigerators

  • Separate freezer and refrigerator compartments.
  • Refrigerator section above the freezers space.
  • Fresh food storage at eye level for easier access.
  • Pull-out drawer freezers and humidity-specific zones.
  • Utility racks or baskets can be used to make sorting and storage easier.
  • Narrow doors work for small kitchen spaces.
  • Wider interior spaces than a side-by-side refrigerator.
  • Great for larger items and food organization.

Side-by-side Refrigerators

  • Separate freezer and refrigerator compartments.
  • Compartments take up one entire vertical section, from top to floor.
  • Fresh food storage at eye level for easier access.
  • Produce bins primarily located on the bottom for best accessible use of space.
  • Narrow doors work for small kitchen spaces.
  • Energy efficient design.
  • Narrow interior storage shelves.

Counter Depth Refrigerators

  • Available in most styles, from top freezers to french Doors.
  • Designed to fit flush with existing cabinets at the standard depth of most modern countertops.
  • Less interior space in exchange for more floor space and walkway.
  • Great for small floor plan or galley kitchens.

Drawer Refrigerators

  • Drawer storage available for both freezer and refrigerator capabilities.
  • Smaller size in height, width, and depth.
  • Stand-alone, built-in, or undercounter options.

Undercounter Refrigerators

  • Designed to be built-in to existing counter spaces or as freestanding units.
  • Front-facing vent systems to allow for enclosed-area placement.
  • Commonly designed as beverage storage.

High End Refrigerators

  • Multiple styles and storage capacities available, either french door or side-by-side refrigerators.
  • More specific storage capacity and footprint within the kitchen for built-ins, often requiring professional installation.
  • These luxury styles can come with more customizable exteriors, such as paneling or finishes.
  • Highly organized, with specific zones to meet the storage needs for different produce, dairy, meats, or even wine and sodas.

Smart Storage Refrigerators

  • Separate freezer and refrigerator compartments.
  • Energy-efficient design.
  • Multiple styles and storage capacities available, either french door or side-by-side refrigerators.
  • Folding or sliding shelving options to keep food storage more easily accessible and organized.
  • Multiple humidity and temperature zones to best preserve different types of food.
  • New technology features designed to save you time, energy consumption, or just add to the experience in your kitchen.

Some possible Smart features include:

  • Set a customized temperature, or monitor the energy use to time defrost cycles with your area’s lowest energy use times.
  • Door-in-door storage access allows frequently used items - such as condiments or beverages - to be stored on the door, with access to them through a smaller, exterior door without wasting the cold refrigerator air looking for them.
  • Built-in cameras let you see the contents of your fridge from a touchpad screen on the door, or even an app on your phone if you’re out shopping, without the need to waste energy to open the door.
  • App notifications to changes in power use, like a power outage, or if it’s time to change a water filter.
  • Voice control and WiFi enabled features, allowing you to play internet radio right from the refrigerator while you’re in the kitchen.

There's a style fit for every household.

Extra Features to Look For

For those finishing touches, look for the smaller details. These are generally more flexible features, but can make a difference in how happy you are with your purchase in the long run.

Choose the Right Finish

  • White - Durable, universal fit with many kitchen styles.
  • Stainless Steel - Durable, easy to clean, easy to match with any kitchen style, tends to show fingerprints.
  • Black Stainless Steel - Smudge and fingerprint proof, easy to clean, however it is susceptible to scratching.
  • Customizable Front Panels - Depending on the brand and model, these can be swapped out for the closest fit to match your existing cabinetry.


  • Glass - Easy to clean, tempered for strength, scratch-resistant, contains any spills to one spot.
  • Plastic - Easy to clean, contains spills.
  • Baskets - Moveable, easy organization.
  • Customizable organization - Some shelves can be slid securely out of the way, or fold up to latch to the interior, to make more space for taller items.


  • Customizable - Features temperature, humidity control, and even air purifiers to keep your food fresh for longer.
  • Crispers
  • Freezers
  • Temperature-Controlled Pantry

Ice Makers

  • Built-in - These take up the same space as stacking refillable ice trays in the freezer, and you have ice at the ready whenever you want it, without the work.
  • Through-the-door - Many offer cubed or crushed ice options.

Water Dispensers

  • Through-the-door - Hold your glass up to the panel and it will dispense the water with the press of a button.
  • Filtered -  Optional, as the filters will need replaced periodically.
  • Hot and cold - Some refrigerators offer either room temperature dispensing, chilled, or even hot water on the door.
  • Auto-fill Pitchers - Some refrigerators offer a water-pitcher docking station inside the refrigerator, and it will refill the pitcher whenever it is replaced in the dock. The mobile water pitcher can save on trips to the door dispenser, and some of them even have a diffuser in them for fruit or herbal flavoring.


  • Certified to save energy consumption, saving you money on the monthly bills.
  • Meets US Department of Energy standards.
  • Use 20% less energy compared to other models.