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Keep Your Cool With Our Refrigerator Buying Guide

by Pam Silvia

Whether your refrigerator is nearing the end of its lifespan or you are looking to remodel your kitchen with a brand-new appliance, there are many factors to consider when making this purchase. It’s a high-stakes investment, so it can be daunting to parse through the many styles, brands, and impressive-sounding features to narrow down your final purchase.

To guide your search, our Colder’s experts put together a refrigerator buying guide so don’t lose your cool when shopping for this all-too-important appliance. Offering endless utility and eye-catching appeal, our Refrigeration catalog has something for everyone.

Now, let’s take a deep dive into the wonderful world of freestanding refrigerators!

Refrigerator Styles: Door Configurations

Before you wander through the magical world of refrigerator features, we advise that you find your ideal style first. More specifically, we mean choosing the right door configuration for your new fridge. Beyond appealing to your aesthetic preference, your choice in refrigerator style should be conducive to your kitchen layout and household’s needs.

To help narrow your selection, check out the pros and cons of our four most popular refrigerator styles—plus a bonus one.

NOTE: Rundowns of pros, cons, and price do not factor built-in or counter-depth installation options.

French Door Refrigerator

Growing in popularity, this refrigerator style entails two side-by-side fridge doors on top and one or two bottom freezer drawers.

Compared to other styles with just one fridge door, French door refrigerators are more energy-efficient, with less cold air escaping the appliance when opened—keeping your foods fresher for longer. The fridge compartment of French door models can also fit wider items, like pizza boxes and charcuterie platters, which makes it a winner among dinner party hosts. And if you’re concerned about your kitchen island being in the way, the two narrow French doors require less clearance on either side of the appliance.

On the downside, some models stock ice dispensers in the freezer drawer, which poses an inconvenience in terms of storage space; that said, many French door refrigerators have a built-in ice maker on the exterior of one of the French doors.

Compared to more traditional styles, French door fridges are among the most expensive on the market. They are typically priced at an upper mid-end or high-end price, ranging from $1,500 to $2,700.

black matte Café kitchen package featuring a French door refrigerator

Side-by-Side Refrigerator

This other two-door model is an ideal option for those who like to purchase their groceries in bulk. With a freezer that takes up roughly half of the appliance, you can expect side-by-side refrigerators to hold more of your family’s frozen-food favorites, including ready-to-cook meals, meats, ice cream, and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. Side-by-side refrigerators also offer practical freezer space with vertical layouts that eliminate stuffing so that you can find what you're looking for right when you open the door.

Most compellingly, with a maximum refrigerator width of approximately 40 inches, side-by-side models boast the largest overall capacity of any refrigerator style, which makes them a strong contender for larger households. As some sort of feat, despite their generous storage, side-by-side fridges are also considered an efficient option for compact spaces or tricky kitchen layouts.

Among its drawbacks, this refrigerator type may not be able to store wide trays and oddly shaped items since both the fridge and freezer are narrower than other models’ compartments.

An upper-mid-end option, the average side-by-side refrigerator costs about $1,800.

Stainless-steel Whirlpool side-by-side refrigerator in clean kitchen

Bottom-Freezer Refrigerator

As you might guess from their name, bottom-freezer refrigerators all feature a drawer freezer at the lower level of the appliance, but unlike French door models, they feature only one fridge door. Praised for its convenient organization, this refrigerator style grants easy access to the items you reach for the most often without causing you to strain your neck and back. And compared to its top-freezer counterpart, this refrigerator type typically has a larger capacity in the freezer compartment.

That said, while you are not forced to crouch down to reach for your refrigerated foods with a bottom-freezer model, the same cannot be said if you’re hankering for that post-dinner pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Your body is going to have to work for it.

Solidly a mid-end purchase, a bottom-freezer refrigerator typically costs between $1,000 and $1,800.

stainless-steel Miele bottom-freezer refrigerator in clean kitchen

Top-Freezer Refrigerator

Sometimes, you can’t beat the classics. A tried-and-true style across the years, the top-freezer refrigerator entails a larger fridge compartment at the lower level with a smaller icebox up top. Top-freezer refrigerators remain a staple in many residential kitchens by virtue of their affordability.

Top-freezer refrigerators pose the opposite problem as bottom-freezer models, as they may force you to bend your body to retrieve or load items from the cavity we access the most. Due to their positions, bottom shelves and crisper drawers may force you to stoop down to open, shut, and clean them, making a top-freezer fridge an incompatible investment for many seniors and people who suffer from joint pain.

As we previously alluded, top-freezer fridges are the most budget-friendly option, as they are typically priced between $500 and $800.

black matte top-freezer refrigerator in bare kitchen

Bonus: Freezerless Refrigerator

With only one sizable compartment, freezerless refrigerators are ideal if you’re looking to maximize fridge space and keep a separate freezer, whether it be a built-in column freezer or freestanding upright or chest freezers.

This refrigeration category encapsulates compact refrigerators as well as full-sized refrigerators—and the price range varies accordingly.

Monogram freezerless fridge with the door open

Key Measurements and Refrigerator Dimensions

After you’ve determined which refrigerator style benefits you and your family the most, it’s time to take and record key measurements before settling on a final purchase.

As we’ve mentioned in our ultimate guide to measuring for appliances, it’s important to check and double-check your measurements to ensure successful delivery and installation of your new refrigerator.

There are also a few questions to keep in mind as you determine the ideal refrigerator size for your needs. Among them: Will your family be growing soon? Do you often host guests for dinner?

For reference, each adult will need at least four to six cubic feet of refrigerator space, and a typical family of four will need at least 20 cubic feet of capacity—and likely more as your family grows and you continue to prepare meals at home. Large-capacity fridges are typically evaluated as such if they offer 25 to 29 cubic feet of volume. And if your space can afford your necessity for more, ultra-large-capacity models start at 30 cubic feet.

NOTE: Keep in mind that your preexisting cabinets may need to be modified to accommodate wider refrigerators.

Measuring to Fit Your Refrigerator

First, you’ll need to measure the cabinet opening you hope to fill with your new fridge. As detailed in the instructional video below, use a tape measure to record the width (in inches) at three points: at the countertop, beneath the upper cabinets, and the base of the cabinets. If there is molding at the base, measure at the thinnest points.

To account for refrigerator height, measure the cabinet opening from the floor to the thinnest point under the upper cabinets.

Lastly, measure the depth of the opening starting from the back wall and toward the front edge of your cabinets.

Check out this video for a step-by-step guide:

Measuring for Ventilation

To help your refrigerator run efficiently and last its full lifespan, air must be able to circulate around the box to prevent it from overheating. Industry experts assess that a fridge requires at least two inches from the back wall, one inch of overhead space, and an eighth of an inch on both sides.

You would subtract these minimum clearances from your initial measurements to determine the maximum dimensions for refrigerators that are compatible with your kitchen space. But in addition, we recommend checking the manufacturer’s recommendations for ventilation space while making note of installation requirements (like a water line hookup).

Measuring the Refrigerator Door

As you’re narrowing your selections, it is also important to note the measurements of each model’s doors.

Regardless of the style you choose, try to visualize your body position relative to the door outswing or drawer path. And ask yourself: Will there be enough space for you to stand in front of the unit with the door open? Basically, you want to ensure there aren’t potential obstructions. For instance, the door(s) should clear the cabinets on either side, and if you have a kitchen island, you wouldn’t want it to block the door outswing.

If you’re considering a French door or bottom-freezer refrigerator specifically, make sure the path of the freezer drawer is not obstructed when opened. Again, visualize your body position relative to the front of the opened drawer so that retrieving freezer foods is not a potential hassle.

And finally, consider the height to the top of the case rather than the hinge; this is the most critical height measurement since the hinges rarely interact with cabinets or enclosures. On the other hand, for counter-depth refrigerators, any door hinges may add an inch or more of refrigerator height. In this case, it’s important to see if the hinge can operate without it scraping your wall or overhead cabinet. If there is contact, you may need to pull the unit farther out from the wall so that the hinges have clearance.

What are Standard Refrigerator Sizes?

Here are the typical dimensions for each popular freestanding style…

French Door Refrigerator:

  • Width: From 29.5 to 36 inches
  • Height: From 67 to 70.13 (70 1/8) inches
  • Depth: From 29.38 (29 3/8) to 34.63 (34 5/8) inches

Side-by-Side Refrigerator:

  • Width: From 32.75 to 39.75 inches
  • Height: From 65.88 (65 7/8) to 71.25 inches
  • Depth: From 28.75 to 34.25 inches

Bottom-Freezer Refrigerator:

  • Width: From 29.5 inches to 32.75 inches
  • Height: From 67 to 70 inches
  • Depth: Around 33.38 (33 3/8) inches

Top-Freezer Refrigerator:

  • Width: From 28.75 to 32.75 inches
  • Height: From 61.75 to 66.25 inches
  • Depth: Around 34.25 inches

Refrigerator Features: From Entry-Level to Luxury

Finally, it’s important to learn about refrigerator features that can optimize food freshness and streamline meal preparation for years to come. Here are a few of our favorites:

Energy Efficiency

Energy conservation in your appliance use is a virtuous pursuit and can lower your utility bill on top of that—so why haven’t you invested in a new ENERGY STAR® fridge? When you properly recycle your old refrigerator and replace it with an energy-efficient model, you can save more than $200 over its 12-year lifetime.

Since energy conservation in refrigerators comes down to the amount of cold air escaping the appliance when opened, we recommend investing in one with improved insulation and compressors. Just look out for the ENERGY STAR® label!

Our top energy-saving refrigerator brands include Frigidaire, Maytag, and Whirlpool.

WiFi Connectivity

The possibilities are endless with a smart refrigerator. With built-in WiFi, you can remotely monitor the contents of your fridge, keep track of expiration dates, compile a shopping list with ease, and control other home automation devices—all from your smart device.

Several premium and luxury refrigerators come with a touchscreen panel on the door that allows you to create a virtual bulletin board for family memos, view recipes, stream music, and watch your favorite content. But since smart features vary across brands and models, be sure to read user manuals closely to see whether a product has some or all of these capabilities.

From our catalog, LG, LG Signature, and LG Studio let you remotely manage key refrigerators, including ice making, power consumption, and troubleshooting.

woman uses smartphone to monitor her LG refrigerator

Automatic Temperature Controls

If you ask us, nothing is more disheartening than spoiled strawberries and wilted cilantro not even a week after you went grocery shopping. To put an end to the despair, some upper-mid-end and luxury fridges are engineered with preset temperature controls that automatically balance both temperature and humidity, effectively removing the guesswork from food storage.

Select models from KitchenAid and Electrolux ICON boast advanced filtration systems and custom-temp crisper drawers to keep your produce fresh and your appliance odor-free.

Let Us Help You

We hope our refrigerator buying guide inspires you to preserve what matters most. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call our Colder’s staff at (414) 476-1574 or visit us at any of our four Southeastern Wisconsin locations. More accessible than ever, our experts are also available via chat!