Refrigerator
 
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Buying advice 
If you're shopping for a new refrigerator, you're probably considering models that are fancier than your current fridge. The trend is toward spacious models with flexible, more-efficiently-used storage space. Useful features such as spill proof, slide-out glass shelves and temperature-controlled compartments, once found only in expensive refrigerators, are now practically standard in mid-priced models. Stainless-steel doors are stylish, but they add to the cost. Bottom freezer, French-door models offer the convenience of a full-width refrigerator at eye level with the style and narrow door swing of a side-by-side. Built-in refrigerators appeal to people who want to customize their kitchens and are willing to pay thousands of dollars for the custom look. Some mainstream cabinet-depth models offer a built-in-style look for less.

Replacing an aging refrigerator may save you in electric bills, since refrigerators are more energy efficient now than they were a decade ago. The Department of Energy toughened its rules in the early 1990s and imposed even stricter requirements in July 2001 for this appliance, which is among the top electricity users in the house.

HOW TO CHOOSE

Size is likely to be more important than style or price, since most new refrigerators must fit in the same space as the old one. So begin by measuring the available space, including the space you'll need to open the door wide enough to pull out bins and drawers if there's a wall on the hinge side of the door. Also measure doorways and halls through which the refrigerator must pass when delivered.
Then choose a type that fits your space, needs, and budget. Once you've decided on a type, You should consider about the energy consumption for getting higher efficiency through using the appliance.
 

Look for space-stretching features. A fridge's claimed capacity lists raw volume, including space taken up by lights, hardware, and unreachable nooks. Top- and bottom-freezers give you more storage for their size than side-by-sides. Some 30-inch-wide, 18-cubic-foot top-freezers we tested have about 15 cubic feet of usable space--nearly as much as some 36-inch-wide, 25-cubic-foot side-by-sides. With any fridge, look for features that maximize space, such as split shelves and cranks for adjusting shelf height. Pull-out shelves provide access to the back of the fridge and freezer. In bottom-freezers, full-extension drawers help you find items in the rear.

Consider costs and reliability. Most new refrigerators cost about $40 to $70 a year to run, based on average energy rates, but up to twice as much in the priciest markets. Top- and bottom-freezers are typically more efficient than side-by-sides. To get the most bang for the buck, pick a model that scored well for energy efficiency in the tests.

Weigh the likelihood of repairs as well. Some brands have been more reliable than others, and an icemaker and ice-and-water dispenser increase the chance that a fridge will need repair. As a group, built-ins appear to have had higher repair rates than freestanding models.

Keep styles coordinated. If you want the fridge to blend in with cabinetry, consider a built-in or cabinet-depth model that accepts custom panels. If you're mixing stainless-steel and metallic look-alikes, make sure any difference in the finishes doesn't bother you.



WHAT'S AVAILABLE
Only a handful of companies actually manufacture refrigerators. The same or very similar units may be sold under several brand names. Frigidaire, General Electric, Kenmore, and Whirlpool account for about three-quarters of top-freezer sales. For side-by-side models, these brands and Maytag account for more than 80 percent of sales. Brands offering bottom-freezers include Amana, Fisher-Paykel, GE, Jenn-Air, Kenmore, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, Samsung, Sub-Zero, Thermador, and Whirlpool. Mainstream companies have introduced high-end brand lines such as Electrolux Icon, GE Monogram and Profile, and Kenmore Elite. These brands cover built-ins: GE (Monogram and Profile), Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, Sub-Zero, Thermador, and Viking. You can get built-in-style or "cabinet-depth" models from Amana, Electrolux, Frigidaire, GE, Jenn-Air, Kenmore, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, and Whirlpool.
 

Types of Refrigerator

Top-freezer models. 

Top-freezer.These are generally less expensive to buy and more space efficient than comparably sized side-by-side models. Widths typically range from about 30 to 33 inches. The eye-level freezer offers easy access. Fairly wide refrigerator shelves make it easy to reach the back, but you have to bend to reach the bottom shelves and drawers. Claimed, labeled capacity ranges from about 10 to 25 cubic feet. With top-freezers, the usable capacity is typically about 80 percent of its nominal capacity, according to our measurements.
 

 

-Best for those with narrower spaces. These cost the least, are relatively cheap to run, and offer the most storage space for their size. Widths typically range from 30 to 33 inches.
-But you must bend for frequently used items in the refrigerator. Few of these offer water dispensers. Wide-swinging doors require clearance.
-Price range : Most cost $300 to $1,200.

 

Bottom-freezer models.  Bottom-freezer.

A small but growing part of the market, these put frequently used items at eye level. Fairly wide refrigerator shelves provide easy access. Though you must bend to locate items in the freezer, even with models that have a pull-out drawer, you will probably do less bending overall because the main refrigerated compartment is at eye level. Bottom-freezers are a bit pricier than top-freezers and offer less capacity relative to their external dimensions because of the inefficiency of the pull-out bin. Widths typically range from 30 to 36 inches. Claimed capacity is up to 25 cubic feet, nominally, and usable space is a bit less than with top-freezers, but more than offered by side-by-sides. French-door models are increasingly available.
 

 

 

-Best for putting often-used items at eye level. They're relatively cheap to run. Many offer lots of space. More are French-door models. Widths typically range from 30 to 36 inches.
-But you must bend or squat for items at the back or bottom of the freezer. Few offer a water dispenser outside the door.
-Price range:  $700 to $1,500;
French-door type, $1,500 to $2,000.

 

Side-by-side models.

Side-by-side refrigerator.

 

 

These are by far the most fully featured fridges, most often equipped with through-the-door ice and water dispensers--among the most requested consumer features-as well as temperature-controlled bins and rapid ice-making cycles. Their narrow doors are handy in tight spaces. High, narrow compartments make finding stray items easy in front (harder in the back), but they may not hold wide items such as a sheet cake or a large turkey. Compared with top- and bottom-freezer models, a higher proportion of capacity goes to freezer space. Side-by-sides are typically large--32 to 36 inches wide, with claimed capacity of 20 to 30 cubic feet. About 65 percent of that space is usable. They're much more expensive than similar-sized top-freezer models and are less efficient in terms of energy use, as well as space.

-Best for kitchens that can't fit wide-swinging doors. Most offer exterior ice and water dispensers. Widths typically range from 32 to 36 inches.
-But they're relatively pricey to buy and run and aren't very space-efficient inside. They've been more repair-prone than top- and bottom-freezers. Doors are often too narrow to accept pizza boxes.
-Price range:  $800 to $2,000.

 

Built-in models. These are generally side-by-side and bottom-freezer models. They show their commercial heritage, often having fewer standard amenities and less soundproofing than lower-priced "home" models. Usually 25 to 26 inches front to back, they fit nearly flush with cabinets and counters. Their compressor is on top, making them about a foot taller than regular refrigerators-an issue if you have overhead cabinets. Most can accept extra-cost front panels that match the kitchen's décor. Side-by-side models in this style are available in 42-inch and 48-inch widths (vs. the more typical 36-inch width). You can even obtain a built-in pair: a separate refrigerator and freezer mounted together in a 72-inch opening. Price range: Most cost $4,000 to $6,000.

 

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