To really get the most out of a kitchen you need to do a bit more than simply rework the surface. Space is often an issue, and upgrading appliances can make a big difference, as well. Built in cabinets, ovens, and refrigerators top the list when it comes to making a kitchen more efficient, and they aren’t hard on the eyes, either.
Manufacturers are hot for your dollar as they load their refrigerators with features and fashion. Most, for example, now offer French-door models with side-by-side refrigerator doors above the freezer. And you’ll find slide-out glass shelves and temperature-controlled compartments, along with stainless-steel exteriors, in more and more refrigerators selling for less than $1,000.
Efficiency is on the rise
Refrigerators made after the end of April 2008 must be 5 percent more efficient to qualify for an Energy Star emblem. But despite advances, refrigerators still use more electricity than any other kitchen appliance because they’re always on. The familiar yellow EnergyGuide labels and Energy Star symbols are a useful guide, but our energy-efficiency ratings take usable volume into account and are more helpful, particularly when comparing across different refrigerator categories.
Types of refrigerators
Before you buy a new refrigerator, learn about the different types of refrigerators on the market. While one type of refrigerator might have features that appeal to you, it might not fit your budget or your lifestyle.
These are the traditional type, dating back to the earliest refrigerators. Widths typically run from about 30 to 33 inches. Manufacturers claim up to 22-cubic-foot capacities, but usable capacity is typically 20 percent lower by our measurements.
Pros:They typically offer the most storage for their size. Fairly wide refrigerator shelves make it easy to reach the back. They also cost the least as a group, yet they offer stainless trim on more models for a more stylish look.
Cons:You have to bend to reach bottom shelves and drawers.
Sales of bottom-freezers are growing fastest. Widths run from 30 to 36 inches. Claimed capacities go up to 26 cubic feet, though usable space doesn’t quite match that of comparable top-freezers.
Pros:Bottom-freezers offer the convenience of an eye-level refrigerator. French-door models offer the space-saving narrow door swing of a side-by-side and the option of opening only half the refrigerator for smaller items.
Cons:You have to bend to reach the freezer—but you’ll typically use the refrigerator much more often. French-door models cost significantly more and are more difficult to find in narrower widths. It can be difficult to find a bottom-freezer model with in-door ice and water.
A vertical, full-length split places the freezer on one side and refrigerator on the other. Side-by-sides typically come with through-the-door ice and water dispensers, temperature-controlled bins, and rapid ice-making cycles. Width typically measures 32 to 36 inches. Claimed capacities are up to 30 cubic feet, but only about 65 to 70 percent is usable.
Pros:The narrow doors are a plus in a tight kitchen.
Cons:Most doors don’t open wide enough for a pizza box or other wide items, and tall, narrow compartments make items toward the back difficult to find.
These pricey models are designed to fit almost flush with cabinets and counters. Built-ins typically come in bottom-freezer and side-by-side styles. You can even buy a separate refrigerator and freezer and build them into a 72-inch-wide opening. Claimed capacities go up to 26 cubic feet, but only about 70 percent of that is usable.
Pros:These offer the sleekest look. And most can accept optional front panels that match other elements of your kitchen.
Cons:Built-in refrigerators are the least space efficient overall. They’re wide (36 inches or more) but relatively shallow—25 or 26 inches front to back. They’ve also been repair-prone as a group.
French Door Refrigeration
French-door bottom-freezer refrigerators represent the latest trend in refrigerator design. The armoire-style design requires minimal space for door opening, making it ideal for small kitchens.
You get the look of a built-in for less money with these somewhat shallow freestanding refrigerators. Most come as side-by-sides, but top- and bottom-freezers and French-door models are available. Claimed capacities reach up to 21 cubic feet, but far less than that is usable.
Pros:These stick out only a bit farther than built-in models. Many accept extra-cost panels for a custom look.
Cons:Cabinet-depth models have less usable space than the deeper freestanding models and cost more.
Refrigerator with Drawers
These are among the latest luxuries for kitchens where even the biggest refrigerator simply isn’t enough.
Pros:They can mount under a countertop or within a kitchen island for storing drinks and other specialized items. They do not cost much to run, but that’s because of their limited capacity.
Cons:Refrigerator drawers tend to be large on price and small on space. Although they cost little to run, refrigerator drawers provide poor energy efficiency.
Panel Refrigerators Can Create a Custom Design for Your Kitchen
Several appliance providers such as GE Profile offer built-in and counter-depth side-by-side refrigerators can be customized with additional custom refrigerator panels. With a custom panel-ready refrigerator, you can have a refrigerator that matches your kitchen cabinetry. You can also easily change the look of your refrigerator by simply swapping out the panels.