Updated: Aug 5, 2022
Refrigerators have changed a lot in recent years. Gone are the days when the biggest choice a buyer had to make was black or white. And with many fridges lasting at least 5-10 years, it's probably been a while since the average customer has bought a fridge, so the options can be daunting. That's why we decided to put together this refrigerator buying guide to help you make the right choice on this important major appliance purchase. So read on for information on what to know before you head to the store, popular refrigerator features, new finish options and the pros and cons of the various styles of refrigerators.
How to Buy a Refrigerator Part 1: Before You Shop
Measure your space:
Unlike other kitchen appliances, which tend to come in standard sizes, refrigerators vary wildly. Depending on your kitchen other measurements may be necessary, but the three that matter most are height, depth and width.
(Note: Add an extra half-inch to your measurements to allow for waterlines, hinges and airflow)
Check your water access:
If you plan on having an ice maker or a water dispenser, it is important to make sure you have the hookups in place. Check for a small hose to make sure you are set up to run water to your new fridge.
Make sure you have enough clearance:
Inspect the space around the opening for your new refrigerator. Are there any walls or an island that the doors might hit? Will you have enough room to move around the fridge while the doors are open, and will the doors open all the way? Make sure to note any areas of concern.
We recommend using a specialty appliance store with product specialists to help guide you through the process. By taking pictures of your space you can have an expert point out areas of concern that you may not have noticed otherwise.
Understand Cubic Footage:
Refrigerator capacity is typically measured in cubic footage, and while obviously a higher cubic footage gives you more storage, how much do you really need?
1 bag of groceries = approximately 1 cubic foot
While it varies based on how often you buy groceries, it is usually safe to assume you will need 4-6 cu. ft. per adult using the fridge.
How to Buy a Refrigerator Part 2: The Styles
This classic style that has been around for decades and is still found in many homes.
Least expensive style
Typically has sizes available for smaller spaces
Requires bending to access fresh foods
Larger door requires extra clearance
Typically does not come with ice or water dispenser
Giving more storage space for fresh food and wide items, this style has been around for decades as well. Drawer style freezers allow for easier access to frozen food.
Gives access to fresh food without bending
Great for wide items like pizza and party platters
Larger door requires more clearance
Less options available than other styles
Side By Side
Gives easy access to both fresh and frozen food, with narrow doors to make the most of tight spaces. The first style to offer through the door ice and water, the side-by-side has been a household favorite for years
Good Capacity and easy to organize
Generally has ice and water on door
Narrow openings make storage of large items challenging
Doors require space along sides to fully open
Combining the narrow doors of a side-by-side with the larger fresh food storage of a bottom freezer, the french door style is gaining popularity and offers a wide variety of features and configurations
Available in extra large capacities for families
Easy storage for wide items
Narrower doors for
Generally a more expensive style than more traditional styles
Freezer organization options are lacking
A sub-category of french door refrigerator, the quad door gives additional storage options to the freezer.
Better Freezer organization
More expensive on average
These refrigerators are almost in a category of their own. They are designed to be built in to the wall to appear flush with the cabinetry. They can be stand alone refrigeration with the freezer as a separate unit, or sometimes have a bottom mounted freezer. Most come in panel ready options so they suit many different kitchens.
Many customization options
High end performance
Most expensive refrigerator option
Only comes in counter depth options
How to Buy a Refrigerator Part 3: The Features
Modern refrigerators have a wide variety of features available to attract buyers, but not all of these features will meet your wants or needs. Below are some of the most common features available.
These lights take up less space, use less energy, and light the entire interior thanks to better positioning
These shelves can hold up to a quart of spilled liquid with no dripping. Available in glass as well for added durability and easier clean up.
Hot Water Dispenser
Instant hot water from the fridge saves time over waiting for the sink to heat up.
Keep fruits and veggies fresher longer with more consistent temperatures.
Enjoy the look of a built in without the cost.
Be more energy efficient by having quick access to commonly used items without fully opening the door.
True Crisper Drawers
Vacuum-sealed drawers that help make contents last longer. Save money and waste less.
Quick Chill Compartment
Dedicated area that's colder than your fridge or freezer to quickly chill items.
Keep your fridge clean with special coatings that help keep mold and bacteria from growing.
Prevent the young ones from raiding the fridge or leaving the door open to help manage your food.
How to Buy a Refrigerator Part 4: The Finish
There are a wide variety of finishes on the market, but these are some of the most common to use as a starting point.
The traditional options that you know and love.
The most popular option on the market. Also comes in smudge resistant which resists fingerprints, but is slightly darker in tone.
A newer style that has gained popularity in recent years due to it's bold appearance.
A flat finish with less shine that can really make a kitchen POP. Also comes in black slate for a darker appearance.
These are just some of the more popular options so make sure to check the options once you have selected a model for brand specific finishes, like Samsung's Tuscan Stainless.
Once you have selected a model, features, and finish make sure to do your research and find the right place to buy. Check out our reviews for appliance specific delivery and installation reviews for the big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe's, and use our preferred dealer locator to help find a specialty store near you.
Thanks for reading and be sure to leave a comment with your burning appliance questions so our team of appliance experts can answer them in future posts, and check out the rest of our buying guides and appliance industry updates.