Shop wisely for home refrigerators and freezers

Refrigerators have experienced rapid evolution in recent decades, transforming from plain, boxy units into sleek, modern appliances that are easily maintained. Unlike many appliances, refrigerators are in use every single moment of the day, so purchasing a durable, reliable unit is an essential part of setting up a home. If you haven't already done so, it's time to retire the icebox and graduate to a refrigerator with the features you're looking for.

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Refrigerator Styles

Nowadays, refrigerator styles focus on the placement and proportions of refrigerators and freezers within the unit. Some units are for refrigeration only, which would require a separate freestanding freezer. Small all-refrigeration units can also be installed under countertops or in other locations to save space. More commonly, refrigerators and freezers are combined in one appliance, with more than half of the unit devoted to refrigeration.

The least expensive refrigerators have one door, while others have a separate door for the freezer and refrigerator, which keeps the cold air in and prevents energy waste. Models with a split door and the freezer on top are known as top-mount refrigerators, while the reverse design is called a bottom-mount refrigerator. On some bottom-mount refrigerators, the freezer unit is a pull-out drawer.

Side-by-side refrigerators are divided in half vertically, allowing for greater freezer space than a traditional unit but less flexibility for large or oddly shaped items. These units also typically offer the most interior shelves, organizers and door storage, but more accessories ultimately mean less open space.

Counter/cabinet-depth refrigerators have less depth and greater width than standard refrigerators in order to coordinate with surrounding counters or cabinetry. However, they often require professional installation and may have to be ordered specially.

Side-by-side models and custom counter-depth refrigerators are the most expensive appliances.

Compact Refrigerators

If you're shopping for a small space that doesn't require a full-service refrigerator and freezer, such as a dorm room or office, then compact refrigerators might be a more suitable option. These mini refrigerators usually range from 1.7 to 6.0 cubic feet, and may include a small freezer compartment, door storage and removable shelving. Although color and interior options have been limited in the past, compact refrigerators are now found in stainless steel and other nontraditional colors. Popular brands for mini refrigerators include Haier, Frigidaire, Whirlpool and GE.

Refrigerator Features

Refrigerators can be simple, no-frills appliances or extremely decorative. For example, some bottom-mount models include expensive French doors, while others have elegantly crafted wooden exteriors to match the kitchen cabinets. When deciding which appliance features are important to you, keep in mind the maintenance that may be required over time to keep all of the extras running smoothly.

Most refrigerators incorporate features such as automatic defrost in the freezer, storage bins or drawers for fruits, vegetables and deli meats, temperature controls and adjustable shelves, while other features are found in more expensive models. Higher-end appliances may include an icemaker and through-the-door water/ice dispenser, glass rather than wire shelves and reversible doors. However, water dispensers require plumbing and in the event of a malfunction, repairs can be pricey.

If the number of available refrigerator options seems overwhelming, begin your search with well-known, reliable brands, such as General Electric, Kenmore, Maytag, Frigidaire, and Whirlpool refrigerators. The Whirlpool GD5NVAXS side-by-side model with a water/ice dispenser has received top ratings from expert reviewers for its low energy costs, maximized interior space and well-planned design. If cost is a primary concern, consider affordable Frigidaire and GE refrigerators, like the Americana series. Other high-quality refrigerator series include Kenmore Elite and GE Profile.

Once you're ready to buy, always remember to look for Energy Star ratings, and compare prices and warranties between suppliers to make sure you're getting the best deal.