Chances are you grew up with a white refrigerator. It had the freezer on the top, which needed the occasional defrosting, and the stuff in the fridge froze if it touched the back wall. Refrigerators have come a long way since then. Even in the last decade, we have seen a massive improvement in their ability to keep food fresh longer, reduce bacteria, and consume far less electricity. In this GadgetGuy guide, we will go through key considerations for choosing the right refrigerator for your home and leave you with some thoughts on what to buy.
Design and style
Before you fall in love with the biggest, shiniest and most glamorous fridge in the showroom, arm yourself with the dimensions that it will need to fit into your kitchen. Most Australian homes have a set alcove, custom cabinetry or some sort of space restrictions that will limit which fridge you can choose. Ideally, you should have a 2cm gap all around unless you plan to move some cupboards. Also, don’t forget to consider the fridge’s height in case you have shelves or cabinets above your alcove, as well as which side(s) the doors will open.
It is not uncommon for a kitchen renovation to cost more than $30,000. The refrigerator forms a key part of that kitchen’s look and feel, given its prominent size. When it comes to fridge colour, you will find most models available in white or a stainless-steel look. A new colour trend is black or graphite, which is available with a matte or stainless finish.
Bear in mind that you’ll pay more for fancier finishes, starting with white to stainless to black to custom. Some models will even allow integration into your cabinetry, so what appears to be just another cupboard opens the fridge door. And announced just last year, there’s a growing trend for non-standard colours or even a completely customised finish to match your design.
Most stainless finishes are not made with actual stainless steel. Put your hand on the fridge door to check if you can see fingerprints after you remove it. Better still, if with kids, get them to do it. Also, check if the sides are the same colour as the fridge door. As fridges often stick out from the cabinetry, they might be seen.
Now that your fridge fits and you like the colour, do you like the handles and the doors? Remember, this appliance could take pride of place in your kitchen for at least the next decade.
Fridges come in a variety of set configurations for where the freezer sits in relation to the main refrigerated space. Which is right for you depends on your needs, budget and the size of your alcove. Here’s a list of the most common types:
Top Mount – the freezer is above the refrigerator compartment and typically smaller
Bottom Mount – the freezer is mounted at the bottom with generally with more freezer space than a Top Mount
Side by Side – This is where the freezer will be on the right-hand side
French door – This type is usually wider with a dual door to access the fridge at the top. It’s good for larger families and can even have a split lower section with dual-use compartments for both refrigerator or freezing
There are some variations on the above, such as 4-door refrigerators where some compartments can assigned as a freezer or refrigerated section. You may also find shallow drawer compartments for organising specific types of food, or even flat-screen displays or electrically shuttered windows that let you see inside your fridge without opening the door and letting the cold air out.
Shelves and sizing
A fridge’s size is expressed in litres. However, always check the ‘usable’ litres and the number of shelves. For example, a smaller 4 shelf fridge may be more convenient and hold more than a larger 3 shelf fridge. A 4-person household should be looking for a 400-500 litre fridge. Look for handy features like foldable shelves that allow you to store tall items.
Air distribution and lighting
Modern fridges do a much better job of moving cold air around. This is important as every time you open the door, all the cold air pours out onto the floor. When the door closers, a combination of what is already cold inside your fridge and the fridge itself recirculates the cold air. This, combined with maintaining a higher humidity, is why you should keep vegetables in the crisper as it preserves its temperature better and makes your vegetables last longer.
Tip: Look for a fridge with features calling out airflow and reduced temperature fluctuations.
Other features that will help minimise cold air loss include smaller ‘door-in-door hatches, windows, or water dispensers, reducing the main door opening. A further benefit of these is lower power consumption because the fridge does not have to work so hard to restore the temperature after the larger door has been opened.
When it comes to lighting, most modern fridges now use LED lights, some in one location, some in multiple. As a general rule, multiple locations mean more even lighting, so you can read expiry labels as well as keep an eye on how clean your surfaces are.
Tip: Ask the store salesperson to plug the fridge in to ensure the lighting will meet your needs.
Fridge convenience features to look for:
Customisable shelves and compartments that allow you to change temperature or positions to suit your needs. For example, is there a location to store your meat or tall bottles?
Spill-proof shelves hold a certain amount of liquid before spilling onto the next shelf
Door alarm to warn you the fridge door has been left open
Reversible doors so you can change the direction the door opens
Plumbed water or tank. If your fridge has a water or ice dispenser, the water may come from a tank, or you might have to get it plumbed to a water tap
Carbon filter- some more expensive fridges include a carbon filter that will remove smells such as cheese of seafood from your fridge
Looking on the horizon of what is next for refrigerators, we are starting to see more glass doors or windows similar to what you would find in commercial refrigerators. This has the advantage or disadvantage of seeing what is inside. Water and ice dispensers are getting cleaner with replaceable water filters with faster ice production and new shapes like spheres. New filters are being developed to remove Ethylene which is a chemical that causes your fruit to ripen more quickly. Thus if removed makes your fruit and veggies last longer. Anti-bacterial options – LED lights that kill bacteria on surfaces, anti-bac coatings on door handles, water dispenser behind a panel to keep it clean, etc.
Everything is becoming smart in the home, and some high-end fridges are no exception. In its most basic form, a refrigerator can send a message to your phone to let you know the door has been left open. The next level allows you to view a camera inside your fridge on your smartphone. You might use this at the supermarket to check what you have in the fridge. At the most advanced end, a screen and a browser on the door of your fridge will allow you to check the internet and even order groceries for home delivery.
Power usage and efficiency
Each fridge in the retailer showroom will have an energy star rating and Kilowatt-hour rating (kWh) on a sticker on the door. Power savings by buying a new fridge might even pay for the new fridge over its life, so this is a key consideration. The more stars out of 5, the more energy-efficient the refrigerator is.
Tip: A smaller fridge with a lower star rating is still likely to use less energy than a larger unit with a higher rating. The cost of running the refrigerator each year will be the kWh times the cost per Kwh hour you pay for electricity. For example, if you paid $0.30 per Kwh and your fridge consumed 1000 kWh/yr, the cost would be $300 per year to run your fridge.
A fridge should last you 5 years or more. Indeed, some brands offer a 10-year warranty on the compressor motor, which is the most likely thing to fail. In the unlikely event that your fridge does fail and your warranty has run out, you may still be able to get it repaired under Australian Consumer Law (More details here).
Tip: Another reason to plug a fridge in at the retailer is to check how loud the compressor is when running. New, more environmentally friendly gasses actually make a fridge louder. Unless the manufacturer has compensated for this, you may get a surprise when you take it home.
Old Fridge removal options
You may plan to move your old fridge to the garage but remember the cost of running it. Most local councils offer a free service to collect your old model from the nature strip. If you give your fridge away, ensure it stands upright and unplugged at its new destination for longer than it might have laid on its side during transport. (The minimum unplugged time after transport is 24hours.) Your retailer may also offer a service to remove your old fridge as part of your new purchase deal.
What should I buy?
After reviewing this article, make some notes on what is important to you and how far your budget will stretch. Remember, this fridge should last you a decade! Once you have picked your model, don’t be afraid to haggle on price. Remember, a delivery fee may be required to get your fridge installed and your old unit removed.
We recommend that you choose one of the more popular brands and not the cheapest. Walking around a retailer, you will soon see which brands are popular as they will have more display models than others. Also, look out for stickers from consumer advocacy groups who do testing and have subsequently found a certain model to be better.
For more GadgetGuy ‘how to buy’ and ‘how to use’ guides, click here.