What’s the Best Refrigerator Configuration for Your Family?

Refrigerators come in all shapes, sizes and colors — and choosing the right one for your family is no small task.

First and foremost you must measure the space where the refrigerator will sit. Note the height, width and depth of the refrigerator with doors open and closed. Remember to factor in the door swing in relation to adjacent walls, cabinets and other appliances — and leave at least an inch of clearance space around the unit to ensure adequate air flow. It’s important to avoid buying a refrigerator that is too big or small and looks awkward in your kitchen.

Next, you need to figure out how much food storage capacity you need. Generally, a family of four will require 18 to 22 cubic feet of refrigerator space. Larger families or those who frequently entertain, freeze garden produce or grocery shop in bulk will need a minimum of 25 to 28 cubic feet.

You also need to decide which features are most important to you. Do you need an in-door ice and filtered water dispenser? Are you keen on having humidity controls on storage bins to prolong the freshness of meat and vegetables?

It’s important to buy a refrigerator that suits your eating, shopping and living habits — and deciding upon the perfect door configuration is no small part of that equation. This guide provides a quick list of pros and cons associated with the most common fridge styles:

Freezer on the top

Refrigerators with freezers on the top are most common — still accounting for about half of all refrigerator sales — and usually cost less to operate than side-by-side refrigerator/freezers. Drawbacks? You’ll have to bend down to reach the bottom shelves and drawers, and the wide doors may not work in narrow kitchens. You also won’t find in-door ice and water dispensers on these models.

Freezer on the bottom

The main attraction to this “upside down” configuration is that it offers the convenience of an eye-level refrigerator — and isn’t that the area you’re accessing most? Bottom freezers are generally the cheapest to operate, but may be more costly to buy. It can be inconvenient to find food stored in freezers low to the ground, unless you have roll-out or pullout baskets, and they may be harder to locate.

Side-by-side refrigerators

These units feature a vertical, full-length split that places the freezer on one side and refrigerator on the other. The advantage to this design is that you can place commonly used refrigerated and frozen foods at a convenient level, instead of always having to bend down or reach up to retrieve foods. The narrow doors on these models work well in small kitchens. Conversely, the small doors may not open wide enough to store something like a frozen pizza.

French door refrigerators

Introduced in the late 1990s, the French door refrigerator has two doors that open up the refrigerator section; the freezer section is a pull-out drawer located below the refrigerator. Because the refrigerator is on top, all refrigerated foods are at a convenient level. This model is not as energy efficient as the single door with a freezer on the top or bottom, but its narrower doors work well in smaller kitchens. French door refrigerators have wide shelves that leave space for large platters. This is the most costly of the basic refrigerator configurations.

Single or dual freezer drawers

A single freezer drawer offers a lot of storage space for stockpiling meats, veggies and frozen pizzas. However, some people may find that it is difficult to access foods that are stacked so deeply in the drawer; foods may become freezer burned if forgotten at the bottom. Some manufacturers have addressed this concern by offering models with two shallow drawers.

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