Refrigerator Buying Guide

Looking for the best refrigerator? CNET helps you choose between side-by-side refrigerators, top and bottom freezers, as well as designer and commercial refrigerators to meet your needs.

What types of refrigerators are available?

Refrigerators evolved long ago beyond the icebox your grandparents scrimped and saved to buy--and today they also go beyond the basic "white ware" you had in your first apartment. No longer is the refrigerator just a giant cargo container that dominates the kitchen. Many models are now disguised as cabinetry or drawers that are built in to blend in. Others double as digital entertainment centers. Here are the basic types of refrigerators you'll find when you start your hunt:

Types: Top freezer | Bottom freezer | Side-by-side | French door | Commercial or designer series

Top freezer

You know this type of fridge well--it's been the most popular model for years. The freezer compartment takes up about a third of the unit, and sits above the fresh food compartment. With top freezers, it can be hard to reach items way in the back for the shorter adults or kids in the family. There is a wide range of top freezer units on the market, and they usually cost less than other more feature-rich models.

Price: $350 to $1,200

Average dimensions: Width: 29 inches; Depth: 31 inches; Depth with door open 90 degrees: 58 inches; Height 66 to 68 inches

Who it's best for: The budget shopper who wants maximum storage space and also has space for wide-door clearance.

Bottom freezer

Bottom freezer models are designed similarly to top freezer models except that that food you grab most often--the items in the fresh food compartment--are at eye level and easier to reach. Some bottom freezer models have a freezer drawer (see French Door). Compared to top freezer models, bottom-mount fridges come in fewer styles. The freezer is either a drawer or a swinging-door compartment.

Price: $700 to $1,599

Average dimensions: Width: 29 inches; Depth: 32 inches; Depth with door open 90 degrees: 59 inches; Height: 66 to 69 inches

Who it's best for: The foodie who wants fresh food to be easy to reach and doesn't mind bending down to get into the freezer.


With this type of fridge, the freezer and the fresh food compartment get equal real estate. And traditional side-by-side models don't need as much clearance for the doors, so they can be a good fit in galley-style kitchens. They can come with in-door water and ice systems or other gadgets such as TV screens.

Price: $700 to $3,000

Average dimensions: Width: 35 inches; Depth: 30 inches; Depth with door open 90 degrees: 45 inches; Height: 71 inches

Who it's best for: Space-efficient cooks who also want in-door extras.

French door

This type brings together the popular side-by-side model with the bottom freezer model. The side-by-side fresh food compartment is on the top, and a freezer drawer is on the bottom. Sometimes the freezer comes as double-decker drawers. Many consumers prefer to upgrade and have their French door refrigerators built in to match their cabinetry. What's the benefit to having the side-by-side on top? Energy conservation--you only open a small portion of the frig to grab milk.

Price: $1,200 to $3,500 for cabinet-depth models

Average dimensions: Width: 35 inches; Depth: 29 inches; Depth with door open 90 degrees: 48 inches; Height: 68 inches

Who it's best for: The chef who wants easy access to fresh food storage, and who might be interested in extra-large models or that built-in cabinetry look (this can also run the price up to $4,000 to $7,400 for a French door fridge).

Commercial or designer series

Brands such as Viking and Sub-Zero have made many a home chef covet professional-grade kitchen appliances. Still, for the average homeowner, these gourmet models often end up being style over substantive need. Models come in shapes ranging from double-wide fresh-food compartments, to freezers that are the size of an entire standard fridge. Some have glass fronts that make ingredients easy to spot. The freestanding models often come only in stainless steel. And much of the time designer refrigerators are actually dispersed around the kitchen and blend in with the cabinetry and chef's workflow: a crisper drawer here, a wine cooler there, a meat cabinet over there, and so forth.

Price: $5,000 to $13,000-plus (Money is no object for the pro fridge buyer. In fact, Sub-Zero and Viking don't even list their prices on their Web sites--and their dealers rarely do, either.)

Average dimensions: Varies greatly. A typical built-in "designer" series unit is in this range. Width: 48 inches; Depth: 26 inches; Height: 82 inches; Weight: 730 pounds

Who it's best for: Future Top Chef contestants.

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