Buying a refrigerator – how to choose a new fridge/freezer

Find out what you need to know about buying a refrigerator – from speed chilling and climate control to stylish designs and sleek installs

Refrigerator buying guide
(Image credit: Smeg)

Buying a refrigerator is an important decision. It needs to fit in with your kitchen's aesthetic, be the right size, inside and out, be energy-efficient, and possibly offer you new smart tech features – as well as all the usual practical features you would expect – to make cold food storage efficient, practical and safe.

And while, when we're compiling kitchen ideas, we tend to focus on the looks of our appliances and cabinetry, it's the function as well as, where should a refrigerator be placed, that's just as, if not more, important.

Below, we take you through all the must-knows of buying a refrigerator so you can make the right choice.

Buying a refrigerator

When designing a kitchen, one of the first steps you will take is to measure up. This gives you the basics you need for buying a refrigerator: its external size. Here is what else you need to know

Integrated versus freestanding

This should be your first decision. 

‘Integrated fridge-freezers achieve a seamless look and feel with your kitchen and means there’s no gaping gap between appliances and cabinets,’ explains Jo Jackson, market product manager, Fisher & Paykel

A freestanding fridge-freezer will make a strong statement and can move with you should you relocate. 

‘Building cabinetry around a freestanding model helps it blend in, while maximizing storage,’ adds Robert Stein, product manager, Rangemaster. ‘As a guide, the cabinetry above must have 10cm ventilation clearance, while the sides and back wall require at least 5cm space.’

Size is important

Not just overall capacity but in terms of configuration and shape, too. ‘If you’re looking for plenty of wide refrigerator storage, ideal for large platters or pizza boxes, think ‘Over/Under’ models, which place a pull-out freezer drawer below an eye-level fridge section, for full-width, easy access,’ says Ricky Davies, director, Sub-Zero & Wolf

'French door models offer a similar layout but with two narrower refrigerator doors instead of one large one, which works well when space is an issue or an island is located in front of the appliance.’ 

For maximum capacity, opt for a full-size refrigerator and freezer placed side-by-side. Also look out for flexible storage, which is when one compartment (usually a drawer) can be set between 0°C and -22°C. 

‘This incredibly useful convertible space lets you switch from refrigerator to freezer depending on your latest shopping trip or entertaining needs,’ explains Tim Buszka, Head of Brand at Whirlpool.

Practical features

Practical features worth seeking out include frost-free, auto-defrost and anti-bacterial finishes, which all help reduce cleaning and maintenance. Climate and humidity-controlled drawers help keep food fresher for longer, saving on food waste. 

‘Simply organize drawers by ingredient type, check the user manual for advice, to enjoy food that lasts up to five times longer,’ says Cesar Fernandez, Home Economist, at Miele

Fridge-freezers that dispense fresh filtered water, and ice, reduce plastic consumption and encourage children to drink more – choose ‘plumbed in’ if possible. 

The latest use UV-lights to keep drinking water fresh. ‘We’re seeing a lot of demand for rapid cooling drawers, too,’ adds Lucy Dunstan, product manager, Smeg. ‘Perfect for quickly chilling wine and soft drinks when entertaining, the handy alarm alerts when drinks are ready to serve.’

Energy efficiency

Buying a refrigerator with good energy efficiency is crucial for appliances that run 24/7. Fridge-freezer Energy Ratings labels have recently been updated to a simpler system. The gradings now range from A-G, with A being most efficient, replacing the previous system that went up to a mind-boggling A+++. 

Smart features

Smart features refer to WiFi ‘connected’ tech, which, at its most basic, allows you to control your refrigerator remotely via a phone, Alexa or other device. 

‘Advantages include adjusting the temperature setting to accommodate a large shopping spree before you arrive home, or setting Holiday Mode from the airport,’ says David Palmer, product specialist, LG Electronics

Some models also notify you when food is out of date and offers recipes based on ingredients stocked. We’re not quite at the stage where your refrigerator can automatically order groceries but those with internal cameras let you check supplies while out shopping. Models with built-in screens are useful for sharing family calendars, watching TV and searching recipes but a regular tablet is potentially cheaper and less obtrusive.    

Your refrigerator's finish

Stylish finishes are far easier to find, and the latest trends lead toward dramatic anthracite and matte black steel, as well as retro shades in powdery pinks and pale blues. 

For neutral color palettes, seek out chic satin beige and ivory. Or, if you can’t commit, try Bosch’s Vario Style fridge-freezer in nine interchangeable colors. Regardless of color, anti-fingerprint coatings are always helpful.

Linda Clayton

Linda graduated from university with a First in Journalism, Film and Broadcasting. Her career began on a trade title for the kitchen and bathroom industry, and she has worked for Homes & Gardens, and sister-brands Livingetc, Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home, since 2006, covering interiors topics, though kitchens and bathrooms are her specialism.