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Guide to Buying a Refrigerator/Freezer

By Andrew Gates

When it comes to buying a new refrigerator, or refrigerator-freezer combination, there are a number of factors that need to be considered before you make your purchase. Factors that will, influence the best buy for you are in three broad categories:

The environment where the appliance is to be installed

The load you will place on the appliance

The total cost of owning and operating the appliance.

At you can compare a great range of appliances, and assess them according to their specifications, brands, prices and vendors.

Fridges & Freezers

The environment

Most kitchens have a refrigerator, but not all are located in the kitchen. Before you make a decision about the appliance, you need to measure the space it will occupy. Make sure you measure the available width, height and depth, taking into account the space available for opening the refrigerator doors. Remember that fridges generate heat on the outside in order to cool the inside the cabinet, therefore there needs to be adequate space around the unit to allow the heat to dissipate. If it is to be enclosed within a cavity, be sure there is ventilation available through the top of the cavity. You can choose a refrigerator to be modelled to reflect and enhance the décor of the kitchen into which it is being installed.

There are a number of basic design differences that you can consider. Each different design has an impact on how it fits into your environment as well as other aspects of the unit.

Single compartment refrigerators

Single compartment refrigerators are units with only fresh food space and no freezer compartment. They are generally automatic defrost units.

Single door refrigerators

Single door refrigerators have a small freezer compartment built into the main cabinet. These are usually manual defrost and are often referred to as small bar refrigerators.

Cyclic defrost refrigerator/freezers

Cyclic defrost refrigerator/freezers are generally two door units in which the freezer unit is manually defrosted, but the fresh food compartment defrosts automatically using either natural warming of the cabinet during the 'off cycle', or a small electric heater on the refrigerator evaporator.

Frost-free refrigerators

Frost-free refrigerators are generally two door models that have automatic defrost in both the freezer and fresh food compartments. Well-designed frost-free refrigerators can have a lower energy use than cyclic defrost models of the same size

Vertical/Upright freezers

Vertical/Upright freezers are front-opening door freezers allowing contents to be accessed and loaded quickly, thus minimising the time that the door is open.

Chest freezers

Chest freezers have a top opening lid and are generally more economical than vertical freezers but less convenient to use, and are manual defrost.

Within the two-door category, units are available with top freezer compartments, bottom freezer compartments or as side-by-side units. Generally speaking, top of bottom door freezers are more energy efficient than side-by-side units, which are also limited in shelf-width space. Side-by-side fridges however, do offer some benefits in kitchens with limited space because the doors are not as wide as doors on top or bottom door freezer units. You can search to compare the prices and performance specifications of these different model combinations.

The load

The load you place on the appliance affects how effective it is as a refrigerator, and how much it costs you in the long run. It all boils down to size. What capacity refrigerator should you buy? To answer that question, you need to consider what-and how much of it-you will put into it. So let's look at size first.

Small refrigerators are typically 200 litres to 280 litres, medium 280 litres to 400 litres, large from 400 litres to 560 litres and extra large from 560 litres to 800 litres. Depending on the lifestyle you lead and how often you shop for fresh foods, two people need around 220 litres to 280 litres of refrigerator capacity. For each additional person, add another 30 litres. A family of four therefore, should consider a refrigerator/freezer capacity of something in the order of 300 litres to 360 litres. You can search for refrigerators of different capacities.

Getting the right size is important. If your fridge on average is not at least two thirds full, or your freezer at least three quarters full, it's probably too big for your needs. A refrigerator that's too big and not kept filled wastes energy and costs more to run. A fridge that's too small has you constantly rearranging food to make it all fit, which results in wastage of energy because of long periods the door is open and wasted time.

Also consider the load from the point of view of the shelving capacity of the unit. If you're simply stocking it with large quantities of packaged food, you may need only small crisper capacity. On the other hand if fresh vegetables and fruit are a large party of your pantry, then you need a unit with substantial crisper capacity. Shelf adjustments and strength are important. Flimsily constructed plastic shelving cannot withstand heavy loads, especially door shelving. You need also to be able to adjust shelving heights to suit the kinds of foods you are putting in the unit.

The less time a fridge door remains open, the less energy it will consume. Therefore a fridge/freezer with easy access is easier to stock, and easier to use things you need quickly. The temperature control is how you manage the load of your fridge. Make sure you know where the thermostat control is located and how it is adjusted, this will help you manage the load of the unit for efficient energy use and constant temperature.


Here are a couple of facts that you may not be aware of. A typical refrigerator uses between 600 and 900-kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which makes it the single most expensive appliance in many households, making up 20% or more of the total residential electricity consumption. Nearly all households have at least one refrigerator and about 30% own two. Nearly 60% of households own a separate freezer. So, it's not just the cost of the refrigerator that's important, it's also the cost of owning it.

The working life of most fridges is in the order of ten years. This is not to say that fridges can continue to work satisfactorily for longer, nor that some a poorly manufactured and give up the ghost after seven years. However a quick calculation of ten years of 20% of your household electricity consumption will soon tell you how much it will cost over its life. So how do you make a choice that will result in the lowest cost? Use the energy rating star system.

Every major refrigerator and freezer manufacturer has their goods tested by Standards Australia and Standards New Zealand and are regulated for energy labelling in Australia. They are also regulated for MEPS (minimum efficiency standards). The results of these tests are published and a label is attached to the product advising of that unit's performance. This performance rating is given a 'star' rating, which enables you to compare different energy consumption levels of different brands, capacities and types of refrigerator/freezers. You can use to make this comparison very easily.


The following points are a quick summary of the things that will help you buy the right refrigerator/freezer for your situation. Use to make comparisons between makes and models of specifications, energy ratings, price and vendors.

Generally, larger refrigerators consume more energy. A model that is too large will waste space and energy; too small could mean extra trips to supermarket and inconvenience, and inefficient use of the cabinet.

It is generally cheaper to run one large refrigerator than two small ones. However, a quick check of the energy consumption on the label will give you accurate comparison.

Top or bottom freezer units are generally more efficient than side-by-side units. You can check the stars and the energy consumption to compare.

Automatic ice-makers and through-the-door dispensers will increase both the energy use (typically 100 to 150 kilowatt hours/year) and the purchase price, but may add convenience and reduce energy wastage by not having the door opened as frequently.

Manual defrost models use less energy than frost-free models, but only if they are defrosted regularly enough to remain energy efficient.

If two different sized refrigerators use the same amount of energy, the larger model can be considered more efficient because it keeps more space cold with same amount of electricity.
About the Author
Andrew Gates is a writer for comparison online shopping service - , helps you compare fridges - and buy online from top-rated online stores. You can also read refrigerators reviews - and specifications.

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