Refrigerator buying guide

GE-Cafe-French-refrigerator-with-built-in-K-Cup-brewer-Cool-Mom-TechRefrigerators have long been thought of as the boxy, boring behemoths of the kitchen, and buying one used to be as simple as choosing between eggshell and off-white. But times have changed, with manufacturers increasingly thinking outside of the icebox to try to redefine what the modern refrigerator is really capable of. Today’s shopper will find an ever-increasing range of color and style options, cleverly-designed units designed to disappear into your decor, and a wide variety of new smart features, including ones aimed at transforming your kitchen itself into an entertainment hub. It’s enough to make you wonder if the ol’ fridge might be going through a bit of an identity crisis.

This reinvention of the refrigerator comes with a daunting new reality: finding the perfect model for your needs and budget is no easy task. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place — a handy overview designed to help you narrow down the countless options and come out confident that the refrigerator you’re buying will give you the most bang for your buck.

In the end, finding the right fridge is all about understanding your own needs and asking the right questions, so let’s get started with:

What type of refrigerator is best for me?

Style-wise, you’ve got four options to choose from, and each comes with its own pros and cons. Figuring out which one is best for you is the first, most obvious step towards making a final buying decision.


Top freezer

When I say the word “fridge,” chances are good that this is the style that pops into your head. With the bottom two thirds dedicated to fresh-food storage and the freezer unit sitting on top, most of us probably struggled to reach the Popsicles in a top freezer unit when we were kids, or we at least used one in our first apartment. Tastes have moved forward since then, so if you’re looking for something modern, high-end, and feature-rich, then a top-freezer model probably isn’t for you. If, however, style isn’t as much of a concern, then you’ll find that top freezers offer some of the best bargains on the market. Plus, there are still enough being made to offer a solid variety of choices.

Bottom freezer

If you’re looking for something on the simpler side, and would enjoy slightly easier access to your fresh foods, then a bottom-freezer unit might be right for you. Bottom-freezer units aren’t much different from top-freezer units except for the fact that the freezer is located — you guessed it — on the bottom. This means that you won’t have to hunch over while rooting around for commonly used ingredients. However, it also means that frozen foods will be located down around your ankles — though a majority of models now come with drawer-style freezer doors, which can make getting the ice cream out a little easier. Bottom freezer units tend to be just slightly bigger than top freezers, but there’s also less variety of models to choose from.

 

Side-by-side

Side-by-side units split your fridge right down the middle, offering you frozen foods on the left and fresh foods on the right. Some models offer equal real estate for both sections while others allocate an extra couple of inches for the fridge. This can make for an especially narrow freezer section, so frozen-pizza aficionados might want to consider something a little less limiting. Side-by-side units come in a wide variety of models and tend to showcase more features than their horizontally minded counterparts. Many of these features are aimed at saving space, especially when it comes to the shelving inside the doors. Side-by-side units also require much less clearance to open the doors, making them ideal for narrow kitchens. Due to the vertical split, you’ll probably want to go with the widest model that will fit into your kitchen, and your budget.

French door

Highly popular, French-door models combine the drawer-style freezer of a bottom-freezer unit with the low-clearance doors of a side-by-side unit. This means that you’ll have a full-width, double-door fridge with plenty of storage space. With your refrigerator door effectively split into two, it also means that you won’t be letting as much cold air out when you’re opening just one door to grab the milk. Some models come with two separate freezer drawers, with the top one located about waist-high. This will keep you from bending down quite as far as you would with a bottom freezer. With the high demand for French door refrigerators, you’re sure to find a huge variety of options, including models with top-of-the-line smart features you won’t find with other styles. You can also upgrade the look of your fridge to match your kitchen or even camouflage itself entirely among your cabinets, but be aware that you’ll likely be tacking a few thousand dollars onto the already steep price tag.

10 tips to extend the life of appliances

Replacing a refrigerator or oven range can take a bite out of your budget, as can buying a new washer or dryer. To make sure your appliances stand the test of time and continue to perform, follow these pointers:

Keep your fridge and freezer clean.
In general, appliances operate best when spick-and-span. Besides regularly cleaning up leftovers in the fridge, keep condenser coils clean, says Bud Eader, manager at Bettar Appliance in Kensington, Md. Do so by using a condenser coil brush.

To clean the freezer, unplug it, remove all food, wipe it down with a baking-soda solution, use water to rinse it, and then dry the freezer with a towel before plugging it back in.

Defrost your freezer. Many freezers today are frost-free. However, if you have a manual defrost freezer, plan to defrost it at least once every year, before frost gets to about a half-inch thick. Use a plastic or wooden scrape — no knives or other sharp instruments — to remove the frost layer.

Scrub your oven and range, too.

Clean inside your oven often and never let food debris stick around on burners, even if it requires a bit of elbow grease to remove. Don’t spray cleaning fluid directly on control panels though, which could cause them to short circuit. Instead, apply a little onto a rag to clean that surface.
Don’t foil your oven. Experts debate whether you should use the self-cleaning feature if your oven comes with one, but they agree you shouldn’t use aluminum foil under the baking element.
Replace filters. Whether it’s a charcoal filter in an oven, a filter in some dishwashers or refrigerators or the one in your furnace, follow manufacturer guidelines to clean and/or replace them as directed.

Don’t use dish soap in the dishwasher. This can hamper the machine’s performance by creating gunky buildup. Use only dish detergent.

Scrape off plates. Food debris can clog dishwasher pumps.“It’s going to stop up the spray arms and, in the case of emptying the water out, it’s possibly going to make the pump fail prematurely.

Don’t overload your clothes washing machine.

Doing so adds strain on the motor, tub bearings and other parts, besides not getting your clothes clean if water and detergent can’t swish between them. “You shorten the life of the machine,” Eader says. Instead, follow the owner manual instructions on how much to load. Hint: If your machine is banging around under the weight of all of your laundry, you’ve gone overboard.
Improve your dryer’s circulation. Often forgotten, the lint screen needs to be cleaned regularly. Failing to do or allowing your dryer vent to become clogged will force your dryer to work overtime (read: retire sooner) and can present a serious fire hazard. Plan to have your dryer’s exhaust system cleaned annually.
Watch where you apply stain removers. Spraying it on top of washers or dryers can corrode painted or plastic parts.

HOW MUCH ENERGY APPLIANCES USE

Appliances account for about 13% of your household’s energy costs, with refrigeration, cooking, and laundry at the top of the list.

When you use electricity to cook a pot of rice for 1 hour, you use 1,000 watt-hours (1,000 Wh) of electricity! One thousand watt-hours equals 1 kWh. Your utility bill usually shows what you are charged for the kilowatt-hours you use. The average residential rate is 11.04 cents/kWh. A typical U.S. household consumes about 11,800 kWh per year, costing an average of $1,297 annually.

appliance-energyThis chart shows how much energy a typical appliance uses per year and its corresponding cost based on national averages. For example, a refrigerator uses almost five times the electricity the average television uses. Appliances account for about 13% of your household’s energy costs, with refrigeration, cooking, and laundry at the top of the list.

KITCHEN TIPS

10 Simple Kitchen Tips You Wish Someone Told You Earlier

1.Use tongs to cooking pretty much everything

Spatulas are awesome for anything that needs to be flipped or scraped, like eggs and pancakes. For everything else, tongs are the way to go. They’re much more nimble and less awkward to use, and you’ll find far fewer things jumping from your pan onto the floor. If you have non-stick cookware, be sure to use tongs with nylon tips.

2. Store everything in tupperware

As much as I’d like to be the kind of person who trims their herbs, puts them in an vase then wraps them in a damp paper towel so they last a week, I’m way too lazy for that. The good news though is that tupperware keeps almost everything fresh for much longer than your crisper, including berries, salad greens and produce that has already been cut. Because it is reusable, it is also more ecofriendly.

3. If you own a knife, don’t use a garlic press

Peeling and pressing garlic is a huge waste of time. To use a clove of garlic, set it on a cutting board and smash it with the flat side of a big knife . The papery skin will come right off, and you can mince it real quick right there in about 10 seconds. Done.

4. Keep a separate cutting board for things you don’t want flavored with garlic and onion

Assuming you follow any recipe ever, you’ll probably be using your cutting board for cutting onions or garlic. If so, I recommend getting a separate board you keep aside for cutting fruit, cheeses and other things that you’d prefer didn’t absorb the odors of previous meals.

5. Herbs that are supposed to be green should be purchased fresh, not dry

With the possible exception of dried oregano (great in Mexican, Greek and Italian foods), herbs are always better fresh. They’re also cheap and available almost anywhere. In particular, always buy fresh parsley, basil, cilantro, thyme, tarragon or chives if you can help it (a few should be in your fridge at all times). The dried versions are OK if not too old, but they’re very delicate and the jar will probably go bad before you use it twice.

6. Don’t bother with pre-filled spice racks

If you want spices to serve their purpose (making food taste better), you shouldn’t own a pre-filled spice rack. Spices go off quickly, and when their color starts to dull they’ve lost a lot of their flavor. There are several dried spices that are invaluable in my kitchen (cinnamon, cloves, curry powder, cumin, coriander, chili pepper, etc.), but you should purchase them as you need them, and in small quantities unless you use them frequently.

7. Overcooking is probably your biggest kitchen mistake

Overcooked vegetables are mushy and flavorless, overcooked meat is tough and chalky, overcooked grains are soggy and fall apart. In other words, overcooked food is bad food. Learn the art of taking food off the heat just before it is done, and let it finish cooking with its internal temperature. You can always cook it more, but you can never cook it less.

8. If it tastes OK but not great, it probably needs salt—and maybe some vinegar or olive oil

If you think you’ve added enough salt but something is still off, try a small splash of vinegar or lemon (any acid) to brighten the flavor. If the food is dry or sticky, try adding a touch of olive oil. These three things can fix almost any lackluster meal.

9. Don’t buy regular big onions, use shallots or leeks

For most everyday cooking, milder onions will enhance your dish and give it more nuance. Big, strong onions certainly have their place in cooking (soups, roasts, etc.), but most kitchen experiments will be improved by more subtle onion flavor.

10. Fruit (other than berries) shouldn’t be stored in the fridge

Refrigerators dull the taste of most produce, so if you bought something that doesn’t need to go in there leave it out. Most fruits including apples, oranges, pears and bananas don’t belong in the refrigerator unless you’re not planning on eating them soon. I don’t refrigerate tomatoes, avocados or peppers either. Very hot climates are an exception, however.