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Updated: December 19, 2012 7:16 AM


Now is a great time to buy a new refrigerator as more brands pile on high-end features such as LED temperature displays and "theater lighting" for less. Our tests also show that even relatively basic, $500 refrigerators now offer glass shelves with rims to catch spills and enough storage in the door to hold gallon milk jugs.

Getting started

Manufacturers are hot for your dollar as they load their refrigerators with features and fashion. Most, for example, now offer French-door models with side-by-side refrigerator doors above the freezer. And you'll find slide-out glass shelves and temperature-controlled compartments, along with stainless-steel exteriors, in more and more refrigerators selling for less than $1,000. This refrigerator guide will help you with your purchase.

Efficiency is on the rise

Refrigerators made after the end of April 2008 must be 5 percent more efficient to qualify for an Energy Star emblem. But despite advances, refrigerators still use more electricity than any other kitchen appliance because they're always on. The familiar yellow EnergyGuide labels and Energy Star symbols are a useful guide, but our energy-efficiency ratings take usable volume into account and are more helpful, particularly when comparing across different refrigerator categories.


Before you buy a new refrigerator, learn about the different types of refrigerators on the market. While one type of refrigerator might have features that appeal to you, it might not fit your budget or your lifestyle.

Top-freezer refrigerators

These are the traditional type, dating back to the earliest refrigerators. Widths typically run from about 30 to 33 inches. Manufacturers claim up to 22-cubic-foot capacities, but usable capacity is typically 20 percent lower by our measurements.

Pros : They typically offer the most storage for their size. Fairly wide refrigerator shelves make it easy to reach the back. They also cost the least as a group, yet they offer stainless trim on more models for a more stylish look.

Cons : You have to bend to reach bottom shelves and drawers.

Bottom-freezer refrigerators

Sales of bottom-freezers are growing fastest. Widths run from 30 to 36 inches. Claimed capacities go up to 26 cubic feet, though usable space doesn't quite match that of comparable top-freezers.

Pros : Bottom-freezers offer the convenience of an eye-level refrigerator. French-door models offer the space-saving narrow door swing of a side-by-side and the option of opening only half the refrigerator for smaller items.

Cons : You have to bend to reach the freezer—but you'll typically use the refrigerator much more often. French-door models cost significantly more and are more difficult to find in narrower widths. It can be difficult to find a bottom-freezer model with in-door ice and water.

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