When it comes to picking the right refrigerator type for your home, you now have more options than ever before. Dozens of brands, hundreds of models, and multiple arrangements are all available for you to choose from. We prepared this guide, so you don’t miss out on the new advances in market.
So what exactly sets one refrigerator apart from the other? And which refrigerator type is right for your specific needs?
In this section of our refrigerator information hub, we’ll take you through the different types of refrigerator door arrangements, installation types, and specialty styles so that you can make an informed decision when shopping for your next fridge.
Fridge Types by Door Design
Not all refrigerators are designed the same way. Even if you’ve had the same fridge style for the last 20 years, you’ve likely noticed other types in friends’ homes, showrooms, and appliance stores. From side-by-side models to French doors, top-freezers to bottom-freezers, there are a lot of options to choose from when shopping.
Let’s break down the most common arrangements and what they mean for your experience when using your refrigerator.
Side-by-side refrigerator arrangements have become more and more common over the last decade. They involve a two-door style, with the fridge being on one side and the freezer on the other. Traditionally, the freezer is positioned on the left, but not always.
Side-by-side fridges tend to be less expensive than their French door counterparts, but they also tend to have a bit less capacity for packing in food items. It can also sometimes be frustrating trying to reach around packed shelves to get to an item at the back. That said, it all depends on the capacity you choose—there are plenty of large side-by-side refrigerators with more capacity than smaller French door models.
French Door Refrigerators
A French door fridge involves a refrigerator portion on top behind two doors that swing outward from the middle, with a sliding freezer door underneath. French door refrigerators have become associated with a luxury look, and they do look excellent in kitchens. They also offer plenty of refrigerator space that’s easy to access, and the slide-out freezer door on the bottom makes it easy to pull out items you need—though taller people might have to stoop down a little.
French door refrigerators also tend to carry a higher price tag, so keep that in mind when shopping. If you are in the market for a French door fridge, we maintain a list of best models in our review article.
Bottom Freezer Refrigerators
You can also choose a refrigerator with the fridge, and freezer portions positioned one on top of the other. Traditional, less expensive fridges tend to have the freezer up top. Higher-end models are now placing the freezer on the bottom with a slide-out drawer, similar to French door styles. Meanwhile, the top refrigerator portion simply swings open from one side.
Top Freezer Refrigerators
A top freezer refrigerator is the traditional fridge type you’re probably most accustomed to seeing in rental apartments and garages. Typically well under 69″ high, these are generally the least expensive fridges.
Innovative Door Styles – Touch Screens, 4-Doors and More
Gone are the days of simple refrigerator doors that did nothing more than keep the cold inside. Now, refrigerator doors can feature a wide range of incredible abilities.
(1) Samsung smart refrigerators (a.k.a. Family Hub) now feature a large touchscreen on the door, allowing you to browse recipes, make shopping lists, and a whole lot more. We cover “Samsung Family Hub Refrigerators” in our review article.
(2) Door-in-Door Design has become very popular. It allows you to place high-use items in the front row of the door. When you hold down a button on the fridge door’s handle, opening the door will present you with this front row, helping you grab items quickly and keeping cold air from escaping.
(3) InstaView Door Design was developed by LG. In these models, the door has a large window which is generally dark— but upon a gentle knock on the surface, it becomes instantly transparent and illuminates the fridge’s interior, allowing you to see everything inside without opening the door and letting out cold air.
(4) 4-Doors, Coffee and Hot Water Right on the Door – Brands are constantly finding new and innovative ways to make their fridge doors more powerful and convenient. For example, GE incorporates a Keurig coffee maker into its door in some models. Samsung, LG, Bosch and others feature 4 door models.
Fridge Types by Installation Style
Once you’ve chosen your preferred refrigerator arrangement, you also need to select how you want it installed within your kitchen. You have three primary choices when shopping—counter depth, full-depth (or regular), or built-in.
Counter-Depth vs Standard Depth
All fridge types are either counter-depth or full depth. The box of the counter-depth refrigerators is designed to be aligned with the front edge of your cabinets. Only the door will protrude from cabinets giving a streamlined, custom look. Counter-depth fridges tend to be a bit more expensive, although they are slightly less spacious on average than standard depth fridges.
Standard depth refrigerators cost less and fit more inside, though they don’t offer the same custom, built-in look as their counter depth cousins.
Both of these types of fridges are considered Freestanding refrigerators. A term that simply means the refrigerator is its own separate unit. It is not attached or installed into the cabinetry of your kitchen. The advantages of these types include easier movement and replacement, increased depth, more flexibility, and lower costs. That said, they generally don’t carry the same luxurious look of built-in models. They do, however, have finished sides—since the sides of the fridge are often visible.
- More information: Best counter depth refrigerators covered in-depth.
Built-in refrigerators have become more and more popular in high-end kitchens. Made popular by Sub Zero, they provide a seamless, custom look in any kitchen layout. Built-in fridges are essentially installed within the cabinetry and can range in widths to as large as 48” (even wider if you install two built-ins next to each other).
That said, built-in refrigerators are often restricted to cabinet depth—around 24”. That’s because a built-in refrigerator extending past the flush plane of the cabinets gives a look that’s not really built-in at all.
It’s a high-end look, but it also means is that many built-in refrigerators aren’t as deep as their standalone counterparts. You’ll often have to make up for this by going wider. You are not restricted to stainless steel as a color with the built-ins. Many people install them with custom cabinet panels for a seamless look.
Built-in refrigerators tend to be much more expensive than freestanding units.
Column refrigerators (some manufacturers refer them as integrated fridges) are starting to become more popular. They involve two tall, independent built-in fridge and freezer. Having the two units separated gives you options on a range of arrangements. Sometimes the fridge and freezer are placed side-by-side, and other times they’re separated in different areas of the kitchen. Sometimes they might even be placed surrounding a wine cooler.
They use an “articulating hinge system”, which allows them to have fully flush installations with cabinets without any gap (industry term zero-gap) between the fridge and the cabinets.
Aside from the main, full-size refrigerator types, there are also other specialty types to consider when you’re doing your shopping. While these won’t apply to all customers, they’re worth addressing, so you know what to look out for on the market. Specialty fridges can also be used in both indoor and outdoor applications.
Undercounter refrigerators are exactly what they sound like—fridges designed to fit under a countertop. They come in an array of design types, including drawers, glass or solid doors, with/without freezer, wine fridges, beverage coolers, and ‘kegerators.’
Wine Refrigerator & Beverage Centers
Looking to keep your wine collection fresh, accessible, and chilled? A wine refrigerator is a great way to do it. There are under-counter versions. Full size versions that can hold some 180 bottles are available.
These can be perfect for showcasing your wine collection, entertaining and are often installed in kitchens alongside full-size, full-function refrigerators.
Beverage centers are usually under-counter fridges. The have racking that is suitable to hold cans and soda bottles. They may even have a rack hold wine in them. The temperature in beverage centers is usually colder than that of wine fridges.
Looking to furnish office space, home theater, or just provide extra cooling space in another area of your home, like the garage? A mini-fridge can be an excellent, low-cost option. While they range in size and capacity, they all tend to be built to fit under a desk or countertop. Like their full-size counterparts, they can either come as standalone units or built-in models.
Some ice enthusiasts may opt for a standalone ice maker unit. Ice makers make either crescent-ice, clear-ice, or nugget ice. Clear-ice and nugget-ice machines need a pump or gravity drain underneath the unit to function. Scotsman, U-line, and Marvel are great residential ice maker brands.
Chest Freezer or Upright Freezers
Freezer only appliances, often arranged in a chest or upright design, are usually purchased as a second freezer, then set to very low temperatures for deep-freezing foods to preserve them long-term. They’re often set up in a garage, storage space, or basement. Standalone freezers can be arranged like a standard fridge with a single, swing-open door, but they’re also commonly seen in a chest-shape, one which opens from a door hinged along the top.
Whatever fridge type you choose, make sure to measure your available space to find a product that will fit in the area you have available. We can’t tell you how often customers purchase products only to return them when they discover they don’t fit in their kitchen or other space.
It’s also essential to make sure your new fridge matches the overall aesthetics of your kitchen—handles, finish, and general style should be compatible visually with the rest of your appliances.
That concludes our rundown of the most common refrigerator types, arrangements, and styles for you to consider when shopping. Have more questions about buying your next refrigerator? Check out our page about the difference between a bad fridge and a good fridge.
Best Refrigerators Brands in Our Reviews
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SIDENOTE. This post was last modified on December 24, 2020. However, we regularly update our content as we test more products and new models are released. We also listen to the feedback of our customers and make changes to our product recommendations based on their experiences. So don’t be surprised if you see some old comments below! Since reader comments contribute to the topic, we have decided not to delete them.