A Guide to Cooling Appliances
Today it's hard to imagine a kitchen without a big upright refrigerator/freezer, but in 20 years, multiple cooling appliances might be the norm. Major trends changing the way we think about refrigeration include:
With varying widths and heights, they make it possible to separate your freezer from your refrigerator and place them in convenient spots throughout the kitchen.
Refrigerator and freezer drawers.
Installed under the counter in place of a cabinet drawer, they work equally well for conveniently storing food and drinks in a kitchen island, a butler's pantry, a rec room or a finished basement.
Beverage centers and wine chillers.
Ranging from small countertop and undercounter models to upright or even vault size, they bring a touch of luxury to any home and make entertaining more fun.
Even the traditional refrigerator with freezer compartment has entered an era of change. Trends have shifted away from refrigerators with top-mount freezers to sleek bottom-freezer units, professional side-by-sides, and hybrid French door models.
Stainless steel or stainless-look exteriors are just as common as white, black or bisque, while more manufacturers have begun to offer fridges in muted natural tones, bright primary colors and nostalgic retro hues.
To make less of a statement with your refrigerator, go with a built-in or counter-depth fridge that is flush with your cabinetry. Take it a step further by choosing a refrigerator that accepts cabinet panels, making the appliance an inconspicuous part of your kitchen.
Best of all, today's refrigeration appliances are far more energy efficient than those of yesteryear, offering a substantial saving on annual utility costs.
Learn About Your Options Before Selecting a Refrigerator
Side-by-side refrigerators typically offer through-door ice and water dispensers.
Running all day and night, refrigerators use a great deal of energy and take a beating from every member of the family. That's why refrigerator trends point toward more energy-efficient models with plenty of storage space. Attractive options such as French doors and counter-depth styling have become available on freestanding as well as built-in refrigerators, while features such as slide-out shelves and temperature-controlled compartments are more often standard amenities rather than upgrades.
Although it is possible to purchase an all-refrigerator model, most household refrigeration units have both a refrigerator and a freezer compartment. They come in three main styles:
Top-Freezer Refrigerators (also called Top-Mount Refrigerators)
This is what most of us grew up with: a smaller freezer compartment on top of a larger refrigerator compartment, each with its own door.
- Give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to space.
- Often the most reasonably priced of all models.
- Easy to reach the freezer.
- Assuming you store more food in the refrigerator than in the freezer, you'll spend more time bending down and crunching your back.
Price: $300 to $2,000 for freestanding models; $3,900 to $6,000 for built-in models
Bottom-Freezer Refrigerators(also called Bottom-Mount Refrigerators)
Just like it sounds, these refrigerators are the reverse of the top-mount models-the freezer is on the bottom. The freezer compartment may consist of one or two drawers, while the refrigerator may have one door or two French doors.
- Keep the fridge at a height that requires little bending or awkward movements.
- French door refrigerators look elegant and require less door clearance.
- You have to crouch to reach the freezer.
- Usually more expensive than top-freezer and side-by-side refrigerators of te same size and similar features.
Price: $600 to $5,800 for freestanding models; $4,900 to $7,200 for built-in models; $1,000 to $6,800 for French door models
In these models, the refrigerator and freezer compartments sit next to each other, with the freezer usually behind the door on the left and the refrigerator on the right.
- Important refrigerator and freezer products can be stored at a height that makes them accessible without hunching over.
- They also require less door clearance.
- Space is often sacrificed for convenience.
- While their listed cubic-feet is comparable to other refrigerator models, the usable amount of space side-by-sides provide often is less because of the skinny vertical shape of the fridge and freezer compartments.
Price: $800 to $3,800 for freestanding models; $4,500 to $12,000 for built-in models
Beverage Refrigerators, Kegerators and Wine Chillers
Courtesy of Marvel.
A wine and beverage refrigerator can go in the kitchen or become part of a separate entertainment area.
Of all the new options in refrigeration, beverage centers or wine storage are popping up most frequently in kitchens.
Beverage centers feature racks and shelving designed for a variety of drinks and containers, from boxes of juices to cans of soda or beer to bottles of water or wine. They can be freestanding or built-in, and also come in outdoor models. Undercounter sizes are the most common. Prices range from $200 to nearly $3,000.
Beer lovers can choose a beverage dispenser or "kegerator" for their bar or kitchen. The outdoor versions are typically built-in stainless steel models, but indoor beverage dispensers often accept custom panels for an integrated look. Depending on their size, kegerators will hold either standard kegs (half barrels) or smaller "pony" kegs (quarter barrels). Twin or even triple taps are optional.
If you crave draft beer in smaller portions, try a smaller, countertop beverage dispenser. These typically hold 5-liter "mini" kegs.
Wine chillers-also known as wine cabinets, wine cellars, wine coolers, wine refrigerators, or wine reserves-are, as the names imply, designed specifically for wine. These appliances can be freestanding or built-in models, fit under the counter, sit on top of the counter, or stand as tall as the refrigerator.The most basic wine refrigerators hold just six to 12 bottles of wine, fit on the countertop, and cost from $60 to $200. A freestanding wine cooler that holds 16 to 24 bottles runs from $150 to $250.
More serious wine drinkers can choose an undercounter model that fits a standard base-cabinet depth of 24 inches. Especially popular for islands, peninsulas, butler's pantries and other gathering areas, these chillers range from 15 to 24 inches wide, hold from 28 to 58 bottles, and cost anywhere from $200 to more than $3,000. Connoisseurs in need of more storage can consider long and low or tall and narrow wine cellars. Storing from 68 to 166 bottles, these chillers are about the size of a regular refrigerator and cost from $600 to nearly $8,000.
Features Worth Having
- To show off your collection, choose a glass-front chiller with ultraviolet light protection and interior lighting.
- Stainless steel and black are the most common colors. More expensive models often have a variety of colors or accept custom panels for an integrated look.
- A cooling system with multiple zones can store different types of wine at the appropriate temperatures.
- Full-extension shelves allow you to store bottles securely on their sides and to remove individual bottles without disturbing the rest.
Get to Know Your Freezer Options
Courtesy of Sub-Zero
Freezer drawers don't hold much food, but fit in convenient locations
Refrigerator freezers are not intended for long-term storage, so you may want to consider a separate freezer. Freezers come in three styles: upright, chest and drawers.
An upright freezer sits vertically and opens from the front with a hinged door. Capacity is 2 to 25 cubic feet.
Freezer chests sit horizontally and have doors that open up instead of out. Capacity is 2 to 25 cubic feet.
Freezer drawers are stacked beneath a counter and come in sets of two or three. Capacity is about 5 cubic feet.
Shelves, in-door storage make it easy to find and remove items
Big enough to accommodate bulk food purchases or preparation and awkwardly shaped food items like turkeys and hams
Easily located near point of use
Foods are more visible, less likely to be forgotten
Tend to be more energy efficient than upright freezers
Takes up less floor space
Not always big enough to fit awkwardly shaped foods
Because of their size, items can get lost rather easily
Built-ins are not easily relocated
Higher energy costs, as cold air escapes more easily and auto-defrost uses more electricity
Takes up more floor space
Small capacity; can't hold large items
Difficult to relocate
High price per cubic foot
Usually manual defrost
$150 to $3,100 for a freestanding upright freezer; $1,000 to $6,000 for a built-in freezer
$150 to $2,600
$2,000 to $4,000
To keep your freezer running efficiently, defrost it a few times a year. Buy a frost-free upright model if you don't want the hassle of manually defrosting your freezer-but be prepared for a bigger price tag and higher electric bills.
Also, frost-free freezers will not maintain a constant temperature, as they heat up slightly to eliminate frost. This can cause food to dehydrate and become more susceptible to freezer burn.
An Introduction to Ice Makers
Courtesy of Sub-Zero
An ice machine can be an important appliance for a kitchen used for entertaining.
Most refrigerators have an in-unit ice maker, but if you entertain frequently, consider adding an ice machine to your kitchen's repertoire. Available in both indoor and outdoor models, ice makers can be freestanding or built into your base cabinets. They typically come in white, black or stainless steel, with more expensive built-in models able to accept custom door panels so that they will blend in with surrounding cabinetry. Some are rated for outdoor use, too.
Undercounter ice makers typically measure 15 or 18 inches wide and produce 12 to 60 pounds of ice daily. However, many ice makers can only store about half as much ice as they can produce in a day. The excess ice will melt and ultimately need to be drained. Unless your kitchen already has a floor drain, you'll want to purchase an undercounter ice maker that has its own drain pump. You'll also need a direct water line to provide a constant supply of water. Hire a professional plumber to do the installation.
Dedicated ice makers create a higher quality ice than what a refrigerator with ice maker can provide. Undercounter ice makers create sheets of ice that are formed in layers, keeping the cubes crystal clear by preventing them from trapping air bubbles and mineral concentrations that lead to a cloudy look.
Price: $500 to $3,000
Portable Ice Makers
Portable ice makers can sit comfortably on countertops and are small enough to be stored in cabinets when not in use. They require an electric outlet but not a direct water connection, as you add water to them manually. Although these mini ice machines can produce between 20 and 30 pounds of ice per day, they don't keep the ice frozen for long, have a small storage capacity and most likely won't provide crystal-clear cubes.
Price: $200 to $500
Types of Ice
Ice can be divided into colors and shapes. Clear ice is restaurant-quality, gourmet ice whose impurities have been removed so the cubes do not have the "cloudy" appearance of regular ice. This ice is completely odorless and tasteless; however, clear icemakers are always more expensive. Ice can also be made in a variety of shapes, including actual cubes, cylinders, and crescents. Cylindrical ice is rounded and often has an indentation in the top and a rounded out bottom. Crescent ice cubes are similar to what many ice makers in refrigerators make: long with flat tops and round bottoms.
Things to Think About When Selecting Cooling Appliances
Before purchasing your refrigerator, freezer or wine chiller, ask yourself the following questions. You can print out the PDF and refer to it as you do your research and go shopping.
What are the dimensions of my current refrigerator or freezer? Do the new ones have to fit in the same space, or do I have the option of moving them?
How many people will use the refrigerator regularly, and how much interior capacity will we need?
If moving a refrigerator, will the new placement allow the door to open fully? What about the doors of adjacent cabinets or appliances?
For the best door clearance possible, should the refrigerator door open on the right or on the left? Or would a side-by-side or French-door model be better? What about a bottom-mount freezer drawer versus a top-mount freezer with a door?
Is my available space so small that I should consider a compact, drawer, portable or undercounter refrigerator?
Are environmental considerations such as energy and water savings important to me? Will money saved on utility bills make up for added costs?
Do I need a separate freezer unit so that I can cook and freeze meals ahead of time or buy frozen foods in large quantities?
Do I entertain and cook enough that having an additional undercounter refrigerator or a refrigerator drawer unit will be useful? Or will I need one of these models to make food and beverages accessible for children and elderly or disabled family members and guests?
What look do I want to create with my refrigerator? For example, professional kitchens use stainless steel appliances; traditional kitchens might use cabinet panels to conceal appliances; and retro designs are enhanced by retro-look appliances.
Would a wine chiller or beverage center be useful, possibly in the family room or on an outdoor deck?
Do I want a refrigerator with an icemaker and water dispenser? Inside the door or through the door? Do I want a water filter?
How do I use my current refrigerator? Do I need separate compartments for produce, meat and dairy? Movable shelving? Wine or soda holders? Precise electronic temperature controls?
An Overview of Refrigerator Drawers
Refrigerator drawers include adjustable dividers for storing produce.
Want to store your produce near the sink, but your beverages near the dining table? Consider adding refrigerator or combination refrigerator/freezer drawers into the mix. Built-in drawer units operate the same as stand-up refrigerators, but fit into a compact space underneath the counter. Drawer refrigerators are ideal for bars or rec rooms, outdoor kitchens (if rated for outdoor use), and kitchens designed with separate zones for clean up, cooking, prep work and baking. You can also purchase separate freezer drawers.
Typical features on refrigerated drawers include digital touchpad controls, removable to adjustable divders, stainless steel interiors and LED illumination. In addition to coming in black, white or stainless steel finishes, most drawer refrigerators accept panels that match your cabinetry. A handful of refrigeration specialty manufacturers offer more vibrant color options.
Size: Installed in a standard 15-, 24-, 27-, 30- or 36-inch cabinet opening, refrigerator drawers and combination refrigerator/freezer drawers have two or three drawers and a capacity of 5 to 6 cubic feet.
Pros: Convenience and ability to increase your kitchen's functionality
Cons: Pricey relative to their small size.
Price: $1,500 to $3,500