Need a new fridge? Here's what your budget will get you
A quick primer on how different styles and features affect price
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If you're shopping for a new fridge, it can be difficult to know where to start. This is an appliance that you buy once a decade—hopefully. You may not be savvy to special features like ice makers, air filtration, and smart capabilities, but there is one thing you surely know: your budget.
One of the biggest differentiators of price is the style of fridge. There are five major styles out there: top-freezer, bottom-freezer, side-by-side, French-door, and column.
Each of these styles has its own set of pros and cons as well as special features; consequently their price tags fall all over the spectrum. In general though, top-freezer and bottom-freezer models are typically least expensive, French-doors tend to be most expensive, and side-by-sides often sit in the middle. You’ll pay most for a column refrigerator.
Here’s what you can expect to get for your money, so you know what makes sense for your budget.
Top- and bottom-freezers: When you’re keeping style and price basic
Top- and bottom-freezers tend to be roughly the same price, clustering at the lower-end of the pricing continuum.
You can tell a lot about their functionality from their style names: Top-freezers have their freezer compartment located above the refrigerator compartment, while bottom-freezers have the reverse. Top-freezer freezers tend to be smaller, resulting in more fridge storage, while a bottom-freezer's freezer is a bit bigger and almost exclusively has a pull-out drawer design.
These two styles tend to be basic fridges. You'd be hard-pressed to find a top-freezer with, say, a fancy flex drawer, robust smart features, or a through-the-door dispenser. This alone helps drive their overall price down, resulting in most falling somewhere in the $500–$800 range.
Since these styles of fridges are meant as entry-level or budget options, there is an abundance of them out there. This doesn’t mean they’re all great options. In our lab testing, the problem we most often see is temperature variance. This can lead to temperature spikes that push the fridge and freezer out of the safe temperature range.
This issue isn't something you can easily check without bringing a fridge home, so despite top- and bottom-freezers being the cheapest options, they can actually be the hardest to shop for.
If you're just looking for a second fridge to keep drinks cold, you can pick any model. But, if you're trying to store perishables, we recommend doing some research (or checking out our convenient round-up).
Side-by-side fridges: Middling features at a moderate price
Side-by-side refrigerators consist of two thin, attached columns, with a freezer on the left and a fridge on the right. This design keeps both fridge and freezer items at an easy-to-reach height, which is a boon, but the thin compartments may prove to be too narrow for particularly large platters or frozen pizza boxes.
Side-by-sides fall in the $1,000–$1,600 range, with their feature set typically dictating where within that spectrum. They’re not quite as feature-rich as French-door refrigerators, but you will start to see some higher-end features in a side-by-side.
The most common extra is a through-the-door ice and water dispenser, which provides convenient access to filtered water and ice without having to open up the door. The dispenser is typically accompanied by an internal ice-maker and ice reservoir, which means you will find less storage space than a side-by-side without an ice maker.
French-doors: Excellent options you’ll pay for
French-door fridges typically have two refrigerator doors into the fridge compartment with a freezer drawer underneath. There are also some that have an additional door or a flex drawer.
French-doors can be pricey, but they also have the highest ceiling for possible extra features, resulting in a huge range of possible prices. Most French-doors typically fall into the $2,000–$3,000 range, sometimes running upwards of $4,000. This being said, we've reviewed excellent, entry-level French-door refrigerators that cost under $1,500 and higher-end, feature-dense models that were over $5,000. Due to their popularity and accommodating design, French-door models tend to be the first style of fridge to get new features.
Through-the-door dispensers are common and typically only inflate the price by a few hundred dollars. For the increasing numbers of ice connoisseurs out there, there are also higher-end ice-makers available, which push the fridge into the $3,000–$4,000 range. Provided this doesn't break your budget, if you like ice you should check out LG's spherical craft ice maker and Bosch's incredibly fast QuickIcePro system, which allows you to fill up a glass with ice every 36 minutes.
A more substantial feature, like a custom-temperature flex drawer, tacks on another $1,000. These drawers act like a third compartment, separate from your fridge and freezer. Flex drawers allow you to store items that need to be stored at a temperature that's otherwise too warm or too cold to store the majority of your perishables. They're great for keeping drinks at temperatures that would freeze your fresh greens, or for keeping wine at the ideal 55°F—a temperature that would spoil the rest of your food. They're also excellent at letting you better adapt to different storage needs, creating extra fridge or freezer space as the need arises. While flex drawers are one of the newer fridge features we absolutely love, it’s not for everybody. Given a hefty price tag, it's best to really consider how much use you'd use it before committing to a purchase.
Smart features can also drive up the price to $1,000 or beyond, depending on the suite involved. To over-simplify, simple smart features, such as receiving push notifications when the door is open, shouldn't add much to the price tag. Some fridges, however, come with a built-in touchscreen display, allow you to control every other smart appliance in your house, or can automatically buy groceries when it senses you've run out of something.
Columns: When you’ve got style and price is no object
Columns (and other built-in fridges) are for those who have specific needs and money to burn. You can choose if you want any given column fridge to be either a fridge or a freezer, then specify the exact width you're looking for. Column fridges are often built to be covered by paneling that matches the rest of your cabinetry.
The general idea behind column fridges is to have a few of them in your kitchen, where each one is custom-tailored to the specific items you're storing in each. Some might be fridges, others dedicated freezers, and some can be customized to have the exact temperature, humidity and vibration necessary to keep wine perfectly stored.
Of course, all this customizability comes at a steep price: Column fridges tend to start at $5,000 and only go up from there.
Counter-depth: One final wrench thrown in the price equation
One huge modifier on the price of a fridge? Its depth. Any style of fridge can also come in a counter-depth version, which means it's only 26-inches from front to back. There are a few reasons you'd want a counter-depth fridge: You want a fridge to fit into an existing enclosure in your cabinetry, you want a fridge that's flush with your cabinets, and/or you're trying to make the most out of a smaller kitchen.
If you're considering a counter-depth fridge, be aware that they'll have less overall storage space due to their shallower depth and can cost up to $1,000 more than a full-size fridge with the same features.
Research, research, research
While the above tips are good general guidelines to go by, they're no substitute for research into specific products. We highly recommend narrowing down your choices to a few specific models, then looking up user reviews and professional reviews for each.
It's important to have both, because they tend to focus on different aspects of the user experience. For example, we perform in-depth lab testing on every fridge we review, which helps us spotlight any inconsistencies in their performance that might be invisible to the average owner. The average owner, however, is using these fridges in a day-to-day environment for months to years—something we can't do. They often have much more insight into any problems that can arise over the long-term, which can let you have a sharper eye for common issues before they become huge problems.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.