Fridge and freezer buying guide

Side by side or upside down? Find the right fridge and freezer for your needs.
 
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01 .Which fridge is right for you?

Already ready to buy? See the CHOICE comparison of fridges and freezers . Read our reliability survey on fridges.

There are three basic models of fridge to choose from:

Top mount

Fridge - freezer on topIf price, range, efficiency and value are your biggest concern, this is the design for you.

Pros

  • The most economically priced.
  • The most economical and energy efficient to run.
  • Generally the greatest range of products available.

Cons

  • You have to bend down to use the fridge.

Video: Five things you need to know before buying a fridge

Expert tips from our fridge tester.

Bottom mount

Fridge - freezer on bottomThis is all about the convenience factor — it's easy to use.

Pros

  • Logical design — what you use most is at eye level.
  • Less bending — this can save your back.
  • Freezer design often with handy slide-out baskets.
  • Bigger range now becoming available.

Cons

  • Costs more
  • Crispers may be too cold (being so close to the freezer) and may ice-burn your vegies.
  • Can be slower to chill especially in the freezer.
  • Less energy efficient.

Side-by-side

Fridge - side by sideIf you're an entertainer, or have an active family, the extra features and space can be very useful.

Pros

  • Wide range of features available, including ice cube and/or water dispensers.
  • Better for walkways spaces or other areas where you can't have a large swinging door.
  • Generally the greatest storage capacity.
  • Can offer good access for people in wheelchairs.

Cons

  • Are inefficient overall in their use of space.
  • Ice-cube maker/ water chiller can take up a lot of freezer space.
  • Can be quite narrow and don't always fit in a pizza box or frozen turkey.
  • Can't be put in a tight corner and need an overall large space to fit.
  • Freezer access can be awkward.
  • Temperature fluctuations can be very different between top and bottom of fridge.

What size is right?

A good rule of thumb is that a family of two needs between 250-285 L of space in a fridge, and you should add 28.5 litres for each additional family member after that. Add freezer space on top of that. The bigger the fridge, the more features, the better the efficiency per litre and the better performance. If in doubt, get the bigger fridge. 

Which freezer is right for you?

If you want the maximum amount of storage possible, but don’t have a lot of space, an upright freezer would be your best bet. But chest freezers are better performers when it comes to freezing, and are generally cheaper to buy and to run.

Chest freezers

Pros

  • Generally outperform their upright counterparts.
  • Are cheaper to buy than uprights.
  • Are also generally more efficient which makes them cheaper to run.
  • In power blackouts, they keep your goods cooler for longer.

Cons

  • Are harder to load and unload because you need to bend over to reach items. This could make them difficult to use for anyone with a bad back or mobility issues.
  • While some models have lift out baskets and vertical dividers, they are harder to keep organised — you might end up rifling through all your frozen goods to find the frozen chicken you’re looking for.
  • Most chest freezers need to be manually defrosted which can be a lot of work — and this needs to be done periodically.

Upright freezers

Pros

  • Open like a normal fridge and are easier to load and unload than chests.
  • Have shelves or drawers that allow you to easily organise your frozen goods.
  • Most models are frost-free so you don’t have to defrost them.

Cons

  • Their freezing performance is generally not as good as chest models.
  • They are more expensive to buy and to run than chest freezers.

Pigeon pairs

If you’re still sold on an upright – and you’re planning to update your fridge as well – you might consider buying a pigeon pair. These are separate but matching fridge and freezer. These give you more options for storage than a side-by-side combined fridge/freezer, but will take up more space and have a much wider footprint.

Because of the wider footprint, they're more suitable for a new or renovated kitchen that's been designed with them in mind. However, unlike side by sides, you have the option of not putting the two components next to each other - you can put the freezer in another room.

If you're keen on plenty of freezer space, pigeon pairs generally have more than side by sides unless you go for a very big side by side. At around 600L, side by sides tend to have a narrow freezer compartment - you need to go up to around 800L to get a good sized freezer, so a pigeon pair could be a better, more flexible option. Keep in mind that very large fridges of all kinds can be difficult to get into the house. Check the measurements of bottlenecks like doorways, hallways, staircases and lifts before you buy.

Our experience suggests you may be able to negotiate a better price with the retailer than the sum of the two components when buying a pigeon pair together.

 
 

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Fridges_EnergyLabels-340

Efficiency and energy labels

A good fridge/freezer should do more than keep your food safe — it should also be energy-efficient. As it’s working non-stop, the energy it consumes adds up — think of the long-term running costs as part of the purchase price of the fridge.

For some years now Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) have been in place, which every new fridge sold in Australia must meet. These are mandatory standards and the tougher MEPS that came into force in January 2005 have brought significant improvements in energy efficiency.

The latest MEPS became manadatory as of April 2010 (MEPS 2010), which makes 2007 testing standard mandatory. The actual MEPs 2010 requirements haven't changed significantly, but one noticible change is the energy label star rating system.

The new energy star rating label uses a different star rating algorithm to allow further improvement in energy efficiency. This means a fridge previously rated four stars will now only have two stars. It doesn’t mean it’s less efficient – the star ratings have just been calculated differently, so be sure to also compare the kWh/year too.

All fridges manufactured or imported from 1 April 2010 must carry the new label and be registered to the latest testing standard. Stock made or imported before this date can continue to be sold. Over the transitional period, both labels will be displayed in stores. The new labels will not have a green bar on the bottom, and they can accommodate super energy efficient machines up to 10 stars by adding a four-star crown above the label.

Freezer position

Think about your typical fridge and freezer usage and whether the type of fridge you're considering matches it.

  • The fresh-food compartment is used more often than the freezer, so having it on top or at the side improves accessibility.
  • Bottom-mounted freezers tend to have slide-out baskets instead of shelves, making contents easy to get at. But there can be a disadvantage: the crispers in fridges with the freezer at the bottom are sometimes too cold.
  • Each compartment of a side-by-side model tends to be narrow and deep. This can make them difficult to reach into — slide-out shelves can help — and can also restrict storage options (we couldn’t fit a frozen pizza flat in some). But the narrow doors can be less intrusive into passage space in the kitchen when open.
  • Generally, the tall compartments of side-by-sides can make the even distribution of cold air difficult, so you'll get variations in temperatures throughout the fridge and freezer, particularly at the top. When installing a side-by-side, be warned that the cabinets tend to twist unless you're very careful about height adjustment.
  • Check that the fridge can fit through your home's doorways before you buy — particularly if you're considering a side-by-side fridge.
  • Pigeon pairs are separate-but-matching fridge and freezer. These give you more options for storage than a side-by-side combined fridge/freezer, but will take up more space and have a much wider footprint.
  • With pigeon pairs, you have the option of not putting the two components next to each other — you can put the freezer in another room — unlike side-by-sides.

Also, bear in mind that all fridges need at least a few centimetres of air space around them. Measure your available space, and brochures in the shop or the fridge’s manual will tell you how much space to allow — as does our Compare fridges feature.

Why are top mounted fridges generally more energy efficient?

The answer lies in the nature of convection, the working of the heat exchanger and the position of the compressor which produces a lot of heat. Convection is the way air circulates due to differences in temperature. Basically, the warmer air rises and the cooler air falls. In the early fridges, this was the only way the air inside the compartments circulated, so the freezer was always at the top and there were cooling coils for both fridge and freezer. The cooling is done using the compression and expansion of the refrigerant which flows through the cooling coils.

Modern fridges don’t rely quite so much on convection as they use fans to circulate the air inside the compartments. These fans usually turn off when you open the door so that cold air isn’t blown out while you’re getting your food out of the fridge. They also usually have only one set of cooling coils which and the cold air is circulated into the appropriate compartments. The freezer is still the compartment that needs the most cooling and in a bottom mount fridge it is right next to the heat producing compressor, so that more energy is required to keep it cold. In addition, the cold air needs to be forced up to the fresh food compartment against the natural flow of convection and this also uses energy. A top mounted freezer is a long way from the compressor, so is easier to keep cold and the natural flow of the cold air produced takes it to the fresh food compartment as well requiring less work by the circulation system.

Controls

  • A single control may seem easier to use, but as it sets both the freezer and the fresh-food compartment, you can't adjust one without affecting the other. In most fridges with two controls, one is the thermostat and the second is usually a baffle — a flap that directs the cold air more to either one or the other compartment.
  • Having two controls doesn't always make adjusting the temperature any easier, but may increase your chances of getting the right temperature balance between the fridge and freezer.
  • Some electronic fridges have relatively independent temperature management of the two compartments, which better addresses the problem.
  • Some have a 24-hour memory that monitors door openings and precools the fridge before a period of heavy use — such as when the kids get home from school or you're preparing dinner.
  • And some automatically manage the defrosting to suit the conditions.

For ease of use

  • Reversible door: Make sure the door opens in the right direction for your kitchen. On some models the doors are reversible but you may have to call in a service person to do it.
  • Do the handles allow easy door opening and closing? Note that the level of difficulty, in most cases, will increase when the fridge is working (as opposed to a display model that's not operating). Make sure the handles aren't too high or too low.
  • Check that the shelves (and door shelves) are easy to remove and replace, and that the range of shelf positions suit your needs. For example, can you stand soft-drink or wine bottles in the door shelves? Split shelves can be handy for this.
  • Some shelves are made from moulded plastic or safety glass, which helps confine spills. But some plastic shelves may not be as durable as those made from other materials.
  • If the fridge has to be positioned with the door hinge next to a wall, shelves should be removable with the door open at only 90 degrees.
  • Rollers are useful for easy moving — when cleaning behind the fridge, for example. It should also have adjustable feet (or rollers) for levelling the fridge. Four rollers are better than two, provided they have brakes or adjustable feet to secure the fridge in place.
  • Look for smooth, easy to clean surfaces with no awkward corners or dirt-trapping crevices.
  • Some fridges have a warning beep if you leave the door open too long.

Features

  • A chiller is important if you often store meat, fish and poultry (fresh or cooked), to keep it at a safe temperature and for longer. If you're choosing a fridge with a chiller feature, the chiller’s temperature should be close to zero and ideally it has a separate temperature control.
  • A quick-chill zone close to the cold-air outlets is handy for cooling drinks quickly, but food left there too long can freeze. Some CHOICE readers have told us that far from being useful, they find this zone reduces the amount of usable space.
  • A dairy compartment is convenient for keeping butter and hard cheeses slightly soft.
  • Look for a well-sealed crisper drawer to keep vegetables fresh; check that the fridge's air outlets don't blow onto it, as this will dry food out faster. A good crisper means you don't have to put your fruit and vegies in plastic bags.
  • Ice trays with a dispenser or other special containers are available on some models.
  • A water and ice dispenser on the outside of the door means it isn’t constantly opened for cold drinks.
  • Some water dispensers and ice makers/dispensers need to be connected to a water tap — important to consider before installing or moving your fridge. Also, they can take up almost 30% of your freezer space. With others, water can be dispensed from a container inside the door.
  • You may also want to consider a water filter for your water dispenser and icemaker which will also need to be plumbed in. If possible try to connect your fridge to an existing water filter — it'll save you additional costs for filter cartridges.

Some thoughtful questions from an online member prompted us to think about the positives and negatives of upright versus chest freezers. So if you are in the market for a stand-alone freezer, here are some things to consider.

Running costs

The percentage running cost difference between an upright and chest freezer can be calculated if you get the current manufacturer label values for their upright frost-free freezers and similar sized large chest units. The uprights will probably only be a little higher in energy because the compressors used in the more expensive upright models are usually more efficient than the less expensive chest products even though the chest design can have a lower energy loss. We may do this the next time we test freezers.

Food storage life

The storage life of your food won't be quite as good in an upright because there is likely to be more temperature variation from automatic defrosts and door openings. A chest freezer can be very awkward to use but its shape does mean little cold air escapes when the lid is opened.

With extra precautions the upright can perform well if the door isn't opened for too long or too often. Avoid putting sensitive food at the top of the upright - this area will have the most temperature variation and warming with defrosts, door openings and compressor cycling.

Most importantly set your freezer to at least -18°C. Properly check the temperature with a number of thermometers left inside. Your food will need to be more fully wrapped with as much air excluded as possible in a frost free upright because the circulating less humid air will dry out food much more than the static air in a chest freezer.

A freezer model which has small temperature fluctuations (from the compressor running then stopping) will give better food storage life and quality but this information is only available for CHOICE tested models.

In both chest and uprights the compressor step - which is a small outcrop where the plastic or metal casing is shaped inward making space for the compressor behind it - can be a little warmer than other locations so again sensitive foods are best not stored there.

Is one type more prone to rust?

Corrosiveness of manufactured panels in fridge/freezers is difficult to assess. We do carry out appliance reliability surveys every few years which give you some indication of the amount of repairs which may include resistance to rust. Also check your warranty details - rust is not always fully covered, or only to perforation of metals. You might want to check that the inner panels are plastic rather than steel.

Why are uprights difficult to find?

Upright freezers are not unpopular, however the market is dominated by fridge/freezers rather than pigeon pair combination options like upright freezers. This could be for a variety of reasons. Size and tradition come to mind and most households don’t have an additional stand alone freezer.

Ease of use

You should also consider ease of access if you want to purchase a stand-alone freezer. Bending over into a large chest freezer could be difficult for older people, for example.

Your say - Choice voice

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