We test up to 50 fridges a year. Most of us (or at least those of us born after the 1940s) probably take our refrigerator for granted. It seems a simple function, keeping things cool. But then, most things seem simple when viewed from a distance.
What happens inside your fridge when you live in a cold area, or a hot area? What happens when you put a load of groceries in? Does it mean those leftovers suddenly drop into an unsafe temperature zone for hours at a time? What happens when your compressor switches on? Does it mean there's a sudden spike in temperature? Is it the same temperature everywhere in your fridge, or is it different in every compartment and shelf?
When you start to look closely at fridges, they really are about keeping us safe from food poisoning. Never a fun experience. And when your fridge doesn't work well, it means you can't trust your food. Have you been blaming your local grocer for your milk going off too soon? It might be your fridge that's the problem. We test rigorously to make sure that fridges do well in every aspect of their performance. It's a long test, but it's a safety test so it's worth putting in the time to get it right.
With more than 30 years combined experience in our thermal laboratory, we are proud of our expert testers. They've seen all types of features and fridges come through the labs, but one thing never changes – a refrigerator needs to get your food cold and safe! We test many elements of a fridge, but our focus on these basics means that when it's time to buy, you can be sure the fridge you bring home does its job well.
On top of this, many of our testers sit on Standards committees, both national and international, so we keep up to date with how labs and manufacturers are changing the standards and to give consumers a voice in this forum, where sometimes only government and industry are represented.
Why do we choose one fridge over another to test? There are a number of reasons, but our priority is to test what you'll see in the stores. That means we might not cover that one brand that has one model that's sold 100 samples in Australia, and instead focus on the big brand models so you can at least see the fridge before you buy it to make sure you're happy with it.
How do we know what's in retailers? We check current market figures to see what's selling well – typically this means Westinghouse, Fisher & Paykel, Samsung and LG. We'll also include models that you've requested – if a lot of members want it, we're going to test it.
When we know what you want, our buyers go out and use your member fees to buy the fridges from a variety of retailers, then bring them in as is – this means we get what you get so we can be sure the results are what you'll find rather than potentially 'tweaked'.
Fridges is one of the longest tests at CHOICE. For such a simple device (we just want it to keep things cool!), the thermal properties take time to measure. We tend to test every few months, and do these in batches of up to 10 fridges at a time. We're always looking for ways to improve testing and undertake surveys of our members to find out what's important to them on a regular basis. Unsurprisingly, most people just want them to keep food safe, followed by "Will it fill the hole in my kitchen?".
Setting up fridges for testing is a long and arduous process. We use calibrated Platinum Resistance Thermometers (PRTs) and set lots of them consistently throughout each fridge in a variety of areas so we measure not just one area inside the fridge, but each compartment and shelf so you know where a given fridge is warmer and cooler than normal. We replicate these areas according to the Australian Standard AS/NZS 4474.2. Why? Because if you want to compare fridges fairly, you have to use the same conditions for all of them.
We put each of the fridges into a large thermal room so we can drop the temperature down to 5°C, or move it up to 45°C if we need to. The thermal rooms are sealed and the fridges run for up to four weeks to test a variety of elements that you tell us are important to you. This is all to minimise the amount of variables so you can see which fridge comes out best when comparing them. Where we can, we use the Australian Standard, and then add further tests to meet the real world needs of you, our members.
Where is the energy test?
We test the manufacturer energy usage claim to the Australia Standard. This test assesses the comparative energy consumption – that's the number on the energy label on the front of the fridge – and gives an indication of the amount of electricity used over one year of normal operation. Where the manufacturer claim is not met, we mark this with a fail, or a pass if it meets its claim or uses less than it claims. Where a fridge doesn't meet its claim, we don't recommend it, regardless of the performance.
We base the running costs off the claimed energy usage. The running cost is calculated from the energy used over 10 years, using a rate of 30 cents per kilowatt hour. Why 30 cents? Each year we survey each energy retailer for their average prices to get a national average. A 10-year period provides a useful indication of the long-term differences between high and low energy usage.
Temperature stability (30%)
We assess the amount the temperatures fluctuate as the compressor stops and starts (this is because even temperature is an important factor in maintaining food quality). The higher the score, the less the temperature swing.
Temperature range (25%)
We check temperatures in the fresh food and freezer compartments at the same time. For example, can you set the freezer at the coldest setting for longer freezer storage while keeping the fresh food section at an optimum 3°C? The higher the score, the better the temperature management between the fridge and freezer compartments.
Response to outside temperature change (20%)
We measure the effect of external ambient temperature changes on the fridge and freezer temperatures, such as from summer to winter. The higher the score, the more stable the fridge temperature is maintained.
Temperature evenness (20%)
We measure how uniform the temperature is throughout each compartment. The higher the score, the more uniform and the less fluctuations throughout compartments.
Default setting (5%)
Many readers tell us they only change the temperature setting once, so we assess the temperatures on this setting. If no recommendation is given, we assess the factory or mid-setting. A poor score for this means you should use a fridge/freezer thermometer to get optimum temperatures – but we recommend you do this for any fridge.
Not all fridges are created equal when it comes to keeping your food fresh and safe to eat. Our food safety score is made up of three elements of our testing which impact how well a fridge will keep your food:
- Temperature stability (40%)
- Temperature evenness (30%)
- Response to outside temperature (30%)
We don't recommend any fridge with a keeping food fresher longer score under 55%.
New fridges, particularly frost-free ones, make a combination of noises that some people may find annoying. Fridges can sound noticeably louder when the compressor starts up and during the defrost cycle. Some models have an external fan system to help keep the compressor cool, which can add to the noise level. Also, plastics inside the fridge can make loud noises as they expand and contract with temperature changes.
The design of your kitchen and the fridge's location will affect what you'll hear. Our test tells you which models are noisier during normal running, but some of these more unusual noises can be more noticeable with models that are quieter during normal running.
We measure noise in Decibels (dBa) (lower is quieter), but because this may not mean much to some readers we also provide a percentage noise score (higher is better).
We don't include noise in our overall score because it's such a subjective experience based around your environment.
We maintain a thermal lab that's up to date with the latest reference machines and calibrated measurement tools to bring you results you can count on.