Refrigerators are at least 30 percent less power hungry today than they were before 1993, and they no longer rely on environmentally damaging chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants. Still, with further enhancements in the offing, it may pay to wait if you don’t need a new one immediately. Models made as of July 2001 will have to meet new efficiency standards that are up to 30 percent more stringent than today’s. And by 2003, new models must also be made with insulation that doesn’t contain hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which can harm the earth’s ozone layer, though less so than CFCs.
However, some brands, including Amana, Kenmore (sold by Sears), KitchenAid, and Maytag, have introduced models that come close to the 2001 efficiency goal. Savings can be substantial, considering that your refrigerator may account for up to one-fifth of your annual electricity bill.
How does it add up?
Based on average U.S. energy rates, our top-rated Maytag top-freezer, the cheapest to run of the models tested for this report, would cost $43 less a year to operate than the costliest models tested, the two General Electric side-by-sides. If these electricity rates remained steady, you’d save 602 over the typical 14-year life of the appliance. If rates rose, you’d pocket more. Over the long run, you’d come out ahead even if you went with the Maytag rather than the Hotpoint, the cheapest to buy of the tested top-freezer models. The Hotpoint sells for $280 less, but the Maytag could eventually cost you $420 less to operate.
We rated 21 top-freezer, bottom-freezer, and side-by-side models from the major brands, based largely on our energy-use measurements and the results of a battery of temperature tests in an environmental chamber. The models have a stated capacity of 20 to 23 cubic feet. That’s midsized to large for a top- or bottom-freezer unit, smallish for a side-by-side. For each model, we also assessed noise and convenience.
Overall, the temperature results were quite good. The problems we found wouldn’t cause food to spoil under normal conditions. But a freezer that gets too warm may decrease the storage life of frozen foods; one that gets too cold may use more energy than necessary. You may want to place an appliance thermometer in the center of each compartment to help you adjust the controls for optimal performance.
Most of these machines have plenty of features, including spillproof glass shelves and a temperature-controlled meatkeeper. Some also have expensive amenities, such as a through-the-door ice and water dispenser or filtration for that system.
Top-freezer models. These account for about two-thirds of all sales and are generally cheaper to buy and operate than comparable side-by-side models. They also use their space more efficiently. Around three-quarters of a top-freezer refrigerator’s stated capacity is usable, compared with two-thirds for a side-by-side model.
Bottom-freezer models. Their operating cost and space efficiency are on a par with the better top-freezer models, but they typically sell for more. The design is more sensible, since main-space items are at eye level; you need bend only to access the freezer. The problem is availability; the market for bottom-freezer models is small and, except for Amana, most brands offer just one model, or none at all.
Side-by-side models. Part of the main space and the freezer is conveniently at eye level. Also, the narrow doors may open fully in an area that’s too cramped for the larger door of one of the other types. Many side-by-sides have an ice and water dispenser, which isn’t usually the case with top- and bottom-freezer models. But any side-by-side’s compartments may be too narrow to store, say, a big turkey. We also found that many tested units had trouble maintaining uniformly cold temperatures.
Some large side-by-sides and bottom-freezer models are wide and shallow so they stand almost flush with cabinets. We will test some “built-in-look” side-by-sides, as well as true built-ins such as the Sub-Zero brand, later this year.
In recent years, we’ve found that the latest refrigerators are invariably less obtrusive than than their predecessors. This time, the quietest models had a barely audible low-pitched whir. Even the worst machines were tolerable.
Some manufacturers offer a choice of sound-insulation packages. Maytag, for example, has the Quiet Pack, Quiet Plus, and EQ Plus, the last being the most expensive. To see how they differ, we compared the tested Maytag top-freezer and side-by-side models (both with EQ Plus) with two nonrated Maytags, the MTB2154A (a top-freezer model with Quiet Pack) and the MSD2354A (a side-by-side with Quiet Plus). The rated units sell for $125 to $250 more than their brandmates. Sound-meter readings and a panel of listeners concluded that the differences were noticeable but minor; the side-by-side with Quiet Plus was almost as silent as the high-end Maytag, while the top-freezer model with Quiet Pack was a touch noisier than the others.
Decide on a size and a style, then choose a refrigerator that’s energy efficient. Brand reliability is important, too, especially if you want an icemaker or ice and water dispenser, which can increase maintenance problems (see “Repair History” on page 49).
- Among top-freezer models, the Maytag MTB2156B[W], $850, excelled in almost every category. The Amana TR21V2[W], $760, is a bit noisier but less expensive and as good a performer. All the bottom-freezer models performed very well.
- Among side-by-side models, the Maytag MSD2356A[W], $1,350, performed very well, and it’s fairly large. The Kenmore 5728, $1,300, has the lowest operating cost of any side-by-side tested. (Its replacement, the 5924, $1,150, should perform similarly.) The Whirlpool Gold GD22DFXF[W], $1,500, is worth a look because of that brand’s repair record.
Ratings & Recommendations
After size and styling, key considerations are efficiency, features, and brand reliability.
Know the choices See “Refrigerator Types” in the main report for the pros and cons of top-freezer, bottom-freezer, and side-by-side models. “Features Rundown,” on page 48, lists the extras that set models apart.
Find a size that fits Measure the width and height of the area where the refrigerator will stand, and be sure there’s enough clearance to swing open the doors all the way. “Similar models” should have the same exterior dimensions as rated models.
Know the brands Refrigerators sold under different brands sometimes share traits because they have a common manufacturer. Among the models tested, Frigidaire makes the Frigidaire and Frigidaire Gallery lines; the latter is generally pricier. General Electric makes GE, GE Profile, and GE Profile Performance (the latter two being the company’s upscale lines), and Hotpoint (which usually has fewer features and costs less than GE models). Sears’ Kenmore refrigerators, the best-selling brand in the U.S., cover a broad range and are made, we’ve determined in our lab, by several manufacturers including General Electric and Whirlpool. Whirlpool also makes Whirlpool and Whirlpool Gold models, as well as KitchenAid (an upscale brand) and Roper (a basic budget line). Maytag, known for its relatively high-priced appliances, makes refrigerators that are fairly inexpensive given their numerous features.
Details on the models
Most models have: * Pullout, spillproof glass shelves in the main space. * Adjustable bins or shelves and shelf snuggers in main-space doors. * One or two crispers. * Temperature controls in the front of the main space (bottom-freezer models have main-space temperature controls in the back). * A temperature-controlled meatkeeper that worked very well (most meatkeepers without a control worked adequately). * An ice-maker that makes more than 212 lb. of ice per day (side-by-side units also have an ice and water dispenser). * A choice of white, almond, and sometimes black. * At least one freezer light. * A warranty of at least 1 yr. (5 yr. on refrigeration parts).
Dimensions are height, width, and depth; allow for clearance to fully open the door. Cubic feet (cu. ft.) is the manufacturer’s claimed capacity, followed by our measurement of usable space.
1.Maytag MTB2156B[W] $850
* 6614x33x2912 in. * Cu. ft.: 20.7 (14.8 usable)
Superb all around. Recommendation: Excellent.
* 67x33x3112 in. * Cu. ft.: 20.6 (15.2 usable)
Nearly as efficient as (1). Better than others at maintaining its temperatures during hot weather. Similar model: TX21V, $700, may be noisier. Recommendation: Very good and a good value.
3.Kenmore (Sears) 7820 $900
* 65 3/4×32 3/4×31 1/2 in. * Cu. ft.: 21.6 (15.4 usable)
Energy efficient and quiet. But: No meatkeeper control. Similar models: 6820, $850; 6920, $850 (both with optional ice-maker); 7920, $900. Recommendation: Very good.
4.Whirlpool Gold GT22DKXG[W] $870
* 65 3/4×32 3/4×31 in. * Cu. ft.: 21.6 (15.6 usable)
Has sliding half-shelf for flexible storage. But: No meatkeeper control; meatkeeper’s temperature performance is fair. Similar model: Whirlpool ET22RKXG, $750. Recommendation: Very good.
5.GE Profile TBX22PRY[WW] $1,100
* 67 1/2×31 1/4×31 3/4 in. * Cu. ft.: 21.5 (15.5 usable)
Has ice and water dispenser. Temperature controls are in the back of the main space. Availability: Discontinued. Similar model: TBX22PRB, $1,400. Recommendation: Very good; expensive.
6.KitchenAid Prestige KTRP22KG[WH] $800
* 65 3/4×32 3/4×30 1/2 in. * Cu. ft.: 21.6 (15.0 usable)
No meatkeeper control, pullout shelves, or freezer light. Recommendation: Very good.
7.Whirlpool ET21PKXG[W] $650
* 65 3/4×32 3/4×30 in. * Cu. ft.: 20.9 (15.6 usable)
No meatkeeper control, shelf snuggers, pullout shelves, or freezer light. Similar model: ET21GKXG, $610. Recommendation: Very good and a good value.
* 67×31 1/4×31 1/2 in. * Cu. ft.: 21.6 (17.1 usable)
More usable space than others. Temperature controls are in the back of the main space. But: Main space got too warm when room was hot. No pullout shelves. Similar model: TBX22ZAB, $700 (optional ice-maker). Recommendation: Very good; relatively costly to run.
9.Frigidaire Gallery FRT20NGC[W] $750
* 65×32 1/4×31 in. * Cu. ft. 19.9 (14.3 usable)
2-yr. warranty. But: Makes less ice per day than others. No pullout shelves. Recommendation: Very good, but from one of the less reliable brands of top-freezer models.
10.Hotpoint CTX21DIB[WW] $570
* 67×31 1/4×30 1/2 in. * Cu. ft.: 20.6 (16.2 usable)
More usable space than most. Temperature controls are in the back of the main space. But: Main space got too warm when room was hot. No meatkeeper control, shelf snuggers, pullout shelves, adjustable door shelves, or freezer light. Similar models: CTX21DAB, $600 (optional icemaker), CTX21EAB, $550; CTX21BAB, $500. Recommendation: Very good, but spartan.
11.Maytag MSD2356A[W] $1,350
* 68 3/4×32 3/4×32 1/2 in. * Cu. ft.: 22.9 (15.3 usable)
The best combination of performance, quiet, and efficiency among side-by-sides. Has hand crank to adjust one shelf. Can lock filtered ice and water dispenser. Can make more than 6 lb. of ice per day, although ice-storage bin holds only about half that. Recommendation: Very good.
12.Kenmore (Sears) 5728 $1,300
* 66 1/4x33x32 in. * Cu. ft.: 21.7 (12.9 usable)
Cheapest side-by-side to run and only a bit louder than (11). Can lock ice and water dispenser. But: Freezer got too warm when room temperature dropped. Uses space less efficiently than others. No shelf snuggers. Availability: Discontinued. Similar model: 5924, $1,150, may be quieter. Recommendation: Very good.
13.Whirlpool Gold GD22DFXF[W] $1,500
* 66 1/4x33x31 3/4 in. * Cu. ft.: 21.7 (12.9 usable)
Can lock filtered ice and water dispenser. But: Freezer got too warm when room temperature dropped. Uses space less efficiently than others. Recommendation: Very good.
14.Amana SXD23V[W] $1,000
* 68 1/4x36x30 1/2 in. * Cu. ft.: 23.1 (15.0 usable)
Has beverage-chiller, filtered ice and water dispenser. Temperature controls are in the back of the main space. But: Warm spots in refrigerator door during normal operation. No meatkeeper control or main-space pullout shelves. Recommendation: Very good, but from one of the less reliable brands of side-by-side models.
15.Frigidaire FRS22ZRG[W] $970
* 67 1/2×35 1/4×31 1/4 in. * Cu. ft.: 22.3 (15.3 usable)
Has filtered ice and water dispenser. Mainspace temperature controls are in the back of the main space. But: Warm spots in main space during normal operation. No shelf snuggers or main-space pullout shelves. Similar model: FRS22ZGG, $1,150. Recommendation: Very good.
16.Kenmore (Sears) 5707 $1,150
* 66 1/4x33x29 3/4 in. * Cu. ft.: 19.8 (11.7 usable)
Can lock ice and water dispenser. But: Warm spots in freezer door during normal operation and inside freezer when room temperature dropped. No shelf snuggers or main-space pullout shelves. Less usable space than others. Availability: Discontinued. Similar model: 5904, $975, may be quieter. Recommendation: Good.
17.GE Profile TFX22PRB[WW] $1,250
* 67 1/2×33 1/2×30 1/2 in. * Cu. ft.: 21.6 (14.3 usable)
Temperature controls are in the back of the main space. But: Warm spots in freezer when room temperature dropped. Similar model: GE Profile Performance TFX22PPB, $1,340. Recommendation: Good, but GE has been one of the less reliable brands of side-by-side models.
* 67 1/2×33 1/2×30 1/2 in. * Cu. ft.: 21.7 (14.8 usable)
Temperature controls are in the back of the main space. But: Refrigerator became too cold or warm when room temperature changed. No mainspace pullout shelves. Similar model: TFX22ZPB, $1,050. Recommendation: Good, but from one of the less reliable brands of side-by-side models.
19.Kenmore (Sears) 7727 $1,000
* 68×32 3/4×32 3/4 in. * Cu. ft.: 21.7 (15.3 usable)
More usable space than others of this type. Availability: Discontinued, but may still be available. Similar model: 7927, $925. Recommendation: Very good.
* 68 1/4×32 3/4×31 3/4 in. * Cu. ft.: 20.5 (14.4 usable)
Door shelves and bins not adjustable. Recommendation: Very good and a good value.
21.Amana BB120T[W] $1,500
* 70x36x27 in. * Cu. ft.: 19.7 (13.5 usable)
Built-in look; wide and shallow so unit can stand almost flush with cabinets. Similar models: BB120TP, $1,650; BRF20T, $1,500. Recommendation: Very good, but expensive.
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