Buying the right fridge (2023 appliance guide)
There is so much more to buying the right fridge. We hope this guide will help you get what you need because it is not all about price, brand, type, colour, warranty, etc. – there are more important factors that affect usability.
The single most important tool for buying the right fridge
A tape measure is the most important tool in buying the right fridge. Measure your space – height, width, depth; note where the power point is and if you want a left or right opening door.
Once you have the measurements, add at least 50mm on each side and 100mm at the top for ventilation (more if you can). Most new fridges have a blank rear (hidden condenser coils), but you must leave room for the power plug and plumbing.
Hint: Some doors open to 90° within the fridge measurements, but many need extra width if you want to open past that. This may affect the cavity width and depth, and doors may need to be clear of the cavity.
Next is delivery access. Measure the front/rear door or elevator door that it will come through, as well as any choke points like hallways, stairs (and stair returns), etc. There is no point in buying a fridge you can’t get inside your home.
Hint: most fridge doors are easily removed to get through tight spaces. Front doors can also be removed to give extra width.
Hint: Take photos of the access and show them to the retailer before they quote delivery. Small fridges generally cost $100, and larger fridges cost $200, but they must charge extra for stairs, dismantling doors, removing the old fridge, etc. Be very specific, or risk the fridge being left for you to get it in place.
Why is size important?
Consumer research shows that most buy the largest capacity fridge they can get for their budget – bang for buck. It tends to be the primary focus, surpassing everything else – brand, type, colour, warranty, etc. It is pretty much the same for TVs. This guide will help you to get precisely what you need.
We are using Harvey Norman as the reference site. Prices are RRP (September 2023), subject to change, exclusive of discounts, price match or delivery fees.
Single-door, fridge, and small freezer compartment behind the main door.
They are mainly used in single occupancy, small apartments, and fit micro-kitchens. These are typically <200 litres and are not generally stocked by retailers but bought by apartment developers. Pro: Cheap <$400. Con: Many require manual defrosting and have lower energy efficiency. If replacing, it is vital to measure the available cavity and access space.
Usually sold as a Pigeon pair. This may solve access issues but take up more space as they have abutting side walls, although most have a door system that makes them look like one. These are often integrated into the kitchen cabinetry.
The mainstay. Typically, from around 200-300 litres for small apartments, up to 400-600 litres. Pro: Usually the cheapest to buy and run. Con: Smaller, less efficient freezer space without baskets or storage systems.
Becoming more popular despite being slightly more expensive. The design allows more energy and space-efficient freezer space with draws and baskets. Smaller models of 300-450 litres are <$1000. The freezer to fridge ratio is about 30/70%. You can get models that fit into 600 and 800mm wide cavities.
What we all want (when you can’t go French). These tend to be 500-700 litres and start from about $1500 to about $3000 (ignoring uber-expensive designer brands). They also can feature ice and water dispensers (more later). Things to be aware of is that the freezer can be relatively narrow and may not fit, say, a large frozen pizza. The fridge door shelves must be wide enough to fit large 2L soft drinks and juices. Look for two vegetable/fruit crispers with individual humidity controls and envisage whether everything in your fridge will fit the narrower space. The freezer/fridge ratio is about 35/65%. Some have door-in-door or glass viewing doors (more later).
French – oh là là.
These are called French Doors, after the actual double French Doors that open to allow more space. They are considered the most fashionable and command a premium for having a full-width fridge section. The freezer/fridge ratio is usually 40/60%, and they often come with integrated ice and chilled water (more later).
I have just upgraded from Fisher and Paykel 413L, 68cm wide, bottom mount freezer/fridge (as shown in that section) to the LG 637L French Door-in-Door 637L, 915mm wide. I will share some observations later.
Drawer Fridges or Freezers
Think of these as single or double filing cabinet fridges. They generally fit in a 900m wide cabinet with matching cabinetry front panels. Capacity starts at about 100L. Think of these like a drawer-style dishwasher – for space-saving or design reasons.
Designer fridges and freezers
LG has MoodUP LED panels for its 617L French InstaView double-tap door. This is purely for show. The panels can match the music beat and change colours to suit décors or moods.
Samsung has a range of Bespoke fridges and freezers that you can use separately or in combination.
Speciality fridges – bar, wine
Apart from being able to store your champagne red and white wine at the correct serving temperature, these are often the best solution if you find drinks (any type) taking up too much room in the fridge. For example, the $499 LG 8-bottle mini-Wine Fridge can also store 8 x 1.25L soft drinks and 24 x 375mm cans of beer at 8° – the perfect drinking temperature. Few larger wine fridges can have a 5-8° temperature zone – most have a single humidity-controlled zone.
Some fridge features
Consumer research has shown that bang for the buck usually overrides ‘marketing hype’. Here are a few marketing terms you may be convinced are valuable. Hint: They are not.
- Bacteria resistant. Translated: The fridge either keeps food at the correct temperature or it spoils.
- Nano, Silver, Ag clean or deodoriser: If a fridge smells, something is off. It is better to ‘know and throw’ than disguise it.
- Safe vegetable drawers: Most, if not all, vegetable crispers have a baffle to control airflow and humidity.
- Soft Freezing: It is frozen at -15 to -18 or not. You cannot store frozen food at higher -3 to -5 temperatures.
- Rapid Freezing: Some offer rapid freeze zones close to the freezer air outlet. Rapid freezing makes little difference to ordinary freezing.
- Wi-Fi or App: LG ThinQ, Samsung SmartThings and Hisense offer a fridge/freezer management app. These variously offer smartphone control and monitoring of temperature and energy use. Popular thought is that you don’t need, nor will you use, the App after you experiment with it and give all your details to the company. Fridges should not need an App to function. Avoid brands that insist on App use.
- LG Door-in-Door: Perhaps the most useful of all features is the ability to access fridge door storage without opening the whole fridge door and the precious cold air spilling out. Now that I own one, I would not go back.
- LG InstaView: Essentially a dark opaque glass panel that you double-tap to reveal what is inside. I could have paid more for the combo InstaView and Door-in-Door but did not see the value – I know what is inside the fridge.
- Samsung Family Hub: Essentially, a large Tizen OS, Wi-Fi LCD touchscreen tablet becomes part of the left-top fridge door. It has built-in internal cameras to show what is in the fridge. The smartphone App allows you to enter use-by dates or look for recipes. It can act as a picture frame, whiteboard, calendar, answer calls or Chromecast audio/video from a smartphone. If you are invested in the Samsung SmartThings ecosystem, it can act as a hub. It can add several hundred dollars to the equivalent-sized ‘dumb’ fridge, so make sure you have an actual use for it.
Every fridge has some form of adjustable shelving. The point is that it should be flexible enough to accommodate things as small as jam jars to as tall as wine and soft drink bottles. Some have half shelves (push-in) to accommodate some tall items. Take a few items when looking at fridges – a jam jar, tomato sauce bottle, soft drink bottle and more to see how they fit. After all, no fridge/freezer is as neat as the photos show.
Glass shelves are better than plastic and should have a no-leak lip.
Dairy Compartment or other speciality compartments
While having a warmer compartment to keep butter spreadable or a quick chill zone is nice, these are not deal breakers. Focus on the best use of space – not specialist compartments.
Cooling or Freezing Efficiency
All fridges should cool to around 3-5° and freezers to -15 to -18°. Most use a fan-assisted cold air outlet at the top as cold air falls. Some use multiple ducts for constant all-over compartment temperature in the fridge or freezer. Most do that anyway.
Look for the Energy Star rating. While it is important, the difference between a 3-, 4- or 5-star energy efficiency may be as little as $50 per star per year. As a rule of thumb, a typical non-designer fridge/freezer costs over ten years, e.g., a 600L, five-star costs, say, $1200, where a 600L, 3-star costs $2400.
- 3-star $3-4 per litre
- 4-star $2-3 per litre
- 5-star $1-2 per litre
The compressor removes heat by compressing refrigerant gas into a liquid and then expanding back to gas, ad infinitum. Refrigerators don’t so much cool as exchange heat inside the cabinet for cold via external coils (that is why the outside back of a fridge is warm).
Most fridges have an inverter compressor that uses a brushless motor that runs constantly at a variable speed as required by the compressor to maintain temperature. Typically, inverter motors are far quieter, last longer and use up to 70% less power. That is why you see 10-year plus parts (not labour) guarantees.
A cheap fridge uses a stop-start brush motor that powers up or down when the compressor requires it (you hear that start/stop noise).
White, Matte Black, Stainless Steel, Silver, Grey, Black Stainless, Colour, colour panel, Stainless… The operative word today is ‘FINISH’.
Gone are the days when you could assume a fridge and fridge magnet was a pigeon pair. Many fridges now have all the above FINISHES applied to impact-resistant ABS plastic or alloy panels – like most cars with painted plastic panels. It is not a huge issue unless you collect fridge magnets (a.k.a. the wife).
Water and Ice
Crushed, cubed, balled or designer ice and even flat or sparkling water. There are two types of water/ice connections. The best is plumbed in. Why? It provides a constant, non-refillable supply of water and ice. Non-plumbed fridges require a nominally 4L manually refillable water storage tank that takes up fridge space. Still, this is a good compromise if you cannot plumb it.
Ice makers integrated into the door take less space from the freezer. Some have ice storage makers and compartments that use valuable freezer space.
Baller or Craft ice (large cubes) may sound exotic but require additional space in the freezer and makes from three to six balls a day. It is nice but not the reason to buy.
How long will it last?
We all expect a fridge to last at least ten, if not twenty years. You can safely assume 6-10 years for low-cost fridges, 10-15 for most mid-range, and 15-20 for high-end. But most of the time, that lasting factor is more about replacing door seals, ice makers, and broken shelves or bits than how well it works.
Be highly sceptical of so-called reliability or customer satisfaction surveys:
- Brands like LG and Samsung sell thousands of times more fridges than smaller brands. No survey tells you the number of faults per 1000 sold – just that X number failed.
- Customer satisfaction awards are generally bought. Brands pay to be part of the awards. Be very sceptical of price comparison website awards.
Look for brands that have approved local service that comes to you.
For example, there is no point in buying a low-cost Chinese-made fridge or an exotic brand if they don’t have official service where you live.
- So-called ‘appliance repairer’ awards favour brands they can service – not the larger brands with Australia-wide service networks.
The more bits that can break will! The most reported issues (in order)
- Ice makers, especially those inside the freezer using a mechanical tilt ice tray. Other problems are old age (cheaper plastic gets brittle in a freezer) and calcium buildup (use and regularly change the water filter).
- Obtaining spare parts like ice makers, shelves, and compartment covers that the user has broken.
- Inconsistent temperatures across the chamber. The majority are fixed by door seal replacement. Door seals should be replaced every 7-10 years as the rubber hardens. Most Chinese-made fridges are yet to provide seal details to enable third-party-made seals.
- The least reported fault was compressor failure, especially true of inverter models.
Under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), the typical warranty is 12 months. Read ACL Consumer tech warranty is not a priority for the majority – it should be.
You receive far longer protection under ACL for manufacturing defects (major failures) or where the fridge has a particular issue affecting all of them. The ACCC can force a manufacturer recall for dangerous issues or at least the manufacturer to offer a no-cost fix. You have less protection against accessory breakage as the fridge can still do what it was designed for.
Some brands offer longer warranties – three years is a common carrot – knowing that even low-cost fridges will last that long. Some offer a 10+ year parts-only inverter warranty, knowing inverters seldom break down.
Do not buy an extended warranty or customer care plan.
The ACL guarantees consumer rights despite anything the supplier or manufacturer may say or do. If you buy an extended warranty for, say, five years, it is common knowledge that the salesperson, retailer, or supplier pockets that money as there is seldom a claimable issue. These are expensive carrots that you already have ACL protection for.
There are currently over 30 consumer brands sold by retailers. It is a highly competitive market, and deals can be done.
The majors are LG, Samsung, Electrolux, Fisher and Paykel, Westinghouse, Whirlpool, Kelvinator, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, and Hitachi.
Up-and-coming Chinese brands include Hisense, TCL, Haier, Beko/SMEG and ChiQ. Many of these own sub-brands like Esatto, Seiki, Linarie, Euromaid, Teka, etc. And even some of the majors make some models in China.
More exotic brands are Meile, Bosh, and Liebherr.
It comes down to service – you cannot beat LG and Samsung.
CyberShack’s view – Buying the right fridge
I went from a Fisher and Paykel 413L bottom mount freezer/fridge to an LG 637L French Door-in-Door.
First, I have been delighted with the F&P E442BRXFDUS (yes, it is still made) 413L bottom mount freezer (119L) /fridge (294L). It is a 1715 (H) x 680 (W) x 695 (D) commercial model for tighter spaces and has integrated water in the door and an auto icemaker/tray in the freezer. We inherited it when we bought the home in 2017. It has likely existed since before 2010. From what I can find, it is the only narrow-format plumbed-in fridge.
There was nothing wrong with it apart from needing new seals, and we had broken a few bits, like the butter compartment lid. For the two of us, it did a remarkable job, and we really liked the middle freezer tray, highly adjustable shelves, and we had a 6-bottle wine rack under one shelf. The point is that you get used to a fridge, how to stack it, and know what size bottles, etc., it fits.
Our journey started with the tape measure (which appears first in the guide). Fortunately, during renovations, we were able to increase the fridge cavity to around 1800 (H) x 950 (W) x 750 (D) without extensive demolition or cost.
Next, we knew we wanted a plumbed-in water/icemaker and a side-by-side door (we had not considered a French door).
We went to Harvey Norman and saw a lot of 500-600L side-by-side fridges from Hisense, Haier, Samsung, Westinghouse, and LG. Frankly, any would have done, and the Hisense price was tempting, except it did not have an icemaker. LG had a $2699 (around our budget) 635L plumbed ice/water maker. It also had the same fridge with Door-in-Door and InstaView for $2999. But the baller craft ice took up too much freezer space. It appears that as capacity increases, so does height.
Our criteria narrowed.
- Fit our new fridge cavity.
- 600L or more.
- Plumbed-in, slim, in-door ice and water – not taking up freezer space.
- We loved the idea of the LG Door-In-Door but were not taken with InstaView or Family Hubs.
- We liked the LG black stainless finish.
- And we would need to increase the budget for the French door as the side-by-sides did not offer what we wanted.
The answer was the LG 637L French Door Fridge, with Door-In-Door, in Black Stainless Finish Model GF-D706BSL at RRP $4199 – way beyond our budget. I won’t reveal our final buy price as we shopped around, and Harvey Norman was happy to price match. It is 1787 (H) x 915 (W) x 744 (D) – leaving just enough ventilation space.
What we like, and what we miss
You cannot compare a 637L fridge with a 413L one. It has enabled us to buy more bulk meat and frozen goods and take advantage of Woolworth’s 10% off monthly shop.
The in-door ice maker (top left) does not impinge on fridge and freezer space. The F&P lost about 30% of freezer space to the tray icemaker.
The full-width shelves are useful for large things like platters, and the 50% retractable shelf (top left) allows for 3 x 2L milk. There are also two hidden draws for medicines, etc.
The Door-in-door is sufficient reason alone to buy. On average, we open the door-in-door 20 times daily and the main fridge door about five times. It saves energy. It is big enough to store six 1.25L soft drink bottles, 2 x 2L milk and cooking cream, butter, cheese and four to six regular sauce bottles. Stuff that would litter the fridge.
We miss the F&P wine shelf (not shown), so we solved the issue in two ways. We moved the second shelf up to accommodate bottles of soft drink (giving more headroom for the third shelf). And we use the excellent LG 8-bottle mini-Wine Fridge for white wine, beer, coolers, and champagne.
The freezer is very useful. It has two sides (energy efficient), and each side has one top shelf (fits 4-6 loaves of bread), two huge baskets and three door shelves. While we miss F&P’s middle freezer shelf, which we used for meat portions) these easily fit into one basket.
Buying the right fridge – some caveats
- The fridge weighs 160kg and comes well packed in a larger cardboard box and pallet weighing closer to 200kg. While two men could get it out of the truck, it took a return visit, removal of doors, and four to lift it up the interior stairs. Be very specific when negotiating delivery costs.
- While it fits the cavity width and doors will open 90°, we needed to move it forward of the cavity walls to allow a 180° opening.
- The Black stainless finish is excellent to look at, but it is a fingerprint magnet. It is easy to clean, but in hindsight, a matte black paint may have been best.
- And fridge magnets don’t stick! The doors are BSL – Black Stainless Finish over an ABS or alloy material.
- Yes, it has ThinQ – no, you don’t have to use the App.
Buying the right fridge, Buying the right fridge, Buying the right fridge, Buying the right fridge