Buying a new refrigerator isn't something you do every day. You may only buy a refrigerator once or twice in your life, so you'll learn more about buying cars than refrigerators. That's because apartments and houses usually come with a refrigerator. As long as it fits the space and works, you probably won't replace it.
But the refrigerator in my new house doesn't work, so it's time for a new one. Unfortunately the home inspection didn't uncover the problem, although we discovered the refrigerator didn't kept things cold. Getting heat was our first priority. Now it's time for a new refrigerator, and if you're wondering how we could delay this decision – it's because we have two refrigerators. (Read: Two Kitchens and Two New Refrigerators)
Buying a Refrigerator – Where to Start
This is the sixth refrigerator we're buying, so I've got more experience than the average homeowner … but still learning. We built one house, remodeled several kitchens and had to replace a Whirlpool refrigerator because the ice maker kept creating a frozen waterfall (my husband called it Niagra Falls in miniature). Fortunately the builder warranty on the refrigerator covered about 90% of the cost of the replacement, plus we got $700 for the food we lost.
We'll always remember the San Jose kitchen remodel where we learned a lot. When we slid the new refrigerator into place, we knew we were in trouble because the refrigerator blocked the doorway into the dining room. That's when we learned that the size of your refrigerator matters a lot!
The other lesson I'm learning about buying a refrigerator is I'm not a shopper. If I could wave a magic wand and have a new refrigerator appear in my house, one that fits the space, with water and ice in the door, I'd be very happy. In fact I made the same mistake most consumers buy, I went shopping before I'd done my research and that's not a good idea.
But wait, what's the right way to buy a refrigerator? Here are the steps I recommend (and used personally to buy my refrigerator) using to make a smart, savvy purchase. You can also download my free checklist on buying a refrigerator, to save yourself some time.
- Do some online research to learn what's important when buying a refrigerator.
- Visit several websites to learn what refrigerator style appeals to you. First you want to recognize what the styles are called, which you can do on a manufacturer or retail site. Then you want to see that style in a kitchen setting on sites like Pinterest or Houzz.
- Now you're ready to visit an appliance store. Why? How the refrigerator interior is arranged is a lot more important than it's exterior look. Because I like to snack all day, on yogurt, fruits and vegetables, a French door refrigerator works best for me.
- Last, it's time to research your top choices (2 or 3 recommended) to get the best price and make sure the manufacturer and model have a good track record with respect to repairs.
Non-Negotiable Requirements When Buying a Refrigerator
There are 2 sets of criteria you'll need to consider when buying a refrigerator – things you need (non-negotiable) and things you want (features you like). The dimensions of the refrigerator are non-negotiable unless you're willing to reconfigure your kitchen. Having an external water and ice dispenser is a nice feature (my favorite) but not essential, e.g. I might pay a few hundred dollars extra but not a thousand dollars for this feature.
- Storage capacity to support your family size, how frequently you shop, your preferences for fresh versus packaged food and don't forget, you'll want a refrigerator that looks right when selling your home.
- Refrigerator dimensions to avoid having to adjust existing cabinets and/or walls. This includes both the space where your refrigerator sits, as well as enough room for the doors to swing open. Height is important too although raising/removing the cabinet above the refrigerator is easier to do.
- Energy efficiency, with EnergyStar recommended for lower electricity use and cost. As these standards change, you might find it easier to simply compare the Kwhs used when buying a refrigerator.
- Repair history so you can avoid repairs, which wastes a lot of time. Our waterfall refrigerator took five scheduled repairs before we got approval to replace it. While the extended warranty covered about 90% of the cost of the new refrigerator, it still took time to pick out a new refrigerator and schedule (twice) delivery and installation.
Buying a Refrigerator Includes Some Fun Decisions
Once you've dealt with the basics, it's time to explore the style and features you want in your new refrigerator. They all come in stainless, which represents about 70% of purchases today. Many models can be ordered in other colors although you'll probably pay the same price as stainless.
Features are one of those things where you really want to go to an appliance store and open lots of doors. We can describe them and manufacturers can share great photos. But other than videos like the one showcasing GE's new partnership, with a Keurig® coffee maker in the refrigerator door, it's hard to know what you'll like.
While it's impossible to list all the new refrigerator features you can find today, here are the ones we'll get with our new LG French door refrigerator.
- French door style so we can easily organize and find all the fruits and vegetables we eat daily.
- Ice and water dispenser in the door, which I use almost hourly.
- Dual ice makers, one in the door and a second one in the freezer with more storage capacity.
- Larger 28.8 cu ft because it's $500 cheaper than the counter depth version with 24 cu ft.
- 2014 Energy Star® compliant (not sure what this means yet) and what I really like are the new LED lights.
- Door shelves are wider, glass shelves and some of the drawers have interesting dividers but none were very important to me personally.
And here are some key factors that went into our decision to buy this particular refrigerator:
- Style as we loved our French door style refrigerator in New Hampshire.
- Purchased from a local, family owned appliance store, Spencer's in Mesa, Arizona.
- Service is provided by sister company, owned by the same family.
When Spencer's said they didn't sell Samsung because they don't have the repair parts or service infrastructure to provide good customer service, I dug a little more. Finding 2 of 3 other companies made the same decision, we picked a different brand.
Trust me, we didn't pay anything close to list price. In fact one of the great new web resources I discovered while researching which refrigerator to buy, was Shop.PriceSpider.com which provided me with this graph for the actual refrigerator I'm buying.
So if you're getting ready to buy a new refrigerator (love mine), then you'll want to download our checklist that makes it easy to compare your top choices.