Your refrigerator is toast. The compressor is on its last legs and would cost more to repair or replace than you want to spend. It's been a long time since you felt any resistance from the door seal when popping it open. There's a drip or, worse, a pool of water collecting. The unit runs all the time. And, your food is spoiling. The fridge has become one of those kitchen appliances that occupy space without providing results. Now what?
If you've priced kitchen appliances lately, you're probably wondering what happened to simple units that cooled food efficiently rather than provided accessory options for televisions, espresso machines, computers and smart phones. Do you buy a side-by-side freezer and fridge combo, or a top and bottom model? And do you really need a self-defrosting option that gulps down energy?
Smart kitchen appliances and smart homeowners
According to Washington's King County, top-bottom fridge and freezer units use 25 percent less energy than side-by-side models. The Department of Energy says in choosing an ENERGY STAR-compliant refrigerator, you'll save 20 percent on energy costs, tallying up to a $165 reduction in costs over the life of the unit. If you're still chilling your vittles with a unit from the 1980s, you'll save upwards of $100 a year by choosing a new model. That savings alone could pay for the difference between features.
The Department of Energy recommends passing on automatic ice makers with through-the-door dispensers. Those models increase the sales price by as much as $250 and can use 20 percent more energy than fridges without them.
Evaluating refrigerators by model
Bottom-freezer refrigerators are the fastest-growing models sold today, according to Consumer Reports, but they cost much more, and so do French-door and four-door models. Side-by-side refrigerators offer easy access in the small kitchen, but you may find it difficult to put wide objects (pizza boxes) on the shelves.
Built-in refrigerators cost the most among all your options. If you have the money, you can have optional front panels installed to match your cabinets or backsplashes. However, built-ins give you less space for the price.
Kitchen convenience costs money. Manual defrost refrigerators are considered more energy efficient than automatic defrost refrigerators. I'm just letting you know.