Consumer Reports’ tests of more than 200 refrigerators found that increased competition among manufacturers has been good for consumers, with many well priced models rising to the top of the ratings. But testers also found plenty of pricey and overhyped duds that don’t deliver.
More good news: The Energy Star program is making it easier to spot the most efficient refrigerators. And makers are offering new technologies on pricier products and popular features on less expensive models.
Here’s what Consumer Reports found:
Features (and fridges) expand. High-end features, such as temperature controlled drawers, adjustable shelves, split shelves, and internal water dispensers, are increasingly available on even the most affordable refrigerators. The Whirlpool WRT771REY, $1,100, is one of the few top-freezers to offer an external water dispenser with built-in filtration. Two tested French-door refrigerators, the LG LFX31925, $3,000, and the Kenmore Elite 7205, $2,850, come loaded with features, including through-the-door ice and water dispensers, LED interior lights, and dual evaporators designed to maintain optimal humidity in their fresh food sections. At a claimed capacity of 31 cubic feet, they’re also among the roomiest refrigerators Consumer Reports has ever tested.
Beyond Energy Star. As the program turns 20, a new Most Efficient designation has been rolled out for appliances that are roughly 10 percent more efficient than Energy Star models and at least 30 percent more than non-Energy Star ones. Choosing a Most Efficient refrigerator over a non-Energy Star model could save you roughly $200 during the life of the unit.
The renewed focus on efficiency should help spur innovation. The side-by-side GE GSH25JSC, $1,100, is 35 percent more efficient than the federal standard calls for thanks to its advanced compressor design and high-efficiency foam insulation. The SamsungRFG298HD, $2,800, also delivers exceptional efficiency, especially for a French-door model, with dual ice makers and external ice and water.
Professional-style in name only. Viking is synonymous with pro-style appliances. The Viking Designer DDFF136DD, $3,690, comes with the familiar logo, but the interior of this cabinet-depth French door refrigerator is as bare-bones as many entry-level models. Its efficiency is also unimpressive, though that’s one thing it has in common with some of its true pro-style brand mates.
How to choose
Keep these shopping tips in mind:
Check the specs. Make sure the refrigerator fits your kitchen. Remember to factor in the door swing in relation to adjacent walls, cabinets, and other appliances. Leave at least a 1-inch clearance around the unit and the surrounding cabinetry to ensure adequate air flow.
Consider your food-shopping habits. Do you do a big weekly shop or like to stock up on bulk purchases? Then you may need a larger capacity than the 19 to 22 claimed cubic feet that most manufacturers suggest for a typical family of four.
Use EnergyGuide labels wisely. Don’t look for the Energy Star alone, since efficiency standards vary by refrigerator type. A non-Energy Star-qualified top-freezer might be more efficient than a side-by-side with the label. For an apples-to-apples comparison, use the annual operating costs and the kilowatt-hours per year the refrigerator uses, which are listed on the yellow EnergyGuide label.
Don’t be afraid to haggle. Those who did saved a median of $93 on a large appliance, according to a Consumer Reports survey. When negotiating, basic courtesy goes further with salespeople than hardball tactics. Skip extended warranties.
Consider shopping online. Online sales hit nearly 10 percent in 2011, up from barely a blip a decade earlier, according to Ipsos, a market-research company. But you may still want to go to a showroom to check fit, finish, and features, and give the retailer a chance to match an online price.