Fridge-freezer buying guide
By S21, 30 Sep 2015
Fridge-freezers are superb space savers, and can make a real impact to a designer kitchen. Whether you're looking for a compact integrated fridge-freezer, or a stunning American-style model, you'll be wanting reliability, practicality and value. But how to find your way through the bewildering choice? Ask S21!
Choosing the right brand
They say you get what you pay for, but that's not always true. Sometimes you can spend a lot of money and still buy a lemon. And if you shop carefully, you can get a great product for a low price. Key to choosing the best fridge-freezer is brand. By picking a reliable brand you're already halfway there.
The most reliable, long-lasting appliances are made by German company, Miele. Miele is expensive, but its products are super-reliable and built to last, so you should consider them as an investment.
Other German makes such as Bosch, Siemens, Liebherr, Neff and AEG score highly for reliability too, although they also command a premium price tag.
Korean newcomers, LG and Samsung, have built a solid reputation for reliable appliances, and they are often innovative in their designs. Early Samsungs tended to be unreliable, but the current generation seem to be much better made.
In the budget sector, Beko, produces surprisingly well-rated kitchen appliances for a fraction of the cost of the high-end makes.
At the bottom end of the reliability scale, we find Hotpoint, Hoover and Whirlpool. These manufacturers have tended to clock up more than their fair share of problems. It does depend on specific models however, so these brands are not necessarily to be avoided.
Build quality &ergonomics
The quality of a device isn't simply down to the brand. Within a brand's range, there can be a significant variation in build quality and the materials used. Plastic finishes can look cheap, but are often robust and practical. Metal exterior finishes have a luxurious look, but can sometimes be prone to scratches or dents.
Ergonomics vary considerably too, and are impossible to assess from a company's website. Doors that are stiff to open, or poorly-positioned handles can quickly become a nuisance. Shelving that can't be adjusted, or is just the wrong type can drive you up the wall. We check these features in our reviews, and each and every fridge-freezer seems to be different in this regard.
Size & capacity
This is an obvious one. But manufacturers' specifications don't tell you everything. An intelligently- designed interior can give you a lot more usable space than one that's less well thought-out. Look for plenty of storage space in the door, adjustable height shelves, and split shelves.
Also consider the form factor - a traditional fridge over freezer design, or a side-by-side American-style model, or one of the newer Multi-zone models, which have wide refrigerated drawers with adjustable temperature for maximum flexibility. If space is very tight, then a fridge with a small freezer compartment may be the right solution.
When buying, it's obviously important not to pay more than you need, but it's also worth giving consideration to future needs. A kitchen appliance is a fixed feature that may last for many years, and it's wise not to choose something that you'll outgrow.
The good news is that all makes and models of fridge-freezer have become more energy efficient in recent years, but there are still variations. Often it's obvious - a larger appliance will use more energy, and big American-style fridges in particular can be gas guzzlers. Generally speaking, more expensive models will include more energy-efficient features such as better insulation and more efficient motors. All modern fridge-freezers are rated A+, A++ or A+++ for efficiency.
There's nothing more annoying than a noisy fridge in your kitchen, humming constantly and raising ambient noise levels. Noise levels can vary significantly between brands and models, so add this to your checklist when buying.
Water & ice dispensers
Common in American-style fridge-freezers, these provide a convenient way of dispensing cold water and sometimes ice cubes too. They're a stylish and useful feature, but they do take up interior space. The most useful dispensers are plumbed into the water mains, so obviously you'll need to allow for this during installation. Less convenient are the kind that you have to top up manually.
Plumbed dispensers include water filters, and these can be quite expensive to replace.
Modern devices often use LED lighting instead of traditional bulbs. These can offer brighter, more uniform interior lighting if imaginatively used, and don't need replacing. They also use less electricity, although this isn't usually a significant factor in overall energy consumption.
Manufacturers are always introducing new innovations. Frost-free designs are highly recommended, avoiding the need for defrosting. Easy-open doors are helpful, especially for more elderly users, or anyone who struggles with poorly-designed fridge doors. Fan-assisted cooling can help to maintain more uniform temperatures, although it also contributes to noise and is one more thing to go wrong. Antibacterial linings have appeared in recent years too. We can't say that we're convinced by these - many medical professionals doubt their effectiveness.
Please leave a comment below if you have any questions, or want to share your experience with others, or leave a review of a specific model in our fridge-freezer reviews section.
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