Buying the Best Freezer

Do you need a little extra storage space for your frozen food? Since most refrigerator freezers are not intended for long-term storage, a separate freezer can help you save money by buying on sale, in season and in bulk. If you are in the market for a new freezer, you'll want to consider the type, energy efficiency, frost-free versus defrosting, features like freezer shelves, size and access of the appliance. Understanding your storage needs, space and budget can help you find the right freezer for your household.

Freezers run most efficiently when they're full, so you want to avoid purchasing more freezer space than you'll use. Remember that food doesn't keep forever in a freezer, so stocking your freezer with items you won't readily use may result in keeping-thus wasting-food longer than what's considered optimal. As you'd expect, the smaller the freezer, the greener the freezer: Less capacity means less energy consumption.

Freezer capacity is measured in cubic feet, and freezers range in size from compact units with 1.3 cubic feet to large-scale units offering more than 25 cubic feet of storage. One cubic foot of freezer space holds approximately 35 pounds of food. Consider your shopping habits as well as the intended use of your freezer to determine the capacity you need. If you shop once a month and intend to refill the freezer after each trip, you'll need less capacity than households that purchase food in bulk or that cook large quantities of meals to freeze for later use.

Energy Efficiency and Placement
Although many kitchen appliances meet today's energy efficiency standards, not all freezers qualify for the Energy Star rating. Those freezers that have earned the Energy Star use at least 10% less energy than required by federal standards. Qualified models include upright freezers with automatic or manual defrost, and chest freezers that only offer manual defrost. You'll conserve energy, save money and lower your carbon footprint by choosing one of these freezers.

Where you intend to place your freezer also contributes to how energy efficient it can be. If possible, place your freezer in a pantry, basement or extra room in your house. Keeping freezers in the garage makes them susceptible to temperature changes, forcing compressors to work harder and use more energy in hot weather. This kind of wear and tear on the compressor can shorten the overall life of your freezer and increase the likelihood of repairs.

Upright Versus Chest
Freezers are available in chest and upright configurations. Chest freezers have a slight energy efficiency advantage over upright freezers as less cold air escapes from the compartment when the door opens. Chest freezers also tend to be better insulated than upright models. Choose a chest freezer if you plan to shop in bulk and need to store items for longer periods of time or if you regularly purchase large or other hard-to-fit items.

Upright freezers cost less initially than chest freezers, take up less floor space and retain cold better during a power outage, but they are slightly less energy efficient. Choose an upright freezer if you shop monthly or bimonthly to refill your freezer or if you're freezing smaller items. Unlike chest freezers, which are generally one large compartment, upright freezers often feature freezer shelves, baskets and bins that help keep food organized and easy to find.

Manual Defrost Versus Self Defrost
Manual defrost freezers are typically less expensive than self defrosting freezers, but you'll need to commit to defrosting the unit regularly in order to keep it running efficiently. If you're considering a chest freezer, manual defrost models are the only chest freezers that have earned the Energy Star rating. Look for manual defrost freezers with drains that make the defrosting process neater and easier.

If you're considering an upright freezer, both manual and self defrosting units qualify for the Energy Star rating. Some people claim that self defrosting freezers have a tendency to dry out food if it isn't used quickly. If that's been your experience, base your decision on how long you intend to store items before use. While you'll pay more up front for a self defrosting freezer, the time you'll save by not having to defrost and drain it is likely worth the extra cost.

Whether you're considering a chest or an upright freezer, look for models with interior lights. Not only does it make it easy to find items-especially in chest freezers where items may be layers deep-but it helps reduce the amount of time cold air escapes through the open door. Look for easy-to-access, adjustable temperature controls. Power indicator lights offer additional peace of mind. If you have small children in the house, look for freezers that offer a lock and key safety measure. Heavy-duty hinges, reversible doors and magnetic door seals offer extra convenience and efficiency.

Other freezer features are mainly applicable to upright models and focus on organization. Look for door-mounted freezer shelves, interior shelves and removable or sliding baskets to make storing and locating items quick and simple.

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