Compact Refrigerator Buying Advice

Small compact refrigerators are essential to college dorm rooms, small apartments or office break rooms. These small fridges offer a variety of features including energy efficiency, reversible hinges, thermostats and crispers. Understanding your space constraints and additional enhancements will help you find the right compact refrigerator for your budget and household needs.

What Needs Chilling?
You'll need to consider what a compact refrigerator will store in order to determine what size, design and features are best for you. Will you use a compact refrigerator just to store beverages? Do you intend to store leftovers that may come in restaurant-sized containers? Do you want to store a gallon of milk or cans of soda? Before you even begin looking at compact refrigerators, know the size of the largest items you'll need to store and how cold you need to keep them.

The ratio of refrigerator to freezer space is particularly important, since many compact refrigerators have very small freezers that will hold only an ice tray or one frozen dinner. If you value freezer space, look for a compact refrigerator with a top freezer or freezer compartment that runs across the entire width of the compact refrigerator.

How Compact Should it Be?
Consider the size of your available space when shopping for a compact refrigerator. Measure the amount of floor space available for your compact refrigerator, and keep in mind that you can stack things on top of it, so your compact refrigerator can also double as a storage shelf. Unless you have particularly narrow doors, you shouldn't have a problem getting a compact refrigerator into your home.

The outer dimensions of a compact refrigerator don't necessarily correlate with its inner dimensions, or capacity. Compact refrigerators range in capacity from 1.7 to more than 6.0 cubic feet. Insulation thickness and design both affect capacity, and molded shelves or compartments can make it hard to fit larger items in a compact refrigerator. Compare the interior designs of compact refrigerators, again thinking about the largest things you'll need to store.

Compare the weights of compact refrigerators, as moving into a dorm or a fourth-floor walkup may present a challenge if the refrigerator is too heavy. Most of the weight in a compact refrigerator comes from the compressor. Larger compressors weigh more, and larger compact refrigerators have larger compressors. When you're comparing compact refrigerators online, take a look at the shipping weight and subtract about 10% for packing materials to get a sense of how much the compact refrigerator will weigh.

Compact Refrigerator Designs
If you intend to store gallon containers, look for a compact refrigerator with wide shelves in the door that accommodate large containers. Many compact refrigerators contain special can storage and dispensing units in the door. While this is useful if you want to store soda, it's a waste of space if you intend to use your compact refrigerator primarily for leftovers or food storage.

Adjustable shelves are the most useful design option to look for in compact refrigerators. Look for flat, clear shelves rather than wire shelves as they provide more storage area and allow you to easily see the contents of your fridge. Fresh veggies will keep better if you choose a compact refrigerator that offers a vegetable crisper with adjustable humidity control, but this will add considerably to the price tag.

Reversible door hinges are a good option for a compact refrigerator that will live beneath a kitchen counter. These hinges let you set the door to open to the left or right, which can keep the door from hitting drawers or cabinet doors.

If you just need to store beverages, choose a compact refrigerator built to hold drinks. These compact refrigerators have shelves and racks that maximize the number of cans and bottles you can store, and many offer glass doors that let you keep track of your beverage supply.

Thermostats
You won't find fancy digital thermostats and controls in compact refrigerators unless you're willing to spend a lot. The majority of compact refrigerators still use analog dials, which get the job done but require some tweaking to find the best setting. A compact refrigerator should have at least one dial that controls temperature. Spending more will get you separate dials for the refrigerator and freezer as well as a humidity control.

Look for thermostat controls mounted in the front of the compact refrigerator, which are easy to reach. Some fridges put the thermostat in the back, which forces you to empty an entire shelf in order to reach it.

An automatic defrost feature or a frost-free interior can be a plus in hot environments where condensation easily forms inside a compact refrigerator. This is an expensive extra, so you may prefer to choose a compact refrigerator with an all-plastic interior that makes it easy to remove frost.

Energy efficiency
An energy-efficient compact refrigerator saves money on your electric bill and reduces your carbon footprint. The thickness and type of insulation used in a compact refrigerator is the best indication of energy efficiency, but most manufacturers don't go into too much detail about these features.

One way to spot energy-efficient compact refrigerators is to compare the weights of refrigerators of the same size. Poorly insulated compact refrigerators need larger compressors that add a lot to overall weight. The lighter a compact refrigerator is, the smaller the compressor and, generally, the better the insulation. Look for insulated freezer compartments rather than metal compartments that hang from the top of the refrigerator.

Look for the Energy Star logo, which indicates a compact refrigerator that is 15% more energy efficient than what is mandated by current U.S. government standards. To help reduce the strain on your compressor, place your compact refrigerator out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources and keep the door securely closed.

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Pay attention to the refrigerator size. Look for units that will fit in your home, but also fit your lifestyle needs. Think about the largest items you'll store most often and how often you're willing to go to the grocery store. The size of the model you choose dictates both.

If you need extra storage space for your food and your refrigerator freezer can't do the job, it may be time to purchase a separate freezer. You'll want to consider the freezer type, energy efficiency, features like freezer shelves, size and access of the appliance. With a little research, you'll find the right freezer for your budget and household needs.

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