Choosing a refrigerator for a family of four means selecting a model that matches your household configuration, food preferences and kitchen layout. With prices that can range from $500 to 10 times that amount and more, you can find models with minimal features all the way up to built-in units with deluxe flexible storage options. How much capacity you need depends on considerations beyond just the number of people under your roof.
Cubic Feet per Person
Refrigerator capacity measures in cubic feet, including the refrigerated and the frozen-food storage cavities in a total figure published for every appliance. Formulas for estimating capacity based on cubic feet per person place the "sweet spot" for a family of four at between 18 and 24 cubic feet. Start with your current appliance and evaluate whether it provides too much or too little space for your typical grocery shopping patterns, using its capacity as a starting point in your search for its replacement. You can find refrigerator capacities marked on stickers affixed to the edge of appliance doors and in the user guide that came with your refrigerator.
How much space you need depends on what kinds of food you buy and store as well as how many people live in your household. If your diet centers around fresh vegetables and includes few frozen items, you may be able to find a top-mount refrigerator that favors its refrigerated over its frozen compartment and accommodates the round and uneven shapes of produce in spacious full-width drawers. If you buy some foods in bulk and freeze the excess, you may need more frozen-food space than if you shop very frequently.
Tailor your appliance purchase around special food and beverage favorites as well as your overall family diet. You can find refrigerators with dedicated temperature- or humidity-controlled drawers for foods that require precise storage environments. Ice and water service through the freezer door and automatic ice makers can provide instant beverage convenience, but if you don't need these features, they waste large amounts of freezer space you can use on food instead. Look for a refrigerator with an interior setup that matches the way you live.
Before you go refrigerator shopping, break out a tape measure and quantify the amount of space you can use for your new appliance. That area's height, width and depth tell only part of the story. You also need to accommodate door widths and the distances they swing when you open them. For example, side-by-side refrigerators, with half-width doors for vertical freezer and refrigeration cavities, tend to run wider than top-mount units, but the narrower doors on side-by-sides may make them a better fit--literally--in some small kitchens. Along with the area in which you place the refrigerator, verify the path from the nearest outside door to assure that you can get your old appliance out and your new acquisition in.
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