Different Types of Refrigerators Explained

Co-author: Nicole Barratt

Whether you’re a newly moved out young’un buying your first fridge, or a grown-up looking for an upgrade, this is your guide to different types of refrigerators.

To a lot of us fridge-owners, a fridge is just a fridge. We’ve probably had the same one for the best part of a decade and it’s nothing more than the big white (or silver) box that keeps our food cold. But a fridge is an expensive appliance. So if you’re looking for a new one, it’s a good idea to know a thing or two about what’s on offer, and the different types of refrigerators.

To start with, there are four basic types of refrigerators: top freezer, bottom freezer, side-by-side and French door. Let’s quickly go over the basic details of each.

Types of refrigerators: top freezer

This is the model that most of us will instantly visualise if someone says the word fridge to us. It’s a single column refrigerator, with the top third (approximately) dedicated to a separate freezer compartment. This type of fridge is the most common, meaning it’s also generally the cheapest, and has the widest range on offer.

The downside of this is that top freezer models are generally rather low on features, and less thought is given to their appearance. However, if you don’t care about features and don’t mind how your fridge looks, this fridge is a good option.

Also definitely worth noting is that this is usually the most energy-efficient type of fridge. It’s about 10-25% more efficient than fridges with bottom or side-mounted freezers. So if electricity bills are a concern, this could be the fridge for you! So, in summary, top-mount fridges:

  • Generally cheap but no-frills
  • Have an easy-access top-mounted freezer
  • Often more economical to run than other types



Types of refrigerators: bottom freezer

As the name suggests, a bottom-mount fridge is just like a top-mount fridge, with the obvious exception that the freezer compartment is at the bottom. That’s all there is to it. Generally speaking these models are less common, which means less variety/range and, as mentioned earlier, they tend to be less efficient or more expensive than a top freezer model, meaning they could cost you more to run in the long term. Though, that’s not to suggest that all models are bunk. Bottom-mount fridges:

  • Can be more expensive but you pay for energy-efficiency
  • Less variety and range than the top-mount types
  • Freezer on bottom for easier access to fridge section


Types of refrigerators: side-by-side

These fridges are essentially wider-than-usual fridges split in half, with one half being the fridge side and the other being the freezer side. For those who tend to freeze leftovers in high volume, or exist on freezer food, this type of fridge may be ideal. Some side-by-side fridges allocate slightly more room for the fridge section, however the freezer will still be larger than that of any top or bottom freezer model. The doors open from the centre rather than the side, meaning less spatial clearance is required to swing the fridge door(s) open.

Also worth noting is that side-by-side models often come with features such as water, ice dispensers, and external user interface panels, which some may view as desirable features. In summary, side-by-fridges are:

  • Handy with easy-access to fridge and freezer
  • Usually larger but more energy-consuming
  • Boast features such as ice makers but can be more expensive to buy


Types of refrigerators: French door

Possibly the most versatile (and most expensive) type of fridge, French door fridges are similar in width to side-by-side models, and have the entire bottom third devoted to freezer space, just like a bottom freezer model. As with side-by-side fridges, the fridge door is split into two, opening from the centre for the fridge section.

Some French door fridges have a single door for the freezer section. But some split the freezer section the same way as the fridge section, making for a grand total of four doors on your fridge.

The main advantage to this slightly elaborate door configuration is that opening one of the half doors lets less cold air out than if you swing open both. The other advantage is that, as with a side-by-side model, the split doors mean less clearance is required between the fridge and your bench/other kitchen installations. In summary, French door fridges are:

  • Feature-packed and a pleasure to use
  • Usually more expensive than simpler units
  • Usually more power-hungry, but their bigger size lends itself to this


Types of refrigerators with features

There’s no doubt that manufacturers have become more adventurous with their refrigerators, driven by the consumer demand for something that does a little more than just keep your food and drinks cold, or frozen.

There are fridges with glass panel features that let you look inside without opening the door (LG’s InstaView Door-in-Door refrigerator has a glass panel that lets you see inside if you knock on it twice). Other notable fridge features that have become common lately include flexible spacing, allowing you to swap or change certain sections to suit your own food storage preferences. And multi-zone climate and humidity settings, which let you create separate cooling spaces for certain types of foods or drinks.

Smart fridges

Samsung’s Family Hub French Door Fridge, for example, has a touch screen on its door. You can link your smartphone and synchronise it to show photos, post stickers, draw pictures and type or hand-write notes. It’s even possible to add a music player. Or even watch TV while cooking. An app can display what’s on your smartphone or Samsung Smart TV without having to buy or install any additional software. In summary, smart fridges are:

  • Great if you want a high-end fridge with extra features, like touch-screen shopping lists and TV screens
  • Easy to use
  • Plenty are designed around families
  • Ideal if you want internal cameras so you can view what food you have, (some even while you’re shopping)
  • Usually more power-hungry but, as above, their bigger size lends itself to this



Bar fridges

Though not strictly a category unto its own, bar fridges are handy to mention, as a lot of people are undoubtedly looking into buying one as the summer season rolls around. Bar fridges benefit from being very cheap to purchase, easy to transport, and they basically get the job done when it comes to keeping drinks cold.

Many are under 100L, and some are even smaller in capacity than 50L. However, although they might seem a good idea, bar fridges are rather energy-inefficient relative to their size. In fact, they often use similar amounts of electricity as regular-sized fridges, but at less than a quarter of their capacity. In summary, bar fridges are:

  • Useful for drinks and entertaining
  • Cheap to purchase, but can be inefficient for their size
  • Easy to pick-up and move around


Compare refrigerators with Canstar Blue!

Which type of fridge is best?

To sum up, what fridge you’ll end up going with will generally depend on a few factors. If you:

  • Want a cheap fridge, a top-mount, bottom-mount or bar fridge for drinks could work
  • Have a larger family, a French door fridge
  • Want energy-efficiency, a top- or bottom-mount fridge
  • Want great features, a side-by-side or French door fridge
  • You want great usability, a side-by-side fridge

There are no real disadvantages to high-end fridges that would dissuade you from buying them, save the price, which is why many of us tend to go with the classic top or bottom freezer models. But if you’ve got the cash and fancy a high-end fridge with more space and some flashy features, a side-by-side or French door fridge may fit the bill. When buying a new fridge, you’re likely to stick with it for a while, so look at a lot of different fridge types to determine which one is right for you.


Tips to remember

  • Most fridges last about ten years. If yours is nearing that age or older, it’s usually better to replace it with a newer, more energy efficient model rather than keep your old one
  • Consider the direction a fridge door will open in your kitchen. It can ruin the flow of a kitchen if it opens the wrong way
  • Measure the space carefully. A fridge needs a small gap at the top for air flow and more around the sides to allow the door to open
  • Measure the depth, too
  • Think about how you use your fridge, i.e, what type of food you buy and how often you shop when thinking about fridge size and layout. Is your freezer constantly stuffed full? Are your veggie bins being used?
  • A family of four generally requires a 400 litre fridge, as a rule of thumb
  • Always check a fridge’s Energy Star Rating, which is a guide to how much energy it consumes. A fridge with a higher Star Rating might cost more, but could save you hundreds of dollars in electricity charges over the life of your fridge

Save on power with Canstar

If you really want to save money on your electricity bill, the easiest and quickest way is to switch providers. When was the last time you reviewed how much you’re paying for your power? Electricity providers in NZ change their pricing and plans all the time to stay competitive. So if you’ve been with the same provider for yonks, chances are there is a far better value deal out there for your home. You could potentially save hundreds of dollars a year by switching to a more competitive plan. 

Take a look at your next power bill. Once you know how much you’re paying in fixed and variable charges, it’s easy to jump online and compare different power companies and the deals they’re offering. A good place to start is Canstar’s most recent review of electricity providers, here is a snippet of our top scoring providers.

Canstar Blue’s NZ power company review

Our latest review of NZ power companies compares them on customer satisfaction and value for money. The table below is an abridged version of our full results. For more details click on the big button at the bottom of the story!

See Our Ratings Methodology

For more information on sniffing out the best power deal, check out our story: Simple Guide to Finding the Cheapest Power Deals. And for the full result of our electricity Customer Satisfaction Award, just click on the big button at the end of this story.

Compare electricity providers with Canstar Blue!

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