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Buying The Best Fridge

We are remodeling our kitchen and plan to replace our refrigerator/freezer. What are the most efficient models and what are the best features?—Ann T.

Besides space and water heating and cooling, the refrigerator/freezer is the largest electricity consumer in most homes. Replacing a large older refrigerator/freezer with a new efficient model may save significantly on your electric bills.

Another advantage of replacing an older model is that the new ones have much better temperature controls and maintain even temperatures—keeping foods fresher for a longer time.

Several top-of-the-line models offer illuminated digital temperature readouts and controls for both compartments. Multi-level lighting inside the refrigerator is also a plus. It is not only convenient, but by being able to see the food more clearly, you can find the foods faster and get the door closed sooner to save electricity.

The first important decision involves selecting the proper size. A larger size generally uses more electricity than a smaller one because a larger one has more surface area and door gasket length. There is little insulation value at the door gaskets.

As a general rule a family of two needs about 12 cubic feet of refrigerator space. Add another one to two cubic feet for each additional family member. Most American families end up buying ones much larger than this guideline.

Even the most efficient refrigerator/ freezers now have attractive exteriors because of material and manufacturing improvements. As an example, there are some very attractive antique-looking models with painted curved doors and bright nickel-plated trim. Others use easy-to-clean, professional-looking stainless steel exteriors for a contemporary look.

Most refrigerator/freezers use a single compressor with dual controls for the refrigerator and freezer compartments. This often controls the airflow between them. To give true independent control over the temperatures in each compartment, some very efficient models include two separate compressors, one for the refrigerator and one for the freezer. Each smaller compressor only operates when needed. Other efficient models use one variable-speed compressor to minimize temperature swings and compressor run time.

Although side-by-side refrigerator/freezers use somewhat more electricity than most over/under models of the same size, they offer the most capacity and convenience and are the most popular. Some side-by-side models have a unique staggered shape with the top of the refrigerator portion wider. This is more convenient because the refrigerator portion is usually accessed more often.

Another new efficient feature is a special drawer with its own temperature controls. This drawer is designed to either freeze foods quickly or to thaw them in half the normal time, depending on the mode you select. Other models have super-quick icemaker compartments to make ice cubes in one hour or less. Through-the-door ice and chilled-water dispensers reduce the number of times the doors are opened so the compressor has to run less often. Select one with built-in water filters.

For convenience, some efficient models are circular. The glass shelves inside rotate similar to a lazy Susan, so it is easy to access any food items. These models have a rapid-freeze mode to quickly freeze or make ice. They are relatively small (11.5 cubic feet), but they are ideal for recreation rooms or one-person dwellings.

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