A Guide to Buying a Refrigerator for Small Apartments
For the most part, American appliances, including refrigerators, fall into two categories: Big and nice or small and cheap. In other words, it’s tough to get small and nice if that’s what you’re after. But doing nice and small can be done, even in America. After a few years of research, we thought we’d create a general guide that might help you select the right fridge for your small space.
Stating the obvious, what makes small space appliances suitable for small spaces are their size. We’re going to limit our discussion to 18” and 24” wide refrigerators, which are the two most common widths available. 24″ is far more common than 18″. 27” and 30” models, while suitable for some small spaces, are not your most compact option.
There are far more variations in height. Broadly speaking, there are counter height and standard height fridges. The former tend to run around 32-34” so they can fit under a standard 36” countertop. The latter usually range from around 60” to 80”.
Most fridges are counter depth, meaning their overall depth is around 24”, give or take, so they don’t protrude too much beyond the counter,.
Fridges can be Energy Star rated, which means they are 9-10% percent more energy efficient than models that meet the federal minimum energy efficiency standard. Most middle to high end fridges will have this certification, but low ends will not necessarily.
Perhaps the most important consideration is how the fridge will fit the layout and aesthetic of your kitchen. Most people buy a new fridge because theirs died or they are doing a larger renovation. If you’re in the former category, you might consider finding a model that roughly fits the dimensions of your previous model. If you’re redoing your kitchen, you’ll want to think about how the fridge fits in with your cabinetry (more on sizing in a minute). Especially important is what, if anything, you’re doing above the fridge (keeping it open, more cabinets, etc).
If you have the money, we’d suggest a panel ready fridge, which means it’ll accept custom panels matching the rest of your kitchen’s cabinetry. This is generally only found on premium fridges and the panels aren’t necessarily cheap either. But it creates very streamlined looking kitchen.
Down from panel ready are stainless steel clad appliances, which tend to look and clean up better than painted models, which are how the least expensive fridges are clad.
Counter Height Fridges
Counter height fridges are great if you want to save space. They take up minimal volume and permit more counter space as the surface isn’t interrupted by a fridge. But they have some notable drawbacks. The first is storage volume. A normal counter height fridge has around 5-6 cubic feet of storage. A fairly standard 60” high model will have two times that. This amount of volume might be fine for a single person who doesn’t cook often or shops every couple days, but for many people this amount of space quickly becomes limiting. 18″ models are available as well, but are mostly suitable for keeping last night’s leftovers cool.
The next issue is that most counter height fridges have manual defrost (all fridge models are available if you don’t need a freezer). This means every month or two you must let your freezer compartment thaw out. And up until that point, the compartment get smaller and smaller as layers of ice form around the interior of the compartment. It’s a pain. The Avanti RA3136SST is one counter height fridge with auto-defrost, but because of its size (3 cubic ft), it’s mostly suitable for people with Smurf-like appetites. The U-Line 1000 series will also do the trick…for $2K.
If you’re looking for other non-manual defrost fridge/freezer combo options, you can choose a drawer style fridge. We used the 27” wide Sub Zero 700 BCI in the first LifeEdited Apartment (pictured at top, since discontinued). It looked really nice as it accommodated custom panels. But its limited storage volume and height (you couldn’t stand a bottle of wine upright) limited its functionality. At around $2500, it was also very expensive. In fact, most drawer fridges are more expensive than their standard size equivalents, starting around $1500.
Our overall recommendation is to only go for a counter height if space is really limited and/or you are not a serious cook or you only like dealing with very fresh food. In terms of manufacturers, Summit probably makes the most number of models, though most manufacturers have counter height options.
Standard Height Fridges
If you have a bit more room to play with and you like keeping things on hand that you don’t cycle through very fast (condiments, wine, etc), we recommend going with a standard height fridge. With 10+ cubic feet of storage, they are far more practical for most people. And unlike counter height fridges, almost all have automatic defrost. Finding a model that works for you is mostly a matter of budget and aesthetics.
If you’re looking for an affordable 24” compact fridge, there are a number of options. You could pick up the Danby DFF100C1BSLDB for around $500. At 24” x 60”. These and others like it are the kind of fridges most landlords buy. They’re not sexy, but this level of fridge tends to have a reasonable 10 cubic ft of storage and it’ll keep your stuff cold. What more do you need?
Up from there you could get into some nicer stainless steel fridges like the LG LBN10551PS. It’s 24” x 68” and has 10 cubic feet of storage volume. At around $800-900, it’s a little more expensive, but it looks nicer than the Danby-level fridges.
Up from the LG are the more premium European style 24” models. These tend to be between 70-80” high and have more storage. They can be purchased panel-ready, allowing you to seamlessly integrate them into your kitchen.
For one of our projects, we used a Fagor model and it’s worked out great. It measures 24” x 80” and has about 13 cubic feet of storage. Like most other tall skinny fridges, the freezer has pull out drawer which take a little getting used. For example, you can’t toss a big turkey in there and putting ice trays in there is can be trickier than one models with one open volume.
In this tier, there are a variety of nice options, though most will run quite a bit of money. On the bottom end is Blomberg BRFB1042WHN for around $800 (also available as panel ready for $1500) and on the high end is Liebherr BF1061, which is built in to custom cabinetry and will set you back $5700. For our next project, we chose the panel ready Smeg CB300U which retails for about $1900.