Most appliances offer little variation in features from brand to brand, but refrigerators are totally different. Firstly, there are 4 different styles of fridges to choose from. You have top-freezers, bottom-freezers, side by sides, and built-in styles. The newer french door models are very popular with the look of a bottom freezer refrigerator and split doors up top. The counter depth refrigerators are just slightly different from built-ins in that they do stick out a bit. The cheapest are the top freezer refrigerators ($500 to $1200) and the true built-ins are the most expensive with prices going as high as $7000. Even if you pay the highest price possible, you aren't necessarily getting a more reliable and energy efficient refrigerator. Studies show that Sub-Zero refrigerators have the most repairs and Whirlpool are the least likely to need any work done.
Which style is best for you and your house? If space is a premium consider the smaller (30 to 33 inches) top-freezer models. They will save you a penny or two in price and they consume less energy than the larger models. You won't get a water dispenser with most and perhaps the biggest negative is that you have to reach down to get things out of the fridge. Since most of us use our refrigerator more than our freezer, a bottom-freezer style is probably the best suited for everyday use. The wide french door styles give you lots of room width wise (widths are 30 to 36 inches). The side by sides are very common and range from 33 to 36 inches in width. The problem with these are they have limited shelve space and can be expensive. The benefits of side by side models are the in-door ice and water makers. Built-ins are the nicest and fit seamlessly in your kitchen although they can have repair issues. The features you should consider most important are - space that can be used efficiently, overall good capacity, energy efficient, and do you really need a stainless steel finish. Stainless steel appliances may be the latest thing, but they require perhaps more care than standard finishes. Be sure to have your kitchen space measured exactly so that you find a refrigerator that fits properly. Even moving a fridge into your kitchen can be difficult if kitchen islands cut off corners. The top refrigerator brands are GE, Whirlpool, Kenmore, Hotpoint, Frigidaire, Amana, Maytag, LG, Sub-Zero, KitchenAid, and Jenn-Air. You can find reviews in magazines like Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping as well as online at Lowes.com, Epinions, and Consumer Search. Where do you buy a refrigerator? There are lots of appliance stores that only deal in that sort of thing or you can go to stores like Sears, Best Buy, Lowes, Home Depot, or Circuit City.
Top Freezer Refrigerators:
These models are great for utilizing all the storage space on the interior but their doors will need extra clearance since they are so wide-swinging. A good 30-inch top freezer is the Kenmore 74952 ($800) offered at Sears. The unit has good temperature performance and is excellent at being energy efficient. The one drawback is that it can run a touch noisy. If you go slightly larger and get a 33-inch model, consider the Whirlpool ET1FTEXS ($850) or the budget priced Hotpoint HTS22GBP ($650). The Whirlpool runs pretty quiet while the HotPoint is considered a great "value buy".
Bottom Freezer Refrigerators:
Once again you have 3 size variations on these refrigerators - 30 inch, 33 inch, and 36 inch wide. The smaller 30-inch models conserve on energy but are not as quiet as the larger versions. The Amana ABB1921DE ($850) is one exception in that it is quiet and does a great just with temperature control. The Kenmore 75002 ($870) is comparably priced but gives you more storage space compared to the Amana. The big 36-inch wide bottom freezers are great when it comes to storage and the Amana AFD2535DE ($1700) was given a "best buy" award from Consumer Reports. Comes in the new fashionable french door style and for the price it's hard to beat. It's not the quietest refrigerator around though. The Maytag 36-inch bottom freezer refrigerators are some of the more expensive in this field and aren't recommended since they have a less than stellar repair history.
The big boys when it comes to refrigerators, built-ins are stylish and sleek but will cost $1000's more than the other types listed on this page. GE gets the best overall ratings with their Monogram ($6400) series. Sub-Zero has the worst repair history of all brands we researched which seems contrary to the high price they charge. You would figure that the extra cost up front would insure you against repairs down the road - not true at all. KitchenAid offers their KBFC42F model in stainless steel and it has the french door style which many homeowners prefer in high end kitchens. The Jenn-Air JS42FWD ($4650) has a water dispenser and is the cheapest priced in this category. Buying a built-in refrigerator is a huge upfront cost that is mostly for looks, not any better performance.
Top Rated Side by Side Refrigerators:
These fridges have the worst repair history as a group but that shouldn't deter you from buying one if you choose wisely. Experts will tell you side by side refrigerators aren't the most 'space efficient' but you will get indoor ice and water dispensers. I own a Frigidaire side by side model that is close to 5 years old now and have never had a repair issue so I know from first hand experience that not all will break down. The Amana ASD2627KE ($1350) gets the best ratings and has the largest capacity in all the models we saw. GE also offers their GSH24JFT for $1100 which is a real bargain. High end 36-inch models like the Whirlpool Gold are $2300 and about all you get for the extra $1000 is a quieter refrigerator.