Buying a new refrigerator involves more decisions now than ever before. For example: Do you want a fridge that's Wi-Fi enabled? Should it have a water dispenser and ice maker, and maybe a built-in coffee maker? If so, should they be controlled by a touch screen? Do you want a smart fridge that can text you if it encounters a problem, or do you prefer your appliances sweet and stupid, like a good-natured cat?
When you buy a new fridge, you'll need to make all these choices and more. But the first choice you'll need to make is which configuration you want. Should your freezer be above or below the fresh food, or off to the side? And do you want a single door or French doors? What is, practically speaking, the difference?
Best overall: French doors
Statistically, you're more likely to choose a French-door refrigerator than any other type. These fridges have double doors on the fresh food compartment that open outward, and the freezer in a drawer beneath. According to Consumer Reports, 64% of its members choose French-door fridges, which were invented in the early 1990s. This is because their shallow doors are space-efficient, making for fridges with a lot of usable cubic capacity. They also take up less space with the doors open than comparable single-door models, making them usable in small spaces.
Best for back and joint pain sufferers: side-by-side
A side-by-side fridge looks like a French-door one, but the difference is that the left door opens onto the freezer compartment. This isn't the most space-efficient configuration, because there has to be a thick divider between the fridge and freezer. However, like French-door fridges, their small doors make them good for tight spaces. This type is chosen by 20% of fridge buyers, and a big part of its appeal is that you don't need to use the bottom shelf in either compartment. That makes it ideal for people who have trouble bending or crouching.
Best for small kitchens: top freezer
Double-door refrigerators may look elegant, but they're not as space efficient as the traditional single-door, top-freezer style. They rarely come in narrow models. If your kitchen has a niche for a fridge that's less than 30 inches wide, most of your options will be top-freezer fridges. However, be sure to ask the salesman how much space a single-door fridge really needs. Its deep door will need a few inches of leeway to open completely, so don't place it flush against a wall.
Best for non-cooks: bottom freezer
Like top-freezer models, bottom-freezer fridges can come in narrow, deep models that fit in small kitchens. But as with French-door models, the freezer drawer is at the bottom. That makes them a good choice for people who mainly use their fridges for leftovers and snacks.
Choosing a fridge may be more complicated than ever, but that also means you have more options than ever. Whatever model you choose, make sure it's the best one for your needs and your lifestyle.