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Freezers and fridge-freezers

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Make the right choice with our test results and buying advice.

Whether you're after a tiny apartment-sized model or a huge side-by-side for a family, we have a recommendation for you. We also explain what to look for and provide tips on maintaining the right temperature.

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Which type of fridge-freezer?

Do you want side-by-side or vertical, and the freezer on the top or bottom?

Side-by-side or vertical

Big side-by-side fridge-freezers with chilled water and ice dispensers are a lot more energy-efficient than large models of old. The trouble is, they don't compete with vertical models for usable space. That handy ice-and-water dispenser usually reduces the freezer space by around 30 percent.

This means that a 600L side-by-side fridge-freezer is about the size of a 540L vertical model, but it costs at least $1200 more. You can get a good 520L vertical for $2100, whereas an ice-making side-by-side model will cost $3000 or possibly a lot more, depending on the brand and finish.

The fridge and freezer compartments on side-by-side models are narrower and deeper than in a vertically stacked fridge. This will be a problem for anyone who has trouble finding things in the back. The freezers are especially narrow: in one of the models we tested, you can't lie a large pizza flat.

You also need to consider whether a side-by-side will fit your kitchen, or even through the doors into the house! Will there be room for the doors to open fully? These are big beasts, so check dimensions carefully.

Remember to allow ventilation space on the sides, back and top. It's usually around 5cm, but ask the dealer for the exact requirements. The top can require up to 30cm clearance! Also, if they have a through-the-door icemaker and water dispenser, you will need to get a plumber to install them.

Top or bottom freezer

Ultimately, it comes down to your needs and personal preference.

  • Having the fridge uppermost is generally more convenient. You open the fridge door many more times per day than you do the freezer, so it makes sense to have the fridge in the more accessible, upper position. For users in wheelchairs, having the freezer at the bottom will make it easier to get food in and out of both compartments.

    But fridges with bottom freezers tend to have cold vegetable crispers, because the crisper sits on top of the freezer (although some models have a small heater under the crispers to overcome this!).

  • Having the freezer on top can mean the whole unit performs a little better. But fridges with top freezers tend to have warm crispers, because they sit at the bottom well away from the freezer.

Look for a minimum score in our test results of 6.0 for all aspects of temperature performance except the recommended setting – you can adjust the recommended setting to get a better result.

View all our fridge-freezer test results.

Fridge size and space

Finding the best size usually involves striking a balance between your budget, your family's needs and the size of your kitchen.

  • We estimate a typical family of 4 doing its main shopping trip once a week would need 400 to 500 litres of total storage.
  • There are fridge-freezers as small as 170L, but these will only be useful in small apartments, or baches. In general, they do not perform as well as their larger cousins.
  • You can get vertically stacked models up to 600L, and side-by-side fridge-freezers with a total of 600L to 800L. But side-by-side models cost a good $1000 more.
  • As long as it fits in your kitchen space, go for the largest fridge-freezer you can afford. It's false economy to keep your old fridge to cope with any extra demand. Old fridges are much less energy efficient, and one new large model with a bit of spare capacity will almost certainly run for less than an older smaller one. If you must keep the old one, switch it on only when you need it.
  • If you're buying a fridge to fit an existing space, remember to check the measurements. Australian-made models and the bigger sizes from all brands may not fit.

Storage space

  • Whatever size you buy, check with the real items you commonly store to see how well they'll fit.
  • If you like to keep pizzas in the fridge, where will they go?
  • Will you be able to line the door shelves with your usual 2L milk containers and large juice bottles?
  • If you like whole watermelon in summer, is there enough shelf space?

Chest or vertical stand-alone freezer?

A chest freezer is best for maximum storage capacity as they are available in sizes up to 700 litres. But a 700 litre chest freezer occupies a lot of floor space.

We don't know of any really large vertical freezers - 389 litres seems as big as you can get. If you want a pigeon pair - identical, but separate fridge and freezer - in your kitchen, vertical models are your only choice.

Convenience

Vertical freezers are usually more convenient to use because you don't have to dig down through the layers of frozen food. Smaller chest freezers can be very awkward to use once packets get buried at the bottom.

Chest freezers are not frost-free so you have to defrost from time to time. If you don't open the lid too much or leave it up for too long, ice build up is slow, and defrosting once a year is usually enough. Look for a model with a drain bung at the front, so you can easily drain off the melt-water. Drain bungs with spouts help minimise spills. The drain should be high enough to fit a suitable container underneath. This makes defrosting easier.

Compare all the stand-alone freezers in our test.

Interior layout

We take a look at doors, shelves, partitions and drawers for freezers and fridge-freezers.

Freezers

  • Vertical freezers are available with shelves or drawers. Shelves allow you to open the door and immediately see what's there. But check how movable they are, and whether they have lips to stop food falling out at the front, sides and back when you do move them.

  • Sliding drawers may take up more potential storage space than shelves, but they make it easier to access food: check they slide smoothly. Some have opaque fronts, so you'd probably need to label what's in them to make finding things easier.

  • Baskets or partitions in a chest freezer help you organise the freezer for later retrieval of long-lost leftovers.

Fridge-freezers

  • Most fridges give you the choice of which side the door opens when you buy, or allow you to change it later.
  • Some models have door-closing mechanisms for fridge and freezer. This helps avoid the situation of the door sitting slightly open with no one noticing. Some also have an alarm that sounds if you leave the door open.
  • It's handy to be able to get all the trays and baskets out without having to open the doors any wider than 90°. Many people have their fridges in a corner, so when the doors are open 90° they are hard against the wall.
  • Side-by-side models don't offer a choice of the side which doors open. As well, the doors on this type of fridge-freezer may get in the way of using drawers and shelves if the doors cannot open to an angle well beyond 90°.
  • Most models have a good range of positions for shelves, but they must be fully removed before being reinserted. Many can't be pulled out unless the door is opened well beyond 90°.
  • Solid shelves are an improvement on wire grill shelves. They stop spills dribbling all the way through the fridge, they make those spills less likely anyway because they provide a more stable surface, and they are easier to wipe clean.
  • Drawers are easier to load, but it's harder to find small items in the bottom. If the door cannot open beyond 90°, you may not be able to pull the drawer out far enough to reach the back.

Extra features

Most models come with a range of extra features. Consider your needs, and any special food requirements you have.

Fridge-freezers

  • Chillers: These are genuinely useful. Ideal for storing meat or super cooling the beer. They provide cooler storage (just above 0°C) than the rest of the fridge, so are good for storing meat and fish. They also prevent the food dripping onto other food and contaminating it. Some models have a separate control for the chiller.
  • Crisper: We measure the humidity in the crisper, which is a guide to how well unwrapped vegetables will stay fresh. Crispers need to have a lid that seals properly, so the humidity is contained. Some fridges have a humidity control so you can get it just right.
  • Adjustable rollers or feet: The body of the fridge-freezer must be perfectly level and square. The size and width of large models means they can easily distort, and then the doors may not seal properly. Level adjustments on all four corners may be needed to get the balance right. Rollers (with brakes!) make it much easier to pull the fridge out for cleaning.
  • Butter conditioners: These used to be a standard feature of New Zealand fridges, but they seem to have gone the way of the dinosaurs. We think that's a good thing. Butter conditioners lower a fridge's energy efficiency, and they don't necessarily keep butter at a useful temperature anyway. If you want to keep butter a bit warmer, use the dairy compartment in the door.
  • Containers: Side-by-side fridge-freezers tend to have more self-enclosed containers than vertical models. These make fridge storage tidy (and more hygienic), but they also take up space and can make access a bit harder.
  • Can dispenser: Not a very common feature, but we like it! A handy wire under-shelf rack partitioned into three rows: you take one of the front cans and the rest roll forward. New Zealand beer cans (330mL) and soft drink cans (355mL) will fit, but the slightly larger Aussie beer cans (375mL) won't.
  • Separate vegetable drawers: Having a third compartment can make access to the vegies more convenient. But unless it has an airtight lid, it will not function as a proper vegetable crisper. Vegetables not in a crisper should be wrapped before storing: the easiest option is to use the bags supplied by supermarkets in the vegetable section.

Freezers

  • Controls: Check where they're located and if they're easy to understand and adjust. Some need a coin or small screwdriver to change the setting.
  • Liners: Some freezers come with soft, thin aluminium liners. Look for heavy-duty liners that won’t dent easily.
  • Interior light: A light under the lid of a chest freezer can make finding items easier.

Temperature control

Tips for maintaining the right temperature in your freezer and fridge-freezer

Your food may tell you if the temperature of your fridge or freezer needs tweaking. Meat and dairy products go off quicker if it’s too warm. Too cold means leafy greens freeze and turn into a jelly-like mess. If your ice cream develops crystals on the top, it's thawed a bit and refrozen. This will affect its texture and taste and may well affect the quality of other foods too.

You can buy fridge thermometers at hardware stores and some kitchenware stores. Or you can leave an ordinary thermometer in a glass of water in the fridge overnight and take a reading when you first open the door the next morning. Check temperatures in the doors, crispers, dairy compartments and several locations in the main part of the fridge. Use a fridge-freezer thermometer to check the freezer temperature.

The ideal temperature for the main fridge is 3°C, although this isn’t standard for all compartments. It should be slightly warmer than 3°C in the dairy compartment but closer to 0°C in the chiller. The freezer should be at least -18°C for longer-term storage of frozen food but -12°C to -15°C is acceptable for short-term storage (about 2 weeks).

A stand-alone freezer needs to be able to cope with extreme temperatures because they're often kept in a garage or shed. Freezers are designed to cope with ambient temperatures ranging from 10°C to 43°C. However, if your freezer is in a garage or shed, temperatures can easily get lower or higher than this, making it difficult to maintain the set internal temperature. It's best to use a thermometer to check, especially when the outside temperature changes significantly.

Keep the door or lid shut!

  • It sounds obvious, but time is critical for excluding warmth and moisture from the inside. Some models have an alarm, either sound or light, which tells you when the door is not properly shut. Any alarm light should be easy to see - some are poorly located beneath the freezer door and aren’t visible from a normal standing position.

Don't run on empty

  • Keep a moderate amount of food in both the freezer and fridge at all times. This will help to limit temperature rise, and is particularly important on a hot day when the door is opened and warm air floods in.
  • It's even more important with frost-free models, which defrost automatically using a heater. If the freezer is nearly empty, the compartment can warm too much during the defrost process.
  • If your freezer is nearly empty, put in some plastic bottles, three-quarters filled with water. This will reduce temperature variation within the compartment, help to chill items quickly when you first put them in the freezer and prevent the temperature from climbing when the door is opened.

Pack correctly

  • Don't pack food against the walls and to the top of each shelf of your fridge, particularly with a frost-free fridge, which needs space for the fan to circulate the cold air properly.
  • The coldest part of a chest freezer tends to be on the compressor step at the bottom of the freezer; the coldest part of an upright tends to be the top shelf. Keep long-term storage items here.
  • Moisture-proof packaging such as plastic containers, thick plastic bags and aluminium foil will preserve food quality by preventing dehydration and oxidation.
  • Ideally, you shouldn't load a freezer with food that's at room temperature; cool it first in the fridge so it doesn't partially defrost the food already in the freezer.

Learn how the controls work

  • Fridge-freezers that don't have separate controls for the 2 main compartments can struggle to maintain both at the right temperature. Even models with 2 controls don't always get it right. Where settings can be adjusted in steps (as with some electronic models), the steps may be too far apart, and the temperature you really want is in the middle.
  • Check the manual to see how the controls work. If that explanation is not clear, you might need to experiment yourself. In a typical frost-free fridge, altering only one control will often change the temperature in both compartments. This is usually because one is the thermostat control that controls the overall cooling, and the second is a flap or baffle that controls the airflow between compartments.
  • Markings can also be confusing, so you may be turning the controls the wrong way. Look out for graphics that say "cold" but mean "less cold" for the warmest setting. Also many controls are simply marked "temperature controls" and don't tell you how they work, or that they affect each other.
  • Some freezers have a "fast-freeze" function, to ensure the rapid freezing of freshly loaded food. Remember to turn it off after a few hours, or running costs will be higher and constant noise could be a problem.

Reliability

We took a look at the reliability of fridge-freezers in our 2012 survey.

Become a Gold or Silver member to find out the most reliable brands.

Energy ratings

Refrigeration technology is continually improving. To reflect this, the Minimum Energy Performance Standard (MEPS) and energy-rating labels have been updated.

Since April 2010, updated labels have been required on all new fridges and freezers. Star ratings on new models have been wound back by about 2 stars to encourage greater efficiency. (So a 4-star model on the old label became a 2-star model under the new labels.) It doesn’t mean a model is now less efficient – the star ratings have just been calculated differently. (You can use the kWh/year to compare models, too.)

Super-efficient models that exceed the current 6-star energy rating can achieve up to 10 stars.

MEPS
MEPS applies to all fridges and freezers made in or imported into New Zealand from 1 January 2005. All models must use no more energy per year than an amount calculated according to their size and type.

MEPS is a requirement manufacturers have to meet. You won't see it on a fridge sales sticker, but better energy efficiency will mean more stars on the energy labels.

Check energy ratings at www.energyrating.gov.au.

Food storage

If you focus entirely on running costs (energy efficiency), you could get a model that doesn't store food well. Remember that energy is used in producing and distributing food too - if you have to throw the food out, that energy will have been wasted.

We test for all aspects of food storage and we only recommend models that'll keep food in good condition.

Buying second-hand

New freezers and fridge-freezers are more energy efficient - so if you're buying second hand, newer is better.

  • Stick to well-known brands under 5 years old, as newer models are much more energy efficient. They’re also easier to get parts for if anything needs fixing.
  • Check the lid or door seal is intact, in good condition and the door or lid shuts properly.
  • Make sure the door is hinged on the correct side for your kitchen (or is reversible).
  • Make sure the interior is in good nick and free from funny smells. Only buy if it looks tidy and well cared for.
  • If you buy a fridge from a second-hand dealer and then discover it’s faulty, you're covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act. If you buy privately, you're not.
  • Under the Electricity Act, all electrical appliances for sale must be safe – whether they're new or second-hand, bought privately or from a dealer.

What food goes where

Keeping your food fresh means storing it in the right place in the fridge.

  • Top shelf: This is the best place to store pre-prepared foods and dairy products like milk, soft cheeses and yoghurt. As long as it fits, it’s better to store milk here than in the door shelf (which our tests have found can get too warm in some fridges).

  • Lower shelves: This is the safest place to store raw meat, fish and chicken (if your fridge doesn’t have a chiller). It’s the coldest part of the fridge and there’s less risk of raw meat dripping on to prepared foods.

  • Crisper drawer: The crisper drawer is the best place to store fruit and vegetables. If your fridge has slides to adjust the humidity in the drawers, use them – they’ll help keep your fruit and vegetables fresher for longer. And, if possible, keep fruit separate from vegetables.

  • Dairy compartment: Use this to store butter and hard cheeses. But as it’s warmer than the rest of the fridge, don’t use it to store soft cheeses long term.

  • Chiller: If your fridge has a chiller it’s perfect for storing highly perishable foods like raw chicken and fish. Ideally, it should be kept at 0°C.

  • Door shelves: Keep opened sauces, jams and chutneys on the door shelves. They don’t need to be in the coldest part of the fridge and will fit in here neatly.

  • Keep out! Bananas are best kept in a cool place but not in the fridge: chilling them turns the skin an unappealing shade of black. Tomatoes and onions are also best stored out of the fridge. Onions like to be kept cool and dark so store them with your potatoes. And if you have to store your tomatoes in the fridge, remove them a couple of hours before eating otherwise they’ll be cold and tasteless.

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