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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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Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel C270R is a small fridge with a capacity of 266L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E210L SX is an upright freezer with a claimed volume of 213L. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E249TR is a small top-mounted fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 248L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E331T is a small top-mounted fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 329L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E372BRE4 is a small bottom-mounted fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 373L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E381TRT3 is a small vertical fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 380L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E388L is an upright freezer with a claimed volume of 389L. But how does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E402BRE4 is a medium-sized bottom-mounted fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 403L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E411T is a medium-sized top-mounted fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 411L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E442BRE4 is a medium-sized bottom-mounted fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 442L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E450R is a large fridge with a capacity of 451L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Fisher & Paykel E522BRE4 is a large bottom-mounted fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 519L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Electrolux EQE6007SB-NAU is an extra-large French-door fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 602L. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The Electrolux EQE6207SD-NAU is an extra-large bottom-mounted fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 624L and it has a chiller. How well does it perform?
Snapshot: The LG GN-253VW is a small vertical fridge-freezer with a total capacity of 253L and has a chiller. How fresh does it keep your food?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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 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.
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.
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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