Top freezers ($400 to $1,200) are the most space- and energy-efficient; bottom freezers ($700 to $1,500) locate the refrigerator section at eye level and offer deep freezer storage. Side-by-sides ($800 to $2,000) have two full-height doors―a freezer on one side, a refrigerator on the other.
- A just-right size. Refrigerators are measured in cubic feet, but that number can be misleading: It includes space taken up by the freezer, the shelves, and the bins. For two to four people, an 18-cubic-foot refrigerator (with about five of those cubic feet devoted to the freezer) should suffice. An ice maker will use about one cubic foot of the freezer cavity; some newer models locate the ice maker on the freezer door to save room.
- Space-expanding features. Motorized shelves can be raised and lowered to accommodate items. Elevator shelves, which adjust with the crank of a lever, are just as effective. Also look for movable door bins, as well as pullout shelves, which offer access to goods stashed in the back. Some units have caddies that hold soda cans and racks for storing wine bottles horizontally.
- Easy-care materials. Stainless steel is sleek, but it shows streaks and fingerprints; faux stainless doesn't. Inside, glass shelves are easier to wipe down than metal grills and have lips that contain spills, says Chris Hall, cofounder and president of the appliance-maintenance website repairclinic.com.
- Energy efficiency. Bottom freezers use 16 percent less energy than side-by-sides; top freezers consume 13 percent less. You'll use 14 to 20 percent more energy if you pick a through-the-door water dispenser. The most efficient fridges bear the Energy Star label, which ensures that they use 15 percent less energy than federal efficiency standards require.
- Water filters. Some appliances contain a water dispenser with a filter for the ice maker―ideal for minimizing lead and chlorine―in a through-the-door configuration or inside the refrigerator.