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What to Look for in a New Fridge: Refrigerator Buying Guide

Replacing a refrigerator? Read this first.

With all the different styles, colors and features available, shopping for a new refrigerator can be fun. But the excitement can turn into a real headache if you get your new refrigerator home and discover it doesn't fit or that the door won't open far enough to pull out the crisper drawers. A good appliance salesperson can help you choose the best style and features for your budget and lifestyle. But here are some tips to consider that probably won't be addressed at the store.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Make sure it’ll fit!

Make sure it’ll fit!

Some appliances, like stoves and dishwashers, are made to fit standard-size openings in your cabinetry, but not refrigerators. You may find one the right width and then discover that it’s too tall. To avoid surprises on delivery day, measure the width and height of the refrigerator space and jot it down before you go shopping. Allow at least an inch of extra space on all sides of the refrigerator for easy installation and adequate ventilation. Also make sure the new refrigerator will fit through doorways leading to the kitchen.

Check the EnergyGuide sticker

Check the EnergyGuide sticker

Use the EnergyGuide stickers to comparethe annual operating costs of the refrigerators you’re considering. Also, if you know how much your old refrigerator costs to run, you can figure out how much you’ll save by buying a new, energy-efficient model. To do this, multiply the ‘estimated yearly electricity use’ in kWh (kilowatt-hours) from the EnergyGuide sticker by the cost of your electricity per kWh. For example, if the tag shows an annual usage of 630 kWh and your electricity costs 8¢ per kWh, multiply 630 by .08 to arrive at an annual cost of $50.40.

See if parts are available

See if parts are available

Before you purchase a refrigerator made in another country, check with your local appliance repair service to see if parts are readily available. Parts for some foreign-made appliances are expensive and hard to get. Also ask about repair costs for the model you’re considering.

Find out what your old refrigerator is costing you

Find out what your old refrigerator is costing you

Buying a new, energy-efficient refrigerator can save you money. But to calculate your savings, you have to figure out what your old refrigerator costs to run. First, check your electric bill to see what the utility is charging you per kilowatt hour (kWh). This number will likely be 7¢ to 40¢ per kWh depending on where you live. Next, find out how much electricity your refrigerator is consuming. The most accurate method is to plug your refrigerator into a meter that records how many kilowatt-hours of electricity are consumed while the refrigerator is plugged into the meter.

For example, let’s say your electricity costs 10¢ per kWh, and your refrigerator consumes three kilowatt hours of electricity over a 24-hour period. Multiply the cost of your electricity (10¢) by the total kWh used (three) to arrive at 30¢. Your refrigerator costs 30¢ a day, or about $110 a year, to operate. Your results will be more accurate if you record usage for a longer period. You can also go to energystar.org and enter the model number into the Refrig erator Retirement Savings Calculator to find the average energy usage for your model.

Ask about haul-away and delivery

Ask about haul-away and delivery

Moving a refrigerator in and out of your house can be a nasty task, especially if stairs are involved. When you buy your refrigerator, check to see if the cost of removing your old refrigerator and delivering the new one is included, and if not, what the charges will be. And don’t forget that if you have an icemaker, you’ll need to connect the water. Find out if this is included in the delivery cost.

Use a braided stainless supply line

Use a braided stainless supply line

Refrigerators with icemakers or water dispensers require a water supply line. Plastic tubing is cheap and easy to install, but it’s not rodent-proof and can get brittle as it ages. If it breaks or gets gnawed through, the leak can cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage. Quarter-inch soft copper tubing is a better choice, but it’s more difficult to install and prone to kinking.

Braided stainless steel supply lines are the best choice because they’re durable and easy to connect. Simply thread the nuts onto each end of your supply valve and refrigerator tubing. Rubber gaskets ensure a leak-free connection, and the stainless steel covering protects the supply line. The stainless steel lines cost $15 to $30 depending on the length. You’ll need a 1/4-in. threaded male compression fitting at the refrigerator. If your refrigerator doesn’t have this connection, you’ll have to add a fitting.

Make sure doors will clear

Make sure doors will clear

When you’re shopping for a new refrigerator, don’t forget to plan for how the doors will open. If you have an island close to the refrigerator, or a narrow kitchen, smaller French doors or double doors may be a better choice. If the refrigerator is against a wall, make sure you have enough clearance so the door can open completely. Otherwise you may have trouble opening interior drawers or removing them for cleaning. And remember that single refrigerator doors can swing in either direction depending on which side the hinges are on. Most refrigerator doors are reversible, but it’s much easier to order the refrigerator with the correct door swing than to change it yourself.

Ask about smudge-free stainless steel

Ask about smudge-free stainless steel

If you hate trying to keep your stainless steel appliances looking shiny, ask about new easy-to-clean finishes. Some brands offer stainless steel lookalikes that have the added advantage of holding refrigerator magnets. Others offer special types of stainless steel that resist smudges and are much easier to clean.

Don’t use a saddle valve

Don’t use a saddle valve

Most icemaker connection kits include a saddle valve for connecting the icemaker supply line to your home’s copper water pipe. Saddle valves are easy to install, but they’re unreliable and prone to leaking. Instead, add a tee and a shutoff valve. If the connection isn’t concealed in a wall or ceiling, you can avoid soldering by using push-fit connectors and push-fit valves like the ones shown here.

Protect your refrigerator

Protect your refrigerator

Power surges are fluctuations in voltage that can damage or degrade the electronics in your new refrigerator. Large power surges like those caused by lightning strikes can literally fry electronics, but even small surges originating from motors inside your house can cause cumulative damage to delicate electronics. And most new refrigerators have expensive, vulnerable circuit boards.

The best insurance against power surges is to replace your refrigerator outlet with a new surge protector outlet. Electrical codes may also require that the new outlet be protected by a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) and AFCI (arc-fault circuit interrupter). Check with your inspections department.

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