How to Shop For a Refrigerator

Kenmore 76203 Review: Finding the best refrigerator.

By Kevin RR Williams

SHOPPING It's been a while since I have cooked. For a few weeks, grocery shopping was halted. We all expect major appliances to last forever. After all, that's why they're called "major." It's a big expense. But eventually the inevitable happens. An aging appliance doesn't seem to work properly even after several repairs. This was the case with my 15-year-old Frigidaire. It appeared to forget that it was supposed to keep things cold. The "frost-free" freezer had a perpetual iceberg above a pool of water. Eventually, we had to pull the plug and get a replacement.

Though I am happy with our purchase, one model doesn't work for everyone. But let me share the reasoning process to see if my selection might be right for you.

Assess Faults of Current Refrigerator

The old white Frigidaire had side-by-side French doors — narrow freezer on the left; narrow refrigerator on the right. It had a problematic ice maker (hesitation, rust) with water and ice through the door. I use the freezer very little (prefer fresh veggies) and avoid filtered tap water. Since I am tall, a bottom freezer keeps commonly used items at eye level. There's no desire for ice through the door. I really could use a dominant refrigerator section and subordinate freezer compartment.

White plastic trim on top and bottom of doors yellows over time. The gray trim with stainless steel is less noticeable. Some models of stainless steel are smudge proof but don't attract magnets (likely because of a nickel component). The ones that smudge usually can attract magnets at the risk of scratching. A special polishing solution is recommended. So the bottom line is that if you go stainless, you may need to retire the refrigerator magnets, unless you have an exposed side for such.

Measure the height, width and depth where the refrigerator will sit before shopping. Look for Energy-Star ratings to save money over time. Make certain that compartments are sturdy and adjustable. This led me to the Kenmore 22.4 cubic foot, Bottom Freezer Refrigerator (model 795.76203.901). See sidebar for specifications. This size is ideal for two vegetarians. There is considerable unused space for leftovers so I am certain it could easily accommodate a family of four or five meat eaters. The Energy Star rating qualifies for an instant $35 Edison rebate.

Make Certain You’re Covered

There's always an upsell. The refrigerator comes in white. Stainless steel is a $200 upgrade at Sears. Of course you'll want an extended protection agreement with that. Tack on another $469 for 5 years. Yikes! We just exceeded our budget.

I had to step away from the hard sell and call a timeout with my wife. We either need to settle for white with the Sears protection agreement or choose stainless steel with SquareTrade coverage for $239. The difference is that the Sears contract is indefinitely renewable but SquareTrade is a one-time purchase. For those unfamiliar with the service, SquareTrade insures all types of gadgets and appliances for an average of 40 percent less than store-bought protection plans. They have a standard policy of resolving repairs with manufacturers within five days or replacing the defective item.

Since renewed 3-year Sears protection agreements (maximum length) would likely cost nearly $400 each, it could be reasoned that the consumer is actually buying another refrigerator in the event of catastrophe. For around $280, Sears will cover just about any home appliance for one year if it's less than 10 years old. So between the sixth and tenth year, if something goes wrong, we are charged $280 with a 1-year warranty. After that, if the appliance disintegrates into built-in obsolescence, it may be necessary to go shopping again.

With a Saturday purchase and $10 fee, the deliverymen exchanged the Frigidaire on Monday. The Kenmore refrigerator door can be hung to swing from the left or right so the opening faces the sink/stove or, in my case, does not bang a doorway.

Useful Features

Default recommended temperature settings are 37° F (8° C) for the refrigerator and 0° F (-18° C) for the freezer with an estimated $50 annual energy bill. But milk and juices are best kept between 40 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit. (Display can easily be switched to Celsius.) The temperature is subject to variances from top to bottom and, when door is opened frequently, and when warm items are added to shelves. For my tastes, orange juice tastes too warm at 37° F so I set the refrigerator to 34 degrees. In time for the summer heatwave, a "cold one" is just that. It's nice to have a digital setting, though I have not yet confirmed the accuracy with a thermometer.

I immediately noticed that the internal area is twice as wide as what I previously had. Shelves can be adjusted asymmetrically or aligned for wide pans — something that could not be done with French doors. There's a large covered butter compartment on the door that can accommodate up to four pounds (16 sticks). Door shelves are also adjustable and sturdy enough to hold gallon-size containers.

Arrange Refrigerator to Make Groceries Last As Long As Possible

A noteworthy improvement over the prior fridge is the effortless sliding vegetable and fruit bins. If left open, the main refrigerator door pushes crispers in without breaking them. The old bins were taped, glued and replaced several times due to contact with the main door. Though the new crispers are not as deep, beneath them is a full-width pantry drawer for cheese, deli, tempeh and tofu. The freezer section is about the size of of a cloths basket. It also has a full-width sliding top drawer for the ice bucket and other items. Leave either door propped open too long and an intermittent beep sounds. When left slightly ajar, the door pulls itself close. An Ultra Freeze button increases the freezing and ice output for 24 hours.

Hopefully your refrigerator is working well. If the freezer can't make ice or perishables cannot be kept below 45° F (8° C), then it may be time to shop for a new refrigerator to stay A Bit More Healthy. It that's the case, perhaps the tips shared here will be helpful.