If you are doing research on new refrigerators, choosing the style can be one of your most important considerations. Many of today's consumers are looking for French door bottom freezer models. Some consumers love the once-popular side by side models. However, if you are constrained for space, have a limited budget, or simply prefer a traditional style, a top freezer refrigerator may be a good fit for you. As their name suggests, top freezer refrigerators have the fresh food compartment on the bottom and the freezer on the top.
This style of refrigerator is often found in many small homes, older homes and apartments. This is due to their smaller size and lower cost. They come in many sizes from 10 cubic feet to 24 cubic feet. In terms of dimensions these tend to fit in smaller spaces both in terms of height and width than many of the larger French door and side by side models that have become popular in the past two decades.
Top freezer refrigerators are a good option if you...
Have a tight budget - In the 18 cubic foot range, for example, you can find many models between $600-$800, while bottom freezer and French door models in that capacity are usually over $1,000. In general, you can find a lot of full-size top freezer models in the $500-$800 range.
Prefer energy efficiency - Refrigerators are constantly running, making them a big contributor to electric bills. Top freezer refrigerators are more efficient than refrigerators with freezers on the bottom. Although the difference may not save you much each year, it's still another cost savings in addition to the cheaper up-front price.
Have limited space for a refrigerator - Top freezers have the advantage here for two reasons. First, they are usually 30-33" wide while side by side and bottom freezer models can be up to 36" wide. A top freezer model can fit in a narrower space. Secondly, the interior capacity compared to the exterior dimensions is larger, giving you more usable storage space. Although they have similar footprints (width/depth measurements) to bottom freezer refrigerators, when it comes to French doors and side by sides, the top freezer models win out in typical width and depth.
Care about function over form - As with any appliance, the refrigerator has a dedicated function to make our lives easier. If you are used to the top freezer configuration and don't find bending over to access the refrigerator section to be overly annoying, the main reasons for converting to a bottom-mount refrigerator style won't apply to you.
Typical Features & Options
An apartment-sized refrigerator in the top freezer category will usually run around 10-14 cubic feet and cost around $400 to $700. These are compact models that can be as narrow as 24 inches wide.
Full-sized models are usually 16-20 cubic feet with most of the largest models falling in the 20-22 cubic foot range. As of this writing, one of the largest top freezer refrigerators is the 24 cubic foot LG Model LTCS24223S, and it's still just 33 inches wide! At $1,099 in black or white and $1,199 in stainless steel, it's a bargain: a bottom freezer with that capacity costs approximately $500 more, and a French door model would cost at least $800 more.
Icemakers are a common option and relatively easy to set up when they don't come factory-installed, but external water dispensers don't exist in these types of refrigerators. Refrigerator organization options are more extensive with some models - features like gallon door bins, humidity controlled crispers, door compartments for butter or eggs, and tempered glass shelves rather than wire shelving are a few examples.
The temperature controls may be mechanical dials or digital. You are less likely to find features like dual evaporators or linear compressors even in higher-end models (click the links to learn more about these features).
Exterior styling varies - many are available in black, white, the less-common bisque color option, and in stainless steel. Higher-end models may also be available in black stainless steel. They may come with bar handles or hidden pocket handles, which can be helpful if you prefer matching hardware but you can't find a refrigerator that matches your existing kitchen appliance suite.
We hope you enjoyed this brief discussion of top freezer refrigerators. If your budget for a new refrigerator is under $900, a top freezer model is likely the right choice. Even if you have a larger budget, you may be able to get more for your money with a higher-end top freezer model than an entry-level French door or side by side model. If you have the room and need a huge refrigerator, you may want to consider other refrigerator styles since there are only a few top freezer models available that are over 22 cubic feet of capacity. For more info on choosing a new refrigerator, check out our refrigerator buying guide!
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Editor's Note: This blog was originally written in August of 2017 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy as of the publication date noted above.