When I first started in the Kitchen and Bath industry in the early 2000’s someone told me that our industry was in the same place as the automobile industry was in the 1950’s and 60’s. Meaning up until that point technology had stayed fairly consistent, but was ready to make a significant leap forward. Over the last decade that prediction has come to pass in a big way. Unfortunately, if you haven’t shopped for a refrigerator since the 1990’s you may be in for some price-shock if you go shopping today.
It’s not your grandmother’s Icebox Anymore
If most of us got sucked into a weird Toby McGuire/Reese Whitherspoon style 1950’s parralell dimension time warp, I think most of us could recognize the modern kitchen with a sink, a stove, and a refrigerator, and probably make good use of these items.
The truth is for decades the basics of refrigeration have stayed the same. You have a compressor that pressurizes and moves a refrigerant in superheated vapor form, that moves through coils called a condenser, which slightly cools the refrigerant and then pressure is lowered through a valve which causes a snap-cool evaporation effect. A fan blows air over the now super-cooled coils and introduced into the coldest area (the freezer) and then eventually it gets to the cool area (refrigerator). The refrigerant then goes back and starts all over again.
Are your eyes glazed over yet? Good, I don’t expect you to remember everything, just to understand that, while we’ve gotten better at insulating and cooling, more efficient and environmentally friendly refrigerant (the original models used freon), and even arranging the space inside the home refrigerator, it’s not until last decade or so that they’ve actually made advances in technology.
Okay smart guy, what advances?
Well a lot of companies have started touting a “Twin Cooling” or “Dual Cooling” effect, which is great as long as you understand what it is, why it is useful, and what to watch out for.
You see over time we’ve realized that for optimal food storage, the air in the freezer needs to stay cold and dry, and the refrigerator air should stay cool and moist. What happens with older models that share the air from the freezer to the refrigerator is frost builds up in the freezer, and you end up with wilted limp lettuce in the refrigerator. That’s why your crisper drawer is there. When you close the vents for high humidity that magical plastic box just protects your vegetables from the evil forces of Jack Frost.
Eventually someone figured out that the key to separating air flow is to separate the systems entirely. For years Sub Zero had the lock on their “Dual Compressor, Dual Evaporator” technology. Meaning the refrigerator was on it’s own system and so was the freezer, if one unit went out, the other one was still going strong. The first thing people began to notice of course was that head of lettuce that would go bad in 3-5 days now was lasting over 3 weeks, because it was being stored in stable environment.
While Sub Zero has been and will continue to be a leader in refrigeration, others have latched on, in part, to this success. General Electric, Kitchenaid, LG, and Samsung all have their own way to separate the airflow using a single compressor, but twin evaporators. This keeps the costs down, and while they aren’t quite as efficient as a true dual unit, they are much better than their predecessors.
Alright, so my food will last longer that’s “cool” I guess. How many cubic feet should I get?
Cool. I see what you did there. Yes there are other things to consider while shopping for a refrigerator, and not a single one of them is cubic feet. Do you know how they measure cubic feet? They tilt the refrigerator on it’s side, fill it with water and see how much water it will hold. What information does that give me about the food I’m going to store? NOTHING! I don’t buy cubes of food. I’ve seen 19 cubic foot refrigerators that store more water bottles than 22 cubic foot refrigerators.
It’s about the layout and if it makes sense for how you live. Pay more attention to individual storage features. If you buy more food at the farmer’s market, then get one that has more refrigerator space like a french door unit with a freezer on the bottom, and maybe one that has more produce drawers.
However, if you go to Costco and bulk up every month, pay more attention to the freezer storage (you’ll probably need a freezer in the garage as well – get used to it). Then again, if you are in a wheelchair or have a very skinny kitchen get a side-by-side unit because the doors are less likely to interfere in your life than a unit with a drawer. Think about your life and how this refrigerator fits into it. Not about meaningless numbers.
Fine, but at the beginning you mentioned technology, is there any other tech I need to know about?
I’m glad you asked. Miele, those German guys that make kick-ass vaccuums, also make major appliances, including refrigeration. What makes some of there refrigeration so special is that you have the option to purchase a component that hooks your refrigerator up to the wifi in your house.
No you can’t read email or play Angry Birds, but if there’s a problem service can call YOU to set up an appointment before you even know about it. They can remote diagnose the problem and send the tech out once with the right part to fix it. If they can do it with cars, why not my refrigerator, right?
Speaking of reading my email on my refrigerator:
Yeah, but does it have GPS and leather seats?
Have a question or comment? Make sure and let me know.