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Cast a cool eye on details when selecting new fridge

Ice cream melts into milkshakes. Your house "whirrs" like the background soundtrack of some weird sci-fi movie. Give those earplugs the cold shoulder. Time for a new fridge.

Hopefully if you do it right, you won't need to go on another refrigerator hunt for a long time. Here's how to begin your search:

1. Take a good look at your kitchen space, measuring the height, width and depth of the space where your new your fridge will go. Most refrigerators are about 30 to 36 inches in width.

2. Allow a few more inches for actually opening the fridge door -- you don't want to hit anything.

3. Plan on a dozen cubic feet of storage space for a couple, and two more cubic feet for every other person in the household.

4. Draw up a budget -- you can spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars to five figures.

5. Consider the kind of fridge you want. Free-standing refrigerators won't need custom installation. Built-ins will match your cabinets -- at a cost.

6. Check out newspaper advertising inserts and the Web to see what's available in your budget range.

7. Think about add-ons you'd want, like water and ice dispensers. Know that a feature such as a water dispenser means you'll need a plumbing hook-up. Make sure you follow specific directions about proper installation of these extras. One Buffalo-area homeowner never bothered to read his new guide, and as a result his water tasted vile for a decade.

8. Also note style and colors. Black might be chic, but you're going to do more dusting than if you pick a traditional white color. Stainless steel was the choice of at least one local automotive expert. Generally the idea is to have your new appliance blend in with the kitchen decor.

9. Remember your diet. Would you make use of a wine-cooler? One area fast-food afficionado made sure he bought a fridge big enough to slip in a whole pizza box. That's Buffalo ingenuity -- he never had to transfer left-over pizza to a plate, saving him dishes and more time to watch the game.

10. Don't forget you're going to have to keep the inside clean, too. Glass shelves rather than metal racks will prevent gravy from spilling on food below.

11. A crisper bin keeps your vegetables, salad and fruits fresher for longer.

12. If you're a bulk-food buyer, look at the storage space for those big containers. Side-by-side fridges may offer more freezer room and less bending, but can be pricier. They also can provide a solution to the problematic wide-swinging door. Want your food basics stored at eye-level? A bottom-freezer may be for you.

13. Easy-to-read digital temperature controls may help in the effort to keep your comestibles cool.

14. Extra charges may not show up on the price tag, like delivery.

15. Make arrangements to get rid of your old fridge, especially if you live in one of Buffalo's second-floor flats, with a narrow hallway.

16. Ask about how much maintenance your new appliance will require. Remember the more gadgets you get, like a built-in TV, the more things can break.

17. Inquire about the warranty and what it covers. You'll want at least a standard one-year warranty covering all parts and labor. In certain cases, extended warranties may cover food loss -- but some consumer advocates say they're not worth it. Also your charge card may give you protection. Call your issuer to confirm coverage. Keep those credit card receipts to prove your date of purchase.

18. When you browse at a store, take the time to see how easy it is to roll out those bins. Pullout freezer shelves can be handy, too. See if the salesperson will toss in free extras, maybe a cleaning brush.

19. After your new fridge is delivered, look it over to make sure there are no scratches, nicks or dents. If you find any delivery damage, you might be able to negotiate a "nick" off your bill.

>Tips and warnings

* You may be able to count on lower electric bills with a new appliance, since your aging fridge might be less energy-efficient. Check for an "Energy Star" label that identifies models that use high efficiency compressors, improved insulation and more precise temperature and defrost mechanisms to improve energy savings.

* Kids may spot your tossed old fridge and think it's a neat hiding place. Take the doors off!

* Set your fridge at 40 degrees in the fresh food compartment and 0 to 5 degrees in the freezer section. (Buy an inexpensive refrigerator thermometer to check.) One in five households may keep their refrigerator temperature too high, above 45 degrees. Keeping skim milk stored at more than 50 degrees can cause serious health problems. According to a report by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, improperly refrigerated milk caused an increase in cases of Salmonella Typhimurium -- that could put you in the hospital.



Consumer Reports
Real Simple magazine
Food Alert! sourcebook


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