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Choosing a Built-In Style Refrigerator

Built-in Refrigerators - This high-end option takes the free-standing appliance and artfully integrates it into your home. Manufacturers use terms like "seamless" when describing their products. Built-in refrigerators can disappear in a kitchen if you want them to. Going beyond attaching cabinet panels to the front of the fridge, built-ins can become indistinguishable from other cabinet doors. The effect is so complete that it could be necessary to hunt for the fridge, if you don't already know where it is. If you don't want to disguise your appliances, stainless steel is still a very popular style option. It won't disappear like the cabinet front fridge, but it does still hold true to the seamless styling.

Built-in refrigerators are large, but shallow. They are true cabinet depth, even if that might mean making the cabinets a little deeper in some cases. In order to keep the appliance at the necessary shallow depth, the compressor is usually moved to the top, making the entire unit taller than the average refrigerator. Some high-end refrigerators use two separate compressors, one to cool the freezer and one to cool the refrigerator. The advantage is that the two separate compartments can stay at a much more stable temperature. With one compressor running, both compartments get colder, even if one was already cold enough.

Built-ins are cabinet depth appliances. There are also refrigerators that describe themselves as cabinet-depth, but not as built-ins, so what is the difference? A refrigerator marketed as a cabinet-depth appliance is a most often a free standing unit. It could be taken out and moved to another location and look just fine. It has a finished exterior cabinet, just like any standard refrigerator. A built-in refrigerator has to be installed into a precisely sized cabinet. If you moved a built-in, you would see that it does not have a finished exterior; instead it has exposed sheet metal, wiring and equipment.

Modular refrigeration is increasing in availability and is, essentially, a variant of built-in refrigerators. Instead of one big unit (or two units if you opt for a separate refrigerator and freezer), modular refrigeration is broken into subparts. You can select one or more refrigerator columns, combine them with freezer columns, or drawers or under-cabinet units. Aside from this difference it fits under the same category as built-ins.

The primary advantage of built-in refrigerators is aesthetics; you are buying a look. The seamless styling of built-ins give a kitchen a very streamlined look by eliminating the prominence of appliances. The shallow shelves make finding and reaching items easier since shelves are not so deep that things get pushed to the back and lost. If you purchase separate refrigerator and freezer units, the transfer of odors between the two will be eliminated. Also, on high-end appliances, the list of features and refinements is the longest.

One of the disadvantages is that people tend to think of these appliances as providing lots of extra storage capacity, but they really don't. The capacities are on the higher end of the range, but not really any larger than the much less expensive free-standing fridges. A second disadvantage is they take up a lot of kitchen cabinet space. The trade off for a built-in look is that it is wider and taller than other styles of refrigerators. Another obvious disadvantage is the substantially higher prices.

Special note: it is very important to carefully plan the surrounding cabinet and countertop to allow for the swing of the doors. Specifications vary from by manufacturer and model, but always read the installation planning guide to make sure the refrigerator you select will fit in the intended location. Additionally, if you will be installing cabinet panels on your refrigerator to match the surrounding cabinetry, make sure to allow for any added thickness of the panels when calculating the door swing. There must be enough room for the door, with the attached panel to swing open to the specified number of degrees. Failure to properly plan can result in problems like drawers not being accessible if the door cannot open fully.

The manufacturer list below reflects those companies known to produce built-in style refrigerators at the time of writing or recent update.

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Refrigerators by Manufacturer Refrigerators by Type Major Retailers

Bosch $7,949 - $8,149
Dacor $7,070 - $9,600
Gaggenau $ not available
General Electric $5,719 - $7,539
Jenn-Air $ not available
KitchenAid $5,799 - $8,799
Miele $7,295 - $13,489
Monogram $ not available
SubZero $ not available
Thermador $8,599 - $9,149
Viking $ not available
Counter depth $1,379 - $4,239
Built-in $5,719 - $13,489
Side-by-side $999 - $4,239
Freezer on top $388 - $2,199
Freezer on bottom $807 - $3,080
French door $1,099 - $8,199
Cabinet panel refrigerator $2,349 - $13,489
Refrigerated Drawers $2,099 - $3,399
Compact fridge $89 - $324
Beverage center $159 - $2,059
Wine storage $349 - $6,995
Outdoor fridge
Professional Style $1,399 - $13,489
Commercial $1,099 - $16,999

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*All prices are MSRP

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