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The icebox leaveth, and in its wake come really cool alternatives.

August 07, 1993|PATRICK MOTT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

We've been grappling with refrigerators since the days when the highest high-tech component in them was a block of ice.

The fridge has confounded us with lack of space, inefficient storage, user-unfriendly configurations, strange gizmos and freezers that encrust into shapes capable of sinking a small ocean liner. And they've also accounted for a big chunk of our monthly electric bills.

If you're in the market for the most modern version of the venerable icebox, you'll be happy to know that the engineers, designers and folks responsible for appliance ergonomics have been working to tame the rectangular beast. They have been--literally and figuratively--filing off the rough edges for the past few years.

They have been developing a lineup of refrigerators that offer greater energy savings, convenience, self-sufficiency and environmental awareness.

Because it is a purchase with staying power, choosing a new refrigerator requires a bit of self-analysis. What, how and when you eat, as well as how much you're willing to spend, will help determine the sort of refrigerator you'll want.

Storage capacity

This is probably the most important factor in choosing a refrigerator, say industry representatives, and you must be fairly analytical about your family's needs in order to determine the proper size. For instance, do you freeze many meals, buy a lot of food with bulky packaging or save a lot of leftovers? If so, you might want to consider a larger capacity model.

Average-size households typically buy refrigerators with capacities of about 18 cubic feet, according to the Assn. of Home Appliance Manufacturers. However, smaller models are available and larger ones are now being manufactured that can have a capacity of up to 28 cubic feet.

Don't get carried away, however: A model that is too large cools more space than needed and uses energy unnecessarily. A refrigerator also can be too small and force more trips to the market or cause you to fill it too full for adequate air circulation. This also uses extra energy.

In any case, you must make sure that the refrigerator you buy will fit into its allotted space. Measure the space before you go shopping, and check all door and hallway clearances. Also, check to see whether the room layout requires a left- or right-hand door. Many models have reversible doors.

Styles

Single-door refrigerators typically feature small freezer compartments that may be limited to making ice and also may not be cold enough for long-term freezer storage. Almost all single-door models have manual defrost (you

turn off the cold and wait for the ice to melt).

Top-and-bottom refrigerators have smaller capacities than side-by-sides, particularly in the top freezer compartment, where food may have to be stacked. Newer models offer space-efficient storage racks. Most top-and-bottom models have partial automatic (refrigerator only) or automatic (refrigerator and freezer) defrost systems.

Side-by-side models offer the largest capacity and automatic defrost is standard.

Also, while most refrigerators are of the free-standing kind, many homeowners opt for a built-in model that lies flush with the surrounding walls and is often integrated in design with other appliances in the kitchen, and with the kitchen decor as a whole. Fitting the built-in model into the cabinetry hikes the price, however.

Design

Newer refrigerators have all but eliminated angular edges in any place where you often reach.

"The doors have a soft rounding to them," said Tony Evans of the Frigidaire Co. "Inside the shelves and racks are all rounded to make them easier to clean. This picks up the latest in styling of all kinds, from a Ford Taurus to a telephone."

Interiors are becoming easier on the eyes, too. Interior lighting has become brighter and more pervasive in every compartment of the refrigerator and there is increased use of see-through materials that let the user see at a glance what they have in the refrigerator.

Features

Along with a certain amount of standardization in the size of many food and drink containers, refrigerators have adapted their interiors to accommodate them more efficiently. Rather than simply providing shelves on which to stack food, modern refrigerators make use of nearly every cubic inch of space once the doors are closed.

There is more gallon storage and large-item storage on the doors, as well as more flexibility of the racks and bins on the doors.

"You can adjust the racks and bins to fit the kinds of food you're storing. For instance, if a watermelon comes in on a summer day, or a big ham on another day, you can make adjustments for them," said Evans.

Shelves, too, have seen modifications. Some refrigerator manufacturers now offer sliding shelves, and shelves that are sealed against spills.

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