Refrigerators: What Does Cabinet Depth Mean?

There is no “standard” size in appliances and certainly not in refrigerators.

Full Depth Refrigerator freestandingKnowing the maximum height, depth and width of your opening is crucial in selecting a new refrigerator. In fact, size is the No. 1 factor in narrowing down your options.

Most refrigerators today fit either a 30″, 33″ or 36″  wide opening and a 66″, 68″ or 70″ high opening. You should also also allow 1″ of clearance on each side of the refrigerator for breathing room.

But because refrigerators have become deeper within the last 10 years, you also should consider the depth of your space. Manufacturers have added more insulation to retain temperatures in the refrigerator to keep up with increasing efficiency standards, which has increased the overall depth of today’s refrigerators by 2″-4″.

Which means your fridge will stick out even more from the edge of your cabinets. Solution? Cabinet depth refrigerators.

What Is Cabinet Depth?

Cabinet depth (aka counter depth) refrigerators give your kitchen a more sleek look. The 24″ depth allows your refrigerator’s cabinet to align with the surrounding cabinetry, creating more of a “built-in” look for your kitchen. Cabinet depth styling is most commonly found in side-by-side models, but can also be found in top freezer models, bottom freezer styles and French door refrigerators.

So why doesn’t everyone have a counter depth fridge? Basically, price versus capacity. A French-door counter depth refrigerator is going to offer fewer cubic feet of food storage for the money than a full-depth French-door refrigerator.

Buying a refrigerator: Which style is best for you?

If you’re looking to buy a refrigerator, the last time you researched your options likely was years ago. Well, a lot changed in the last decade.

Before, most refrigerators for sale were just the standard top-freezer refrigerator. Now, there are four major styles to choose from, not to mention refrigerator drawers, columns and compact options — which I’ll save for another post.

Top Freezer Refrigerator

The classic top freezer refrigerator remains  among one of the most popular styles in the market place today. The freezer is at eye-level, which is good if you use frozen food most often. Plus, the refrigerator has wider shelves than a side-by-side refrigerator, making it easy to store large trays of food and allow easy access to things stored in the back of the refrigerator.

If you have space constraints, you’ll likely end up with a top freezer, because some models in this style fit a smaller footprint. And from a budget perspective, top freezer refrigerators are an affordable style that boast convenience features such as factory-installed icemakers, chilled water dispensers (on some models) and glass shelves. Plus, top freezers are the most energy-efficient style, and are rated to last the longest.

Side by Side Refrigerator

On a side by side refrigerator, two compartment doors wing out from the center; the freezer compartment is located on the left side and the refrigerator compartment on the right.

If your kitchen has a narrow walkway or an island, you’ll like the side-by-side refrigerator’s smaller door swing clearance.

Many side by side refrigerators have the option for a filtered ice and water dispenser. And if you’re looking for lots of storage, most side by side refrigerators are
23-26 cu. ft., which is more overall cooling space than most top freezer refrigerators.

Bottom Freezer Refrigerator

The bottom freezer refrigerator is the most popular refrigerator style. Heck, I have one!

Because most people access the refrigerator compartment 9-10 times more often than they do the freezer, bringing the refrigerator section up to waist or chest level offers the most accessibility.

Many brands offer a choice of either a swing-door freezer or pull-out freezer drawer. The drawer design allows for easier access to the back of the freezer by minimizing the amount of bending and crouching needed. From a budget perspective, bottom freezer refrigerators are becoming more affordable as most brands now make them.

French Door Refrigerator

French-door refrigerators (I’ve also heard them called “3-door refrigerators”) combine the best of both worlds.

The refrigerator compartment is at waist and chest level like a bott0m-freezer, but the refrigerator has French doors (side-by-side) opening from the center, which means symmetrical styling and less door clearance is needed if a walkway or island is involved.

But the two doors open to the same, sole refrigerator compartment so you still have wide refrigerator shelves to accommodate large party trays or oblong dishes. Similar to the bottom freezer style, French door refrigerators feature a freezer drawer design. Many models also offer the option of an ice & water dispenser on the freezer door or an internal water-only dispenser.

Cabinet depth refrigerators


When To Break Up With Your Refrigerator


The average refrigerator lasts about 12 years, but what if yours is still humming along?

A week ago, we got an email from the sweetest lady EVER (don’t even try to debate it). It began:

My husband purchased a General Electric refrigerator on May 20, 1949, 6 days after our brand new daughter, Mary, was born.  One of the features I liked about it was a “butter conditioner”.

This Model MF8F General Electric refrigerator is still running.  But there is the possibility, it could seize to function one day.

The ‘butter conditioner’ in the door is intended to keep butter at the temperature I desire.

Thus far, I don’t know where to look for a refrigerator with this feature.  I’m almost sure you can help me.

Clearly, this woman — bless her heart — should’ve replaced her refrigerator decades ago. That wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing butter conditioner, though source of such creamy deliciousness, really is just a black hole of energy.

That thing probably runs on $300-$400 worth of electricity per year, versus $50 or so of a new Energy Star refrigerator.

I’m not hating on this woman (on the contrary; I want to adopt her), as it’s hard to tell when to just break up with a “perfectly good” refrigerator.

The New York Times mused on the topic in 2008, and decided that 15-years-old is a pretty safe retirement age for your refrigerator.

What if you inherited appliances from the previous owner? If you’re like me and your home was sold to you with so-called updated appliances, you can use Energy Star’s Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator, a handy tool that lets you input the model number of your current fridge to see how much more you’re spending on energy use annually versus a new, Energy Star refrigerator.

How Long Does a Refrigerator Last?

refrigerator-graveyardAccording to research, the average refrigerator lasts about 12 years. If you think it might be time to retire your refrigerator, check out Energy Star’s Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator. This handy tool that lets you input the model number of your current fridge to see how much more you’re spending on energy use annually versus a new, Energy Star refrigerator. Now let’s play by the numbers.


The number of years in the average refrigerator’s lifespan, according to research. The life span reflects how long the first owner of a refrigerator used it, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it broke down.


Amount cubic feet of fresh food storage space in the average refrigerator, based on active models.


Cubic feet of average amount of freezer space, based on active models. Guess that means the average refrigerator unit is just under 22 cu. ft.


Average price of Energy Star refrigerators in 2009.


Average price of a standard refrigerator in 2009 (not much difference, eh?).


Amount of years it takes for the lower operations costs of an Energy Star refrigerator to make up, or “pay back,” for the initial sticker price difference.


Net savings (energy savings minus initial higher cost) of an Energy Star refrigerator over its expected lifetime of 12 years.

Energy Star refrigerators save $50/year over 1990s fridges

This is an outdated picture of my kitchen, but you get the idea.

I’m replacing my 15-year-old refrigerator this month with a more roomy, smarter-designed and better-looking new fridge.

Best of all, it’s an Energy Star refrigerator, which means that it uses at least 20 percent less energy than a non-Energy Star fridge. Plus, although Energy Star refrigerators generally cost more upfront, you should consider overall cost of the appliance — which includes how much energy it uses compared to other models.

Energy Star estimates that over the lifetime of your refrigerator, you will cut your energy bills by $165 versus if you used an non-Energy Star model.

So think of how much you save when you unplug the refrigerator you’re using right now? Actually, see the handy chart below.

So my fridge from the ’90s costs about $97 per year compared to an Energy Star refrigerator, which uses an average of $48, according to this chart. (And actually, my new fridge is 10 percent better than the Energy Star standards; its energy use is estimated to cost about $43 per year.)

Obviously, I have to buy the new fridge, but I’ve budgeted for that. Now, what will I do with the $50? Better question: what will do with the $600 in usage cost savings I’ll realize over the average life (12 years) of my refrigerator?