Built in refrigerators have always been interior designers’ top choice, thanks to the seamless, stylish way they fit into your kitchen. These integrated fridges have always gotten top marks for excellent performance, too, ever since they made it possible to get the precision temperature and humidity control and air filtration and circulation of a professional restaurant kitchen fridge at home. Today, all the best refrigerator brand offer the technologies that used to set built in fridges apart. But they still can't match their design cred—or their longevity.
So exactly what makes a built in refrigerator so worth it and desirable? Whereas freestanding fridges sit next to your kitchen cabinets or inside an opening and can be moved around easily, built in fridges look and feel more like part of your cabinetry. You can opt for a stainless steel or glass door for a professional, restaurant-style appearance, or choose a panel ready fridge that can be fitted with cabinetry to match the rest of your kitchen. When your friends come over, they may not even know where your built in refrigerator is if it’s behind a paneled door (a.k.a. overlay or integrated door). And did we mention they’re incredibly long lasting? Built in refrigerators live up to 20 years or longer is not unheard of for leading brands like the Sub Zero fridge. All of these qualities make the built in refrigerator an investment that enhances the look of your kitchen, increases your home’s resale value, and makes cooking and entertaining a pleasure.
Why Are Built In Refrigerators So Expensive?
Whether you’re remodeling your kitchen or searching for a replacement fridge, looking at all different refrigerator possibilities can feel overwhelming. Even if you’re cutting out all the thousands of freestanding and refrigerators, the variety of built in options is still pretty confusing.
If you haven’t bought a built in fridge before, you’ll probably be struck first by the price. A high-end built in refrigerator can cost upward of $15,000, compared with closer to $3,000 or less for a standard fridge. You might be wondering, That’s five times as much! Is a built in refrigerator worth it?
Manufacturers used to tout the many advantages that built in fridges had over standard refrigerators—things like better temperature control and air filtration that impacted how long food lasts and how good it tastes. In theory, a a built in fridge might pay for itself over time in food waste avoided. Fortunately, over the past decade refrigerator manufacturers industry wide began to offer many of these same technologies, including advanced temperature control, humidity control, and airflow/filtration capabilities. A good refrigerator at any price point today incorporates features you used to see only on high-end built in refrigerators.
So purchasing a built in refrigerator isn’t really so much about performance as it is about enhancing the look of your kitchen, increasing your home’s resale value, and enjoying it everyday. Think of a built in refrigerator as a permanent design feature of your home—it’s part of its aesthetic, not simply another appliance. Like your home, a built in refrigerator is made for a long life, both in its use and its design.
Who Should Get a Built In Fridge?
For people with the budget, a built in refrigerator may sound like an incredible addition to any kitchen. If you’re renovating an older home in an area where property values are high, it’s a smart choice, since modern buyers expect luxuries like these.
But it’s important to keep in mind that these are not one-size-fits-all appliances. You must have high ceilings for a built in refrigerator to fit in; the walls need to be tall enough to accommodate one of these 84 inch (seven feet) tall appliances.
They’re also easiest to add when you’re redoing your cabinets or your whole kitchen. This way you can customize for the necessary height (84 inches) and the width at 36, 42, or 48 inches for your built in refrigerator.
You’d also want to buy a new built in fridge to replace an older existing one, unless you plan to modify your cabinets to accommodate a freestanding refrigerator instead.
Who Shouldn’t Get a Built In Fridge?
While there are plenty of good reasons to purchase a built in refrigerator, there are also several why one may not be the right fit for you, even if you have the budget. Be open minded and consider alternatives if you have low ceilings or are replacing a freestanding refrigerator under 72 inches tall.
Another factor to think about is your need for space. If your kitchen is small and you need to maximize storage, you may be better off going with a standard fridge. You may even consider a mini fridge in some circumstances.
If cost is a concern, you might consider a counter depth refrigerator as an alternative. Because these fridges don’t stick out as much as a standard depth refrigerator, they look more integrated into your cabinetry, and therefore more like a built in. Just keep in mind that you cannot install a custom panel on a counter depth fridge.
Built In Fridge Design Options
Consider these four configuration options to pick a built in refrigerator with the best look and functionality for you.
1. The Type
Built in refrigerators come in four basic types: bottom mount freezer (some manufacturers call this an over/under refrigerator), French door, side-by-side, or column. There really is no functional advantage to any one type in terms of food preservation, so you’ll want to look at your kitchen and decide which one works best in your layout.
- Bottom mount freezer refrigerators have one or two freezer drawers at the bottom. These have the advantage of putting the entire refrigerator compartment's contents at eye level, for easy access to all your fresh food, compared with traditional top freezer refrigerators.
- French door refrigerators offer loads of flexibility and ease of storage for wider, larger trays and containers. They come in a variety of door combinations as well. You can choose a French door refrigerator up top with one or two bottom freezer drawers; these may also be flexible in terms of temperature control, so that you can use them as refrigerator or freezer drawers, depending on what you need to store.
- Side-by-side refrigerators are a great option for people who like to keep their most-accessed fresh and frozen food at eye level. This classic type has a top-to-bottom freezer on one side, and a refrigeration section running the entire length of the other side. Though there’s no shortage of vertical storage, one setback is that the refrigerator and freezer compartments are still fairly narrow compared with other types that are wider. (The freezer, in particular, may be slimmer than the fridge.)
If you’re someone who cooks and freezes a lot of meals in advance, or loves to keep frozen grocery staples on hand, a side by side refrigerator may not be the best choice for you. It also may be a challenge to store wider containers or trays in the fridge compartment.
- Columns are the most versatile built in fridge option out there. You can combine a full refrigerator, full freezer, and built in wine fridge, or multiples of any of these. When selecting a column-style built in, you can place them side-by-side and join them so they create a continuous look, separate them from each other, or even place a wine cooler in between your fridge and freezer. The configuration is up to you, and totally customizable. If it’s the best for your floor plan and lifestyle, for example, you could have a fridge on one side of your kitchen and a freezer on the other.
When considering brands, Sub-Zero is a particular favorite of designers because the company offers endless ways to combine its columns and create a truly customized refrigerator for your home. A major point to consider with this type is the price. Because each piece is separate, the cost can easily exceed that of the other types of built in refrigerators.
2. The Compressor Location
One element that may change depending on the type of built in refrigerator you choose is the compressor location. These are the motor/pumps that keep your refrigerator cold. High-end built in refrigerators typically have two compressors, whereas freestanding refrigerators typically have only one. Dual compressors have historically been a big selling point of a built in refrigerators like Sub-Zero refrigerators. Because one compressor cools the fridge and the other the freezer, there’s no mixing of the air and gases that come from the food in either compartment, which keeps your food fresh for longer.
The compressors may be located either at the top or bottom of a built in refrigerator. Because you need to clean the condenser coils regularly, it’s important that they’re convenient for you to access. Easier cleaning is just one advantage of bottom mount compressors. They also allow for additional storage space on top of your fridge. With top mount compressors, you can’t have storage cabinets above your fridge, but the shelves inside your fridge will be lower down and easier to reach. In other words, it’s a tradeoff. Which compressor location is best for you depends on your preferences.
3. The Door
The façade of your built in is equally important when purchasing a new refrigerator, since it can change the entire look of your kitchen. Often designed to match your kitchen cabinets, panel front/overlay built ins give your kitchen a cohesive, put together look. Blending in with the cabinetry, a panel front allows other elements of your kitchen to be a focal point and transforms the look of the refrigerator from a standard appliance to a design feature. By contrast, a stainless steel façade gives your refrigerator a sleek, high-end look and is typically more affordable. There is no functional advantage between these two, so your budget and personal taste will be the determining factor here.
4. The Dimensions
Before you make any hasty decisions based on style alone, it’s very important to understand appliance sizes. As we mentioned earlier, standard built in refrigerators measure 84 inches tall, although you can find some that are 72 or 80 inches tall. The trickier decision for you is the width, which can measure from 18 to 48 inches, with lots of options in between. A word to the wise: There’s a much bigger difference between the refrigerator storage space you get as you move from 36 to 42 inches or from 42 to 48 inches than you might think. We recommend checking out different sizes of built in refrigerators in person to get a true sense of what you want and need; it’s very hard to incorporate a 48-inch built in refrigerator if you buy a 42-inch one and the cabinets to go along with it, then change your mind.
The depth varies a bit, too. Most built in fridges are 24 inches deep, but you can choose if you want yours to be flush with your cabinets or to be proud (in other words, to stand out slightly from the cabinets). In order to achieve a truly flush, modern look, go with columns.
Top 8 Built In Refrigerators of 2021
1. Best Overall Built In Refrigerator: Sub-Zero Classic Series
- 30, 36, 42, and 48 inch widths (Keep in mind that 48 inch built in refrigerator is the best seller for the brand.)
- Bottom mount freezer (aka over/under, with one freezer drawer) or side-by-side
- Compressor at the top; flips up for easy access
Still manufactured at a family-owned factory in Madison, Wisconsin, Sub-Zero refrigerators are the traditional built in choice. And the company’s Classic series are its most traditional models. They’re called Classic for a reason: They’ve been around for 75 years. These built in refrigerators feature the large iconic grill and discreet hinges the Sub Zero company’s famous for. According to Sub-Zero, its Classic fridges look a bit less hidden in your kitchen than its Designer series fridges (more on those below), even if you choose to cover the door with a cabinetry panel.
You can also select a Classic fridge with a glass door that allows you to take stock of the items inside without having to open it up. Spill-proof shelving helps contain small messes. All Classic series fridges are wifi ready, and connect to the same app as appliances from Sub Zero sister brands Wolf ranges and Cove dishwashers.
2. Best Built In Refrigerator Columns: Sub-Zero IT Series
- 24, 30, and 36 inch widths; 27 inch width available in ID-27R only
- Tall (one door, two drawers) or column units
- Compressor at the bottom
The Designer series are Sub-Zero’s truly hidden, seamless built in refrigerators. You’ll see less metal overall with these fridges. Because the Designer series includes column units, you can have them installed side by side without any gaps to build a custom fridge/freezer setup. Compared with the Classic series, Designer series refrigerators have a more advanced touch screen control, and feature nano-coated shelves that prevent spills from spreading and make cleanup a breeze. All Designer series fridges are wifi ready, and connect to the same app as appliances from Sub Zero sister brands Wolf and Cove.
3. Best French Door Built In Refrigerator: Sub Zero BI-36UFD
- 36 or 42 inch widths
- French door with one bottom freezer drawers
- Compressor at the top
These units have all the same traditional design features of Sub Zero's Classic series but with a popular French door configuration: double refrigerator doors up top, and a freezer drawer below. 36 or 42 inch widths are available with panel ready or stainless steel doors; the 18 inch doors of the 36 inch unit make it an ideal choice for smaller kitchens. This type is also available with a discreet internal water dispenser. You can choose from tubular or pro handles. All are wifi ready, and connect to the same app as appliances from sister brands Wolf and Cove.
4. Best Promotional Deals: Thermador Refrigerators
- 18, 23.5, 24, 30, or 36 inch widths
- Columns, over/under (one freezer drawer), French door
- Compressor at bottom
Thermador, sister brand to Bosch and Gaggenau, is known for its refrigerators’ unique stainless steel interiors with theater-style lighting. Most recently, Thermador introduced the Freedom refrigeration collection. A couple of features unique to these Thermador built in refrigerators are soft close drawers; Open Door Assist, a feature that lets you push or pull to open the doors; and wifi control via the Home Connect app, which could be especially handy if you’re buying a full suite of Thermador appliances and want to keep tabs on all of them from the same place. Thermador refrigerators’ ice makers also let you make its unique Diamond ice, which is shaped to melt more slowly.
Thermador is the only appliance brand that offers easy to understand deep promotional discounts. The Thermador 1-2-Free program will save you thousands of Dollars when you are working on a kitchen remodel project. The program will get you a free dishwasher with the purchase of a Thermador range. When you add the Thermador fridge you will be eligible for a stylish range hood.
5. Best Fingerprint Resistant Finish: Miele Refrigerators
- 18, 24, 30, or 36 inch widths
- Over/under (bottom mount freezer drawer), French door (one or two drawers), columns
- Compressor at bottom
The durable, reliable technology and smart design that Miele puts into its top rated dishwashers, laundry machines, and vacuums also makes its built in refrigerators a wise investment. We love the push to open doors (so no hardware’s necessary, if you’re going for a really seamless look), self-close drawers, interior LED strip lighting (including inside the compartments), and easy to adjust glass shelves, some of which are even dishwasher safe. Miele’s WiFi Conn@ct app also is known for being particularly convenient to use.
Miele makes the best stainless steel coating in the industry. Why is this important on a built in fridge? Imagine cleaning a 48 inch by 84 inch stainless surface... With a Miele you hardly need to exercise your cleaning chops.
6. Best for Budget w/Style: Fisher Paykel Refrigerators
- 18, 24, 30, 32, 36 widths
- Over/under (bottom mount freezer drawer), French door, columns
- Compressor at bottom
Fisher Paykel’s newest Integrated collection refrigerators, the 9 and 11 series, are the company’s most energy efficient. You can choose an over/under type with a bottom freezer or columns, which weren’t available in the earlier 7 series. The 9 and 11 series also add an automatic ice maker, LED interior and compartment lighting, adjustable shelves, soft-close produce bins, a streamlined interior water dispenser, and a Smart Touch user interface conveniently located at counter height. The only difference between the series is the interior material: the 11 series has stainless steel, and the 9 series has classic white. The latter option is a smart way to save a little if you’re on a tighter budget, while still getting all the latest technology and features. If you’re looking for a single French door type unit, they’re available only in the 7 series. The 32-inch French door unit is also a unique dimension there, and a great choice for smaller kitchens.
7. Best for Budget: GE Profile Built In Refrigerators
- 42 and 48 inch widths
- Compressor at top
Everybody knows GE, which gives GE Profile, one of the company’s higher end brands, instant name recognition. Unlike other built in fridges, you can find some GE Profile built in units at big box stores. It’s the style, not the technology inside, that distinguishes GE Profile from other GE offerings, like Cafe (we’ll cover those below). From GE Profile, you’ll get a solid refrigerator with a stainless steel door, hidden hinges, and an external water and ice dispenser. (Panel-ready doors are not available.) Inside, you’ll find LED lighting and convenient, adjustable storage. To manage your fridge from anywhere, connect to GE’s Wifi Connect app, Amazon Alexa, Sonos, or Google Assistant.
8. Bonus: Cafe Built In Refrigerators
- 36, 42, and 48 inch widths
- Over/under (bottom mount freezer drawer), side-by-side
- Compressor at top
Cafe appliances, formerly known as GE Cafe, is still a Haier and GE Appliances brand, but it dropped the GE in front of its name in 2018, when the company decided it wanted these affordable luxury products to stand apart from its other offerings. Café is all about stylish, on-trend finishes. The full range of refrigerators, which include counter depth, standard depth, and built in options, include matte black, matte white, platinum glass, and stainless steel exterior finishes. However, Profile built in refrigerators come only in stainless steel; it doesn’t make panel ready units. You can customize the look of your fridge with hardware in brushed copper, brushed bronze, brushed stainless, or brushed black. In addition to LED lighting and spill-containing glass shelves, Cafe built in refrigerators have extra large door bins for storage. Cafe is also unique in that it has a side-by-side unit with an exterior water dispenser. You can choose from an array of wifi connectivity options: the GE Wifi Connect app, Google Assistant, Sonos, or Amazon Alexa.
A built in refrigerator is a worthy splurge if you have the budget and space for it. All of these brands offer the latest in food preservation technology, smart food storage (including spill-trapping shelves), and wifi connectivity, so It’s difficult to make a wrong choice. Your biggest decisions? First and foremost, determine what size you need. That will narrow down your options. Then, to whittle the possibilities down further, decide if you want to cover your doors in cabinetry, or go for a stainless steel, other metal, or glass door. Your budget will be a factor here. Then think about the configuration. How much freezer or wine storage do you need in your kitchen? If the answer is a lot, or you want (and have room for) maximum flexibility, consider separate refrigerator columns.
How can I make a standard fridge look more like a built in fridge?
If you like the fitted, integrated look of a built in refrigerator but don't have the right space or budget, look for a counter depth fridge. These stick out less from your cabinetry than standard depth fridges do—23 to 27 inches, versus 30 to 34 inches, with only the door sticking out—so they look more like a built in fridge.
Why can't I buy a built in fridge at a home improvement store?
Big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes, while convenient, can’t offer customized options and services the way smaller specialty retailers can. The details involved in built in refrigerator design are something that they don’t have the capacity to handle. For one, built in refrigerators require a lot of specialized knowledge to sell. They also require customized orders, speciality installation, and customer service that mega retailers just aren’t designed to deliver.