In most kitchens, freestanding refrigerators stick out among the surrounding cabinets. If that’s a look you’d like to leave behind, you might want to consider what’s available in built-in fridges. Unlike a freestanding appliance, a built-in refrigerator blends right in or appears flush with the cabinets.
The best built-in refrigerators complement the kitchen design, sometimes virtually invisible to a casual observer. They also have enough storage capacity for the family’s needs, meet energy-efficiency standards, and are durable. The following six built-in refrigerators are among the top picks for their specific categories:
- BEST OVERALL: KitchenAid 25 cu. ft. Built-In Refrigerator
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: BOSCH Benchmark 36 Inch French Door Refrigerator
- BEST SMART: Cafe 25.2 cu. ft. Smart Built-In Refrigerator
- BEST ENERGY EFFICIENT: LG Studio 42 Inch Built-in Smart Refrigerator
- BEST LARGE CAPACITY: KitchenAid 30-cu ft Built-In Refrigerator
- BEST FOR SMALL SPACES: Monogram 36 Inch Built-In Panel Ready Refrigerator
Types of Built-In Refrigerators
Built-in refrigerators are designed to fit flush, or nearly flush, along the front of the adjacent cabinets. There are three different types of built-ins that fall within that description:
- Overlay: An overlay fridge will accept custom panels on its front. Most often used to match the cabinetry, these fridges are often described as “panel ready.” The panels may extend an inch or so into the room, though, putting most overlays in the nearly flush category. A vent also may be visible either above or below the fridge. An overlay model may have an in-door ice-and-water dispenser, but it frequently doesn’t display anything that looks like an appliance.
- Integrated: An integrated fridge is entirely flush with the cabinetry and does not have a visible vent, so it offers the most seamless look of all built-in designs. Because a refrigerator must be vented, it may contain a hidden vent beneath the fridge or behind it—but it won’t be visible. While an integrated fridge won’t have an in-door ice-and-water dispenser, it may contain an ice maker inside. This type of fridge is also designed to accept panels that match the surrounding cabinetry.
- Stainless Steel: Closely resembling a freestanding refrigerator, this kind of built-in fridge is easy to spot in the kitchen. However, the front is still nearly flush with the cabinetry, so the fridge does not jut out very far into the room. The front of this built-in fridge is likely to feature an ice dispenser or a view-through window.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Built-In Refrigerator
Built-in refrigerators are all about design. Selecting the best built-in refrigerator for your needs will depend on how much space you have for installation, what type of door/freezer configuration you prefer, and what sort of additional features you would like. Like freestanding fridges, built-in models are designed with one primary function: keeping food cold. When looking at built-in fridges, the first thing you’ll notice is they are more expensive than other kinds of refrigerators. A freestanding fridge runs anywhere from $300 to $3,000, while built-ins start around $5,000 and can run more than $10,000.
Built-in refrigerators are wider than freestanding fridges, but their internal storage capacity is about the same.
A standard freestanding fridge is approximately 32 to 36 inches deep, but a standard kitchen cabinet is only 24 inches deep (25 including the countertop overhang), so a standard fridge can stick out an average of 6 to 12 inches or more into the kitchen. A freestanding fridge also is about 30 to 36 inches wide and designed to slide into a pre-framed opening.
A built-in fridge measures an average of 42 to 48 inches wide, but it’s not as deep as a freestanding fridge, meaning that it can sit flush with the front of the cabinetry. Installing a built-in fridge will take up more linear space along the cabinet wall, which means the cabinets must be adapted to accept it. For this reason, installing a built-in is usually a job for a contractor or professional carpenter.
Some of today’s built-in refrigerators come with a side-by-side French door configuration on the top part of the fridge and a pull-out freezer door along the bottom. Other options include side-by-side doors that extend from top to bottom with a narrower freezer side or side-by-side doors on the bottom with a smaller freezer above.
Some built-in refrigerators don’t have view-through doors or ice makers on the outside, which helps camouflage the fact that they’re appliances, but they are still high-end units. Typically an ice-and-water dispenser is inside, plus built-ins may also feature:
- High-humidity sealed crispers to keep fruits and vegetables fresh
- A filter to remove impurities from water and ice
- An air-purification system to keep unwanted odors at bay
- A digital touch screen to control temperature and humidity
- Smart capability to check the fridge temp from a smartphone or a tablet
- A view-through window (offered in some stainless steel models), which allows the user to see what’s in the fridge without opening the door
When shopping for a built-in fridge, look for its EnergyGuide label—a yellow tag that is affixed to most appliances. The label features detailed information, including the manufacturer’s name, the fridge’s model number, its inner storage capacity, door configuration, and whether it has an ice maker. The tag also lists the following information about the refrigerator’s energy efficiency:
- Estimated Yearly Operating Cost: A dollar amount that’s based on testing, this number is an approximation of how much it is likely to cost to operate the fridge for one year. Keep in mind that utility prices vary from community to community, so this is just a rough estimate.
- Estimated Yearly Electric Use: To get a better idea of how much electricity the fridge will use in a year, look for this number, which is measured in kilowatt-hours (kW-h). Multiply this number by the kilowatt-hour rate listed on a utility bill for a fairly accurate estimate of how much it will cost to run the fridge for one year.
- Energy Star Sticker: This is a blue sticker with white lettering affixed to the refrigerator or to the papers that come with it. It is an assurance that the fridge has been tested and meets EPA standards for being energy efficient without sacrificing performance.
Our Top Picks
The primary purpose for buying a built-in refrigerator is usually to enhance the design of a kitchen. The fridge should fit in easily, it should be durable, and it should come with the features you expect in a high-end model. All of the following options require professional installation. A contractor or cabinetmaker may need to adjust the surrounding cabinets and trim around a built-in fridge.
The KitchenAid’s 25-cubic-foot built-in refrigerator features a side-by-side door configuration and a smudge-resistant stainless steel exterior. The fridge interior comes with the KitchenAid ExtendFresh Plus Temperature Management System, which is designed to maintain the optimal temperature to keep produce at its freshest.
The unit is 24.75 inches deep by 83.75 inches tall by 36 inches wide. It has an in-door ice-and-water dispenser, and both the fridge and freezer feature intuitive precision controls for setting the temperature. Both the freezer and fresh food sides have glass shelves and easy-slide, pull-out bins. Bright LED lighting illuminates the contents.
With a BOSCH Benchmark 20-cubic-foot built-in refrigerator, the kitchen gets a seamless look and the homeowner saves a few thousand dollars in the process. This overlay fridge comes with a filtered interior ice maker and features an intuitive temperature touch screen. It has a well-organized interior with easy-to-clean glass shelves, pull-out bins in the fridge, and coated-wire shelves and bins in the freezer side. It also features a gallon-sized storage space in the fresh-food door. The appliance measures 27.5 inches deep, 83.375 inches tall, and 41 inches wide.
This Bosch built-in fridge is custom panel ready, meaning the front will accept panels made from the same material as the surrounding kitchen cabinets to create a seamless look. It features LED lighting and is Energy Star–rated for efficiency.
To monitor the temperature of the fridge while out of the house, get the Cafe 25.2-cubic-foot smart built-in refrigerator. It syncs with a home’s Wi-Fi and homeowner’s smartphone with a downloadable app to send alerts if the interior temperature drops, such as might happen if there is a power outage or if a child leaves the door open.
This side-by-side appliance comes with a smudge-resistant stainless steel exterior and measures 28.5 inches deep by 42 inches wide by 84 inches tall. It comes with glass shelves and humidity-controlled bins in the fresh-food side, and coated-wire shelving in the freezer side. It features an interior ice maker and touch-sensitive temperature controls that can also be adjusted with a smartphone.
Conserve electricity with the LG Studio 25.6-cubic-foot built-in refrigerator. The refrigerator is Energy Star–certified and has an estimated annual electrical usage of 762 kilowatt-hours. The unit has a smooth stainless steel finish, spill-proof glass shelves, and humidity-controlled bins. The freezer features coated-wire shelves and bins. This model comes with an in-door ice-and-water dispenser and an intuitive digital temperature-control panel, plus it is Wi-Fi capable. By downloading the LG app, the homeowner can sync the fridge controls with a smartphone. Bright LED lighting illuminates all areas of the fridge interior.
This built-in fridge features side-by-side door configuration, and it measures 83.5 inches tall by 42 inches wide by 25.375 inches deep.
For a built-in fridge that will hold a lot of food, check out this KitchenAid 30-cubic-foot built-in model that has enough storage room for a large family. The fridge has a smudge-resistant, black stainless exterior. It features a side-by-side door configuration, glass shelves, and smooth-glide, humidity-controlled bins. The freezer side has an interior ice maker, and coated-wire shelves and bins. This larger-capacity fridge features KitchenAid’s ExtendFresh Temperature Management system to keep foods fresher longer.
The interior features bright LED lights, and the appliance comes with intuitive temperature controls. This built-in unit measures a beefy 48.25 inches wide by 25.125 inches deep by 83.375 inches high.
To get the seamless look of a built-in refrigerator in a kitchen where cabinet space is at a premium, check out the KitchenAid 20.8-cubic-foot built-in refrigerator. Measuring 36 inches wide by only 25.625 inches deep, it won’t jut out into the kitchen space. This model stands 84 inches tall and has an interior ice maker, glass shelves, and easy-slide, humidity-controlled bins. It also has adjustable, coated-wire shelves and bins in the freezer.
This smaller-capacity overlay fridge features a French door configuration and is panel ready, so a contractor can install custom panels on the front that match the cabinets. The refrigerator has a digital interior touch screen for adjusting the temperature. In addition, it is Star-K certified, meaning it meets Kosher standards for energy usage during Jewish Sabbath days.
The Advantages of Owning a Built-In Refrigerator
While most homeowners are happy with a standard refrigerator or a counter-depth model that doesn’t stick out too far, a built-in model can take kitchen design to the next level in these ways:
- A built-in fridge won’t encroach on walking space in the kitchen.
- A well-integrated, built-in refrigerator fits into the kitchen so seamlessly that it can be tough to identify the fridge’s location.
- A panel-ready overlay fridge will accept panels of the homeowner’s choice, for a custom look.
FAQs About Your New Built-In Refrigerator
If this is your first time shopping for a built-in fridge, you may have a few questions. The following includes answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about built-in fridges.
Q. What’s the difference between integrated and built-in refrigerators?
An integrated refrigerator is a type of built-in refrigerator. Unlike other built-in fridges, which include overlay and stainless steel, an integrated model is indistinguishable from the cabinetry around it. Its handles will not stick out and there won’t be a gap around the refrigerator. It will look identical to a cabinet.
Q. Where should a refrigerator be placed in the kitchen?
Optimally, the refrigerator should be as close to the food-preparation area as possible. In most interior designs, the fridge serves as one corner of a well-planned kitchen triangle—featuring the fridge, the stove, and the sink. Keeping these three items near one another will improve cooking efficiency and cut down on walk time from one end of the kitchen to the other.
Alternately, a homeowner can choose a spot for the refrigerator based on the design strategy of kitchen zones. This means locating the fridge near the pantry and other food-storage cabinets. When arranging layout by function in the zone method, the intent is to increase efficiency. The cook can gather as many cooking ingredients as possible in the fewest number of trips.
Q. How long do built-in refrigerators last?
When maintained as suggested in the owner’s manual, a built-in refrigerator can last from 15 to 20 years, or perhaps even longer.