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Freezer Buying Guide

Helpful information for buying a new freezer, including the differences between upright and chest freezers.

Getting Started

If you often buy frozen foods in bulk, do a lot of meal prepping, or hunt for your own meat, you might find your refrigerator's freezer section quickly getting crowded. Instead of cramming everything into a cramped icebox, a standalone freezer can be a good investment.
A dedicated freezer is a great way to free up space and make it easier to keep your frozen foods organized. With a variety of sizes available, you can find a freezer that fits into your existing kitchen, or can easily be placed in a garage or basement. Before buying a new freezer, familiarize yourself with some common features to make your shopping experience easier. Here are the things to look for when buying a freezer.
Photo of chest freezer in basement

What Types of Freezers Are There?

There are two main types of standalone freezers: chest freezers and upright freezers. They are both available in a range of capacities, and offer similar sets of features. The main difference is, as you may have guessed, their physical orientation. Each type does have some additional traits which may make one the better freezer for your needs.

Chest Freezer

As the name implies, a chest freezer opens like a chest, with the door on the top. They are wider than they are tall, and are the better choice for users who need to keep lots of large or long items frozen. Hunters, or anyone who buys large slabs of meat directly from a butcher, will appreciate the uninterrupted space of a chest freezer.
Chest models typically include a set of dividers and hanging baskets, which can help with organization, but they're easily removable for when you need to fit large items. And because you can stack items on top of each other, it's easier to fill every square inch of a chest freezer with frozen goods. The downside to this tactic is that it can be difficult to retrieve items that are at the bottom of the stack.
Chest freezers also tend to stay cold longer than upright freezers in the event of a power outage. Another benefit of an upright freezer is that it's essentially impossible to accidentally leave the door ajar.

Upright Freezer

An upright freezer looks a lot like a standard refrigerator, but it has just one door and one main interior compartment. Because of their orientation, upright freezers take up much less floor space than a chest freezer of equivalent capacity. This makes them a better choice for use in a kitchen or other small room.
The adjustable racks, drawers, and door bins—similar to those you'd find in a traditional refrigerator—all give upright freezers better organization options. If you're looking for a way to store lots of smaller, individual items (frozen pizzas, small cuts of meat, pints of ice cream), an upright freezer is the better option for you.

Undercounter Freezer

There is a third, less common option: the undercounter freezer. These are commercial appliances, built to withstand the rigors of life in a bar or restaurant—but they can often be found in high-end residential kitchens as well. Undercounter freezers offer all of the features of a standard upright freezer, in an appliance that can slide under a typical kitchen counter. As these are built with high-end components and finishes, expect to pay a premium for the limited freezer capacity.

Features To Look For When Buying a Freezer

Some of the terms and concepts you should be familiar with before buying a freezer. All of these things will help make it much easier to find the best freezer for your needs.

Capacity

Freezers are measured by their interior capacity,which will be listed in cubic feet of space. Although they may be described with terms like "extra-large capacity," be sure to check the actual capacity when comparing two models from different manufacturers. There is no standard terminology, so one brand's "extra large" may not be the same size as another's. "How big of a freezer should I buy" is the most common question asked by shoppers. The answer will depend entirely on how much food you plan on storing. Most experts suggest 1.5 cubic feet of freezer space for each member of your family, but it will depend on what kind of frozen goods you buy. It can be tempting to buy the largest freezer you can find, but try to determine your optimal freezer space based on how much food you realistically think you'll be storing. A large freezer that stays mostly empty will need to work harder to stay cool, and is a needless waste of energy.

Defrost Drain

Water from the melting ice flows out of the freezer through this drain. A defrost drain makes it easier to defrost the freezer because you won't have to collect all the water with a sponge and bucket.

Energy- Efficient Rating (Energy Guide Label)

The EER, also known as the Energy Guide label, gives you two important pieces of information: the estimated energy consumption on a scale showing a range for similar models, as well as the estimated yearly operating cost based on the national average cost of electricity.

Defrost Features

Dedicated freezers are especially prone to frost buildup. While it might seem like this will keep your foods cold better, frost buildup on freezer walls or cooling coils actually decreases the efficiency of the freezer and can make it operate worse. To prevent this, you'll need to occasionally defrost your freezer. Many freezers can defrost themselves automatically, while others will need to be done manually.

Self-Defrosting Freezers

As the name suggests, self-defrosting freezers (sometimes called frost-free freezers) can automatically prevent the buildup of frost or ice. A special internal heating element gets activated on a regular schedule, melting any excessive frost that has formed. During the defrost cycle, the internal freezer temperature does not change by more than two degrees, so the food is not adversely affected. Self-defrosting freezers do not cause freezer burn, which occurs when food placed in the freezer is improperly wrapped or kept frozen for an extended period of time. Wrapping food in heavy-duty aluminum foil, plastic-coated freezer paper or polyethylene bags prevent freezer burn.

Manual Defrost Freezers

Manual defrost freezers don't have any built-in mechanism to prevent ice buildup or melt it once it has built up. You will need to turn the freezer off and leave the door open to melt the ice. All chest freezers will have to be manually defrosted, which can be a messy, time-consuming task. However, one benefit is that manual defrost freezers are usually more energy efficient.

Shelves, Storage Baskets, and Drawers

Think about the types of things you're likely to store in your new freezer, and make sure that the freezer you choose can be organized to fit your needs. The right amount of shelves, baskets, and even drawers ensure that you have a place to store everything. On the flipside, make sure that they can all be easily removed if you expect to store large items.

Door Locks

Many standalone freezers feature an integrated door lock. This is a great way to ensure that your freezer door stays securely shut. It's also a great theft-deterrent for those whose freezers are located in a garage.

Temperature

Freezers keep food at 18°F and fast freeze at 26°F. Fast freezing is the optimum freezing temperature for fresh food to retain most of its nutritional value. It is important to keep the freezer temperature constant in order not to increase energy expenditure - every degree below - 18°F increases energy expenditure by 5%

Garage-Ready

If you are planning on placing the refrigerator in your garage or somewhere else that is not climate controlled, make sure the freezer is certified as garage ready. These appliances are built to operate in temperatures more extreme than you'd find in a normal house. A standard freezer can not guarantee its contents will stay frozen if it's placed in an excessively hot garage.

Door and Temperature Alarm

Leaving the door ajar on your upright freezer can be catastrophic. To help prevent that, many models offer an audible alarm that will alert you if the door does not fully seal or the temperature rises for any other reason.
Last updated: September 23, 2020

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