I had no idea our refrigerator was so small.
Over the weekend, our Kenmore refrigerator died a sad death. Its compressor failed after 14 years of faithful service, and we woke up to room-temperature juices and soft ice cream in the freezer. The fridge’s death, sadly, was likely hastened by my failure to clean its coils regularly.
(Let this be your reminder: Coil cleaning is an unglamorous job, but it’s an important one. My dad asked me when the last time I cleaned the coils on this fridge, and I could not remember. Ugh. He reminded me it should be done every month. )
Now, while I was thrilled when our washing machine kicked the bucket this summer, I had no complaints about our refrigerator. It chilled things. It made ice. It dispensed cold water. I was quite surprised that it stopped doing all of these things overnight.
Now, we had to buy a new fridge.
When we moved into this house, we put our old refrigerator (a now 24-year-old GE) in the basement to use for secondary cold storage. Because of this, we had a place to quickly move our kitchen groceries to! The irony that our “old fridge” was now our only fridge did leave me pondering the old adage that they don’t make things like they used to.
Our current refrigerator was a traditional freezer-on-top style with an ice maker and a water dispenser inside the fridge compartment. I figured it would not be a problem to find these two features in our new fridge. Simple enough, right?
Thinking this would be an easy replacement, I first headed to Sears’ site and found what I believed to be the 2018 version of our old fridge:
- Icemaker? Check!
- Inside water dispenser? Check!
My husband and I planned to go to the store and fridge-shop in person, so I returned to our kitchen and dutifully measured our existing refrigerator. That’s when our appliance-shopping process was derailed.
Our refrigerator is 30″ wide. Due to our kitchen layout, there is no wiggle room for anything larger.
I re-sorted the available refrigerators on Sears’ site, figuring I would find a similarly-featured refrigerator in a slightly narrower width.
Then we started looking at other retailers.
Until this weekend, I had no idea that a 30″ wide refrigerator is kind of an anomaly. While this size of refrigerator seemed to be no problem to find in the past, there just aren’t as many models or features available in a 30-inch width. The vast majority of models out there are 33″ or 36″ wide.
Some stores don’t offer fridges in 30″ width at all:
We spent the majority of Sunday’s daylight hours hopping from store to store taking photos and notes: Sears. Sears Outlet. Best Buy. JC Penney. Grand Appliance. Lowe’s. Home Depot. Menards — we visited them all in one day! Here’s what we learned.
30″ wide refrigerators are often marketed as compact or apartment sized. Many of them are basic, sold without an icemaker or water dispenser. We weren’t looking for a feature-rich smart fridge or anything — we just wanted the same features we had in our current refrigerator. Several store tags noted that the 30″ wide fridges are “great for the garage.” I was amused to learn we’ve been surviving with a “garage sized” fridge all these years!
I also learned that while internal water dispensers are standard on some larger refrigerator models, manufacturers’ identical models in the 30″ width eliminate the water dispenser entirely.
That water dispenser was so important that we were willing to spend more on a French-door refrigerator to get it, even though French door fridges are priced quite a bit higher than single-door models.
Here’s a photo of a 33″ wide Whirlpool refrigerator we found at Menards with the water dispenser inside. The tag said the same fridge was also available in 30″ and 36″ widths. Yes! We were so excited that we went over to the service counter to inquire about this refrigerator. The service rep pulled it up on screen and began looking up when it could be delivered, and then…
… we read the features’ fine print: The internal water dispenser on this Whirlpool, standard on the 33″ and 36″ models, is not available on the 30″ model. Bummer.
We did find a couple of refrigerator models that were 30″ wide with in-the-door water dispensers. Why didn’t we consider one of these?
Allow me to tell you how our basement refrigerator became our basement refrigerator. That one, our home’s original, first refrigerator, is a GE with a through-the-door dispenser. The dispenser began behaving erratically just a few years into its life (of course, past its warranty though.)
This fridge’s dispenser began spitting ice cubes out onto the floor through the door panel multiple times a day, on its own! We could not figure out why, and we were constantly finding melted puddles on the floor.
We ended up disconnecting the water line and icemaker, but of course, the rest of the fridge is still alive and kicking.
Then, when we built our current house, we moved the GE fridge to the basement and treated ourselves to a new Kenmore refrigerator for the kitchen — one with an internal water dispenser. There are far fewer parts to break when the dispenser isn’t constantly moving with the door, and we never had an issue with this dispenser not working – hey, it outlasted the compressor.
Here’s a funny thing: While we were browsing at Grand Appliance, we were talking about our old fridge spitting out ice cubes through its door dispenser, and a salesman overheard us. He came over and said, “It’s true. Unfortunately, no matter what you spend, an in-the-door dispenser will usually be the first thing to fail.”
We appreciated his honesty.
We returned home Sunday evening with a list of potential refrigerator candidates and began reading reviews of each one. Reviews, by the way, are great for pointing out things you may not have thought of. Many models we saw have built-in LED lighting along the front edges of the refrigerator — a selling point because you never have to change a lightbulb. However, we found that not all refrigerators have additional overhead light in addition to the sidelights.
Reviewers noted that on sidelight-only models, when the refrigerator is full, there’s no way to see what is in the back of the refrigerator because it’s dark! We made “interior overhead light” a priority and eliminated a few more refrigerators off our list. (This is also where taking lots of photos of what we saw in store helps you remember the features of each model too.)
I looked up the cost of aftermarket icemaker kits and how to install them, because two of our remaining refrigerator candidates did not come with icemakers.
I also called Abt, where we ordered our Speed Queen washing machine from earlier this month. “Do you happen to have any 30″ refrigerators, any brand, that have both an icemaker and an internal water dispenser?” I’d already searched their website, but I was hoping their staff could find something I didn’t. “No. They just don’t exist,” said the sales rep.
Can you tell just how bummed I was about losing the water dispenser? My mom said “Can’t you just put a pitcher of water in the door instead?” Perhaps… but in a house with five people, it is not likely the pitcher would be refilled all the time or would be ice cold when we wanted to drink it. We have all been spoiled by that darn cold water dispenser! Everyone in the house uses it daily.
Then, I had a random thought. How do all of the other people with skinny Ikea kitchen cabinet layouts like ours deal with this small-fridge-opening situation? We can’t be alone.
Oh yeah — Ikea sells appliances! We headed over to their website and did a little research.
Incredibly, in minutes, I located a 30″ refrigerator with an internal water dispenser on Ikea’s website! This was interesting. I knew nothing about Ikea appliances, so we started reading up.
I learned that Ikea’s refrigerators are all built by Whirlpool. Consumer Reports gave them very good ratings for performance, efficiency, and value.
For what it’s worth, our lengthy tour of appliance stores also taught us that many refrigerators are made either by Whirlpool or LG these days, regardless of whose brand name is on them. At Sears, we saw Kenmores with identical door, drawer and bin styles to the Whirlpool and LG refrigerators we saw elsewhere, and the sales rep confirmed their actual manufacturers for us. At Best Buy, we saw a pair of KitchenAid and Whirpool refrigerators side by side. Aside from the handle design, they were identical inside and out, yet hundreds of dollars apart in price. The salesman said they were both made by Whirlpool, but “people will pay more for the KitchenAid name.”
On Monday morning, I headed to Ikea, tape measure in hand, to see if we were finally going to welcome home a suitable replacement for our former fridge. This refrigerator looked nice, but of course, I was looking for one thing:
And there it was. YES! Isn’t it bizarre that Whirlpool does not include this water dispenser inside their own 30″ Whirlpool-branded models?
I spoke with an Ikea employee in the kitchen department who told me that Whirlpool builds these refrigerators specifically for them with the features Ikea wants. Because Ikea designs so many kitchens around this size of 30″ refrigerator, they want to offer “feature-rich” models that also fit their kitchen spaces. Who knew?
I told the employee that based on my research and discussions with many, many appliance stores over the weekend, I believe they have the only 30″ wide fridges with internal water dispensers in existence.
The Ikea Whirlpool refrigerators have no brand name whatsoever on the front. They also come in just one finish: Stainless steel. We were looking either for a black or stainless finish, so this was fine with us. They also have icemakers, and LED side and overhead lighting. We had finally found our new fridge!
I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that Ikea refrigerators carry a 5-year warranty with Whirlpool. Interesting, considering Whirlpool’s warranty on their own branded refrigerators is just one year. It reminded me of the years Chevrolet made a clone of my beloved TrailBlazer SUV for Isuzu and gave their Isuzu-branded truck a 7-year warranty instead of Chevy’s own three-year warranty. Strange but true!
Lastly, this Ikea refrigerator is an in-stock item, and they’ll deliver it this week. When we were taking notes on our other refrigerator candidates from a variety of stores, the soonest we could have gotten one delivered was three weeks from now. That Whirlpool we almost bought at Menards? Its delivery date would have been October 29th – over a month from now. Grand Appliance also told us that the lead time was 3-4 weeks for delivery of many of their refrigerator models. I am not sure if this is normal for all sizes or just because we were looking to order a smaller-sized refrigerator.
I thought I would share our experience, as up until this weekend, I truly had no idea what a “small” refrigerator we had. The new one is 20 cubic feet, just as our former Kenmore was, and that’s plenty for our needs. If we ever remodel our kitchen again, though, we may reconfigure things to make the fridge area a few inches wider — just in case the options for small refrigerators have further diminished a decade or two from now!
And now, after replacing two major appliances in a three-month timespan, I’m crossing my fingers that we’re done appliance shopping for a while.
You can bet I will be cleaning this new refrigerator’s coils much more regularly. I even bought a new Whirlpool coil cleaning brush!
UPDATE: Our IKEA refrigerator delivery took place on Friday, September 28th. The delivery did not go well, and it turned into quite a crazy saga. Read on…