5 Important Attributes to Consider Before Buying an Undercounter Appliance
Undercounter refrigeration is not merely a box to keep things cold nor is it a commodity item decided on a simple matter of price. Today’s options provide varying degrees of cooling performance, storage configurations, styles and finishes. And, undercounter options have expanded to beverage centers, wine cellars, freezers, ice machines and beer dispensers to offer even more diverse preservation capabilities for your home. To make sure you’re getting the right mix of quality, function and value in your next undercounter purchase, start with this buyers guide for an educated shopping experience.
1. Temperature Stability
We all know the measure of a good refrigerator is how well it cools, but are you aware that several undercounter brands’ cabinet temperature can fluctuate by as much as 10 to 15 degrees?
As discussed in the Outdoor Refrigerator Buying Guide, there is a distinct difference in cooling technologies across the industry. Low-grade static cold plate cooling creates disparities in air distribution, creating an uneven temperature stratification effect. In other words, the top compartment might be 15 degrees warmer than the bottom and other areas might cause items to frost. Dynamic forced air actively recirculates cold air throughout the cabinet from top to bottom and is an upgrade worth investing in, especially if you plan to store wine and delicate foods.
Additionally, some models are designed with extended off-cycles before cycling back on to cool again. This is essentially an engineering workaround for poor thermal cabinet design as an effort to improve energy efficiency, but ultimately it translates to erratic temperature swings.
Minimizing temperature variance is critical to the shelf life of the contents you’re storing. A stable preservation environment contributes to improved food quality (including flavor and nutrition), longer-lasting freshness and ultimately less food waste.
2. Cooldown Time
Surprisingly, few homeowners consider this aspect when shopping for an undercounter refrigerator and it’s an attribute that can impact your lifestyle the most. Rapid cooldown is a necessary convenience for today’s fast-paced lifestyles, and particularly important when stocking your undercounter refrigerator full of room-temperature cases of beverages for a party later than night. Nothing takes the refreshing zest out of a carbonated beverage like serving it lukewarm.
Additionally, rapid temperature pull-down prevents bacteria growth in your perishables for safer food consumption.
The better the cold air circulation (i.e. forced air cooling), the faster contents will be cooled to your desired set temperature.
3. Energy-Saving Features, Efficiency and Operating Costs
Energy consumption remains a hot-button topic, as consumers seek ways to reduce annual household expenses and their overall carbon footprint, without taking shortcuts on features and performance.
Fortunately for homeowners, the Department of Energy enforced more stringent energy regulations on the appliance industry in 2014. Michigan-based manufacturer Marvel Refrigeration welcomed the changing regulations as an opportunity to retool its entire undercounter line, and now offers the largest collection of ENERGY STAR® rated undercounter appliances. In fact, many of its models exceed the EPA ENERGY STAR® requirements – in some cases by 30%!
Look for additional energy-saving options, such as integrated controls with Eco mode, Vacation mode and Delay Start. And, there are features that prevent energy loss, too, like Close Door Assist to automatically bring the door to a gentle close and alarms to alert you of energy-compromising issues.
Another measure of thermal efficiency is the model’s cabinet and door insulation, as it’s the most effective protection from external heat transfer and cold air loss and affects overall efficiency. Marvel discovered a way to design its models with well-placed dense insulation that does not compromise internal storage volume.
4. Capacity and Storage Flexibility
Review storage options and interior capacity of models at the footprint size you need. Ask yourself, will this model suit my storage needs now and in the future? Can it fit extra-large platters and pizza boxes? Can it accommodate tall items? Does it offer optional wine storage? Is there a clear rollout bin to store loose items or produce?
Pick a model able to store the items you use most often. For example, Marvel offers models with convertible shelving that allows you to store any configuration of food, beverages and even wine bottles.
5. Fit and Finish
Manufacturers offer undercounter models in a variety of aesthetics, including solid and glass-framed doors in stainless steel, black, custom panel-ready and other finishes. If you prefer a truly built-in look, you’ll want a panel-ready model with a soft-close integrated hinge to seamlessly blend with your cabinetry.