Ice Age: High-Efficiency Chest & Upright Freezer Recommendations

Plus: Introducing Convertible Freezer/Refrigerators

Freezer manufacturers relaunched their lineups to meet federal energy-efficiency standards, and the latest upright and chest models are only $10–$50 more expensive than were previous models. Meanwhile, manufacturers introduced convertible models that can be used as either a freezer or a refrigerator.

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Two years ago, manufacturers were in the middle of replacing their freezer lineups with new models that complied with Department of Energy’s latest energy-efficiency regulations. As a result, we only could speculate on what affect that the federal standards would have on price.

It turns out that our guesses were accurate. The latest premium upright freezers typically cost about $50 more than did upright freezers that have similar capacities and features in 2014, which matches our prediction. All chest freezers and other upright freezers cost $10–$30 more than similar models did in 2014—also on target.

In 2014, Natural Resources Defense Council speculated that the efficiency increase and the size reduction of compressors could create more space for new technology. However, only a few innovations made it to premium models in the past 2 years. We’ve seen the introduction of convertible freezers and the first two chest freezers that have digital temperature controls that cost less than $3,000.

“We all want to move the industry forward, but DOE cost increases have limited our ability to put in more features,” Alex Cho of Kenmore says.

We believe that we could see slight improvements over the next 4 years. Research and Markets and Technavio, which are market-research companies, project that chest-freezer and upright-freezer sales will increase about 5 percent from 2016 to 2020 because of the increased demand for frozen-food bulk products and individual meals. As a result, three manufacturers tell us that we can expect to see more freezers that have large interior capacities (at least
16 cubic feet) and more space-saving options, such as more adjustable shelves and removable baskets than ever before.

SWITCH IT UP. If your family is large or if you frequently entertain guests, you might have a freezer that’s in the basement or in the garage for frozen bulk storage and a second refrigerator to keep cold beverages or snacks. Now, you can save space if you have one appliance that freezes or refrigerates. Four convertible upright freezers convert into a refrigerator and back again simply by adjusting the temperature controls.

Frigidaire introduced four convertible models in the past 2 years: a stainless steel 20.5-cubic-foot model ($1,299), a stainless steel 17-cubic-foot model ($1,199), a white 20.5-cubic-foot model ($1,049) and a white 16.6-cubic-foot model ($949). Frigidaire recommends that you give the unit at least 2 hours to change from refrigerator to freezer before you put anything inside of it that has to stay frozen, and we support that recommendation. A bag of ice that we placed into a still-cooling convertible freezer melted in the bag an hour after we placed it inside and then refroze into a solid block of ice.

Frigidaire’s two stainless steel models have a digital control that’s on the front of the freezer door, which allows you to change the interior temperature electronically and view the interior temperature. The company’s two white models have a manual dial to change the temperature. We tried one of these manual models, and it worked fine. We wish that we could have adjusted the temperature with more precision, as you can do with the digital controls. Manual dials typicaly feature several settings, such as “A B C” or “1 2 3,” rather than a precise temperature.

“The problem is that you never really know what temperature you’re at,” says Joe Klett, who is an appliance manager at Abt, which is a Chicago-area appliance retailer. “You really should have a thermometer in there and check it from time to time, just to make sure that you’re not off by 15 degrees.”

Klett tells us that zero degrees Fahrenheit is the proper storage temperature for most frozen foods. If you freeze foods for the first time, such as a sauce that you want to store for a few weeks or longer, you should freeze them at
10 degrees below zero to prevent bacteria growth, Klett says. Experts typically say that for every 5 degrees that your freezer is set above zero degrees, you cut your food-storage time in half. In other words, your frozen goods will dry up faster and lose their texture and flavor, Klett says.

As of press time, Kenmore planned to launch its first convertible freezer in May 2016: a white 20-cubic-foot model that has a manual dial for $849. Cho wouldn’t say whether Kenmore plans to make convertible models of other capacities.

Paul Riley of Haier tells us that his company is developing a technology that allows for smaller compressors and less energy use. He says Haier plans to incorporate the technology into new convertible freezers in the next 2 years. At press time, we haven’t heard of other manufacturers that are working on convertible freezers.

AUTO CONTROLS. Meanwhile, Kenmore now sells one chest freezer—the 17.5-cubic-foot 17802 ($900)—that has digital temperature controls. Two years ago, you had to pay at least $3,000 to get a chest freezer that had digital controls for more-precise temperature adjustment instead of the typical manual temperature dial. We haven’t heard of any other manufacturer that plans to introduce digital temperature controls in a sub-$1,000 chest freezer.

Digital temperature controls are common in upright freezers that cost at least $649. Freezers that include digital temperature controls typically cost $100 more than do freezers of similar capacity that have mechanical controls. No manufacturer could tell us whether digital controls will trickle down any further in price over the next 2 years.

BLENDING IN. Traditionally, freezers are white, stainless steel and, in a few cases, black. In the past 2 years, Avanti, GE and Kenmore introduced freezers that have exterior camouflage patterns.

Avanti sells a 5.1-cubic-foot ($250) chest model. GE has a 7-cubic-foot ($330) chest model. Kenmore sells the two largest camouflage freezers: an 18-cubic-foot ($1,500) chest model and a 20-cubic-foot ($1,500) upright model.

We found that camouflage freezers typically cost 40 percent more than do white freezers of the same capacity from the same manufacturer.

Cho says Kenmore noticed a slight increase in freezer sales during fishing and hunting seasons and wanted to “cater” to hunters who buy chest freezers to store their meat and fish.

At press time, Avanti, GE and Kenmore wouldn’t say whether they plan to expand their camouflage patterns to freezers of other capacities, and no other company indicated that it plans to launch a camouflage freezer.

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