Home & Garden

Fun features for the kitchen's coolest appliance

Refrigerators used to be pretty much limited to keeping milk cold and ice cream frozen.

Not anymore.

If you haven’t shopped for a fridge in a while, you probably haven’t seen the newer features that make refrigerators … well, cool.

Here are some worth checking out.

Convertible zones

Sometimes you need more freezer space; sometimes you need more refrigerator space. Samsung solves that with its Convertible Zone, a compartment that can convert from a refrigerator to a freezer and vice versa, depending on your needs. The compartment is available in Samsung’s Chef Collection Refrigerator and a 32-cubic-foot, four-door fridge. The zone has a capacity of a little more than 6 cubic feet.

With Frigidaire’s Convertible Freezer/Refrigerator, you can convert the entire unit. The sometimes-fridge, sometimes-freezer has a capacity of 17 cubic feet, which is smaller than most refrigerators. It’s intended to provide extra storage, perhaps for food prepared before a party or frozen foods purchased in bulk.

Freshness systems

A number of refrigerators are incorporating or adapting the dual-refrigeration system pioneered by upscale refrigerator brand Sub-Zero. The system involves separate cooling systems for the refrigerator and freezer, so air from each compartment stays in that compartment.

That’s supposed to keep refrigerator odors from entering the freezer compartment, which means no more weird-tasting ice. It also enables the unit to maintain lower humidity in the freezer, reducing freezer burn.

Sub-Zero’s system has a compressor and evaporator just for the refrigerator section and another set for the freezer. Less astronomically priced refrigerators, such as KitchenAid models and GE’s french-door refrigerators, share a single compressor for the whole unit but have separate evaporators for the refrigerator and freezer.

Tricked-out drawers

Different foods are best stored under different conditions, so many refrigerators have drawers that allow you to control the humidity and sometimes the temperature.

KitchenAid’s french-door refrigerators and GE’s 29-cubic-foot Profile and Cafe models all have a drawer with specific temperature settings for optimum storage of meat, wine, produce and cheese.

Ice boosters

When it’s party time, the demand for ice increases. Automatic icemakers are stepping up to that challenge.

Sub-Zero, KitchenAid’s french-door refrigerator and the Fisher & Paykel’s ActiveSmart model let you ramp up ice production temporarily. The icemaker is optional on the Sub-Zero and the Fisher & Paykel.

Super filters

Filters are doing a better job of cleaning both the air that circulates in refrigerators and the water used for drinking and ice-making.

Sub-Zero’s air-purification system is designed to remove odors, viruses, bacteria and ethylene, a gas that hastens ripening and therefore makes produce spoil faster. KitchenAid french-door refrigerators have an ethylene-absorbing cartridge in their produce drawers.

Sub-Zero’s water filter is designed to reduce viruses and bacteria that may be present in water and ice. And GE recently introduced a filter for its french-door refrigerators that removes trace amounts of five pharmaceuticals that may be present in water – ibuprofen, progesterone, atenolol, trimethoprim and fluoxetine. The filter can be used to retrofit earlier models.

Water dispensers plus

Even the water dispenser is getting a makeover. Samsung’s 32-cubic-foot, four-door refrigerator, for example, dispenses chilled sparkling water, as well as the noncarbonated kind. GE’s 29-cubic-foot Cafe french-door refrigerator dispenses hot water, at any temperature from 90 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as cold.

And GE’s 29-cubic-foot Profile refrigerator has a feature called hands-free autofill, with a pull-out tray that can hold a pitcher, stockpot or other vessel while it’s filling. A sensor shuts off the water when a container is almost full.

Rapid cooling

Several refrigerators, including Bosch models and french-door fridges from Frigidaire, offer a quick-chilling function that lowers the temperature in the refrigerator or freezer temporarily. That prevents warmer food from lowering the temperature of the whole compartment too much.

Smart technology

Smart technology hasn’t quite lived up to its early promise for refrigerators, but manufacturers haven’t stopped trying to make the most of computerization and wireless technology.

Whirlpool, for example, will soon be selling the CoolVox refrigerator, which will let you stream music to your kitchen. A few refrigerators, including models from LG and Samsung, have LCD screens and apps for such tasks as looking up recipes and leaving notes for family members.

Some GE french-door refrigerators let you monitor energy use, adjust some settings remotely and receive maintenance and service alerts. Whirlpool’s smart fridge performs similar functions and even alerts you if you’ve left a door open.