Most freezers aren't about style. They look similar to models we tested decades ago, but they use less energy. And Energy Star models must be even more efficient.
Before you go shopping for a freezer, decide whether a chest freezer or an upright freezer would better meet your needs. Then choose a model based on size, capacity, and energy efficiency.
If you plan to keep the freezer in a living area, consider how noisy it is. Most manufacturers say that their freezers can operate in a room where the temperature is from 32 degree to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, though they also indicate that spaces colder than 32 degrees F will not affect freezer operation. If you plan to house the freezer in an unheated area, such as a garage, adhere to the manufacturer's specified operating range.
Sizing your model
Freezers, whether chest or upright, come in four basic sizes: compact (5 cubic feet), small (6 to 9 cubic feet), medium (12 to 18 cubic feet), and large (more than 18 cubic feet). Your choice should depend on available space and family needs.
Weigh blackout performance
Most manufacturers say that their freezers can keep food adequately frozen for 24 hours with the power off, as long as the freezer remains unopened. But our tests simulating a prolonged power failure revealed significant differences. Some uprights allowed a relatively large increase in temperature after only nine hours.
Manual vs. self-defrosting
Most of the freezers in our tests maintained a consistent temperature. Manual-defrost uprights were the exception. Without fans to circulate cold air, temperatures of on-door shelves were between 9 and 19 degrees higher than in the rest of the freezer. Most self-defrosting uprights excelled in temperature performance. Their shelves and bins make it easier to organize and find food, but they reduce usable space. Manual-defrost freezers are generally more energy efficient and quieter than self-defrosting models. But defrosting can take hours.
Keeping food from spoiling
Most of the chests and self-defrosting uprights we tested delivered impressive temperature performance, maintaining 0 degrees F quite evenly throughout their interior. But all of the manual-defrost upright models had trouble keeping their door shelves as cool as the rest of the interior.
Any frozen food that has reached temperatures above 40 degrees for more than two hours should be discarded. For guidelines on frozen-food safety, read the freezing and food safety guidelines from the Department of Agriculture.
Don't expect your new freezer to be quite as energy efficient as its yellow EnergyGuide label implies. On average, our latest tested models used 17 percent more energy. That's because our tests are tougher and, we believe, more like real-world conditions than those specified by the U.S. Department of Energy. We fill the freezers to capacity, whereas they're only 75 percent full in the DOE test. And we test for energy use with the center of the freezer actually at 0 degrees, the optimum temperature for storing frozen food, while manufacturers are allowed to extrapolate energy use at 0 degrees from test results above and below zero. Except for Energy Star products, the information on the labels relies on manufacturers' test data.
When it comes to types of freezers, there's no clear winner. So choose the one that best suits your lifestyle and budget. Weigh the pros and cons of both types of freezers carefully. Here are the two types of freezers to consider.
Chest freezers are wide open except for their removable hanging baskets, so they offer more useable space than uprights. Chest freezers also tend to be slightly more energy efficient and are less likely to cause freezer burn. And they're the better choice if the area where you live is prone to brownouts or power failures because they tend to keep food frozen longer when the power is off. But retrieving items buried near the bottom of the chest can be inconvenient. Despite their hanging baskets, they can be harder to organize than upright models.
Uprights take up less floor space than chests. As with a refrigerator, shelves and bins inside and on the door make organizing and finding contents easy. But that convenience reduces useable space by as much as 20 percent. Also, uprights cost more to buy and run.
Freezers are a pretty basic appliance but there are some freezer features that make them more convenient to use. Some may add to the price. Here are the freezer features to consider.
Some self-defrosting upright models we tested beep if their interior gets too warm.
We found some models equipped with this feature.
Finding foods is easier with an interior light, especially if the freezer is in a dimly lit area. Most of the freezers we tested have interior lights.
Manual vs. self-defrost
Manual-defrost freezers are generally more energy efficient, less likely to cause freezer burn, and quieter than self-defrosting models. Letting ice build up on walls of the freezer, however, can decrease efficiency and increase your energy bill, and defrosting can take hours. But manual defrost models had trouble keeping their door shelves as cool as the rest of the interior, with temperatures ranging from 9 to 19 degrees. Self-defrosting uprights did a better job of keeping their door shelves as cool as the rest of the freezer, and they save you the hassle of defrosting.
This light lets you see at a glance whether the freezer is on without opening it and letting out cold air. Most models have this feature and we think all should.
As the name implies, this feature helps to cool large quantities of food more quickly. Some upright models have it.
This is handy if you don't want ice cream to freeze rock hard. One upright model we tested has a soft-freeze section.
Freezers come in two categories, chest and upright. Chest-style freezers have been the most popular, but sales of uprights have grown over the past few years. Major brands and manufacturers include Frigidaire, Whirlpool, GE, Kenmore, Haier, and W.C. Woods. All offer models that meet the Energy Star qualification. Use these profiles to compare freezers by brands.
Frigidaire is one of the largest manufacturers and also produces models for a number of other brands. Frigidaire offers a wide selection of upright and chest configurations ranging from as little as 5 to 25 cubic feet. Its upright line includes a number of self-defrosting models and a pro-style model. Prices range from $300 to $1300. The freezers can be found at Lowe's, Best Buy and at independent appliance dealers.
Like most of the major brands, GE offers a wide range of products in both chest and upright configurations with a concentration in manual-defrost models. Sizes range from 5 to 25 cubic feet; prices range from $200 to $850. GE freezers are sold at Home Depot, Walmart, Best Buy, price clubs and independent appliance dealers.
Haier is another large manufacturer that produces models for other brands. They offer a wide selection of chest and upright freezers ranging from 5 to 20 cubic feet. Prices range from $250 to $900. Haier is sold at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, price clubs, and independent appliance dealers.
This major brand offers a wide assortment of products in both chest and upright configurations. Kenmore offers a number of self-defrosting upright models in various sizes and also a pro-style product. Prices range from $350 to $1500. Kenmore is sold at Sears.
Whirlpool offers freezers in both chest and upright configurations. Self-defrosting upright models are available in two-door and professional styles. Sizes range from 7 to 25 cubic feet. Prices range from $350 to $1500. Whirlpool is sold through independent appliance dealers, home centers, regional appliance centers and Sears.