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How To Measure For A New Refrigerator

by Joseph Truini

If you haven’t shopped for a new refrigerator lately, you’ll be amazed at the number of choices available. Appliance showrooms and home improvement stores offer a sea of refrigerators from more than a dozen manufacturers in configurations like side-by-side, French door, top freezer, bottom freezer, commercial-style, and counter-depth.

Having so many options creates a problem: There’s no such thing as a “standard size” refrigerator. Many modern models are wider, taller, or deeper than those made just 10 years ago. Before you go shopping, use these measuring tips to find a refrigerator that will comfortably fit your kitchen.

Measure the Alcove

In many kitchens, the refrigerator stands in an alcove, which is a shallow, recessed space that’s typically set within the countertop with a storage cabinet above it. Begin by laying down a sheet of thin cardboard or plywood in front of the refrigerator to protect the kitchen floor. Then, pull the old refrigerator completely out of the alcove. If necessary, unplug the refrigerator’s power cord and disconnect the icemaker line.

Next, use a tape measure to measure the height, width, and depth of the alcove. (Do not simply measure the old refrigerator.) It’s important to take each measurement from three different locations. Measure the alcove opening at the top just below the cabinet, in the middle, and at the bottom near the floor. This might seem redundant, but alcove openings aren’t always perfectly square, level, and plumb. The measurements might differ in places. Afterward, write down the smallest of the three dimensions. This represents the maximum height, width, and depth of the refrigerator that will fit into your existing space.

Next, consider the clearance around the refrigerator. Refrigerators need room to breathe, and most manufacturers recommend leaving at least ⅛ of an inch of air space at each side of the refrigerator, 1 inch of space along the top, and 2 inches between the rear of the refrigerator and the back wall. Failing to provide proper clearances will cause the refrigerator to overheat and shorten its serviceable life. After you’ve decided on a model, check the recommended clearances with the manufacturer to make sure it’s the right fit.

Under-cabinet installation of refrigerator

Measure the Entry Path

Next, determine the most direct path for the appliance movers to bring your new refrigerator into the kitchen. Check passageways from both the front door and rear door. Keep in mind that a slightly longer route might be more direct if it has fewer tight turns, steps, or other obstacles.

Measure the width and height of each doorway, entrance, and cased opening. (A cased opening is an opening between rooms that does not have a door.) Always write down the smallest dimension. Note any place where you can gain a little extra room by removing doors, latches, knobs, door closers, or other hardware that protrudes into the opening.

Measure Kitchen Clearances

Once you’ve confirmed that the refrigerator will make it to the kitchen, make sure you can maneuver it into the alcove. Measure the width of spaces along the entry path, such as between the alcove and a nearby kitchen island or peninsula. Make sure there’s sufficient space for the appliance movers to turn corners and bypass other appliances. 

Don’t forget to check that the doors will be able to swing fully open in the space. Most models require that the doors open fully in order to slide out storage drawers and vegetable bins. Check the clearance for the bottom freezer drawer, too, if you’re considering a fridge that features one.

Measure the New Refrigerator

The sizes of new refrigerators are readily available from the manufacturer and are clearly on display at the store. However, if you’re interested in a particular model, you should measure it yourself at the store with a tape measure.

When measuring the depth, include the door handles in front and any fitting or fixture protruding from the back. To measure the height, extend the tape measure from the floor to the top of the door hinges. (Most listed dimensions don’t include the hinges, which can add another inch to the overall height.) Before measuring the width, see if the doors are slightly inset from the sides of the refrigerator. If they are, open them and measure the width across from one side of the refrigerator to the other. It’s important to record the widest, tallest, and deepest dimensions to ensure the refrigerator fits into your kitchen without having to alter any counters or cabinets.

Finally, measure the depth with the doors open at 90 degrees. You want to make sure there’s enough space in your kitchen to not only open the doors but also provide room for someone to walk by. An open refrigerator door should not block a main entrance into the kitchen. If door clearance is tight in your kitchen, consider a French door or side-by-side model, which both have shallower doors.

About the author: Joe Truini is a home improvement expert who writes about home remodeling and repair, woodworking projects, and tools and techniques for homeowners and professionals. He is the author of six books and has written for several national magazines. He also writes for The Home Depot, which carries a wide selection of refrigerators on their website.

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