Built-In vs Counter Depth Refrigerator: Pros and Cons

For the flip house kitchen, Henry will be building custom white oak panels for the refrigerator. This means that we will have to go with a built-in fridge instead of a counter depth. There does seem to be some confusion when it comes to these types of refrigerators. The names can be a little deceiving. So let’s look into the differences and the pros and cons of each.

What is a Built-in Refrigerator?

A built-in refrigerator is one that is designed to be housed in your cabinetry or a custom-built surround. The sides of the fridge are flush with the cabinets on each side. Some built-in refrigerators have doors that protrude past surrounding cabinets and others are flush. These two types cause some confusion for people who are shopping for a built-in refrigerator. To clear up the confusion, here’s an explanation of each.

Two types of built-in refrigerators

Overlay built-in refrigerators have doors that extrude past your kitchen cabinets. The doors are panel-ready. So they can be stainless or have panels attached that match your cabinets. On overlay units, the vent is usually visible above the doors, but this can also be covered with a panel.

Integrated built-in refrigerators are designed to seamlessly match the surrounding cabinets. This means that the doors of an integrated fridge will not protrude past your cabinet doors. They are flush with them, creating a seamlessly integrated look. With the refrigerator doors shut, it is nearly impossible to spot an integrated fridge in a kitchen.

Integrated refrigerator with custom panels. Design: Studio Dearborn

One negative to built-in refrigerators is that they typically have less storage than a counter depth due to their shallower depth. However, this is made up for in models that are wider and taller.

Pros of a Built-in Refrigerator

  • Panel ready to match kitchen cabinets
  • High-end look
  • Increases value of kitchen
  • More customizable
  • Longer lifespan

Cons of a Built-in Refrigerator

  • More expensive
  • Less Storage
  • More difficult to install

What is a Counter Depth Refrigerator?

A counter depth refrigerator is a freestanding unit with a body that is the depth of the counter (24 inches), but the doors protrude past that at least 2 inches. Since it is freestanding, it can go pretty much anywhere. It can be placed against a wall by itself, or between cabinets. There are even cabinets made to house a counter depth refrigerator, but it still will stick out quite a bit and not provide you with that same integrated look of a built-in fridge.

If you place your counter depth fridge in an enclosure, there will need to be a decent-sized gap between it and the cabinet above. This allows space for the airflow that they require. Whereas built-in refrigerators are made so that they do not require much space for proper ventilation.

Pros of a Counter Depth Refrigerator

  • More affordable
  • More storage
  • Easier to Install

Cons of a Counter Depth Refrigerator

  • Not an integrated look
  • Not as many size options

Which type of refrigerator you choose really comes down to appearance and budget. You have to ask yourself, do I want my refrigerator to be seamlessly integrated with my cabinets? And if so, is it worth the extra money to me? As mentioned above, we went with a built-in (integrated) refrigerator in our house and we are doing one in the flip house, but we had a specific look we are trying to achieve.

I hope after reading this you now have a better understanding of the differences between a Built-In and Counter Depth Refrigerator and you’ll be able to make the right choice for your kitchen!

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  • Reply Gretchen Greer

    I love the integrated refrigerators! Would you mind to share which ones you would recommend? I’ve looked at Fisher and Paykel but worried the 16 cf will be too small?

    October 7, 2021 at 6:43 pm
    • Reply Kristin

      Hi Gretchen, I follow this blog and am also shopping for integrated appliances right now. We’ve been planning our first floor remodel for over a year.
      Fisher Paykel has some of the best integration in the market, but their product offering is lacking a 36” fridge column (their largest is a 30”) which means we have to “piece together” fridge units in the FP brand to get any decent kind of cubic footage to match our old fridge size. We’ve considered buying two fridge columns, or adding a refrigeration drawer, but these options get really expensive.
      Thermador offers a 36” fridge column which is what I’m leaning toward. For cost effectiveness, a built-in Jenn Air 48” side by side fridge / freezer is a good price – but then you lose the total integration, as mentioned in this article.
      I’ve also priced out SKS (the new LG luxury kitchen line) as well as SubZ and other integrated models. Thermador’s promotional pricing (called “one two free”) is probably going to be my best bet for good sized integrated appliances.
      Good luck with your decision!!

      October 17, 2021 at 8:05 pm

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