The hidden cost of refrigerator water dispensers

Sure they're convenient but you'll pay more and repairs are pricey

Published: October 29, 2014 12:00 PM
Samsung T9000 RF32FMQDBSR

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In-the-door ice and water dispensers have become common on refrigerators, especially in the bottom-freezer and side-by-side categories. In fact, depending on what size refrigerator you're shopping for, you might have a hard time finding a model that doesn't offer this feature. And it can be a nice convenience, especially if you entertain often or your household goes through a lot of water and ice. But there are a few downsides to consider. With that, here are the pros and cons on in-the-door ice and water dispensers, based on Consumer Reports' ongoing refrigerator tests.                               

The Pros

Added convenience. There's nothing easier than pressing a lever and watching your glass fill with fresh ice (whole or crushed, as you like it) and chilled water. That convenience can help you and your family stay hydrated throughout the day. Many manufacturers have made their dispensers even easier to use, for example, by making them taller so that you can fill pitchers and other oversize containers. Samsung added a sparkling water option to its Samsung Chef Collection RF34H9960S4 and Samsung T9000 RF32FMQDBSR, while the dispenser on the GE Cafe CFE29TSDSS produces water that's cold or hot. 

Cleaner, better tasting water and ice. The water line on most dispensers runs through a built-in filter that should improve the taste of your water and also capture contaminants like lead and mercury. If you had been relying on bottled water, a refrigerator water dispenser could save you money and drastically reduce the amount of plastic garbage your home produces.                                            


The Cons

Added cost. You'll feel this a few ways, starting with the purchase price. Refrigerators with in-the-door ice and water dispensers typically cost a couple hundred dollars more than comparable models without the feature. Annual operating costs tend to be higher as well, due to the extra electricity needed to power the unit. It might only be $20 or so, but over the life of the unit that will add up. And don't forget the cost of replacement filters, which could add another $50 to $100 to your annual operating expenses.        

Higher repair rates. Another major drawback to in-the-door ice and water dispensers is that they tend to break down a lot. Repairs could set you back a few hundred bucks, including the cost of the service call. In Consumer Reports' brand reliability surveys, refrigerators with icemakers have significantly higher repair rates. And a through-the-door water dispenser is just one more part that can malfunction, especially given the extreme environment of a freezer compartment. Small kids, who often find dispensers an irresistible distraction, can be another torture test, though lock-out buttons are standard these days.   

Reduced storage. With many models, the housings for the icemaker and water filter are located in the top shelf of the refrigerator, which reduces the amount of usable storage space. Some brands, including Kenmore and LG, have started placing their icemakers in the door of the freezer, which subtracts storage from the fresh-food section. Check out the LG LFX32945ST, $3,000, which has this feature and is also tied for the highest overall score in our Ratings of three-door refrigerators, thanks to its superb temperature control, efficiency, and quiet operation.

That's a reminder that, whether you decide for or against an in-the-door ice and water dispenser, it's important to choose a refrigerator that excels at its main task of keeping food fresh. Our current refrigerator Ratings of nearly 300 models has many winners from which to choose. 

—Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)

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