With shoppers stocking up at warehouse stores and getting bags of farm-to-doorstep produce delivered, it’s no wonder that refrigerator capacity has become a key purchasing decision.

But you should think twice before spending more on a refrigerator that’s claimed to have a supersized capacity. In Consumer Reports tests, we found huge differences—sometimes as much as 32 percent—between a manufacturer’s capacity claims and the actual usable storage space as measured in our labs. 

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The reason for the difference comes down to how manufacturers measure refrigerator volume. The industry follows a standard created by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers that states, without irony, that the industry method is “not intended to provide a means of measuring the food-storage capacity.” Say what?

That’s because the AHAM standard is intended for calculating energy consumption. An AHAM spokeswoman gave CR the following statement: “The mandatory federal energy program requires energy calculations to represent every portion of refrigeration space, and not only consumer usable space. Every part of the refrigerator is required to be cooled, and therefore every part of the refrigerator is required to be measured.”

The purpose? To provide a framework so that all manufacturers must measure according to the same standard.

The AHAM method does not deduct space taken up by “shelves, removable partitions, containers, automatic ice makers and interior light housings” and states that those parts “shall be considered as not being in place” when calculating a model’s capacity. In other words, consider the refrigerator stripped to the walls. Even the ice chute for an external ice dispenser isn’t deducted from the measurement.

“While the AHAM standard is designed around energy-consumption measurements, we take the time to measure the ‘usable capacity,’ which we feel is the real-world space that the consumer will realistically be able to use,” says Joseph Pacella, CR’s refrigerator test engineer.

CR’s refrigerator test engineers calculate each model’s usable storage capacity by measuring and tallying the volume of each individual shelf, door bin, and drawer, while subtracting the volume taken up by parts such as ice makers, water filters, air filters, lights, vents, and other components. This leaves behind only the space that foods can occupy, called total usable capacity, which we note on the Features & Specs tab of our refrigerator ratings.


To find a refrigerator that’s the right size for you and your family, check out our
full refrigerator ratings and recommendations.
 

Below we illustrate the average difference in measured and claimed capacity for each of the six major refrigerator types we test using data from the models currently in our ratings. Our comparison found that top-freezer models have the smallest average difference between claimed capacity and usable capacity, and French-door models have the largest difference. 



CR Does the Math on Refrigerator Capacity Claims

You have a lot less room in that new fridge than you might think. The area shaded in light green represents the average usable capacity for that configuration, as measured in Consumer Reports' tests. The white space represents the difference between the usable capacity and the average capacity claimed by manufacturers for that type. All measurements are rounded to the nearest whole cubic foot.






CR Does the Math on Refrigerator Capacity Claims

You have a lot less room in that new fridge than you might think. The area shaded in light green represents the average usable capacity for that configuration, as measured in Consumer Reports' tests. The white space represents the difference between the usable capacity and the average capacity claimed by manufacturers for that type. All measurements are rounded to the nearest whole cubic foot.