American-style fridges: Why does Ireland have such a devotion?
American-style fridge freezers inspire a dogged devotion and affection from their besotted owners, says Claire O'Mahony
Household appliances don't tend to inspire a lot of devotion - people don't get excessively attached to their fan oven or their tumble dryer. The notable exception to this is American-style fridge freezers, because owners often describe their relationship with these as a true love affair. Once they've bought one, they can't imagine life without it ever again.
Certainly, there's lots to love about an American-style fridge freezer, also known as a side-by-side, where the freezer is typically next to the fridge although multi-door models are also available. It's spacious; it's a stylish focal point in the kitchen, it can provide a constant supply of chilled, filtered water and instant ice and it eliminates annoying trips to the shed or the utility room, digging down into a chest freezer to pull out some frozen chicken breasts.
In terms of their cost, American-style fridges do not have to be prohibitively expensive, although they are pricier than conventional fridge freezers and as an investment, warrant some careful thought before buying. Prices start at around €699 and range up to €3,000 for an all-tap-dancing model, and most models should last you for between seven to 10 years.
Some of the best-selling brands in Ireland include Samsung, Beko, LG, Siemens and Bosch, and retailers report that there's a huge consumer demand for side-by-sides. "They're enormously popular. We recently had a sale offer on a specific model and all our sales went through the roof, we sold about three times the normal amount, easily," says Amanda Doyle from D.I.D Electrical.
According to Shane Kelly, marketing manager at Beko Ireland, many people are repeat customers. "With the Celtic tiger, from 2003-2008 a lot of American-style fridge freezers were put into new builds and they're a feature piece of your kitchen," he says. "The natural replacement cycle of a unit of any brand is 7/8 years so a lot of people are coming back into the market now for American-style fridge freezers that they would have bought in the boom."
Many consumers purchasing American-style fridge freezers are those with young families but not exclusively, as couples and single people are choosing to make their cool unit the kitchen's centre point. "If you're a singleton and you've no kids, from that point of view you might have more money to spend on your house. Whereas if you've a family of three or four, you mightn't have that disposable income to put into the house," Shane Kelly points out.
The primary consideration if you're thinking about getting a side-by-side is size. They are big beasts and can be quite bulky so may be unsuitable for a small apartment. There's also the logistics of trying to get it through the door. "Trying to fit it into the house is the biggest problem we have," says Darragh Garvey of Harvey Norman. "When people go to replace their side-by-side or buy a new side-by-side, they know exactly where it's going to go in the kitchen. But they forget the amount of doors that it has to come through to get it in. A lot of the times, they have to pay a little bit of extra delivery charge to take the doors off and reset them right."
There's also your kitchen layout to take into account, and whether you want to opt for a side-by-side that's plumbed or unplumbed. "For the plumbed ones, it comes with a washing machine-like connection and that then runs the water into the back for your water and ice to run out of," explains Garvey. "The only catch though is sometimes people will have the sink on one side of the kitchen and the fridge freezer on the other side so the water pressure by the time it comes around to the fridge freezer can be quite low and you could put your bottle in there and you could be waiting for the bottle to fill for five minutes. The placement of the fridge is quite important."
Last year Becko introduced the non-plumbed ASN541B, which is suitable for those who don't want to reconfigure their kitchen and rip out units, according to Shane Kelly.
Another important factor are the aesthetics - will it fit into your kitchen in the design sense, as well as the physical one?
One of the biggest benefits about the American-style fridge freezer is that it's easy to see what exactly is in it, so no more discovering frozen mince pies, three Christmases after you first put them there. Many of them come with features such as frost-free freezers, lots of racks to store different shaped and size items, and digital displays.
More expensive units have drawers with humidity controls to keep fruit and veg fresher for longer, and ice-makers that are attached to the inside of the door, instead of taking up two shelves. There can surprising health benefits to having an American-style fridge freezer too. "People love the ice and water feature," says Harvey Norman's Darragh Garvey. "A lot of kids like the novelty of pressing the button; the water comes out and they might drink a cordial or lots of water instead and it's fantastic for the family because it keeps them off the fizzy drinks."
Freezer space can pose an issue because an American-style fridge freezer isn't as roomy as a chest freezer - if you're storing a pizza for example, you're more than likely going to have to remove the box. A larger family may also require a chest freezer if they want to store a week's worth of frozen food. However for a lot of people, the smaller freezer size is compensated for by the generous fridge space. "We find a lot of customers now again, particularly parents with young children, are using more fresh foods," says Darragh Garvey.
Fridges and freezers are one of the main contributors to a household energy bill because they're left on all the time. American-style fridge freezers do have higher running costs because they're bigger. "If you were gong to take a normal fridge freezer, about 240-300 kWh per annum. Your side-by-sides will use anywhere from 430-500 kWh per annum, so you are pretty much turning on two fridge freezers in your house," explains Darragh Garvey.
It's relatively easy however to figure out how much your side-by-side is going to cost you each year. Look for the kWh/annum on the appliance energy label and multiply that by the standard EBB rate of 0.1659, which is what most households are charged to get your result. For example one with 500kWh/annum will cost you €82.95 per year. Another financial consideration to take into account is that you have a plumbed freezer with a water/ice feature, the water filter will need to be changed every six months, which can cost anything from €20 to over €100.
The enduring appeal of an American-style fridge freezer lies very much in its aesthetics as it does in its practicality. When something marries functionality and style so successfully, it's no surprise that it's become so many people's favourite way to upgrade their kitchen.
Case study: 'We don't have another chest freezer because there's enough room in this for a lot'
Freda Griffin from Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, has had her American-style fridge freezer for a decade. She bought it 10 years ago from Harvey Norman and it has never let her down.
"I can't believe it. I often think 'When is it going to happen?' but it seems to be quite a strong one and very good," she says. "Its main benefit is the amazing space that's in it. We don't have another chest freezer because there's enough room in this for a lot. It's a little more expensive to run but not incredibly more. I used to have a fridge and a freezer in another room and this is economical enough really."
She also loves the quality of the water the fridge freezer gives. "It's absolutely brilliant - the difference. I nearly die when I go into someone else's house because I only drink water and if they offer me a glass of water I wouldn't be able to drink it because the water is so nice coming out of my Samsung," she says.
Another advantage for Freda is that she can see all the food that's currently in her fridge freezer and nothing is hidden or forgotten about.
Would she recommend other people to get one? "100 per cent," she says. "Now it's a little bit awkward in size if you don't have the room. Not every kitchen would be able to fit one, I think. I can't imagine it working in a very small apartment, definitely not. But certainly after having this one I wouldn't be able to go without."