The capacity of refrigerators is usually given in cubic feet, but manufacturers calculate the capacity of their models in different ways. See the most recent article on refrigerators in the magazine Consumer Reports to compare capacities measured in a consistent way.

A rule of thumb for estimating needed capacity, for the United States, is 12 cubic feet for two people plus an additional 2 cubic feet for each additional person, that is, 14 cubic feet for 3 people.


The USDA recommends 40°F (5°C) or below for the main compartment. Many consider 37°F optimal According to the USDA, the freezer compartment should be 0°F (−18°C) or below.

In a power failure, a refrigerator whose door has not been opened will maintain a safe temperature for about 4 hours, although this depends on the content. A refrigerator full of, say, bottles of water, will stay cold much longer than an empty one.

When the power goes back on, if the refrigerator is still 40°F, the food is safe. Foods held at temperatures above 40°F for more than 2 hours should not be consumed.

United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Refrigeration and Food Safety.
Web page at Revision of 23 March 2015.

Physical dimensions

A few considerations in planning whether or not a refrigerator will fit into the available space:

Refrigerator sizes are not legally standardized, so consulting the manufacturer's specifications is essential.

Mini or dorm-room refrigerators

These seem to cluster into two classes, one of about 3.2 cubic feet and other around 1.6 cu. feet. Both have widths under 28 inches (actually, as little as 17) and are typically 18 inches deep. The larger ones are taller (About 31 - 34 inches; the smaller ones more like 19.

Side-by-Side (French door)

30 - 36 inches wide, 67 - 70 inches high, and 29 - 35 inches deep. The smaller doorswing is a definite advantage in a small kitchen.

Freezer on top

24″ - 36″ wide; 64½″ - 68½″ high; 23½″ - 32½″ deep.

Freezer on bottom

29″ - 35¾″ wide; 66½″ - 68½″ high; 25¾″ - 34½″ deep

Built-in, overlay and integrated refrigerators

To match standard cabinets, these are 24 inches deep but as wide as 48″. Most have the compressor on top. A built-in will project from the cabinetry about 2 inches. An overlay also projects, but its door will match the surrounding cabinets. An integrated refrigerator is absolutely flush with the surrounding cabinetry, which it matches, and it does not have compressor vents visible above. In short, it is invisible. And also extremely expensive.


Allow room for the necessary plumbing, and consider where the water will go if the tubing breaks. The icemaker is the part most prone to failure.


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