Do I really need ½" of space on either side of my refrigerator?
June 19, 2013 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Do I really ½" of space on either side of my refrigerator?

Our 16-year-old fridge died and we're looking for a replacement. It's tucked into our kitchen pretty good, with about a ⅜" gap on either side. Here's a crude diagram of the current setup. The problem is that the refrigerators we like are all at least a tiny bit wider than our dead one, leaving an even smaller gap.

Many of the installation guides I've seen say to allow ½" of space on either side. But the dead one lasted 16 years that way, and there is that open space on the left side of it. Is it a bad idea to leave so little room? We have plenty of depth and height available. Thanks!
posted by DakotaPaul to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
It seems wise to trust the manufacturer's instructions rather than searching for people who agree with you instead.

Maybe keep up the search or see if you can widen the area/manage a new set-up.
posted by maya at 9:44 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Mine is wedged in tight. I think it's good to have air circulate around it, but clearly for the past 7 years, mine purrs away.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:45 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

How much clearance above the top of the fridge? The manufacturer might say 1/2" on the sides because people will put cabinets right on top of the fridge and block any ventilation in that direction.

If you have free airflow over the top of the fridge it should be alright.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:49 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

How much headroom do you have above? If it's air circulation that you're concerned about, leaving adequate space between the rear coils and the wall is the primary concern; most refrigerators admit air from the bottom, over the coils, and out above the unit. Since you have air space between the countertop and the hanging cabinets, there shouldn't be an issue.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:50 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Without a small gap, you'll never be able to get it out again, which you'll periodically need to do.
posted by Capri at 9:50 AM on June 19, 2013

So we just bought a new fridge, too. We have a similar set up except, instead of a fixed wall, we have a cabinet enclosure for the fridge. Oh, and our old fridge also had less than ½" clearance on both sides. And there wasn't anything on the market that would give us that ½" (except getting a MUCH smaller fridge -- e.g., buying a roughly 30" wide fridge instead of a 33" wide fridge).

We bought a new 33" fridge anyway. New fridge has very little clearance on either side -- probably roughly the same amount as the old fridge, maybe a smidge less. New fridge also probably has less clearance in the back than the old fridge, though it has good clearance on top and there's an empty space behind the cabinet above the fridge, giving a little additional air space there.

Three things for you to consider:

1. The fridge will not operate at maximum efficiency without the minimum clearance. It will have to work harder to keep your food cold. The extra work it has to do will depend on how much clearance you've got at the back and on top, but not much since, as I understand it, the coils on most modern fridges are on the sides and not at the back. Still, as long as you have SOME clearance at the back and top, you should be OK (in terms of the fridge not burning out -- not in terms of getting your maximum efficiency).

2. You need extra clearance on the fixed wall side to accommodate the door, unless you plan to have the door swing open the other way, into the cabinet, in which case you want to make sure the door still won't whack into the counter when you open it.

3. Measure your enclosure at multiple points -- at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom -- because walls and cabinets are rarely in true. You may find that you have just enough clearance to fit the thing at the top of the space but a lot of clearance at the bottom. Or that you have just enough space at the top, but not enough space at the bottom at all. Make sure you know what your absolute maximum width is.

Oh, and you'll be able to get it out even with a small gap, you'll just have to use the fridge/freezer divider as your pull point. (I watched our new fridge installer do that to get the old fridge out.)
posted by devinemissk at 9:56 AM on June 19, 2013

We have a good 4" of clearance above our current model and everything we've looked at is about the same height. There's plenty of room in back, too. We've been able to pull it out of the enclosure with the tiny gaps on either side with no problem.
posted by DakotaPaul at 10:01 AM on June 19, 2013

The other consideration is the amount of space that the door edge/hinge takes when you open it. Obviously, that's only on one side, but make sure you don't go below that (plus a fudge factor)...
posted by acm at 11:40 AM on June 19, 2013

Many fridges have thick doors because of shelves in the door. Having enough clearance to open the door wide enough to e.g., remove bins for cleaning should be a consideration. The back of the appliance ideally should not be tight against the wall.
Look for a grill on the bottom of the case - that may be where the motor exhausts heat. Obviously, getting rid of heat is the fridge's main job. Any spacing that maximizes heat loss will favor a longer life and fewer 'runs' for the fridge.
posted by Cranberry at 11:48 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Be aware that appliances do require clearance for airflow reasons.

(Due to space constraints, I had to install my dishwasher without the requisite clearance on one side. Over time, as the dishwasher heated up and cooled down, condensation formed on the inside of the cabinet, leading to mold.)
posted by lstanley at 11:50 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need enough space for the fan in the fridge to to move hot air away.

In my home we have had a fridge that is absolutely wedged tight on the sides; I mean jammed into place. But, there is lots of room behind and above. So, the fridge can pull air along the floor and up behind.

You should be OK IMHO.

posted by gnossos at 11:50 AM on June 19, 2013

Use some wooden blocks and raise it up an inch. As long as there's proper airflow under/over it should be fine.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:57 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

It really depends on the fridge. Some have condensers on the back with no fan and need a huge amount of room. Others are designed for being enclosed and both draw-in and exhaust air out the bottom using a fan and don't need any room for airflow.
posted by 445supermag at 12:39 PM on June 19, 2013

I should also note that the fixed wall on the right side of the diagram is not a full wall, it just kind of hides the fridge from view in the adjacent room. The dead sticks out a good 6-7" (doors included) past the end of this wall, so opening the doors is not a problem even with the small gap between wall and fridge.
posted by DakotaPaul at 12:56 PM on June 19, 2013

What does the manual say about top clearance? 4" seems mighty small.

I wouldn't worry too much about the 1/8" difference between 1/2 and 3/8, but I wouldn't go any smaller.
posted by gjc at 1:51 PM on June 19, 2013

The dimensions guide for a model we're looking at says:
To ensure proper ventilation for your refrigerator, allow for ½" (1.25 cm) of space on each side and at the top. Allow for 1" (2.54 cm) of space behind the refrigerator. If your refrigerator has an ice maker, allow extra space at the back for the water line connections.
Normal minimum cabinet cut-out width required for product installation is 36" (91.44 cm).
So even by their own guide I couldn't get ½" on each side with that model.
posted by DakotaPaul at 3:08 PM on June 19, 2013

Your flow is most likely to draw cooler air from the floor and warmer air out the top. Keep it pulled out from the wall, raise it an inch, and you'll be good. (per fridge salesman in previous life)

Another suggestion from the Boys Beer Club meeting in the kitchen is to put a vent in the false wall down by the floor.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:50 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the fixed wall isn't a fixed wall at all but is instead a cabinet enclosure, then it sounds like you have basically the same setup we do. And we did this. We have a 33" wide cabinet and we bought a 32-5/8" wide refrigerator. The manual calls for 1/2" clearance on each side; we clearly don't have that. We didn't have it before, with our old 32-1/2" wide refrigerator. We do have about an inch at the back, and about 2-1/2" above. The installers didn't blink an eye when they put the thing in the enclosure, they just measured to make sure it would fit. And it does. And it works fine -- it keeps food cold, it's quiet, and we haven't had any indication of overheating or other problems.

Again, the fridge will run best/most efficient if you have the half inch on each side, but as you note, the manual says you can put the thing in a 36" enclosure. And you've got lots of space on top and in back, which means you'll likely have plenty of air circulation. So go for it.
posted by devinemissk at 6:01 PM on June 19, 2013

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