difference between a freestanding refrigerator and a built-in refrigerator

Considering a built-in refrigerator means making a significant investment and specific design choice for your kitchen. Are the benefits of a built-in vs freestanding refrigerator worth it? Both have pros and cons that are specific to your personal preferences. We’ll review the differences and similarities between both models so you can make the best choice for your needs.

Considering a Built-In vs Freestanding Refrigerator? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Though they may initially look similar, built-in vs freestanding refrigerators differ in their basic design, as well as size, expense and installation. Here’s how to compare and contrast both models to understand what these differences mean for your daily life and kitchen aesthetic.

What are Freestanding Refrigerators?

True to their name, the biggest difference between a freestanding refrigerator and a built-in refrigerator is that it can be installed anywhere. Wheels and finished sides enable freestanding refrigerators to stand alone in any area of the kitchen. As many choose to install them in a cabinet enclosure, some brands offer cabinet-depth options that sit flush with cabinetry. However, on every model, the handles will protrude beyond counters or cabinets.

Here are some of the pros and cons of freestanding refrigerators:


  • Ease of installation: Freestanding refrigerators require no custom installation and can be moved anywhere.
  • Price: Freestanding models are significantly less expensive than built-in designs.
  • Cabinet-depth option: Many freestanding refrigerators offer a cabinet-depth option that allows it to sit flush with counters and cabinetry.


  • Shorter lifespan: Freestanding refrigerators generally don’t last as long as built-in models.
  • Limited widths: Built-in models offer a wider range of widths, while freestanding refrigerators have a maximum width of 36″.
  • Doesn’t blend seamlessly: The standard full-depth options and protruding handles on all models don’t allow for seamless integration with existing cabinetry.

What are Built-In Refrigerators?

The most significant difference between a built-in and freestanding refrigerator is that built-in models are permanent kitchen fixtures. Can a built-in refrigerator be freestanding? No, they are literally built into your existing cabinetry and kitchen wall. While this requires custom installation, it also provides a more seamless integration with your existing kitchen design. Though they lack the mobility of a freestanding refrigerator, built-in models sit flush with cabinetry and offer more height and width.

These are the pros and cons of built-in vs freestanding refrigerators:


  • Seamless design: Flush cabinet installation and panel-ready options allow for seamless integration with your kitchen.
  • Longer lifespan: Built-in refrigerators generally last longer than freestanding models.
  • Greater range of height and width: Though not as deep, built-in designs offer taller and wider size options than freestanding refrigerators.


  • Expense: Built-in refrigerators are more typically more expensive than freestanding models.
  • Require custom installation: Built-in designs are customized to your existing cabinetry, requiring the expertise of a carpenter and/or plumber.
  • Lack of mobility: Once installed, a built-in refrigerator can’t be moved, making it a permanent fixture in your home.

Does Sub-Zero Make Freestanding Refrigerators?

Though they’re known for their superior technology and high-end design, does Sub-Zero have a freestanding refrigerator? One reason that Sub-Zero is widely considered to be the best American-made refrigerator is that any of their models can be made freestanding. The brand offers optional side panels for all their refrigerators that can enable a freestanding design. 

Among our favorites, the Sub-Zero Pro 48 offers a patented stainless steel finish with an optional UV-resistant glass door and two freezer doors. It also provides an air-purification system that uses NASA-developed technology to scrub the air clean of ethylene gas every 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the 42″ Classic Side-by-Side Refrigerator offers an internal ice and water dispenser, LED lighting and patented magnetic door seals.

While built-in vs freestanding refrigerators have their specific pros and cons, at some point either may require a repair. When that time comes, call Just-in Time Appliance for an expert Sub-Zero refrigerator repair!

Picture of Justin Duby

Justin Duby

Justin Duby, a Grants Pass native, opened Just-in Time Appliance Repair in 2014 after working with his grandparents in the appliance repair business for almost 10 years. Justin attends various training programs throughout the year to keep his skills sharp.

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