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Built-In vs Freestanding Refrigerators: What You Need to Know

While a refrigerator serves the crucial purpose of preserving food, its appearance also influences the aesthetic of your kitchen. Is there a difference between a built-in and freestanding refrigerator when it comes to design? While built-in models are built into existing cabinetry, freestanding refrigerators are moveable and unattached. Examine the pros and cons of built-in vs freestanding refrigerators to determine the right choice for your kitchen.

How to Choose Between a Built-In vs Freestanding Refrigerator

When choosing between a built-in vs freestanding refrigerator, size, cost and customization are just as important as appearance. Our list of pros and cons for each refrigerator type can help you choose the right balance between form and function.

What Are Built-In Refrigerators?

As their name suggests, built-in refrigerators are built into a kitchen’s existing cabinetry or wall. Can a built-in refrigerator be freestanding? No, since they don’t have finished sides, these refrigerators must be enclosed and, once installed, their placement is permanent. However, most are panel-ready and sit flush with cabinets for a customized finish that blends seamlessly with your kitchen decor. 

Pros and cons of a built-in vs freestanding refrigerator include:


  • Built-in design and flush cabinet-depth offer a seamless, high-end look
  • Panel-ready for customized appearance that can match existing decor
  • Taller than freestanding models, with a large range of widths, up to 48″
  • Increased widths offer greater door storage
  • Longer lifespan than freestanding refrigerators
  • Compressor is located on top, improving cooling


  • Higher cost than freestanding models
  • Requires custom fitting and professional installation
  • Not easily moved once installed
  • Less deep as freestanding models, with less interior space
  • Compressor location can be difficult to access for repairs and service

difference between a freestanding refrigerator and a built-in refrigerator
Image Credit: Sub-Zero

What Are Freestanding Refrigerators?

The main difference between a freestanding refrigerator and a built-in refrigerator is that it is moveable and unattached. Equipped with wheels and finished sides, freestanding refrigerators can be placed anywhere in the kitchen. They don’t require their own enclosure and can be moved as needed.

While freestanding refrigerators won’t sit flush with cabinetry, full-depth models offer increased storage and cabinet-depth options protrude only slightly from counters and cabinets. All of these factors make them the most commonly available and popular refrigerator design.

Here are the pros and cons of a freestanding vs built-in refrigerator:


  • Lower price point
  • Easy installation
  • Versatile placement and easy mobility with wheels and finished sides
  • Offered in full and cabinet-depth options
  • Multiple door choices from side-by-side to French door and beyond
  • Deeper than built-in models, with more interior storage
  • Bottom compressor location easier to access for service and repairs


  • Full and cabinet depth designs don’t sit flush with cabinetry
  • Fewer panel-ready options and less customized appearance
  • Shorter lifespan than built-in models
  • Limited range of widths ending at 36″, limiting door storage
  • Bottom compressor not as effective at cooling

built-in vs freestanding refrigerator
Image Credit: Sub-Zero

Does Sub-Zero Make Freestanding Refrigerators?

Does Sub-Zero have a freestanding refrigerator series? Though known for their sleek, built-in designs, any SubZero refrigerator can be made freestanding. However, since all their refrigerators have unfinished sides, side panels must be purchased separately, in addition to custom tops.

Most designs have ready-made side panels for purchase in a variety of finishes, though the 700 Series would require separate, custom-made panels. Sub-Zero also recommends using an anti-tip bracket or blocking or anchoring kit to secure the refrigerator in place.

Understanding the pros and cons of a built-in vs freestanding refrigerator can help you make the best choice for your kitchen. However, both models may require repairs during their lifespan. When they do, count on Blue Sky Appliance Service for prompt and professional care!