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Cold Hard Facts about freezers

Leftovers can be frozen in plastic bags and "tucked" in the freezer. Soups fit the bill very well. (Bob Fila / Chicago Tribune)
Leftovers can be frozen in plastic bags and "tucked" in the freezer. Soups fit the bill very well. (Bob Fila / Chicago Tribune)

Sales of freezers are up, according to Mike Goodwin, merchandising director of appliances/food preservation for Lowe's Companies Inc., which operates more than 1,575 home-improvement stores across the U.S. and Canada. Goodwin attributes the rise to the increase in energy costs and grocery prices, which have people organizing their trips to the stores and buying in bulk.

We asked Goodwin for some tips on shopping for the right kind of deep freeze.

1. The big picture. Residential freezers generally range in size from 5 cubic feet, which is probably the "smallest footprint for a family of three," to a very large 25 cubic feet — and that's likely to be a commercial-grade appliance that doubles as a very large home freezer, says Goodwin, who is based at Lowe's headquarters in Mooresville, N.C. Expect to pay $150 to $700.

2. Storage capacity. The rule of thumb, Goodwin says: Multiply the number of people in your home by 1.5 cubic feet. Then evaluate how much food you buy and add 1 cubic foot for every 35 pounds. (A cubic foot of freezer space will hold 35 pounds of food, Goodwin explains, although packaging could "eat a lot of that.") Families of four with average freezer needs will do well with a chest freezer measuring 8.9 to 15 cubic feet. In an upright style, 16 to 20 cubic feet generally will do the trick, Goodwin says.

3. Style and configuration. Speaking of chests and uprights, picking one or the other is your major "style" decision, Goodwin says. Key to it is the amount of space you have. Chest-style freezers, at 48 to 65 inches wide, require lots of floor space, Goodwin says.

Uprights are the better choice if you have limited floor space — or if you don't want to do a lot of bending over. Uprights also are more easily organized. Food can get buried in a chest.

Chests, though, are great for people who want to freeze lots of one item — i.e., hunters with game or gardeners/farmers with crops — as they naturally are more energy-efficient than their upright counterparts.

Another notable bit of info: Folks thinking of investing in a freezer and/or in need of a new refrigerator as well, might want to consider the relatively new French door-style refrigerators with freezers below, Goodwin says, noting their growing popularity. By their very design, they offer about twice as much freezer space as the typical fridge. And that may be enough space to preclude the need for buying a separate freezer.

4. Special features. Look for a frost-free freezer — unless you want to endure the rigors of emptying your freezer and defrosting manually. It will cost about $75 to $100 more. Look for good interior organization. Some manufacturers have replaced traditional shelves on their upright models with more accessible pull-out bins and redesigned door storage to include adjustable height shelves and even included vertical storage for pizzas.

If you have children and/or simply need peace of mind, look for freezers with a locking system.

Also, freezers don't always come with interior lights. Know where your freezer is going to live and whether a light from within will be key.

5. Energy-efficiency. Look for an Energy Star-rated freezer, particularly if you're buying an upright model, Goodwin says, noting again that chest-style freezers are inherently more energy-efficient (less cold air escapes from the hatch-style lid). On average (across the country), an Energy Star-rated upright will save you 7 percent to 10 percent a year on your energy bill, he says.