March 18

Sub-Zero Refrigerators: A Review of the Luxury Brand

By trk

Last Updated: March 21, 2022

best refrigerator brand, SubZero

Sub-Zero is an American maker of refrigerators in standard sizes, plus columns (separate fridge/freezer units), under-counter fridges, and wine coolers. It is a brand synonymous with luxury and has a price to match. You can mix and match options up to 72" wide, all fridge, all freezer, or any combination of each, including wine coolers.

This offers a lot of options. But is Sub-Zero really better than other refrigerators? And are they worth the premium price tag? (The current price for a basic 36" over/under fridge-freezer is about $10,500.)

Here we take an in-depth look at the luxury brand to find out its unique features and whether it really has something to offer that other brands don't have.

Sub-Zero at a Glance

Sub-Zero makes three lines of refrigerators/freezers: the Classic Series, Designer Series, and Pro Series. As there are several configurations of each, plus wine storage and under counter refrigeration, we're just linking to Sub-Zero's pages rather than try to list all of the options.

Sub-Zero refrigerators are available as column (separate fridge/freezer units), side-by-side, over/under (bottom pull-out freezers), and French door. Not all models are available in all sizes (for example, the 48" Classic fridge is not available with French doors or a bottom freezer). 

Additionally, most Classic and Pro models come with Wi-Fi, internal ice maker and water dispenser, or external ice maker and water dispenser, or just ice maker and no water dispenser. Sub-Zero's have a replaceable charcoal filter for water that removes chlorine, bad smells, and other impurities (which is great, but not nearly as comprehensive as a reverse osmosis filter).

Sub-Zero also offers glass doors on the fridges, which is currently a popular look on luxury refrigerators. 

The Classic Series has a stainless steel exterior and comes in several sizes and configurations (e.g., bottom freezer, side-by-side, French door with bottom freezer, and columns so you can mix and match). The interior has adjustable glass shelves, adjustable door bins, and polycarbonate drawers that gently self-close (very nice). Diffused LED lighting makes for outstanding visuals. Rather than list all the configurations, we'll point you to Sub-Zero's website to see their Classic Series options.

Sub-Zero Classic Series Bottom Freezer Refrigerator

Sub-Zero Classic over/under.

The Designer Series has no front panels so the units are ready to be customized to match your kitchen. Designer Series Sub-Zeros have hidden grills and hinges, so the refrigerator looks like a large cabinet. The interior is similar to the Classic Series but has a few extra features such as Night Mode lighting. Here are Sub-Zero's Designer Series options

Sub-Zero Designer Series Side by Side Refrigerator

Sub-Zero Designer side-by-side (with panels and water dispenser).

The Pro Series comes in only the 36" over/under and 48" side-by-side units in a stainless finish. The Pro Series has an extra evaporator which provides separate cooling for the drawers. The separate crisper and freezer drawers provide even more superb food preservation. The Pro Series has a rugged glass and stainless interior (very little polycarbonate). Note that the Pro Series has no door bins, so the shelves are deeper than on other models. To compensate for this, one of the shelves slides out for easier access.

Here are Sub-Zero's Pro Series options.

Sub-Zero Pro Series Refrigerator Interior

Wine Storage. Sub-Zero also offer several configurations for wine storage as independent units or as part of a fridge/freezer combo. Here are Sub-Zero's wine cooler options.

Under Counter. Finally, Sub-Zero has under-counter refrigeration (and freezers) in several configurations, whether for extra space in your kitchen, in an outdoor kitchen, or anywhere you want under counter refrigeration or freezing. These units are available in stainless or as designer built-ins. Here are Sub-Zero's under-counter options

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About Sub-Zero

Sub-Zero was founded in 1945 in Madison, Wisconsin by Westye Bakke. He was looking for a way to preserve insulin for his son's juvenile diabetes. Bakke built his first freezer in his basement out of scrap metal. 

Sub-Zero quickly developed a reputation for quality and innovation, so much so that Frank LLoyd Wright hired the company to design custom refrigerators for his homes.

Sub-Zero retains its excellent reputation today. Both their design and their innovative food preservation technologies have been copied by many other makers. You can find many of Sub-Zero's innovations (or style) in other brands, but you can't find all of them. 

Sub-Zero acquired Wolf stoves in 2000 and Cove dishwashers in 2018. Together these brands create a pinnacle of high-end kitchen appliances. 

All Sub-Zero appliances are made in the USA. 

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Who Should Buy a Sub-Zero?

Sub-Zero is definitely a premium brand for the premium buyer. People who buy a Sub-Zero refrigerator will have these traits or concerns: 

  • Have a large budget
  • Are a serious cook 
  • Care about food preservation 
  • Care about design
  • Care about energy efficiency (Sub-Zeros are extremely energy efficient)
  • Want a customized fridge that matches their cabinetry or fits special requirements (e.g., wine cooler)
  • Want a refrigerator with a longer-than-average warranty (12 years) and life span 
  • Want excellent customer service
  • Want a brand with excellent resale value for their home.

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What Is a Built-In Refrigerator?

Sub-Zero refrigerators are built-ins, as opposed to freestanding refrigerators. Built-ins, whether stainless steel or paneled to match your cabinetry, are designed to integrate seamlessly into any kitchen design. They typically have hidden (or nearly hidden) hinges, and sometimes hidden grills, as well, so the refrigerator looks much like a large cabinet. 

Built-ins have long been the choice of interior designers for their great looks. Built-ins also tend to have cutting-edge technology, such as the dual compressors and air purification system of Sub-Zero. 

Though you will now find some similar food preservation technology on many freestanding refrigerators, you won't find them all, so Sub-Zero is still the king of technology. However, the main reason people buy built-in brands is for their sleek appearance--and possibly for the resale value they'll add to their kitchen.

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What Is a Counter-Depth Refrigerator?

Sub-Zero Designer 48 Custom Built-in Refrigerator:Freezer

Sub-Zero 48" Designer Series: seamless looks.

Most built-in refrigerators are also counter-depth. Sub-Zero makes only counter-depth refrigerators with a depth of 24 inches. This means the refrigerator (excluding handles) is approximately the same depth as your counters and cabinets.

Counter-depth fridges are also typically taller than standard depth fridges (more on Sub-Zero height below). 

Standard depth refrigerators are deeper than counters and stick out 5-10 inches.

Pros of counter-depth refrigerators: 

  • Look more custom 
  • Streamline the kitchen
  • Easier to find food (because of the shallow depth).

Cons of counter-depth refrigerators:

  • More expensive than standard-depth fridges (approximately 15-20%)
  • Typically less storage space (because of the shallow depth)
  • Doors might require more clearance.

Counter-depth refrigerators are associated with higher end, more expensive brands and are typically found in upscale kitchens. Most people think they look better, but they also have a longer life span and the very best food preservation technology.

Several makers offer counter-depth fridges, including Frigidaire, GE, Bosch, Samsung, and all the higher-end brands (e.g., Thermador, Miele, Viking). 

You'll pay more for a counter depth fridge regardless of which brand you buy. 

In fact, Sub-Zero is not even the most expensive counter depth-brand. Depending on the model, you can pay more for Miele, Viking, and Thermador. 

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What Does Sub-Zero Have that Other Refrigerators Don't Have?

Sub-Zero Side by Side Refrigerator Air Flow

Dual compressor air flow in a Sub-Zero.

Sub-Zero has several innovative features. You can find some of these on other brands, but no other brand has all of them. This includes:

Dual Compressors: All Sub-Zero refrigerators have separate compressors for the fridge and freezer. This allows a Sub-Zero to maintain the proper temperature and humidity levels ideal for each compartment: humidity in the fridge to keep produce fresh and dry air in the freezer to prevent freezer burn.

Patented Vacuum/Magnetic Doors: The doors on a Sub-Zero magnetically seal each time you close them. This ensures a tight fit and no air leakage in or out. If you have a power outage, a Sub-Zero will preserve food longer than other brands (if you don't open the doors). 

Air Purification: A NASA-inspired antimicrobial air purification system scrubs the air every 20 minutes to eliminate the production of mold spores, viruses, bacteria, and ethylene gas. There is a filter that needs to be changed about once a year. The control panel (or smart capability, if you're using it), will alert you when the filter needs to be changes. Sub-Zero also provides detailed instructions for filter changes for each model.

Temperature and Humidity Controls: A microprocessor constantly monitors temperature so the fluctuation is less than one degree (other brands can fluctuate 15 degrees or more). The humidity is maintained at an ideal level in both fridge and freezer compartments (i.e., humid in the fridge, dry in the freezer).

Longer Life Produce and Deli Drawers: The produce drawers are near the evaporator, which keeps them a few degrees cooler than the rest of the fridge. The drawers also seal to lock out air and have removable dividers that can help keep some produce fresh for longer.

Freshness Cards: All Sub-Zeros come with cards that provide tips on food preservation. They are conveniently located in a slot inside the fridge (not in the way of food) so you don't have to look up the information in a user manual (or on the Internet).

12 Year Warranty: All Sub-Zero's come with a complete 2-year warranty that covers everything, a slightly less comprehensive 5-year warranty and a 12 year limited warranty. They have a reputation for excellent customer service.

Long Life Span: Sub-Zeros have an average life span of 20 years; compare this  to other brands, which have an average life span of 8-12 years.

Also: Sub-Zeros also have great features like LED lighting, spill-proof shelf technology, gently self-closing drawers, a filter for the ice maker/water dispenser, and Wi-Fi/smart phone connections so you can monitor some controls when you're away from the kitchen. 

The more expensive Pro Series has a stainless steel interior as well as separate pull-out bins for both fridge and freezer, and a glass door option for the refrigerator:

Sub-Zero Pro Series Side by Side Refrigerator

Are any of these features worth the extra cost? If you have the budget, we think they are. If you want the best in food preservation and design, Sub-Zero is the best refrigerator on the market. 

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Does Sub-Zero Really Preserve Food Longer than Other Refrigerators? 

Yes: Sub-Zero refrigerators do preserve food longer than other refrigerators. 

Sub-Zero is the industry leader in innovative food preservation technology. The combination of the dual compressors, microprocessor-controlled temperature and humidity control, and tight-sealing doors really does a phenomenal job of preserving food. 

The extra evaporator in the Pro Series preserves produce even longer than the standard Sub-Zero dual compressor system (but you will pay considerably more for it).

How much longer will a Sub-Zero keep food fresh? It's hard to say exactly, but according to Don's Appliances

 "Even if you threw out $10 a week of spoiled food, you could save $500 or more per year with a Sub-Zero. Over the fridge's lifespan, that could be a savings of over $10,000."

So, you will save money on food with a Sub-Zero because of less spoilage. We don't guarantee this makes it worth the premium price, but you'll definitely waste less food. 

This probably isn't the biggest reason people go with Sub-Zero, but it's good to know you're getting this kind of performance. 

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About Columns (When Would You Want Them?)

Sub-Zero Column Fridge-Freezer-Wine Cooler Combination

Sub-Zero column install with fridge, freezer, and wine storage.

Columns are separate refrigerator and freezer units that you can configure any way you want. 

Columns are useful if you can't find a refrigerator/freezer unit in the configuration that you want, or if you want a special setup such as double fridge/no freezer, double freezer/no fridge, fridge/wine cooler, etc. 

They're also useful if you have a large or custom-sized space. For example, if you have a 72" space, you can get a 36" refrigerator/36" freezer, or two 36" fridges. If your space is this big, you'll probably have to go with columns because fridge/freezer units aren't made that wide. 

Or, if you have a 48" space and don't like the standard 30" fridge/18" freezer side-by-side, you can get a 24" fridge/24" freezer. 

You can also have your fridge and freezer units in separate spots in your kitchen or pantry if that's what you want (or have room for). 

You can see the possibilities: columns make just about any configuration possible in any space.

Several high-end makers offer columns now so people can customize their refrigeration. Columns integrate with each other seamlessly and provide a great look in a high-end kitchen. 

Columns are almost always going to be more expensive than buying a single unit, so if you want an expensive look, columns are a good way to go. 

Columns are available in the Classic and Designer Series, but not in the Pro Series.

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Sub-Zero Interiors

Next to its ability to preserve food, the interior organization of a refrigerator is probably its most important feature. You have to be able to see clearly and reach your food easily. Sub-Zero has a nice interior design that makes food storage easy.

Classic/Designer Series

The Classic and Designer Sub-Zero models have a simple layout, with adjustable glass shelves, roomy door bins, and diffused LED lighting:

Sub-Zero Classic Series Side by Side Interior
Sub-Zero 36 French Door Bottom Freezer Refrigerator

The bins and drawers are polycarbonate. Most shelves and door bins are adjustable so you can configure them exactly how you want them. 

Crisper drawers have a really cool (forgive the pun) feature in that they self-close like high-end cabinet drawers. You never have to push them shut as they will fully close on their own. They also seal shut to keep your produce and deli items fresher longer by keeping the slightly cooler air inside.

The drawers also have removable dividers so you can separate produce, which can also help keep some items fresher longer.

Note that in the side-by-side model, the drawer bins go all the way to the bottom of the fridge and freezer, allowing for a huge amount of door storage.

On the bottom freezer models, the freezer is a pull-out bin. This is kind of a love-or-hate feature for people, but the pull-out bin allows for more storage space and easier access than a bottom freezer with a door. 

The one feature we don't like is the dairy keeper in the upper door: it opens upward, and items tend to slide forward and fall out when you lift the door. We haven't figured out a way to prevent this yet, so we consider it a fault in the design, though a minor one.

Pro Series

The Pro Series has a considerably upgraded interior, with stainless steel walls and bins and a roll-out shelf to help you access food:

Sub-Zero Pro Series Refrigerator Interior

The separate refrigerator bins have an extra evaporator and are designed to keep produce even fresher. One of the freezer bins is for ice and has a removable container for easy access. 

The Pro Series is available with a stylish glass door that blocks UV light and allows food to stay as fresh as with a stainless door. 

As stylish and high-performing as the Pro Series is, we don't like that there are no door bins. We imagined digging to the back of the fridge for seldom-used condiments (and because they're seldom used, you wouldn't want to use the roll-out shelf for them) and thought it was just kind of a bad design. Door bins are useful for so many things, so really think about if you can live without them before you buy a Pro Series fridge.

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How Tall Are Sub-Zero Refrigerators?

Stand-alone Sub-Zero units are 83 inches tall. Columns are 73 inches tall. 

Both of these are taller than the standard height of 66-70 inches, depending on size and style (French door and side-by-sides are taller than other models).

Most, if not all, counter-depth refrigerators are taller than standard depth refrigerators to compensate somewhat for the smaller interior. Also, taller models look great in high-end kitchens. They tend to fit seamlessly under small upper cabinets, providing a custom look and feel:

Sub-Zero Pro Series Custom Look and Feel

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The Sub-Zero Control Panel

Sub-Zero Control Panel

Sub-Zero Classic Series control panel (also note that great LED lighting on the whole ceiling).

Sub-Zero refrigerators have a digital control panel inside the top of the refrigerator door. You can monitor and set the refrigerator temp, freezer temp, control ice machine output, set up Wi-Fi, and get alerts and error messages. The panel display will vary by which model your fridge is and which features it has.

One really nice thing you can do is turn the refrigerator off and also re-boot it. Since these are large, heavy appliances, it can be difficult to get behind the unit to unplug it (for example, if you're leaving town for an extended period and want to turn it off).

For further reading see these pages on the Sub-Zero site:

Read more about the Classic Series control panel

Read more about the Designer Series control panel

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What Does the Sub-Zero WiFi Do?

New Sub-Zero refrigerators have smart capability so you can:

  • Monitor and adjust temperature
  • Adjust mode and ice production
  • Receive alerts and reminders.

All from your phone.

Additionally, smart connectivity allows remote diagnosis for many issues, so a technician doesn't have to make a service call (or know exactly what's needed when he does).

You can also use voice commands if you have a device in your home, and integrate all of your Sub-Zero-Wolf-Cove appliances and control them from one app.

The apps get fairly poor reviews, which is common for appliance apps. But the remote diagnostic capability alone is probably worth setting up the Wi-Fi.

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Sub-Zero Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Keeps food fresh for longer
  • Dual compressors for better fridge and freezer life
  • Air purification system scrubs bacteria, microbes, viruses, and ethylene
  • Vacuum/magnetic sealing doors to keep out air
  • Beautiful design
  • Counter-depth is great for design and food storage
  • Several sizes and configurations available
  • Diffused LED lighting for excellent visuals
  • Soft-closing drawer bins with removable dividers that seal tightly to keep cooler air in
  • Pro Series has a stainless interior and pull-out shelf for easy access
  • Wi-Fi app for remote access and remote diagnostics by SZ technicians
  • Control panel to manage fridge/freezer functions and errors
  • 20 year average life span
  • Excellent warranty: 2 year full service, 5-year and 12-year limited, with a reputation for excellent customer service
  • Made in USA.
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Dairy compartment in Classic Series opens upward and food can fall out
  • The interior of the Classic Series is mostly polycarbonate 
  • Pro Series has no door bins.

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Sub-Zero FAQ

Are Sub-Zero Refrigerators Quiet?

Yes, Sub-Zeros are very quiet. There are some complaints about noisy, vibrating compressors, but these go back to 2012. Back then, all compressors were noisy. Today, Sub-Zero compressors are almost completely silent.

How Long Do Sub-Zero Refrigerators Last?

Sub-Zeros have an average life span of 20 years, and many will last considerably longer. The average life span of non-luxury brands is 12-14 years (depending on source). 

This doesn't mean that a more affordable brand couldn't last as long as Sub-Zero. But on average, Sub-Zeros last longer than other, non-luxury brands.

Is Sub-Zero a Reliable Brand?

Yes. Sub-Zero is an extremely reliable brand. It can be hard to find good information on reliability because different sources have different information. And a lot of sites don't include luxury brands like Sub-Zero in their ratings.

On the Consumer Affairs site, users give Sub-Zero 4 out of 5 stars. This was the most reliable site we could find outside of Sub-Zero itself and was based strictly on user reviews and did not have information conflicting with that of other sites (e.g., some sites rate LG number one, some sites say "don't buy LG"). People have had some problems with their Sub-Zeros, but most people love the brand and say they would buy it again.

In our own experience, Sub-Zero is a reliable brand. Furthermore, when service was required, it was prompt and excellent, and the problems were still under warranty, so only labor was charged. 

Are Sub-Zero Refrigerators Energy Efficient?

Sub-Zero refrigerators are extremely energy efficient. Sub-Zero says their refrigerators use less energy than a 75 watt light bulb (which sounds pretty good). 

Here's what the Box Appliance site has to say about Sub-Zero energy efficiency: "With energy efficient motors and no ozone-depleting materials, Sub-Zero refrigerators are easy on the environment. All Sub-Zero products are also manufactured in the United States, so there are no overseas shipping costs or extra manufacturing resources. The entire cost of your refrigeration unit goes to high-end material, design and unsurpassed development expertise." 

While all new refrigerators are energy efficient, Sub-Zero is just a little bit better.

How Deep Are Sub-Zero Refrigerators?

All Sub-Zero fridges are counter-depth deep, which is 24 inches. Thus a Sub-Zero will fit mesh with your counters and cabinets rather than stick out 5-10 inches like standard depth fridges do. 

Sub-Zeros are also taller than most other brands. This helps compensate for the shallower depth, and the height allows them to just fit under high cabinets and provide a seamless appearance.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Sub-Zero (Are they Backordered)?

Currently, it may take awhile to get your new Sub-Zero, depending on the model and what part of the country you're in. Supply chain issues continue to be a problem, and many Sub-Zeros are back-ordered. It could take 8-10 months for your refrigerator to be delivered. 

This situation won't last, but if you're buying in early 2022, you can probably expect a fairly long wait period.

Why Are Sub-Zero Refrigerators So Expensive?

Sub-Zeros are completely made in the USA. Their design and food preservation technology use the very best materials. They are built to last, and on average will outlive other brands by at least 6 years on average.

And honestly, Sub-Zero is a premium brand, and part of what you're paying for is the prestige--but they are only prestigious because they're beautiful and they do what they say they'll do (they really do keep food fresher for longer than other brands).

What's the Difference Between Sub-Zero and Other Refrigerators?

Everything we've already mentioned: they keep food fresher for longer, they use top-of-the-line materials, they last longer than other brands, and they are beautiful.

The differences are real; just ask anyone who's owned a Sub-Zero for any length of time.

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Final Thoughts: Is Sub-Zero Worth the Money?

Sub-Zero Designer 48 Custom Built-in Refrigerator:Freezer

You can pay more than double for a Sub-Zero than you would for other brands of refrigerators. Is it really worth it?

Well, if you have the budget and want a premium look in your kitchen, then it's worth it. There are no other appliance brands, not even luxury brands, that come close to Sub-Zero. They are unsurpassed in both food preservation and design. Add to this their 20-year life span and 12-year warranty, and the brand starts to look pretty good. 

The brand also has excellent features that make it highly functional and great to use. And yes, your food will last longer in a Sub-Zero, too. But whether this is worth the higher price is really up to you. If you have the budget and want a premium brand, we think Sub-Zero is the best choice.

Thanks for reading!

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