Pros and Cons of a Refrigerator Water Dispenser

Hand dispensing water from an external water dispenser on a refrigerator.

kevinjeon00 / Getty Images 

When buying a new refrigerator, you might think that it goes without saying that you'll buy a model with a built-in water and ice cube dispenser. But it might also surprise you to learn that there are reasons why you might not want to pay the extra money for these features.

How Refrigerator Water Dispensers Work

A refrigerator equipped with an automatic ice maker and an external water dispenser mounted in the door operate by tapping into a cold water supply pipe somewhere in the near vicinity of the refrigerator. Whether the pipe is located under the floor, in the wall, or several feet away somewhere else in the kitchen, the connection is made via a small copper or plastic supply tube. One end of the tube is connected to a water fitting on the back of the refrigerator, while the other end is connected to a cold water pipe by means of a fixture shutoff valve. The shutoff valve is essential, as it allows the water tube to be shut off whenever the refrigerator needs to be serviced or replaced.

Inside, the refrigerator's inner plumbing transports the water first to a small water filter that screens out particles and some basic contaminants and then to an automatic ice maker and door-mounted water dispenser.

Refrigerators began offering these features in the 1980s, first with simple automatic ice makers and then with mechanisms in the door that dispensed both ice and drinking water. Initial reviews were not all that good since the water was just ordinary tap water at room temperature. Within 10 years or so, however, refrigerators were offering drinking water that was both chilled and filtered. Today, half of all refrigerators sold feature in-door water dispensers.

So what are the pros and cons of having a water and ice dispenser in your refrigerator?

Advantages of a Refrigerator Water Dispenser

There are really just three advantages to having a refrigerator with a water and ice dispenser in the door, but they are big ones.

It's undeniable that ice and water dispensers offer a lot of convenience when added to a refrigerator. Being able to fill a glass with cubed or crushed ice and then immediately fill it with drinking water makes it very easy to prepare family meals or entertain guests. The easy access makes it more likely that your family will drink plenty of water to stay hydrated throughout the day. Some manufacturers design the water dispenser so that pitchers and other tall containers can be easily filled. And because the ice maker works automatically, you're no longer required to monitor the ice supply and fill ice trays manually every day or two. In the most up-to-date refrigerator models, you can add carbon dioxide to make sparkling water or pour hot water for instant drinks.

Second, because most refrigerators are now equipped with an interior water filter, the ice and drinking water is often better tasting and more healthful than the water that emerges from your sink faucet. Some regions have drinking water that is quite good, but, in other regions, the simple filter found in the refrigerator is all it takes to make water and ice taste much better. While these aren't terribly sophisticated filter systems, refrigerator filters do generally capture some dangerous contaminants, such as lead and mercury.

If you are selling your home, a newer refrigerator featuring all the bells and whistles may be an attractive selling point for prospective buyers. Newer, full-featured appliances rarely add actual real estate value to a property, but they just might coax a shopper into making a bid.

Disadvantages of a Refrigerator Water Dispenser

There are, however, some disadvantages to a refrigerator with these features.

First, automatic ice makers and water dispensers add at least $200 to the cost of the appliance and possibly a lot more if you opt for sparkling or hot water options. Operating costs are also higher—at least $25 per year for extra electricity and $50 to $100 yearly for replacement filters. You may also need to hire a plumber to make the water hookups because these refrigerators are harder for DIYers to install.

Refrigerators with water and ice dispensers require more user maintenance. Unless you change the filters regularly, the water and ice will lose their fresh taste. And some homeowners find that it's necessary to shut off the refrigerator and thaw the water lines occasionally if they become frozen.

Refrigerators with ice and water dispensers tend to break down a lot, so you will likely be faced with some repair bills from time to time. You may well want to invest in an appliance repair service contract if you own one of these refrigerators, as chances are good the service plan will pay for itself.

If your water supply is especially bad-tasting, you might be disappointed at the modest improvement brought about by the fairly basic filtration system in a refrigerator. Refrigerator filters are usually simple single-stage filters that don't improve water in the same way as multi-stage filtration systems mounted under the kitchen sink. You may find that it's necessary to add additional filtration—possibly a whole-house system—to really improve the taste and smell of your drinking water.

Finally, storage capacity is always somewhat reduced in refrigerators with ice and water dispensers, since the mechanism must fit into an extra-thick door that encroaches on the space of the freezer or fridge compartment.

Pros and Cons of a Refrigerator Water Dispenser
Pros Cons
Convenience Higher initial appliance cost
May improve taste and smell of ice and water Higher annual operating cost
May be appealing to home buyers More routine maintenance required
  Filtering effectiveness is very basic
  Mechanical breakdown is common
Reduces storage capacity

A water and ice dispenser is a very convenient feature, but make sure you understand the limitations and drawbacks before you spend hundreds of dollars more on your new refrigerator.

Watch Now: 8 Easy Ways to Organize Your Refrigerator