Direct Cool vs. No Frost Refrigerator (Philippines)

Refrigerators work by continuously evaporating and condensing a refrigerant gas to produce a cooling effect inside the compartment. While all refrigerators create cold air the same way, they differ in how they distribute this cold air throughout their compartments. This is why fridges are categorized by the cooling system they use, namely: direct cool (used interchangeably with manual defrost) and no frost (otherwise known as fan cooling). This bring us to this question: what is the difference between a direct cool vs. a no frost refrigerator?

Simply put: a direct cool refrigerator, as the name implies, uses its evaporator coil to cool the air directly. Meanwhile, a no frost refrigerator also uses the evaporator to cool the air, but it has fans to help distribute the cold air evenly throughout its compartments.

But it doesn’t end there. There are different implications of these difference in methods. This is why in this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of a direct cool vs. a no frost refrigerator so that you can make a better choice when buying a new refrigerator.

How does a refrigerator work?

Refrigerators work harnessing the power of evaporation to cool the air. When a liquid evaporates in to the air, it absorbs heat. This is why your skin feels cold after rubbing your hands with alcohol. However, instead of alcohol, a fridge uses a refrigerant gas called Freon. Also, instead of letting refrigerant escape to the air, the refrigerator keeps it inside its coils to be condensed and evaporated again and again.

These coils in question are the condenser coil and the evaporator coil; the evaporator being the one that makes the air cold. This is the primary point where a direct cool and a no frost refrigerator diverts.

The difference between a direct cool vs. a no frost refrigerator

Direct cooling is the traditional cooling system. It relies on the evaporator to cool the air with no aid for circulation. Meanwhile a no frost refrigerator has a fan to help the evaporator spread the cool air evenly throughout the refrigerator. Here are the implications of this difference in design:

Price

A direct cool refrigerator is the more economical choice compared to a no frost model.

If we take this (rather crude) example, here are the average SRPs of the 7.0 cu.ft. – 7.9 cu.ft. capacity category of refrigerators in Abenson’s website (taken on 2/13/21):

7.0 cu.ft. – 7.9 cu.ft. CapacityAverage SRP
Direct Cool₱16,364
No Frost₱21,753

As you can see, a a no frost refrigerator is ₱5,389 more expensive on average compared to direct cool refrigerators. This is because of the added features of the former.

Winner: Direct Cool. Its simpler construction allows it to command a lower price point compared to a no frost refrigerator.

Energy consumption

No frost refrigerators typically use more energy compared to their direct cool counterparts. Here is a comparison of the wattage figures of direct cooling vs. no frost refrigerator taken from our article on the power consumption of refrigerators:

CapacityDirect CoolNo FrostDifference
5.0 cu.ft. – 5.9 cu.ft.0.78 kWh/24h1.49 kWh/24h91%
6.0 cu.ft. – 6.9 cu.ft.0.95 kWh/24h1.32 kWh/24h39%
7.0 cu.ft. – 7.9. cu.ft.1.04 kWh/24h1.23 kWh/24h18%
8.0 cu.ft. – 8.9 cu.ft.*1.17 kWh/24h1.06 kWh/24h-9%
9.0 cu.ft. – 9.9 cu.ft.*1.26 kWh/24h1.15 kWh/24h-9%

Note: In this table, the average energy consumption of the no frost models tend to go down because there are more inverter models in this category.

Of the two cooling types, direct cool refrigerators are simpler because they do not have fans and heating elements to melt frost from the freezer.

Meanwhile, a no frost refrigerator has several fans to distribute cold air evenly throughout its compartments, and a heating element tucked inside the freezer to melt the frost away. This makes it more expensive to operate at the expense of convenience

Winner: Direct cool. However, the high energy cost of a no frost model can be easily offset by purchasing an inverter model.

Capacity

Direct cool refrigerators typically do not go past the 12.0 cu.ft. range because it is inefficient to cool an area that big by only using the evaporator coils.

Meanwhile, no frost models can go up to 30.0 cu.ft. (typically french door or side-by-side models), They can cool their large compartments with no problems with the aid of their multiple evaporator fans.

Winner: No Frost. Its evaporator fans make it more efficient in cooling larger compartments.

Convenience

No frost refrigerators are more convenient because you do not need to constantly defrost it as you would a direct cool model. It does this by activating a heating element in the freezer that cycles on and off – this prevents frost from forming.

Granted, most direct cool models now have a semi-automatic defrost system where you only have to push a button to defrost. But there are still inconveniences to be had with that.

Firstly, if the ice has built-up for a long time, the melting ice can be too much for the drain pan to handle and may cause a leak. A no frost refrigerator deals with this by removing frost regularly, hence the possibility of a drain pan overflow is not high.

Second, a semi-automatic defrost system turns off the compressor for the entire duration of the defrost cycle. This makes the cooling performance suffer during that time and may pose problems for items that are sensitive to temperature changes.

Winner: No Frost. Its evaporator fans make it more efficient in cooling larger compartments.

Maintenance

Because of its simpler mechanism, a direct cool refrigerator is easier to maintain and it won’t be costly too!

Meanwhile, because a no frost refrigerator has more moving parts, it is harder to maintain vs. a direct cool model.

The common issues that a no frost refrigerator may experience are broken evaporator fans and condenser fans (which can cause cooling and noise issues) and a malfunctioning heating element (which can cause your freezer to ice up).

Winner: Direct Cool. Its simpler design is a lot easier for technicians to work on.

Conclusion

Whichever type you choose, both a direct cool and a no frost refrigerator will only have one job: to keep your food fresh. The decision will mostly come down to your budget and the level of convenience that you wish to have.

While they have similar features, their difference in price points can be significant. Always weigh in the pros and cons of a direct cool vs. a no frost refrigerator. Understand how much you are willing to pay for the added benefits of a no frost model.

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