Overlay vs. Built-In vs. Integrated Refrigerators: What’s the Difference? Boston Appliance Showroom Explains

Overlay vs. Built-In vs. Integrated Refrigerators: What’s the Difference? Boston Appliance Showroom Explains

Sub-Zero Integrated Refrigerator.
Kitchen designed by Designs Unlimited

The purpose of this article is to dispel any confusion between three terms used to describe the top-of-the-line refrigeration market: built-in, integrated and overlay (a.k.a. panel-ready).

Chances are you’re moving into a new home, planning a renovation with a professional designer, or replacing an old refrigerator that lasted for decades (we hope) and finally hit the fritz.

We speak with a lot of visitors who have these types of projects on the horizon, and we get plenty of questions about the overlap between all three terms. The terms are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably on home appliance websites, adding to the confusion for customers looking to make sense of the differences between the three.

So if you find yourself confused on the difference between built-in and integrated refrigerators, you are certainly not alone. Here’s our breakdown, in the simplest terms we can muster:

The Difference Between Built-In, Integrated & Overlay Refrigerators


Built-In Refrigerators

The refrigerator is built into a housing – its sides sit flush with your kitchen cabinetry. The door of a built-in unit sticks out from the cabinets, so there is about a 2″ clearance from your cabinets on built-in models.

Overlay Refrigerators

“Overlay” or “panel-ready” describes a refrigerator that facilitates the installation of a cabinet panel to match the rest of your kitchen design. All overlay units are also built-in; the term “overlay” just means that it is designed to be fitted with a panel to match your cabinet design.

Every piece in the Sub-Zero refrigeration line comes in both built-in and overlay versions, which are completely identical save for the panel compatibility.

Integrated Refrigerators

Note that I wrote overlay refrigerators “match your cabinet design,” not “blend into your cabinet design.” That’s the main difference between overlay and integrated refrigerators, both of which are paneled.

On overlay units, the door still protrudes out from the cabinets. The compressor also vents through the top of the unit. Even though the panel overlay matches your cabinets, it’s still obvious where the fridge is located in your kitchen.

Integrated refrigerators differ in that they are completely camoflaged when installed. There are no visible compressor vents, and they are built with an inset door, which sits perfectly flush with your cabinets.

When it’s closed, an integrated refrigerator looks identical to any other cabinet in your kitchen. That’s why integrated refrigeration is the most popular choice in professionally designed kitchens – it allows the most versatility for both custom design and placement within your floor plan.


To recap:

“Built-in refrigerator” is an umbrella term that refers to integrated, overlay, and stainless steel refrigerators that build into your cabinets.

Overlay and integrated refrigerators both accept panels, but overlay units have a visible vent, and the panel on the door protrudes out from your cabinets.

Integrated refrigerators are fully paneled and install flush with your cabinets.

Simple enough, right?

We hope you can make use of this information as you seek out a new refrigerator. If you still have more research to do, check out our refrigerator buying guide, where we go more in depth on the pros of cons of each type of refrigerator on the market.

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