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Appliances Buying Guide

by Don Vandervort, © HomeTips

As the features that make a kitchen really hum, kitchen appliances should be purchased with an eye toward quality. While you may not need the top of the line in every category, you should study up on each appliance’s record of reliability and length of warranty. In addition, check each appliance for the EnergyStar label—a government program that provides rebates on energy- saving appliances. Along with the rebate, you’ll be saving money on your utility bill as well.

kitchen appliancesBefore you start shopping, ask yourself a few questions. How much will the appliance be used and by how many people? What capacity does it need to have? What sort of look should it have? For example, if no one in your family is keen on cooking, you may want to opt for a modest kitchen range but pop for a refrigerator/freezer with lots of space for frozen foods. Conversely, if you love to cook and entertain, you might want to consider a “commercial”-quality stove and maybe even two dishwashers. It’s all a matter of lifestyle.

Following is an overview of the main kitchen appliances and what to look for in each:

Refrigerator/freezers. The three basic models are the top-mount, with the freezer on top; the bottom-mount, with the freezer at the bottom; and the side-by-side. As a rule of thumb, buy a model with 10 cubic feet for two people and add 1½ cubic feet for each additional family member.

The top-mount makes accessing freezer items easy, though items tend to get buried at the back, and items on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator section are often forgotten. The bottom-mount is ideal for little-used freezers and renders all refrigerator items at eye level. A side-by-side offers equal access to both refrigerator and freezer, though the freezer compartment does not easily accommodate large items such as turkeys or pizzas. Side-by-sides also use more energy due to the sheer size of the freezer compartment.

Almost all refrigerator/freezers these days have a large range of options, including separate temperature controls, accessories to hold wine bottles and soda cans, ice makers, and much more. Be sure to ask about models that have all the features on your wish list.

Ranges. Though you can buy an oven and cooktop separately, the overwhelming choice of cooking appliance by most homeowners is the range. Your first decision will be whether to choose a gas, electric, or combination range. The latter efficiently combines a gas-powered cooktop with an electric oven, a combination preferred by most cooks.

Many ovens today come with a convection option, which not only speeds up the cooking time but also results in more uniformly cooked food. It is also not uncommon for the range to come with a matching overhead microwave.

Electric cooktops come with electric coils or coils under a smooth ceramic surface. The more coils, the faster a burner will heat up, but adjusting temperatures is not as instantaneous as with gas burners. The best gas burners are sealed to allow for easy cleanup. Electric ignition is more reliable than pilot lights.

Whirlpool dishwasherDishwashers. Not considered a luxury item anymore, the dishwasher has become standard issue in most American kitchens. The two most important features are how well a model removes food residue and how hot the water gets. High-end models incorporate a small garbage disposer in the works and also have a separate water heater to enable the appliance to sterilize items.

Other features worth looking for include adjustable racks to accommodate oversized dishes or large pots, controls that allow you to delay start a program, and the quiet quotient—how loud the unit is when it’s operating.

Undersink appliances. The three most popular “specialty” appliances in a kitchen are a garbage disposer, a water filter, and a hot-water dispenser.

A garbage disposer goes hand-in-hand with a dishwasher, making food prep and cleanup a much easier and tidier job. Opt for at least ½ horsepower to avoid food getting stuck, the unit freezing up, or the appliance failing outright.

A water filter can do everything from making your water taste better to removing contaminants. Before purchasing a water filter, have your water tested. Depending on the results, choose a reverse-osmosis or activated carbon filter or a distiller. While no filter can remove all contaminants, most can remove a great many while making your water more palatable.

A hot-water dispenser is not just a convenience but also a real energy saver. A small tank heats water instantaneously to a degree hot enough to make tea or pre-heat water for pasta. The higher the wattage of the unit, the faster the recovery time, and even high-wattage units use very little electricity.

To get free recommendations for top-rated local contractors, call the most reliable and comprehensive referral service, HomeAdvisor, at 866-350-2983 (toll free).

Photograph courtesy of Whirlpool

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