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Appliance Buying Guide
Selecting the right appliance can be confusing at best. Each brand has unique features which may or may not improve the utility of the appliance. The objective of this simple buying guide is to review each major appliance category, and highlight the latest trends and options currently being offered and make some recommendations. We are not intending to present an exhaustive list of each model. No matter how that’s done, the results always tend to be biased, out of date, or slightly leaning towards a certain market segment. Armed with the latest trends and “must have” features, we hope to prepare you to shop in as painless a manor as possible.
By far, the latest meaningful update to this workhorse is the front loader. Every major brand now offers them. If you don’t mind bending over to load and unload, a slightly longer wash cycle, and a higher price tag (which you’ll earn back in savings over the years) we recommend you go with a front loader. And here’s why:
- they use about 1/3 the water of a top loader
- they use about half the energy of a top loader
- they have higher spin speeds which means dryer and cleaner clothes
- they can be stacked with a dryer for space savings
- they provide a gentler wash to extend your clothing life
- they are less complicated and less likely to break.
Look for these features:
- Automatic dispensers for detergent, softener and bleach
- Stainless Steel drum
- Buzzer option (so you can turn it off when desired)
- Multiple wash and spin options… extended wash, adjustable spin speed, etc…
- Pre-wash option for heavily soiled loads.
Dryers are pretty basic machines. All of them will dry your clothes. And a lot of what drives your purchase will be the washer you choose. A matching set is aesthetically preferred and they are usually matched for capacity. That being said, there are a few options worth noting. The heating method is usually defined by what is currently fed to the laundry room. Gas is the less expensive method. And many people will go to the trouble of running gas to the dryer location when replacing old dryers.
The better quality dryers are equipped with a moisture sensor to determine when the laundry is dry. You should have this. Also look for a large and effective lint filter. Many of them are on the door which is most convenient and, if they’re doing their job right, need be cleaned after every third load. Some dryers will have sensors to indicate when they need cleaning. Auto-dry cycles are handy if you like to remove the clothes slightly damp for ironing, or if you want them “extreme” dry. You will also want multiple temperature settings. If noise is an issue look for extra insulation and sound dampening pads.
There are just too many options here. But let me start by saying, if it’s in your budget – get a counter depth unit. The fit, the finish – it has a huge impact on the look of your kitchen. Sub-Zero originally introduced these counter depth models and its brand is still considered “top of the line”. But many others have come to the party at more reasonable price points. Keep in mind you may need more height as they are typically taller to accommodate the refrigeration unit on the top or bottom of the unit versus the back.
Next – consider the style that works in your kitchen. Which way should the door swing? Freezer on top, on the bottom, or side by side? Or perhaps “French door” – side by side above with freezer drawers below. For tight spaces such as galley style kitchens, the side by sides require less room space for access. Stainless, custom paneled, white?
Water/ ice dispensers – very convenient features indeed. But be advised – they are the most likely component requiring repair. Not to dissuade you, your water filtration needs can also be solved with these built in units.
Once you’ve figured out a few of your basic requirements, it’s time to start exploring what’s inside. Spill proof shelves, soda can holders, multiple crisper drawers, truly customizable shelving. Led lighting for better viewing, no-frost (basically a standard)… there are many options – some being more appropriate for you than others.
Buy Energy efficient units. The energy star tells you the unit beats Federal standards by over 15%. And – if all you do is store leftovers, get a unit that recognizes this…as in smaller. You will save money and help the environment.
What’s really changing is what you’ll find on the front door. TVs, electronic message centers, phone docking, digital photo displays, web access. It’s putting this blank slate to good use.
Everyone wanting a big stainless gas range with six burners raise your hands. If you’ve walked into an appliance store lately, the landscape seems to be dominated by these behemoths. Your cooking immediately improves by 10 points once you start using one. Actually, that might be true. Cooking with gas is a luxury we should all enjoy. Instant heat, infinitely variable… mucho BTU’s, or a little flicker of a flame for that low simmer so many great dishes call for.
While debatable, most seasoned chefs prefer a “dual fuel” range where the cooktop features gas while the oven is electric. They claim the electric oven offers a more consistent heat.
All the major brands have some version of this professional style stainless range. The leading brands include Viking, Wolf, DCS, Thermador, Five Star, Dacor, and KitchenAid – but again for more economical interpretations look to the big brands such as GE, Whirlpool, Maytag, Frigidaire, Hotpoint, Amana, and Electrolux. Look for matching stainless hoods to complete the look from most of the brands.
More as a side note than a serious consideration (unless you own a mansion), an English brand of range called AGA is a fascinating departure from the standard. Called “Heat Storage Cookers”, these units are always on and ready to cook. The top burners have heavy insulated tops that cover the cooking surface when not in use, and there are typically 3 separate ovens – all operating at different temperatures for different baking requirements. The units are always hot and ready to cook. And they weigh about as much as a car. They’re hot, but they’re cool!
Where gas just isn’t an option, cooktop functionality goes down hill fast. Electric elements are imprecise, slow to heat and slow to cool, and so that much harder to get good results. One exception is the “Induction” cooktop. This technology provides energy to heat through magnetic transfer. It is as precise and quick to heat as gas, much more energy efficient, and almost instantly cool to the touch after use. You must have conductive cookware for this to work (which most good cookware is), but work it does. They can boil water in 90 seconds… think about that! While most available in cooktop form, there are a few ranges with this option.
As the comments about ranges suggest, there are just 2 cooktop heating methods to consider – gas or induction. For gas, you have the counter top units that drop in, versus the gas rangetops that hang off the front of the cabinet with controls on the vertical front of the unit and similar in look to the commercial range controls. If you’re after the professional kitchen look, these do the job and allow for what many consider the more convenient wall oven counterpart.
There are some very elegant standard gas cooktops in various widths and with 4, 5 or 6 burners and varying burner sizes. Consider ease of cleaning, continuous grates, power burners and simmer burners, electronic ignition, and push-to-turn safety controls
The appliance maker Gaggenau has offered cooktop modular components for many years that are truly state of the art. They allow you to assemble a cooking station that can combine gas, induction, steaming, barbecue, and deep-frying units in a line. The styling and functionality are impressive.
If electric is your only option and you can’t afford the induction, we recommend the ceramic glass clean top type units. Look for ones with the “Speed Heat” feature and hot surface indicators that remain on until the element is cool to the touch.
Cooks prefer wall ovens for a couple of simple reasons: easy access – you’re loading the turkey at waist height, easier viewing, and the more refined features you will find with wall ovens that aren’t necessarily available in the stand-alone range.
Many wall ovens operate as both a standard thermal oven and as a convection oven. Convection ovens circulate the air in the oven cavity with fans which provides faster and more even cooking. Expect juicier meats and flakier pie crusts. You will usually be required to lower the temperature and perhaps the cook time with convection. But it’s easy to figure out and many recipes come with convection instructions.
Wall ovens come in 24”, 30” and 36” widths. Some wall ovens additionally function as a microwave. There are double wall ovens which are either 2 distinct ovens or 1 part oven, 1 part microwave. If you entertain – a double oven can help you time a warm finished meal. Either cooking 2 baked dishes separately to finish at the same time, or to use as a warming oven to hold other food items until you are ready to serve.
Some features to look for: self cleaning, a proper broiler with fitted broiler pan, a rapid-heat function, a roast temperature probe, a rotisserie, a cool-to-the-touch door, and programmable controls.
A number of manufacturers have introduced steam ovens. Miele, Sharp, Gaggenau, Viking, Thermador. These ovens use steam to cook at temperatures from 200F to 500F. Apparently this process is faster, can reduce the fat content of meats while retaining moisture for a healthier meal. And – baked dishes are said to be more flavorful and will retain more vitamins using this process.
Oh – the stainless dishwasher… inside and out please. That, in a nutshell, describes what’s selling in the dishwashing department. But perhaps what you will most enjoy from a high quality dishwasher is the absence of noise. Undoubtedly the best feature of all. Dishwashers sit where we live and run when we’re there. So – to almost not even detect their activity is laudable.
Of course you’ll want the “energy star” rating. And take a good look at the different rack systems from various manufacturers. Some can handle more or are easier to load. Hidden controls have become very popular. They sit on top of the door and don’t show when closed. And some models just clean better and dry faster – and this can be important. So check out the features that can affect this as well as various programs the dishwasher will run for dried soiled dishes.
The 2 drawer dishwasher was introduced some years ago and remains quite popular. Particularly for a small household where you just don’t accumulate dirty dishes all that fast, you can wash one drawer at a time.