How to Choose Kitchen Appliances

Choosing the right appliances can augment the look and utility of your kitchen. See more pictures of kitchen appliances.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Appliances are the workhorses of your kitchen. Together, they will add up to about nine percent of your kitchen budget. This figure is surprisingly low, considering the technological advances and energy efficiencies today's appliances offer. While features and performance are obviously the most important considerations in choosing appliances, how they'll look in your kitchen probably matters to you, too.

Kitchen Appliances Image Gallery

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White appliances are still the classic favorite, followed by black. Stainless steel, with its professional look, continues to grow in popularity. If you covet a simple Shaker-style space or a luxurious Italian villa setting, however, you may want to hide the fridge and dishwasher out of sight. To meet this need, savvy cabinet manufacturers offer coordinated cabinet fronts that adhere easily and provide a custom-designed look. To further the traditional, low-tech look, you can opt for small-appliance depots in countertop-height cabinets. You can even choose a specially designed under-counter oven. In this article, we will examine most kitchen appliances, including:

  • How to Choose an OvenOvens and ranges come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and it's not always easy to figure which model would be right fit for your kitchen. In this section, we will review all the oven and range options available on the market, including gas versus electric. We will also look at range hoods, a vital element of any kitchen where you plan to do a lot of cooking.
  • How to Choose a RefrigeratorBuying the right refrigerator is vitally important. Not only is refrigerator responsible for preventing your food from spoiling, it is also one of the few appliances in your home that runs continuously all the time. On this page, we will show you how to find a reliable refrigerator and how to find the perfect refrigerator for your kitchen.
  • How to Choose a SinkWhen buying a sink for your kitchen there are many factors to consider. Sinks do far more than just provide cold and hot water. You must also consider water purifiers, garbage disposals, and what material you want your sink made out of. On this page, we will answer all of your sink-buying questions and related sink materials.
  • How to Choose a DishwasherDishwashers can range from elegant high-end models to small, counter-top units. Choosing the right dishwasher will depend on the features you want and the look of your kitchen. In this section, we will help you pick the perfect dishwasher for you dream kitchen.

How to Choose an Oven

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. This commercial-style stainless steel stove is right at home  in a warm French country kitchen where great cuisine rules.

The traditional range or stove, a single unit with cooktop above and oven below, is an affordable, space-conserving solution still chosen by most homeowners. But it's just one of the cooking options offered today.

Some serious home cooks choose commercial-style stoves with six or eight burners instead of four, basting and grilling functions, and built-in warming ovens. (Real commercial stoves pose special challenges, such as special ventilation systems and noncombustible walls and floors, when used in the home, so commercial-style may be easier to live with.) Other people love the new modular cooktops that let you add burners, downdrafts, griddles, deep-fry and steamer units, woks, rotisseries, and grills. And these are just a few examples of what's available!

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A modular approach to overall kitchen design is a pronounced trend. Wall ovens separate from cooktops let you create several cooking work stations instead of just one. A double wall oven stacks two ovens to save space and deliver twice the baking/roasting capacity, which many people find useful for special occasions. And you can still get two-oven stoves, with one oven below the cooking surface and the other well above, at cabinet height.

The first decision in range shopping has always been gas versus electric. Many serious cooks prefer gas for its instant response, precise controllability, and lower operating cost over time. Others praise the evenness of electric heat and the lower initial cost of the appliance.

Today, you can get the best of both heating methods with "dual fuel" ranges that let you mix gas and electric heat sources; for example, gas cooktop burners and an electric convection oven/broiler. Convection ovens, most often electric, use heated air to cook up to twice as fast as conventional ovens that rely on radiant heating action. You can even get a combination microwave/convection oven.

Electric coils are the most popular kind of electric burners, and the least costly. Smooth-top surfaces are offered with one of three heat source types: radiating electric coils beneath the glass surface, halogen burners, or magnetic-induction elements. All require thick, flat-bottom cookware. If gas is your choice, sealed burners are easiest to clean, and a pilotless ignition system means no hot spot when burners are off. Commercial-style glass stoves offer high BTUs (British thermal units, the measure of cooking heat) and high style. They require heavy-duty ventilation systems.

What about controls? Controls that are located on the front or on the side of the appliance are most common and convenient, but universal access means just that: While someone in a wheelchair can reach front-situated controls easily, unfortunately, so can a curious toddler. People with young children may prefer controls located on the backsplash, out of reach of exploring fingers. Wherever they're located, controls should be easy to understand and operate. Top-of-the-line ovens may include electronic temperature readouts and touch-pad, rather than knob or dial, controls.

While many people like to blend refrigerators and dishwashers into the cabinetry with matching fronts, the latest trend is to keep ranges visible. However, if you do want to de-emphasize your oven, the easiest way is with an under-counter model. (Make sure the oven you choose is designed for under-counter use, because not all are.) You may install a cooktop directly above the oven or locate it elsewhere in the kitchen. A cooktop directly over an under-counter oven functions much the same as a conventional range, but, with no range backsplash and with the control knobs located on the countertop, the result is a more integrated look.

Cleaning baked-on spills from the cooktop has always been a challenge, but several options make short work of them. For easiest cooktop cleaning, consider ranges with ceramic glass cooktops housing electric or halogen burners; simpler knobs and handles; and a top and backsplash constructed from a single piece of metal, so there's no seam to collect spills. Self-cleaning ovens come in two varieties: one that uses a high-heat cycle that turns cooked-on spills into ash you can wipe away, another that offers a continuous-clean function.

Range Hoods

If you don't have a ventilation fan above your cooktop that vents to the attic or outside, you'll want a range hood with ventilation fan built in. Why? Even if you don't find some cooking odors objectionable, vaporized grease can dull beautiful new kitchen surfaces, and moisture can compromise the efficiency of home insulation. The solution is an updraft range hood that funnels cooking grease and smoke into one area so that the fan can draw it through a duct to the outside.

Filters capture additional grease and odors. Look for range hoods that come in copper, stainless steel, and other good-looking, easy-care materials, or customize a standard hood with ceramic tile to create a major focal point, furthering your decorating scheme. As an alternative, down-draft ventilation, usually part of a cooktop or grill, also employs a fan and duct arrangement. Units that rise above cooktop level provide the most effective venting.

On the next page, we're going from hot to cool and learn about how to choose a refrigerator.

How to Choose a Refrigerator

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. The right refrigerator can almost blend  in seamlessly with your kitchen.

Refrigerators' energy conservation has improved a lot since mandated standards were set in 1993 and 1998. Today's refrigerator-freezer models also offer a lot more convenience. You can still get the basic 18-cubic-foot, freezer-on-top model with wire shelves, but the most popular style offers 20 cubic feet of storage; adjustable glass shelves; meat keeper with temperature control; vegetable crisper with humidity control; ice-maker; and door bins.

Next in cost and convenience are models with the freezer located below the refrigerator (a very good option for people with bad backs) and 22-cubic-foot capacity. Side-by-side designs and water- and ice-dispensing "convenience centers" built right into the door add further appeal. Built-in refrigerator-freezers and commercial, stainless-steel models are top-of-the-line choices for luxurious looks or serious, high-volume storage.

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How much refrigerator do you need? One rule of thumb says plan on 12 cubic feet for two people and 2 more cubic feet for each additional household member, but other considerations also matter. If you like to stock up during sales, or cook often for crowds, the more room the better. Side-by-side models are easiest to organize, but the smaller models have relatively narrow freezers. Make sure the model you buy can fit a frozen turkey or pizza! In all cooling sections, look for pull-out, roll-out bins and baskets that make it easy to see everything without having to dig around, squandering energy (yours as well as the refrigerator's!).

Beyond the main fridge, if you've got the room, a separate, under-counter refrigerator for soft drinks and a wine cooling compartment are entertaining options. If you're a serious entertainer, you may want to look into ice makers that fit into the space of a trash compactor and produce large quantities of ice daily.

In the next section, we will look at sinks and all of the various attachments you can buy disposals, water purifiers, and faucets.

How to Choose a Sink

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. A corner sink is a great way to make  use of space that might otherwise be wasted.

You can expect to spend an average of eight percent of your budget on kitchen fixtures and fittings, predominantly on sinks and faucets. Sink shape and size are important, and when checking out a sink's size, pay attention to its depth, too: Bargain sinks may be six or seven inches deep, where eight inches is the standard and ten inches is preferable if you wash a lot of stockpots, pasta pots, and roasters.

Popular kitchen sink configurations include the typical single, large rectangular basin; the double-bowled sink with both sinks the same size for hand-washing and rinsing; or the double-bowled sink with one side considerably smaller, housing the garbage disposer. Three-bowl sinks are also available, in which two larger bowls flank a small, center bowl with the garbage disposer installed; this bowl is often topped with a removable cutting board.

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In space-challenged kitchens, a pair of matching "corner-square" sinks can make use of an awkward corner and free up straight runs of counter for work space. "Corner circle" sinks serve the same function but have a more avant-garde look. A small square or round sink may be used as a vegetable sink in an island or as a bar sink for a wet bar in the great room. Some kitchens also feature a small, shallow, kidney-shaped sink as a second, accessory sink.

Once you choose the shape and size of your sink based on function, your next decision lies in the wide array of available materials. You may opt for a sink in shiny stainless steel, colorful enamel on cast iron, solid surfacing, or quartz composite.

  • Stainless steel, a material that has been popular since the 1950s, is sleek, contemporary, and stain resistant. The thickest and most durable steel is 18 gauge; thinner, 20- and 22-gauge steel is more prone to scratches, dents, and even punctures.
  • Enamel-on-cast-iron sinks resemble enamel on steel but are more durable and more popular, although the weight of a cast-iron sink requires hefty counters. Enamel sinks come in a wide assortment of colors, including white, the classic favorite, and colors that make a contemporary fashion statement. All have a glasslike surface that's easy to clean, but enamel can chip, revealing black cast iron beneath.
  • Solid-surfacing sinks are rimless and are seamlessly fused to the adjacent solid-surfacing counter. A handsome contemporary solution that's relatively easy to clean and repair, solid surfacing offers good color selection and color that goes all the way through. Solid-surfacing sinks cost more than metal ones and require professional installation.
  • Quartz composite sinks, a relatively new material, feature color all the way through, good color choices, and the option of a realistic granite look. Like solid surfacing, quartz composite is both stain- and scratch-resistant.

Garbage DisposalsFood waste disposers are considered basic in many kitchen remodelings. Choose either continuous feed, operated by an on/off switch under the sink cabinet or on the wall; or batch feed, activated once the stopper is securely closed and turned. Continuous-feed units are more readily available and less expensive than batch-feed models but are more costly to install. Neither one is "better" than the other; it's a matter of personal choice and preference.In our final section, we will learn how to choose a dishwasher.

How to Choose a Dishwasher

Led by high-end, stainless-steel European models, today's dishwashers are extremely quiet thanks to extra insulation. They're also more energy efficient than they were in the past, using fewer kilowatt-hours per wash cycle, less water, and an air-dry option that doesn't require heat. To further cut energy costs, choose a dishwasher with internal water heating; it increases temperatures to grease-dissolving levels so the machine doesn't place extra demands on your home's hot water heater.

While portable dishwashers are available, most models are built-ins and can be concealed behind panels that match your cabinetry if you desire. Top-of-the-line machines feature electronic touch-pad controls, stainless-steel interiors, and special wash cycles such as crystal, china, and pots/pans. Less-costly models employ push buttons or combine buttons with a dial. These models usually offer three cycles: light, normal, and heavy.

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Kitchen appliances can be much more complex that other household appliances. For instance, the refrigerator is one of the few appliances you own that has to run continuously. That's why, it's important to know how to pick out the right appliance for you before you invest your money.

©Publications International, Ltd.

About the Contributor:

Mary Wynn Ryan is the author of numerous interior design books including The Ultimate Kitchen, The Ultimate Bath, Cottage Style, Fresh Country Style and Garden Style.  She has written about home furnishings and interior design for various magazines and served as Midwest editor of Design Times magazine. She was also the director of consumer and trade marketing for the Chicago Merchandise Mart's residential design center. She is president of Winning Ways Marketing, an editorial and marketing consulting firm that specializes in home design and decorating.