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Kitchen Appliances: Important Considerations

Kitchen appliances are a large remodeling budget item, especially if you choose "Pro-Style" appliances (Read more about pro-style appliances). Choosing appliances is substantially a matter of personal preferences. Although price and reliability are also important considerations. We'll tell you about some of the features and other considerations we think might help you to select the right appliances for your kitchen remodel.

Most people have their heart set on new appliances and don't want to wait. Many people have one particular appliance with some feature important to them in mind. What most people aren't prepared for is selecting a complete complement of kitchen appliances. Sure you want a new stove or range, maybe a quiet dishwasher, but what about the garbage disposer? Should the disposer be ultra quiet or ultra strong for grinding bones? Do you want a trash compactor? Is the microwave going to sit on the counter, mount over the stove, fit into a cabinet like a built-in, fasten under a cabinet? Do you need a separate wall oven? Should it be a convection oven? Do you want "Pro Style" equipment? Is "Pro Style" worthwhile? How about a built-in espresso machine? Do you want a standard refrigerator? How about side-by-side, ice & water through the door, cabinet depth, separate components like fridge and freezer drawers? The point is, there is a lot to think about. Below we provide some things to consider when choosing new appliances.

Refrigerators - There are several types to choose from, side-by-side, freezer on top, freezer on bottom, French door, cabinet depth, drawers. Each has its own pros and cons. Once you choose the type, then you will need to consider the size your kitchen can accommodate. Both height and width vary on different models. If your kitchen design is flexible, then find the fridge you want first and then design the kitchen space to fit. If you have a fixed space for the fridge, then you will have to determine what that space is and choose only refrigerators that are that size or smaller.

If you plan to mount cabinet panels on your fridge, to match your cabinets, there are fewer appliance choices available. Finally, once you have narrowed your selection, your decision will be influenced by the fridges interior. Are the shelves adjustable to useful heights (will milk cartons fit for example). Will door shelves and drawers hold enough? Is everything easily accessible for your needs? Read more about choosing a refrigerator

Wine Chillers - These appliances have become very popular recently. Most are designed to fit beneath a kitchen counter, while some are for free-standing use. Standard refrigerators chill their contents to about 40° (F); too cold for wine. Wine chillers are set to operate at temperatures appropriate for wine. Some models provide dual temperature ranges. Part of the chiller holds white wine cool while another section stores red wine around 60° (F).

Effectively, these units are little refrigerators that don't get as cold as a regular fridge. Their shelves are configured to efficiently store wine bottles on their side and circulate cool air. Most units have a glass door, so your wine is on display. Available in many sizes, measured by their bottle capacity, the built-in undercounter models tend to be most popular and expensive.

While these are nice amenities, their capacity is relatively small. They house only about 36 bottles. If you have plenty of space in your kitchen for a wine chiller, great. However, most people make a trade-off, giving up valuable cabinet storage for wine storage. Furthermore, wine chillers tend to be pricey. If you are an avid wine enthusiast, then this might be a good choice for you. If you just want to show off a bit, there are better ways to do it than giving up space that could be used for a second dishwasher or more cabinet storage.

Beverage Centers - also known as mini-fridges, provide storage for bottles and cans. Some models are made for installation under a countertop, while most are free-standing. These bev centers can be very handy. They can be placed close to where they are needed, such as in a family room or on the patio (must be rated for outdoor use). By using a separate refrigerator for drink storage, you open up space in your full-size fridge. This might even save you money by choosing a less expensive model. Beverage centers are also convenient because they are easy for kids to access and keep unnecessary foot traffic out of the kitchen.

Free-standing models tend to be less expensive than models designed for under-counter storage. We recommend choosing a model that omits a freezer section. The small freezer is primarily used for an ice-tray, but in reality just wastes space that could be used for drink storage.

Ice Makers - Many refrigerators now come with ice makers built in. However if you need more ice than it can provide, then you might want a separate, under-counter ice maker. Typically these are popular with people who do a lot of entertaining. They install under a counter and take up about one cabinet space. It requires an electrical connection, water line and some require a drain line. Models are also available for outdoor use.

Wall Ovens - mounted in wall are the alternative to one built into a range. The chief advantage to this is that it can be installed at a more comfortable height, eliminating the need to bend over as with a range oven. Furthermore, two wall ovens can be installed together, one above the other or side-by-side.

Another consideration is whether to choose an electric or a gas oven. The general consensus is that while gas is preferable by many for the stove, there is no advantage for the oven. An electric oven is a simpler appliance with less to go wrong. Another consideration is that some gas ovens must be vented to the outdoors, adding ventilation expense to its installation. Operation costs vary by utility costs and your cooking patterns. We recommend an electric oven with racks that are suitably sized and adjustable for your cooking requirements. If you have an aversion to bending over and lifting food, then a wall oven is a wise choice.

Stovetops - mount into the countertop of your kitchen. They can be placed nearly anywhere, including an island. Another advantage is that they offer flexible working height. If your height makes standard appliance heights uncomfortable, you can installa stovetop into countertops set to your ideal height. Generally you will loose eight inches of cabinet space right under the stove, but space below that is usable. We recommend pull out shelves designed for storage of heavy pots and pans under the stovetop.

Stovetops most commonly come in a standard 4 burner configuration. However, more than ever before, choices abound. Could you use a wok ring for Asian style cooking? How about a grill to get that outdoor style grilling indoors? Maybe a griddle for the short order cook in you? Four burners not enough, how six or even eight? Pro style ranges are available with these options but increasingly these options are offered with standard residential equipment.

To cook with electric or gas heat? Most cooks agree that gas burners offer an advantage over electric. Gas burners provide instant heat, more intense heat and greater precision in temperature control. Electric burners take longer to heat up and cool down. Adjusting the flame on a gas burner yields instantaneous results. Many of the features beyond standard burners are found mostly on gas models, although some electric models are available. Gas burners can be more difficult to clean and their grates are not as sleek as electric stoves can be. For the ultimate in sleek design, a glass top stove with no visible burners is found only on electric stoves. They have no drip pans to clean, the stove wipes clean easily and offer a neat appearance.

A ventilation hood over the stove will be required in most cases, although some options exist for downdraft venting. A ventilation hood should be placed high enough to allow the person cooking not to bump their head. If placed over an island, choose a vent hood that can be installed high enough that it will not block sight lines in the kitchen.

Ranges - incorporate the stovetop and oven into one appliance. It results in an efficient use of space and makes electrical and plumbing a little simpler. As we mentioned before, the oven is low and requires more bending to use it. Other than that, it is mostly a matter of preference. The suggestions above for stovetops and ovens apply equally for a range.

Some ranges offer dual fuel operation, meaning that the burners use gas and the oven is electric. This is a good choice, but not necessary worth choosing a different manufacturer just to get the feature.

Dishwashers - The key elements for a dishwasher are that it does a good job cleaning, that loading is flexible enough to handle your dishes & cookware and that the unit is quiet. Some models accept cabinet panels, allowing you to hide or at least blend it in with your cabinets. Some models have hidden controls, useful for hiding the DW and for keeping kids from playing with the buttons.

One of the big improvements in dishwashers in recent years is in their quietness. Many models make so little noise they use an indicator light to let you know they are running. Other improvements include their water use efficiency, wash quality and loading options. Installing a second dishwasher is a growing trend as are dishwasher drawers. A second dishwasher takes up 24" of what would otherwise be cabinet space. If you do a lot of entertaining or have a large family, two dishwashers might be worthwhile. Dishwasher drawers typically come in pairs and can operate independently. They occupy roughly the same space as a standard dishwasher. One advantage is that you can run smaller loads and they have the appearance of cabinet drawers. The drawback is their expense and that overall load capacity may be a little less. Some full size models offer small load settings.

Many models now offer stainless steel interiors. Theoretically these models are more durable than other finishes, although in reality, they may end up performing about the same. When choosing a dishwasher, select features that are important to you, not just the ones that "sound" useful. Look for models that are quiet and that offer loading configurations that work for you.

Trash Compactors - were once popular, but now seem to have waned somewhat. There are not many models to choose from. A TC uses a motor to drive a ram to crush garbage into a more compact form. You place a disposable liner in the receptacle and then when full, throw the liner and compacted trash away. TC's have some limitations on what should be thrown away. For instance, most discourage the disposal of glass and a variety of other objects. Also, since trash is compacted, it sits for more time in your kitchen. For this reason, foods that will spoil and stink may make a compactor less convenient than you would expect.

If you really hate carrying trash out to the can, then this will reduce the number of trips you make. Otherwise, this appliance may not be as great a boon as one might hope.

Microwave Ovens - Microwave ovens have become a staple of every kitchen. Indispensable for defrosting and reheating, microwaves are a near necessity. Microwaves now come with convection oven, browning and similar features making them even more useful. They won't replace a regular oven, yet, but then, many people use their microwave more regularly than they use there standard oven.

Microwaves are rated essentially by wattage and interior size. Low wattage models should be avoided for all uses except reheating a sandwich or popping some corn. Otherwise, favor a model of at least 800 watts to handle defrosting a roast or heating a large container. Interior size is fairly simple, pick something large enough to hold whatever you typically put in your microwave. Make sure it is big enough to rotate the food without brushing the walls of the oven.

Other things to look for models with built-in turntables to turn the food as it heats and program features useful for your family. Some controls are easier to use than others. If possible, experiment with the controls to make sure they are well laid out and make sense to you.

In wall units, like ovens are very convenient. The fact that you can match the appearance to your oven is another plus. However, at the time of writing, only rather expensive models can be installed in this way. Most models set on a countertop, mount under a cabinet or mount above the stove with the ventilation hood.

Countertop models are by far the best bargain. Instead of buying an expensive in-wall unit, an alternative may be to build a niche in a wall into which the countertop microwave can be placed. One issue is that you must leave enough space around the microwave for ventilation, or provide a venting system if the unit fits tightly into the niche opening.

Garbage Disposers - Disposers, also called disposals, are located under the main drain in your sink and are designed to grind waste that can be washed down the drain. Disposers tend to be loud and under-powered. 1/5 horsepower models are inexpensive, tend to jam, tend to break down faster, are less durable and are noisy. We recommend purchasing a model that has 3/4 horsepower or even 1 hp. These stronger models will do a good job of grinding garbage, tend to last longer jam less and often have longer warranties. Look for a model that bills itself as quiet, offers a longer warranty (5 years or more) and has adequate horsepower.

Regarding reliability, most appliances are likely to give few problems over their life span. However, some models are more prone breakdowns than others, especially pro-style equipment. We recommend reading product reviews like those in Consumer Reports magazine, in on-line forums and getting recommendations from friends. The opinions of others who have purchased the models you are considering can be invaluable. They often provide insight you will get from no other source.

A lot of appliance choices are largely a matter of personal preference. We recommend making a list of appliances and then note important features for each that a "must have" for you. Some brands or model lines don't offer desired features and so can be easily eliminated. You may not be able to find exactly what you want, so prioritizing your desires will help.

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