Home Hardware Center

Appliance Buying Guide

 

REFRIGERATORS

In the modern age, a refrigerator is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. With so many different sizes, configurations and price tags, you’ll need to do your research. But how do you choose the one that will be right for your needs? We’ll try to help.


A well made refrigerator will effectively last from 9 to 13 years. However, as they age, their efficiency level drops. They become louder, don’t cool as well and use more power. If your refrigerator is reaching this stage, it’s time to consider a replacement.


Depending upon the style of refrigerator that you choose and any optional extras that you may want, (like an in-door water and ice dispenser, door within a door feature or a wifi enabled smart refrigerator) a new refrigerator can run you anywhere from $500 low-end to a couple of thousand dollars or more for all the bells and whistles. You’re going to want to set a budget for your needs and stick to it.


Firstly, let’s look at the different types of refrigerator styles and door configurations:


TOP FREEZER: This is the standard style of refrigerator. Medium to small freezer on top and refrigeration space below. These are usually the least expensive models.


BOTTOM FREEZER: This style gets your regularly used groceries closer to eye level and places your frozen goods in a drawer at the bottom. It can be slightly more expensive than the Top Freezer and some folks are not fond of having to stoop over to dig through the freezer drawer.


FRENCH DOORS: This style is as useful as it is stylish and seems to be the most popular amongst consumers. The refrigerator section has two, half width doors that open in opposite directions. These narrower doors save space in a tight kitchen, yet open on a full size refrigerator interior. The freezer is in a drawer at the bottom. 


SIDE BY SIDE: This is also a very popular model for the same, space saving reason. Two narrow doors, side by side as the name implies. One housing the refrigerator and the other the freezer. The space savings can be offset by the narrow capacity of the refrigerator/freezer areas. Let’s just say that something like a frozen pizza can become a puzzle to store. 


COMPACT/MINI: A small fridge suitable for only one person or to be used solely as a drinks cooler. Not particularly energy efficient.


Next, thing to consider is how the refrigerator fits into the space that you have:


STAND ALONE: A stand alone refrigerator either sits by itself, separate from any cabinetry or in a space created for the purpose in the cabinetry. Be sure that you measure your new unit carefully for this space. Take several measurements, (baseboard height, counter top height, top, front to wall, back to wall) to make sure your new unit will be a good fit. Be sure to leave at least one inch of space all around the unit for ventilation. 


COUNTER DEPTH: A counter depth unit sits almost flush with your counter face. Its doors being the only part that stands away from the counter. This is a space saver and looks very clean. But there is a trade off. With this unit you lose a bit of interior capacity. 


BUILT IN: These units are made to blend in seamlessly with your cabinetry. They look fantastic but they are MUCHmore expensive and need to be professionally installed. They are usually wider than a normal refrigerator but that is offset by the fact that they are also shallower than a free standing unit. They are more difficult to move from house to house if needs be.


Now that you are armed with more info, remember to choose carefully. Keep within your budget and keep these things in mind...


THINGS TO REMEMBER:

  • Measure your spaces carefully! Your new refrigerator may fit into the space in your kitchen, but it wouldn’t do if it couldn’t get through the kitchen door (or the front door or hallway for that matter).
  • Speaking of measurements, make sure that you have plenty of space between where your new unit will go and kitchen islands or anything else that has a door that opens (like a range or dishwasher). These things can cause there to be very little space in an already crowded kitchen.
  • Manufacturers recommend an interior capacity of 19 to 22 cubic feet for a family of four. However, if you like to stock up or have greater needs you can go larger.
  • Testing shows that its common to have less usable space inside than may be claimed by the manufacturer. So, either go a bit larger or really watch the numbers.
  • In-door ice and water dispensers and smart features are a really nice add ons; But be forewarned, it is usually these extras that cause the most frequent repairs.
  • Look for the Energy Star®rating. This will give you a good idea of what your intended unit will cost to operate on a yearly basis.
  • Some municipalities or local power companies will have rebate programs focused around upgrading appliances. These can really save you money.

 

STOVETOPS - OVENS - RANGES

Like it or not, appliances get old and outlive their usefulness. One of the easiest and least expensive (within reason) ways to update your kitchen, is with new appliances.


Now, not many of us have the fiscal wherewithal to replace all of our kitchen appliances in one fell swoop, but if you do it piecemeal you can pull it off. Let’s start with the appliance that gets the most use... the range


First, do your research. Look into brands and styles that you like and then keep your eyes open for sales. Sometimes a good sale will make it easier to get two pieces at once or upgrade to a higher level appliance. A good range can set you back anywhere between $500 to $10,000 or more! Yes, you saw that correctly… $10K! Of course, if you have that kind of coin to be dropping on a new stove you really don’t have to worry about a sale.


One of the factors you’ll need to keep in mind is the current age of your existing range. The average lifespan of an electric range is 13 to 15 years and a gas range is 15 to 17 years. Most people keep their range far past its useful life. If you do that you wind up incurring more repair costs and spending more cash for the day to day operation of an electric range. 


A new range will cook better (and faster) and save you money on your electric bill in the long run. Some municipalities or local power companies will even have rebate programs focused around upgrading appliances.


In order to help determine what you need, let’s define terms.


COOKTOP: This unit is inset into a countertop and is comprised of just the main cooking burners. It can be gas, electric, radiant or induction. You will find this most often in kitchens that have a seperate, built in oven. 


OVEN: For baking, broiling or roasting, your oven can be a stand alone unit or part of a range. Most come as a single built-in but you will often find homes with double ovens. This is useful if you do a good deal of cooking or baking, but overkill in most cases.


RANGE: Combines a cooktop and oven into one unit that can either stand alone or slide into your countertop/cabinetry. If you have/choose a slide-in model, make sure you measure very carefully. Having to rework your countertop and cabinets is a messy, time consuming and costly affair.


GAS: Appliances that run on natural gas have their pluses and minuses. Gas is king on the cooktop, creating a circle of constant, evenly controlled heat that is extremely effective. However, gas is not the absolute best when it comes to ovens, often creating hot spots and cooking unevenly. The addition of convection to circulate the heated air does solve this problem though.


ELECTRIC: Cooking with electricity works very well, in the oven. Wide heating elements provide mostly even cooking. It’s the cooktop burners that can be problematic here. Because these elements use electrical resistance to heat, it is often difficult to keep them sitting flat. This can create uneven cooking areas where too much heat is delivered to one side of a pot or an uneven surface where food tends to gravitate to one side or another.


RADIANT: This type of cooktop has no visible elements, simply a flat glass/ceramic top with heating elements embedded below. These have the benefit of heating quickly and evenly and are very easy to keep clean. The only drawback being that when you are using low heat or have simply just turned the heat off, the surface shows no indication that it is hot. So be aware and everything should be fine.


INDUCTION: This is the latest thing and it’s really interesting. These are flat glass/ceramic cooktops that use magnetic induction to provide heat. Magnets, (not a heating element) are employed to excite the ferris metal (iron) particles in a pan. The cooktop itself never gets hot. You can boil water (faster than any other type of heating element, by the way) remove the pot and place your bare hand directly on the STILL OPERATING heating area with no ill effect. (Just be sure you’re not wearing a ferris metal ring). As cool as that is, be aware that it only works with pots and pans that contain ferris elements. So cast iron or magnetic stainless steel work best. Just be aware that some of your favorite gear may not work with this style of cooktop.


CONVECTION: Moving from the cooktop to the oven, convection is a process that uses fans to circulate the heated air created by electric or gas cooking elements. This circulation allows for faster more even heating and gives great results. Whether baking or roasting you can expect improved results with convection.


DUAL FUEL: A dual fuel range gives you the best of both worlds. A gas cooktop coupled with an electric oven. 


Now that you are armed with better research, you need to choose what best suits your needs. If you are simply a once in a while type of cook (frozen pizzas and scrambled eggs) you probably don’t need any of the fancy bells and whistles. But if you do a lot of cooking or baking, it may be in your best interest to get slightly better gear. Most importantly… Make a BUDGET and STICK TO IT!


Don’t pay for more than you will need or use, but make sure that what you get will be versatile enough to grow with for the next decade or so. 


Black, white or stainless steel go with most home decor’s. If you stick with these you won’t need to change your appliances simply because you’ve repainted.