The right appliance for you

Smart shopping for cooktops, refrigerators, ovens, and dishwashers
Mary Jo Bowling

Enter an appliance showroom, and you'll find it's a jungle in there. The possibilities seem endless. Freezer on the top or bottom? Four burners or six? One oven or two? What's best for your budget? We asked Portland kitchen designer and National Kitchen & Bath Association board member Michael Slaby for tips on making smart shopping decisions.

COOKTOPS AND RANGES

Height: Cooktops are installed at counter level; a range is a cooktop combined with an oven and is 36 inches tall.

Width: 30 inches for four burners, 42 inches for eight burners

Depth: 24 inches

Gas: Favored because it both heats and cools quickly. The heat output of a gas unit is measured in BTUs; more BTUs equal more power. Cooktops with 15,000 BTUs or higher are considered professional or commercial grade.

A professional unit with more than four burners may be good for people who cook frequently or who often cook many things at once. More power requires a bigger ventilation system.

Electric: Many new electric cooktops have smooth, easy-to-clean glass or ceramic surfaces that can act as additional counter space when not in use for heating.

Electric ranges and cooktops are slower to heat and cool than gas ones. If you cook small, simple meals, they are a good choice.

REGRIGERATORS

Height: 60-84 inches

Width: 30-42 inches

Depth: 24-34 inches

Freezer on top: These models work best for people who need less freezer space and want to scan all contents quickly. This configuration offers proportionally slightly less freezer space than others.

Freezer on the bottom: This arrangement allows refrigerated food to be at eye level and often offers more freezer space than freezer-on-top models.

Side-by-side: This configuration gives equal access to refrigerated and frozen goods. It doesn't allow platters to be stored easily so it's not the best choice for people who like to entertain. Typically, it offers more freezer space than either of the other choices.

Energy use: Of most household appliances, a refrigerator consumes the largest amount of energy because it is always running. Visit www.energystar.gov to find recommendations for energy-saving appliances.

 

OVENS

Height: Single wall oven, 36 inches; stacked double ovens, 50 inches

Width: 27-30 inches

Depth: 24 inches

Double ovens: If you need to cook several dishes at once, double wall ovens are for you.

Single oven: A single oven is less expensive and doesn't eat up as much cabinet space as a double.

Standard: The heat comes from the top and bottom of the oven, often resulting in uneven temperature within. They are usually less expensive than convection ovens.

Convection: Hot air circulates to cook food faster. Conversion times for recipes can be found in the appliance handbook.

Fuel options: Like ranges, ovens can be powered by gas or electricity. Electric ovens are more popular because they offer better temperature control; gas ovens are considered superior for broiling. Dual fuel (gas cooktop, electric oven) options are available in ranges.

DISHWASHERS

Height: 34 inches

Width: 24 inches

Depth: 24 inches

Plastic tub: The standard white tub dishwashers are usually least expensive.

Stainless steel tub: Higher-end models have a stainless steel tub that quickly heats to higher temperatures than plastic tubs do, for superior cleaning.

Rack depths: Interior dish racks vary in height and may be adjustable. Some allow more space on the bottom, a good option for someone who washes a lot of tall pots and pans.

Jets: Higher-end models have more ― and more powerful ― washing jets.

Drawers: Some models are separated into two drawers ― good for people who entertain a lot and produce small waves of dirty dishes.

Noise factor: Dishwashers are usually the loudest appliance in a kitchen. Check the appliance handbook for a "db" (decibel rating): the lower the db, the quieter the dishwasher.