If our kitchen is the heart of the home, its major appliances are what keep it pumping. We look at and use our kitchen appliances every day, so selecting the right ones has an enormous influence on how much we enjoy the kitchen and cooking itself. Size, style, color, functions, energy efficiency, and price are just a few basic points to consider.
Once we’ve painted the walls, installed beautiful kitchen cabinets and worktops, we might be wondering which kitchen appliances we should choose so that they suit our style of cooking and kitchen design. Modern kitchens contain everything from such basics like fridge, oven, hood, dishwasher to toasters, microwaves, coffee makers and many other specialist machines and gadgets. Appliances in our home make up one of the largest investments for our pocket, so they should be chosen well. Purchasing kitchen appliances can be a daunting task when we look at all of the available options so here are some of the most important tips to guide us through this complicated and confusing buying journey.
1. Ranges, cooktops, and ovens
What’s the difference between a range, cooktop or oven and which one to choose?
When we are planning to buy a new appliance, we should first determine whether or not we would prefer to have our cooktop separate from our oven (or ovens). A range (or stove – these terms are used interchangeably) is a one-piece unit that includes a cooktop area and oven that is below this cooking area. If we have a small kitchen, a range typically makes the most sense. But if we have more space or share the kitchen with another home cook, the flexibility of modern cooktops that are fully independent of ovens might be much better choice.
Still wishy-washy on what we want? Here are a few more things to consider:
- Budget. Ranges are usually much cheaper option than cooktops and ovens that are installed separately.
- Aesthetics. A range can function as a kind of focal point for the room (especially if we don’t have an island in our kitchen), yet some people prefer the streamlined look of built-ins.
- Ergonomics. A wall oven at arm and eye level may suit everybody with back or knee problems, eliminating the need to bend down to lift heavy pans.
- Fuel choice: gas or electric? Cooktops are widely available for either gas or electric cooking. Each type has its devotees and its detractors. The main difference between electric and gas stoves lies in how quickly they respond to the temperature setting changes. Gas cooktops respond almost instantly, giving us more of the precise control needed to prepare certain dishes. Electric cooktops do not respond so quickly. However, electric stoves are considered to be more safety (no risk of gas leaks) and easier to clean.
- Conventional versus convection ovens. Convection ovens use heated air to cook, while conventional ones use a radiant heating action. Convection ovens are more popular nowadays as they offer more benefits. They produce a more even and consistent heat (a bonus for bakers), while conventional ovens tend to overcook some trays and undercook others.
2. Range hoods
The wonderful cooking process has some less nice by-products: moisture, grease, and odor. Good ventilation can help neutralize bad smells and minimalize the effects of those fat droplets.
Before we think about how a hood fan actually looks (we can choose under-cabinet, custom built-in, wall-mounted or ceiling-mounted vent hoods) we should explore some important technical considerations:
- Air flow. A range hood’s performance is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). The higher the CFM number, the more air the range hood can remove in one minute of operation. A hood should be matched to our stove. The requirement for an electric range is approximately 300 to 450 CFMs, whereas a gas stove will need about 600 to 1,200 CFMs.
- Noise level. A fan’s sound output is measured in sones. Hoods have usually three to six-speed settings. It’s suggested to keep the low setting (around 3 sones) throughout the cooking process, and change to the highest setting of about 6-7 sones only for short, intense periods of cooking.
- Ease of cleaning. We should choose hoods with smooth surfaces and fully enclosed bottoms with filters that are easy to remove and clean.
- Controls. The best option is a hood with a variable speed control that allows for a wide range of speeds.
- Venting. The hood should be vented to the outside using the properly sized duct pipe. If we cannot ventilate our range hood to the outside environment, a model with a recirculating kit allows air to be cleaned through a carbon filter that traps cooking by-products.
- Mounting height. For best performance, range hood should be installed at a height of 26″ to 32″ above the cooktop or range.
- Capture area. Generally speaking, the width of the fan should match the width of the range or cooktop.
In general, as the price of the hood goes up its performance increases, it works quieter, and the controls move from mechanical to electronic.
The refrigerator is probably the most-used appliance in our kitchen. Its doors open and close dozens of times a day, especially if we have children or husband who is constantly hungry.
Here are some essential steps we need to consider when purchasing a new refrigerator:
- Size: measure the space. The number one reason refrigerators are returned after a purchase is because they don’t fit. An average refrigerator is around 68 inches tall and between 30 and 36 inches wide. We should remember to leave a certain amount of space that will be required at the sides, back and top of the fridge so that it receives right ventilation.
- Capacity: size of the refrigerator. Depending on the size of our family, how much we eat and how frequently we eat out, the capacity we’ll need will vary. As a general rule of thumb around 400 liters should be enough for the average couple. For a family of four between 520 and 600 liters is advisable and families bigger than this should opt for at least 700 liters.
- The layout of fridge and freezer placement. The most popular models are: top freezer fridges (a freezer compartment is above the fridge), bottom freezer fridges (the fridge sits above the freezer compartment), side-by-side fridges (fridge and freezer compartments are adjacent to each other), and French door fridges (a combination of the side-by-side and the bottom freezer fridges – two doors swing outwards, while the freezer is located underneath).
- Energy efficiency. Refrigerators use more energy than just about any other appliances, so it’s recommended to invest in a model with high standards of energy efficiency. We should check the Energy Star label on each refrigerator. The more stars displayed, the more energy efficient the model.
- Exterior material. The classic white look is still the most common and the cheapest choice, and it’s easy to keep clean. However, the white steel look isn’t to everyone’s taste. Stainless steel has a more premium look and feel. But one of the drawbacks of stainless steel is the fact that it’s prone to collecting fingerprints and smudges. Black appliances are also becoming quite popular.
- Door opening direction. It’s important to make sure we know in advance which way we want the doors open. Some models have the option of manually reconfiguring the door to open a different way (using a special kit).
- Additional features that make life easier. If we would like something with a little bit more luxury, manufacturers are offering a variety of new and useful features. These include auto-defrosting functions, adjustable shelving, moisture controls, water dispensers or icemakers.
While a dishwasher was considered a luxury 50 years ago, many families now consider it a necessity. Investing in a dishwasher can mean kissing goodbye to washing up by hand. Cleaning dishes by hand takes up far too much effort and time. A dishwasher can take the average load of bowls, plates, pots and pans and have them sanitized and sparkling in a way that our hand washing just can’t do. What’s more, a modern dishwasher uses an average of 6 gallons less water than handwashing.
Usually, the most important consideration when buying a dishwasher is size. We should measure the space we have available in our kitchen to ensure it will fit. The most popular type is the standard 24-inch built-in dishwasher that sits under our countertop work surface. There are also a bit slimmer 18-inch models. Another thing to look at is the capacity. The normal measurement of the capacity of a dishwasher is how many place settings the appliance can fit inside. A decent size for homes with two people or more is a 12 place setting capacity. There should also be enough programs to choose from to allow us to use less water and power for less dirty loads. Therefore, modern dishwashers have multiple wash programs with various wash cycles. Some are designed specifically for glassware, or china, or plastics, or pots and pans. Like fridges and freezers, dishwashers are energy rated and this is also an important factor. Generally, the larger the dishwasher capacity, the more energy and water efficient the appliance will be.
5. Microwave ovens
In today world pressed for time, the microwave has become man’s best friend. This appliance is no longer just a reheating device. It can cook, bake and even defrost.
There are three basic microwave styles:
- Countertop microwaves. Also called compact or portable microwaves, they are the smallest type and the most popular choice. However, we must be aware that they will take up valuable kitchen workspace.
- Over-the-range microwaves. These microwaves, as their name indicates, are designed to be installed above the kitchen range. They function like countertop microwaves, but they also eliminate steam, smoke, and cooking odors through the built-in ventilation system.
- Built-in microwaves. They are installed into a wall or cabinet for convenient operation.
Main features to consider:
- Power rating. Microwaves generally have a power rating between 600 and 1,300 watts. Higher power means more heat and shorter cooking time.
- Sensor Cooking. Assesses moisture levels in food as it cooks and automatically adjusts power levels and remaining cook time to ensure even heating.
- Short-cut keys. They allow us to prepare specific food (popcorn, soup, etc.) with the touch of a single button.
- Auto defrost. Almost all microwaves can defrost food, but it’s best to opt for one that has auto defrost, where we only need to select the type and weight of food and it automatically determines the optimum power level and cooking time.
It’s important to find appliances that fit both our lifestyle and decor without ruining our budget, and that’s a task that can seem a bit overwhelming on a visit to a showroom with hundreds of makes and models. We hope our kitchen appliance guide will help you sort it all out.