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The ABCs of Kitchen Appliances

Confused by all the options available when it comes to picking the right appliances for your kitchen remodel? Here are some basic features to look for.

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It's important to find appliances that fit both your decor and lifestyle, and that's a task that can seem overwhelming on a visit to a showroom with hundreds of makes and models. But here are some of the main features you should look for when you go shopping:

The Basics
Every kitchen needs the essentials: a refrigerator, dishwasher, stove and oven.

Most refrigerators come in one of three configurations. The traditional top-mounted fridge, with the refrigerator on the bottom, is the most common, so there are a wide range of models to choose from. Bottom-mounted refrigerators, where the refrigerator is on top, put food at eye level, which is a plus for people who use fresh ingredients to cook. Finally, side-by-side models also put food at eye level, but keep in mind that the interiors are sometimes narrower. The configuration and size of a refrigerator, measured in cubic feet, will depend on a person's lifestyle. For example, someone who cooks with fresh ingredients will have different refrigeration needs than someone who uses mostly frozen food. Add-ons like a frost-free feature, water dispenser, icemaker and built-in television are also available. Additional features will increase the cost of a refrigerator, so skip those that aren't truly useful.

When it comes to dishwashers, convenience options like a delay timer and energy-saving features, such as economy cycle or half-load capacity, should be considered. Dishwashing drawers, which can be used in one- or two-drawer configurations, are a good choice for smaller kitchens and are often used as secondary dishwashers.

Most kitchens include more than one cooking appliance, such as ovens, cooktops and ranges. Today's ovens are anything but basic. Many multitask, combining traditional cooking with convection, which uses circulated air to speed cook time, or speed cooking, which uses halogen lights to reduce cook times. Induction cooktops, an alternative to gas and electric, have developed a broader appeal in recent years. Using this method, electricity flows through a coil to produce a magnetic field under a ceramic cooktop. When an iron or magnetic stainless pan is placed on the ceramic surface, the pan, not the cooktop, heats up. Ranges, which are usually gas or electric, also come in dual-fuel models that offer induction cooking in addition to gas. Some ovens also double as microwaves.

Kitchen Extras
Today's appliances go beyond the essentials. Once the "hottest" cooking technology, microwaves are now more commonly used for reheating food. "Most people hardly use them, so we put them a little more out of the way," says Sarah Ann Busby, National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) vice president and owner of Sarah Busby Designs in Elk Rapids, Mich. Warming drawers, under-cabinet refrigeration for wine, built-in coffeemakers and trash compactors top the list of kitchen extras.

Appliance Appearances
After identifying the appliances needed for the kitchen remodel, consider freestanding vs. built-in models. "Appliances that do not stand alone in their own body — a wall oven, for example — are built-in," says Ed Pell, manager of market research for NKBA. Yet another option is whether to make appliances integral by concealing them behind cabinetry panels. In both cases, kitchen style and budget will play into these decisions.

Fabulous Finishes
Stainless steel finishes continue to be all the rage. Homeowners can expect to pay a premium price for appliances in this popular finish. Several appliance manufacturers offer alternatives that look similar to stainless, but require less maintenance and cost a bit less. Appliances in oiled-bronze finishes recently debuted on the market. Whereas stainless steel is well-suited to contemporary kitchens, bronze is particularly compatible with traditional decor. Yet another option, black appliances, can create a sleek look at a lower price point.

Energy Efficient
Once a finish is settled on, it's time to examine energy efficiency. "Energy efficiency is becoming more and more important," says Everrett Collier, president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and co-founder of San Francisco-based remodeling company Collier Ostrom. He recommends Energy Star-rated appliances to all of his clients because appliances that save energy translate to smaller utility bills.

"[The amount of money] varies from appliance to appliance, but you're going to save many, many dollars," Collier says. "The beauty of it is it's all laid out on a big yellow sticker when you go to shop for appliances, so you can see what the savings are."

Finally, gather specification sheets for all appliances under consideration and compare available features, designs, capacities and warranties before making a final decision.

Learn how upgrading your kitchen appliances can increase your home's value at HGTV's FrontDoor.com.

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