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.
By: Alicia Garceau

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.

Next Up

Help for the Kitchen Organizer

Organizing your kitchen can be a whole lot easier with these clever storage products.

The Most Efficient Energy Star Appliances

You can save a lot of money on your energy bill by replacing your old appliances with Energy Star qualified appliances. However, it's important to select the most energy efficient appliances to get the best savings.

Tips on Buying Appliances

Not all kitchen appliances are exactly alike. Use these tips from host Paul Ryan to choose the best appliances for your space.

How to Choose the Right Dishwasher

Dishwashers today offer an endless array of features and options. Which ones make the most sense for you? Here's what you need to know before you buy.

Buying Pro Gear from Commercial Suppliers

From appliances to baking shelves, some professional-quality items come cheaper from the restaurant supply industry -- if you know how to shop for them.

Features to Look for in Prosumer Appliances

What level of performance do you need for your kitchen appliances? Some appliances are really "just like the pros use," while others are more consumer-friendly. Here are eight questions to help you choose.

The $70,000 Dream Kitchen Makeover

Here's how to get the most for your money in a $70,000 budget makeover.

Kitchen Lighting and Flooring

Two of the most important elements in any kitchen are good lighting and flooring. Our experts share the different options for both.

Updating Your Kitchen for Pro-Style Equipment

While most prosumer kitchen appliances don't require restaurant-level power sources and ventilation, you may need to make a few adaptations to your kitchen space.

Sorting Through Kitchen Cabinet Choices

Before you spend a big chunk of your remodel budget on cabinets, make sure you're choosing wisely. Here's how to pick the best cabinets for your kitchen.


Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Consult Our A-Z Guide

Everything You Need to Know

Browse a full list of topics found on the site, from accessories to mudrooms to wreaths.  

How-To Advice and Videos

Get video instructions about kitchens, bathrooms, remodeling, flooring, painting and more.

Watch DIY Downloads Now

Watch DIY Network LIVE

Don't miss your favorite shows in real time online.