Microwaves, refrigerators, ranges, oh my! Before making a big-ticket purchase, learn your options — Real Simple magazine shares important information on what you need to know about major appliances:
5 things to look for in a washing machine
Top-loaders ($350 and up) are easy to use, since they don’t require bending over. Front-loaders ($600 and up) use 65 percent less energy and a third less water because their basins don’t completely fill with water. Note, however, that new, pricier top-loaders ($900 and up) rival the energy-efficiency of front-loaders. Look for:
A machine that heats only the water it needs: “This is the most important thing that people overlook when buying washers,” says John O’Meara, manager of Standards of Excellence, an appliance showroom in San Rafael, California. The feature, which is becoming more common, saves energy by heating only the water you need rather than the entire household water tank. In general, “washers made now are one-third more efficient than those made seven years ago,” says Jill Notini, a spokeswoman for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers in Washington, D.C.
A speedy spin cycle: The faster the cycle, the more water will be extracted, and the less time clothes will spend in the dryer. Look for “a high rpm (rotations per minute), which adds up to energy-efficiency,” says Alex Cheimets, editor of www.applianceadvisor.com. Go for at least 900 rpm. To save even more energy, pair the washer with a dryer that has a moisture sensor, which shuts off the unit when the clothes are dry.
Minimal water usage: Most conventional washers go through 40 gallons of water per cycle, so “if you do a load a day,” says Audrey Reed-Granger, a spokesperson for Whirlpool, “that’s more than 14,000 gallons a year.” Check the labels; some machines consume as little as 14 gallons a cycle.
Pedestals: Some washers (and dryers) can be equipped with pedestals ($100 to $200), which sit underneath the appliance and raise it up a foot or more for easier loading and unloading. Many include built-in drawers for stashing detergent, bleach, and stain-removal sticks.
An additional rinse cycle: This option, which dispenses extra water during washing, is great if you need to fight a stubborn stain or want to remove excess detergent that can irritate allergy sufferers or babies. However, it will increase your water bill.Tip: If you put a 1,000-rpm (rotations per minute) model on the second floor without shock absorbers, “when it hits the spin cycle, the floor will shake,” says Whirlpool’s Audrey Reed-Granger. But don’t worry about a basement or the ground floor; they’re often reinforced.
5 things to look for in a refrigerator
Top freezers ($400 to $1,200) are the most space- and energy-efficient of all the models; bottom freezers ($700 to $1,500) locate the refrigerator section at eye level and offer deep freezer storage. Side-by-sides ($800 to $2,000) have two full-height doors — a freezer on one side, a refrigerator on the other. Look for:
A just-right size: Refrigerators are measured in cubic feet, but that number can be misleading, because it also includes space taken up by the freezer, the shelves, and the bins. For two to four people, an 18-cubic-foot refrigerator (with about five of those cubic feet devoted to the freezer) should suffice. Keep in mind that an ice maker will use about one cubic foot of the freezer cavity; some newer models locate the ice maker on the freezer door to save room.
Space-expanding features: Motorized shelves can be raised and lowered at the push of a button to accommodate the height of the items you’re storing. Elevator shelves, which adjust with the crank of a lever, are just as effective. Also look for movable door bins, as well as pullout shelves, which offer access to goods stashed in the back. Some units have caddies that hold soda cans and racks for storing wine bottles horizontally.
Easy-care materials: Stainless steel is sleek, but it shows streaks and fingerprints; faux stainless doesn’t. As for the interior, glass shelves are easier to wipe down than metal grills and have lips that contain spills, says Chris Hall, cofounder and president of the appliance-maintenance Web site www.repairclinic.com.
Energy efficiency: Bottom freezers use 16 percent less energy than side-by-sides; top freezers consume 13 percent less. You’ll use 14 to 20 percent more energy if you opt for a through-the-door water dispenser. The most efficient refrigerators bear the Energy Star label, which ensures that they use 15 percent less energy than federal efficiency standards require.
Water filters: Some appliances contain a water dispenser with a filter for the ice maker — ideal for minimizing lead and chlorine in ice and drinking water — in a through-the-door configuration or inside the refrigerator.Tip: Some refrigerator doors open on the left, others on the right. Consider this when shopping around. If the layout of your kitchen changes after you purchase the appliance, see if you can have the doors rehinged.
5 things to look for in a dishwasher
Although there aren’t different categories to consider, models vary in terms of capacity and special features. While some entry-level units start at $200, those with bonuses, such as hidden controls, can cost upward of $2,000. Look for:
The number of place settings it holds: Dishwashers with standard-size tubs fit 12 five-piece place settings. If you entertain frequently, consider ones with tall tubs, which store 14 place settings and can easily handle large stockpots, vases, and cookie trays. Ideal for tight areas, compact 18-inch models hold six to eight settings. Don’t feel guilty loading up these workhorses; they actually use less water than you would doing the dishes by hand. Isn’t technology great?
A delay-start option: This allows you to set the machine to turn on at a later time, like when you’re tucked snugly into bed. (Plus, in some areas, utility rates are lower at night.) If you’re concerned about noise, opt for an insulated machine or one that touts whisper-quiet capabilities.
A forced-air mode: Without forced air, which involves a fan circulating dry air downward throughout the drying period, “anything with a concave top — like plastic cups, bowls, and upturned wineglasses — will collect water,” says Chris Hall of www.repairclinic.com. “It’s a pain.”
Space-saving details: Some have tines that fold down to accommodate large platters; others have adjustable top racks or ones that can be removed.
Multiple cycles: Choose a sanitizing cycle for baby bottles or a gentle cycle labeled specifically for glassware. Some new units have a steam cycle to get baked-on grime off dishes while using less water. If you would like to run small loads or quick loads of glasses during a party, “look for dishwashers with short cycles,” says Whirlpool’s Audrey Reed-Granger. These can be as fast as 25 minutes, compared with more than two hours for normal cycles.Tip: Most new dishwashers are so powerful that there’s no need to pre-rinse dishes. So you save time — and water.
5 things to look for in ranges
You can control the flame with precision on gas models; electric versions heat food and boil water faster. For both, prices start at $500 and can cost as much as $10,000. Dual-fuel ranges ($1,400 to $10,000 or more) pair gas cooktops with electric ovens. Look for:
Convection capabilities: This option, which uses a fan in the back of the unit to circulate heated air, cooks more evenly and about 25 percent faster. Convection ranges cost about $200 to $300 more than standard ones.
An easy-to-clean cooktop: Electric units have coil tops (for the easiest cleanup, look for ones with porcelain rather than ceramic or enameled-metal drip pans) or smooth surfaces that wipe down in a flash. The grates on gas models need to be removed before you start scouring. Some have continuous grates, which are sturdy and allow pots to be slid from burner to burner without lifting; the downside is that they’re heavy. Look for seamless edges and corners.
Warming drawers: Typically located beneath the oven cavity, warming drawers keep food warm before it hits the table. They can also serve as extra storage space when not in use.
Steam technology: Thanks to this feature, which can be used manually or automatically, you can infuse anything, from roasts to baked goods, with moisture.
Commercial-style units: If you’re an avid cook, check out these professional-looking ranges. They boast up to eight burners and can span 60 inches, so they’re ideal for preparing multiple dishes at the same time. Some have grills, griddles, and built-in woks. Note that you will pay top dollar for them.Tip: Induction cooking is faster and more energy-efficient than gas or electric — but it’s twice as pricey. When a pot is placed on a burner, an electromagnetic charge generates heat; the burner shuts off when the vessel is removed.
5 things to look for in a microwave oven
Countertop versions ($30 to $250) can be placed anywhere; over-the-range models ($100 to $700) save space and often have lights and exhaust fans on the bottom, so they double as vent hoods. Look for:
Power! A microwave’s power is measured by its wattage; the higher the wattage, the quicker food will cook. If you use your microwave mostly for reheating, a 600-watt unit should do the trick. But if you use it to prepare full meals, especially for a large family, opt for 900 to 1,300 watts.
A convection mode: If you entertain a lot and would benefit from a second oven, or if you want superfast cooking results, consider machines with convection technology, which uses a heating element and a fan to circulate air for roasting, baking, browning, and grilling in half the time needed by a regular oven.
Turntable size and function: Microwaves with 16-inch-diameter turntables are large enough for most cooks, says Jill Notini of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Look for turntables that rotate automatically for even cooking results and that can be removed for easy cleaning.
Sensors: If you tend to overcook or undercook meals, seek out units with sensors that shut off the microwave when food is done by calculating how much steam is being emitted from the food.
Childproof doors: Some microwaves have door locks (which can be activated and deactivated via the keypad) so curious hands don’t get burned on hot dishes.Tip: Because they work so quickly, microwaves use two-thirds the energy of standard ovens. And they release minimal heat into the kitchen, so you may save on air-conditioning bills, too.
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