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Home Appliance 101 – Kitchen Appliances Things to Know Before You Buy

Shopping for a Home Appliance today can be a daunting task.  How can a consumer become an expert when it took me 2 years of working a full time job before I even felt comfortable talking about the different categories in the appliance world?

I got your back!  This article is a primer for those of you who need information on KITCHEN appliances.  (I talk more about laundry in other articles on this site.)

A very special thanks to my great friend, Jeremy, for writing most of this great info on these major appliances and miscellaneous products.  Okay…  Here we go!


  • Freestanding (Counter depth or Standard depth)
  • Built-in
  • Under Counter Drawers
  • Under Counter Wine storage and Beverage Centers


§  Gas Cooktops

  • Drop-in (knobs on top)
  • Professional (knobs on front)

§  Electric Cooktops

  • Coil Element
  • Radiant
  • Induction


  • Drop in (only for replacement of existing)
  • Slide-in (controls in the front)
  • Freestanding (Oven controls on the backsplash in the back)

Microwave Ovens

  • Built in (countertop with a trim kit)
  • Over the Range (with built-in hood fan)
  • Drawer
  • Countertop
  • Convection microwaves

Wall Ovens

  • Thermal or Conventional Ovens
  • Convection Ovens
  • Speed Ovens
  • Steam Ovens (only select Luxury brands)


  • Standard (front controls)
  • Integrated panel door with finished front (top controls)
  • Fully Integrated – full face panel ready


  • Wall (Chimney or Pro-Style)
  • Island (Chimney or Pro-Style)
  • Downdraft
  • Hood Liner

Misc. Home Appliances

  • Trash Compactors
  • Ice Makers
  • Deep Fryers
  • Espresso / Coffee Systems

Now let’s tackle things to know for each category…


There are three different basic configurations for refrigeration. Side By Side, Freezer on the Bottom and Freezer on the Top.

Side by Side Refrigerators used to be a popular choice for those that want the external ice and water dispenser. Most dispensers today are filtered which can eliminate the need for a filtration system at the sink. One disadvantage though, is the lack of width inside both the fresh food and freezer compartments. This limits storage for larger serving dishes, casserole dishes, etc. From a design aspect, they work well in galley kitchens or kitchens that have islands in them where that the doors are “half-width” and open with ease without impeding walkways and gathering areas. Do not put side-by-side refrigerators in corners or against walls! This makes it near impossible to access the shelves and bins inside for cleaning.

Bottom Freezer Refrigerators have increased dramatically in popularity over the last 5 years or so. These units bring your fresh food up to a more usable height making it easier to access your crisper bins and lower door shelves. We access our fresh food compartments 10 times more frequently than we do our freezers so it makes sense to put the freezer down low. These units also open up the width that works very well for platters, serving trays, large bowls and dishes. In the last couple of years, they have added an external ice and water dispenser to some units that gives you the best of both worlds. French door refrigerators are now featuring filtered, external ice and water dispensers to give you the convenience once only found in side by sides.

Top Freezer Refrigerators are a lower cost option for refrigeration. These are found more commonly in apartments, smaller condos and small kitchens. Some manufactures offer some premium features including internal water dispensers and filtered icemakers but they are still considered an entry-level option for refrigeration.

Once you select your configuration, you must determine the application it will be installed in. One can choose a Standard depth, Counter Depth, or Built-in refrigerator.

Built-In Refrigerators are considered a luxury item including brands like Sub-Zero, Miele, Thermador, and Liebherr. These refrigerators actually mount to the cabinetry and rear wall and do not roll out like traditional refrigerators. The goal is to be flush to the cabinetry so not to protrude into the kitchen. In some cases, you can apply custom wood panel fronts and hardware to integrate the refrigerator into the bank of cabinets. Some brands can “disappear” into the cabinetry where you can’t tell that it is even a refrigerator. You do give up some depth inside the fresh food and freezer compartments but gain a design that’s unbeatable.  Typical depth is approximately 25″ – not including the handles.

Counter Depth Refrigerators are very popular in the industry today. This is a way to attain the “built-in look” without the built-in cost. Counter depth refrigeration is a traditional refrigerator that rolls in and out for cleaning. Like built-ins, you give up some depth inside but attain a premium look. The only part that sticks out from the cabinet is the depth of the door that is usually 2-3″.  Typical depth is 27″ without handles.

Standard Depth Refrigerators are what we’ve all had in every house we’ve lived in. They stick out from the cabinetry usually 5-7″ and roll in and out of place for cleaning. The advantage here is that you get plenty of depth inside the compartments. For those that don’t care about it sticking out, you get the maximum capacity compared to the other applications. These units will also cost you less than a counter depth and significantly less than a built-in refrigerator. If it fits in to your design, you can build the cabinet out to give it the look of a cabinet-depth.


There are a few important differences between dishwashers today. There are two styles of machines; European models vs. US models. Do not waste your time with Db’s. (Decibel rating) There is no standard to measuring this from brand to brand and manufactures love to boast their “Lowest DB Rating”.  In fact, there are several brands who currently claim to be “The Quietest Dishwasher” in the industry.  Having said that, most dishwashers are considerably quieter than dishwashers you may be used to in the past.

Choose your dishwasher with these things in minds:

  • Quietness:  (trust your salesperson, or the internet if you wish)
  • Washing ability: Number of washer arms, multiple cycles, soil sensors, water temperature
  • Loading ability: Adjustable tines, adjustable racks, distance between tines, and location of silverware basket.
  • Location of controls: Top (hidden) or Front (exposed)

European Dishwashers: These include brands like Miele, Asko, and Bosch. All three are considered a premium model and in the past were typically priced higher than the domestic options.  But recently, the domestic brands like Kitchen Aid, GE Profile, etc. offer models in the price ranges of the European brands.  They use a unique style of filtration using a series of stainless mesh filters that help clean the water before it drains. This is very energy efficient and eliminates any extra moving parts. European models are also typically quieter than your average domestic models using more insulation in the door, the tub, and around the pump and motor. European dishwashers also differ from US models in the way they dry. They do not use an exposed heating element. They rely on the residual heat from the final rinse, and a series of fans (with the exception of Bosch) to use condensation in the drying process. It does not “bake” the dishes, which saves a ton on energy but it can take a bit longer to dry. All things considered, European dishwashers are built to a higher standard than that of a domestic machine, which improves the longevity.

Domestic/US Dishwasher:  These brands like GE, Kitchen Aid, Maytag, Jenn-Air, and Frigidaire. Most of these models use a hard food disposal which takes the place the filtration system that the European models use. This is a full-proof method of grinding any large food particles to bits so not to impede the drain cycle. There are no filters to remove or clean which makes a lazy person happy.  They also use an exposed heating element for drying which leaves no doubt that the dishes are dry. It uses more energy and vents the moisture out of the front or top of the dishwasher, but is considered a “better” dry than a European machine by many.


Your first decision is between a cooktop with a separate wall oven(s) or an all-in-one range. Then decide between gas and electric and the size (width).

A range can conserve space by putting the cooking surface and oven in one place. Most ranges are 30″ wide (actual measurement is almost always 29 7/8″) and can be all gas, all electric or dual fuel. Dual fuel means that the cooking surface (burners) is gas and the oven is electric. One can say that this is the best of both worlds. A gas-cooking surface gives you more control of the heat and a better, more consistent simmer on some models. An electric oven is self-cleaning and typically a little more accurate temperature control. They also tend to have a little larger internal capacity. An electric surface is considered easier to clean usually featuring a ceramic glass surface. They have elements that can “expand” to accommodate larger pots and pans. There is also no exposed flame, which can be considered safer especially with little ones running around.  There is also a wide selection of “Professional Style” ranges that can be wider than the standard 30″ models.

36” or 48” ranges are most common with brands like Wolf, Dacor, Viking and Thermador. This increases the number of burners on top (up to six), introduces the option of a built-in griddle or BBQ, and gives an option of a second oven below. 36″ ranges are always one large oven below with up to six burners or four burners and grill/griddle. 48″ ranges have a 30″ oven and an 18″ companion oven with two more burners on top. The outputs of the professional burners usually dwarf those of the traditional brands, however brands like GE offer at least one burner with the same output as the professional models. This is measured in BTU’s. Btu’s, like Db ratings on dishwasher, used to mean something but now have gotten lost in the war between brands. 15,000 BTU is an average high output, but some manufacturers now boast an 18,000-22,000 burner. The higher the BTU the more heat it creates. Most of these high BTU burners though, have the ability to be turned down to a low simmer level (400-1000 BTU, or 140 degrees)

Some people don’t like having to bend down to access their oven in a range. That’s where wall ovens come into play. One can put a cooktop by itself into a countertop and install either a single or double wall oven into a bank of cabinets. This lifts the ovens up off the ground and makes it easier to access, especially when cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. You can often get more advanced control systems on wall ovens than what are offered in a range. You can find heat-sensitive touch controls, built-in restaurant quality menus, rollout glide racks, meat probes and other bells and whistles. For those that bake more than they use their cooking surface, this might be something to look at. It is also common to see a range (with the oven below) and a separate wall oven also, which puts two ovens into the kitchen. A single wall oven can also be paired with a convection microwave. Convection microwaves look and feel like a microwave, operate like a microwave, but also have the ability to be a fully functional oven. They can bake, broil, and roast in less time, with the same quality as an oven. This helps conserve space and makes it easy having two ovens and a microwave in one place. Most wall ovens today are 30″ wide, but some are available in24″,  27″ widths and 36″ widths.

The choice between a range and wall oven/cooktop is 100% personal preference.  There are benefits to doing either one, you just need to think about how you cook and what is most important to you. Also keep in mind electrical and gas requirements. These are usually different than what most people have existing.



Most people with an island or peninsula in their kitchen don’t want a free hanging island hood in the middle of the kitchen. They think that by installing a downdraft behind their cooktop, they’ve solved their problem and that the downdraft will work just fine. The problem with downdrafts is that steam, and smoke (with grease and other yucky stuff) rises and expands too quickly to be adequately evacuated from the kitchen by a downdraft. The reality is, an island hood can be a focal point of a kitchen. You can find very unique modern and contemporary designs with stainless, or glass, or custom colors that you don’t have to hide. Since all of that steam and smoke is rising, an overhead hood will be 15 times more effective than a downdraft for the simple fact that the hood is on top of the burners. If you must use a downdraft, it can only be installed behind a cooktop NOT A RANGE (there is one exception by Dacor). Also, not all cooktops can accommodate a downdraft behind them so make sure you do your research before designing the kitchen.

Whichever hood you chose, wall or island, consider over sizing it. It you’ve got a 36″ cooking surface try to fit in a 42″ hood. Hood manufacturers will recommend over-sizing the hood by 3 inches for each side (6 inches total.)  Back to the whole rising and expanding thing, you want to make sure you capture as much as possible to keep the grease off the adjacent cabinetry, walls, windows and ceiling. Also, make sure it covers your burners front to back. Sometime people want the greatest low-profile option but we need to think about function as well. If you don’t like the look of all that stainless, consider doing a hood liner. A hood liner is simply the “guts” of a hood. A hood liner consists of a blower, lights, filters and a stainless frame.  Custom cabinets can then surround this, tile, whatever you want it to look like. Just like those built-in refrigerators, your hood can hide in the kitchen but still work like it’s supposed to.

The blower can often be ordered separate from the hood itself.  Decide whether you want the blower inside the canopy of the hood or on the outside of the house. It can be quieter if installed on the outside of the house, but usually requires a larger duct size. They should be installed at the time of siding or roofing to make it easier on your contractor. Remote blowers are usually only needed if you are doing a professional range or cooking surface. They are overkill for your everyday traditional ranges and cooktops. There is no such thing as a silent hood. If you can’t hear it, it’s not on. Get one that works especially if you actually cook.

Miscellaneous Appliances

Under counter Refrigeration: Whether you’re doing a media room, bar, or have a large enough kitchen, don’t forget the under counter refrigeration. Wine storage can be great in the kitchen. Even if you’ve got a cellar in the basement, keep some bottles in the kitchen for ease of access. They can be stored at the proper serving temperature and the units themselves look sharp in a kitchen.

If you eat a lot of produce, your primary refrigerator may not have enough room in the crisper bins. Get some refrigerator drawers by your prep sink or cooking area or additional fruit and vegetable storage. Easy to access, you don’t have to open the large refrigerator door wasting energy, and a lot of room. If you don’t drink a lot of wine, but you need additional beverage storage, get a beverage center. These are great usually having one or two rows of wine racks and the rest is glass shelving for pop, beer, mixers, etc. You can also get an under counter icemaker for the more serious entertainers. These are great and ensure you always have enough ice for your beverages. This is not at all a quiet appliance so keep that in mind as to where it’s located.

Trash Compactors: These are becoming more and more obsolete but are still available through some manufacturers. With recycling as big as it is today, trash compactors are getting replaced by wine storage or icemakers. They are useful for large families or those that entertain on a regular basis.

Coffee / Espresso Machines: The quality of Starbucks or Tully’s in your kitchen. Most espresso machines use a tank for water supply but some can be plumbed with a water line. These are becoming more and more common in kitchens, thanks to Miele,  and there are many brands that make them now. You can make your favorite latte or mocha, or simply a good cup of coffee. Most of them have wands to steam your milk, just like the baristas have. They can be built-in like an oven or freestanding on the countertop.

There are many manufacturers of household appliances in the industry today.  Here is a list of the hierarchy of many of the brands available today:

Hierarchy of Brands

Sub-Zero Jenn-Air GE
Wolf KitchenAid Whirlpool
Miele Blue Star Maytag
Thermador Liebherr Frigidaire
Viking GE Monogram Speed Queen
Asko DCS Amana
Dacor Hotpoint
Fisher and Paykel Samsung
Bosch LG

***NOTE – a few of the brands in the Premium category lie between Premium and Luxury.  I would consider those brands to be Jenn Air, Blue Star, Liebherr, DCS, Monogram, and Dacor.

Well, that’s an awful lot of info.  Thanks for taking the time.  You’re really doing yourself a favor in considering many of these things if you are in the market for a new Home Appliance!

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