A Buyer's Guide to Major Appliances

Modern appliances look great and work even better

Ready to shop? You might be surprised at how the market has changed since the last time you set foot on a sales floor, says Rian Cain, vice president of sales and marketing–appliance division at American, a furniture, electronics and appliance retailer with two Madison retail showrooms.

What you will see:

Professional-looking appliances

Cooking shows have spawned a generation of amateur chefs—and kitchens. “It’s almost a mini version of a restaurant in some kitchens,” says Doug Widish, manager of Gerhards Showroom, a Madison-based kitchen and bath showplace offering cabinetry, fixtures, design services and more to both homeowners and contractors.

Tip: Consider function as much as form when shopping for appliances, Widish says. The professional-looking models are beautiful but might not be necessary for those who don’t really cook. Many lines have models that retain elements of the professional look in more modest price ranges for a balance of cost and performance.

Induction cooktops

Induction cooktops use an electric current to generate heat directly in a pot or pan. Water boils in an instant, and the cooktop itself stays cool. Cain says induction cooktops have been available for years and they are finally capturing more interest from consumers. Glass, ceramic and copper cookware are among the materials that won’t work with induction, and pans must have a flat bottom to conduct the current that generates the heat.

Tip: Cain says most homeowners have some pots or pans that will work, but it’s worth double-checking before investing in a new range or cooktop.

Under-cabinet microwaves

Part of the professional-looking kitchen is the stainless steel hood over the cooktop or range. So where does that leave the microwave? “Under-counter microwaves are becoming more common,” Widish says. “Most people really like that stainless steel range hood and don’t want to give that up.”

Tip: Unless you are remodeling or building new, an under-cabinet microwave will likely require some adjustments to your current cabinetry.

Energy-efficiency

While energy-efficient appliances have been around for years, manufacturers continue to hone design and technology. For example, Cain points out that refrigerator walls have gotten thinner thanks to better insulation design. That translates into better use of space as well as energy savings. “You can fit a 30-cubic-foot refrigerator today in the same space where you had a 25-cubic-foot refrigerator yesterday,” he says.

Steam

From washers to dryers to ovens and dishwashers, appliances are steaming up, Cain says. Steam cleaning is easier on clothes, extending their lives. Steam drying can help keep wrinkles at bay. Steam ovens better approximate restaurant-quality fare. Most models also offer improved energy efficiency. Cain says manufacturers continue to offer more steam options, so interested consumers should have better choices now than they did the last time they shopped for appliances.

Cooperation

Widish says open lines of communication usually lead to better projects for clients, and he encourages homeowners to take advantage of the design expertise of each vendor or consultant. For example, Gerhards cabinet and kitchen designers want to get details right, so they work closely with vendors, including appliance specialists at retailers like American. “A lot of times the appliance salespeople like to see the cabinet designs as well,” he says. “The more we all know about a project, the better.”

Tip: Cain agrees and encourages customers, particularly those remodeling a kitchen or building a new house, to make appointments for appliance selection. That way all necessary parties of the design and construction team can sit down together to talk through the project and make the best decisions for the space, the style and the budget.

What you won’t see:

Standard sizes

Standard sizing is less and less common in appliances as more and more manufacturers offer specialty lines and products, Widish says. Factor in different door and drawer clearances, and what appears to be a simple refrigerator replacement might not be so simple after all.

Tip: Widish says knowledgeable salespeople can help identify models that work with the space you have. And if you’re selecting unusually sized appliances for your remodel or new construction, keep in mind that your current choices will affect your future options if you need to replace an appliance down the road. “Generally there is always something that will work out,” Widish says, “but it’s nice to point out [unusual or unique sizing or feature placement] so shoppers have the information and can make the decision on their own.”

Impulse buying

You just happen to be at a big-box store looking around for some phone accessories and you notice a sale on appliances. You’ve been wanting to replace your washer and dryer for some time now, and these prices look too good to beat. And that bright, shiny front-loading model is practically begging you to take it home.

But appliances are major purchases that are worth at least a minor amount of effort. “We don’t want people to buy something they ultimately don’t want,” Cain says. “We want to make sure it’s right before it hits the delivery truck.”

Cain says American TV’s sales staff is always ready to work with walk-in customers and can help narrow the field of choices—the retailer carries more than thirty appliance brands—to identify the best fit for each shopper.

Tip: Besides reading online reviews, it is helpful to ask friends what they have and what their likes and dislikes are. Take note of your current appliances as well. Do you have to stoop too low to load the dryer? Is your dishwasher “quiet” but not “silent”? Is it hard to set the timer on the oven? Chances are that there is a dryer, dishwasher or oven out there that does whatever it is better.

Settling

Cain and Widish both agree that there are more options now than ever before. They encourage homeowners to explore a bit before ruling out styles or features because they assume their dream appliances will be too expensive or won’t work in their homes. “We want to make sure everyone feels good about their purchases,” Cain says. “We don’t want anyone to feel like they have to settle.”

– Jennifer Garrett

SPECIAL PROMOTIONAL SECTION

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