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Upgrade Kitchen Appliances

How to sort out features that make ranges, ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers safer and easier to use.

There was a time when the choice in kitchen appliances was limited to color and size. Today, there are so many products available that deciding which to install can be more confusing than liberating! From drawer refrigerators to fancy countertop cooktops with woks, griddles and other gizmos, the array of appliances can be overwhelming. It can also make it hard to separate fact from marketing fiction.

The good news is that many of the latest appliances, especially cooktops and ovens, combine style with enhanced safety features — demonstrating the universal design concept that improved function can be beautiful.

I’ve done quite a bit of homework in this area so that I can put you in a better position to decide what appliances and gadgets make sense for you and your kitchen. Read on to learn about the latest cooking technologies and design features that can help conserve energy and increase safety and efficiency.

Here are three general pieces of advice:

  1. Regardless of the appliance, brand or model you’re interested in, look for large-sized buttons and controls in bright, contrasting colors. They minimize mistakes with the controls.
  2. When buying new appliances, select “quiet” models that are well insulated. For example, choose your refrigerator, range hood, dishwasher and even your blender with care, as noisy models can sound like jet engines, even to those with hearing loss.
  3. Available in electric, induction or gas, ceramic glass cooktops are attractive and easy to clean. But note that these surfaces can scratch or mark (for example, when sliding rough pan bottoms). Also, they can be damaged if you forcefully set down a pot or drop an item like a knife, spice bottle or soup can onto the cooktop. (So don’t store anything above the cooktop.)


Guide to Appliance Features


<h3><span>Refrigerators and Freezers</span></h3>

The refrigerator is the biggest energy consuming appliance in the kitchen. If you have an older model, it’s using up to twice as much electricity as an energy-efficient one. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that replacing a refrigerator bought in 1990 with an energy-efficient model saves enough power to light the average household for nearly four months! New features, like high-efficiency compressors and improved insulation, will not only lower your utility bills but also reduce your carbon footprint.

If you’re in the market for a new refrigerator, consider a side-by-side model if it fits your kitchen. It makes it easy to grab both fresh and frozen goods without excessive bending or reaching. And the smaller size doors don’t swing out as far as larger single doors do — a real plus in a busy kitchen. Most refrigerators come with pullout shelves, but in the more upscale models you’ll find additional features, such as an express thaw that allows you to thaw a frozen meal for dinner in a couple of hours; special cooling zones that keep foods fresher and crisper for longer; and bright LED lighting that makes food easier to see. And yes, there are even refrigerators installed in pullout drawers, usually under the countertop, for convenience and extra storage space during holiday parties. Such a unit is pricey, but if you host large get-togethers, it just may be worth splurging on.

What features can you expect to see in the near future? New refrigerators will use Internet capability and bar code-scanning technology to keep track of your food items and send an e-mail reorder to your local store. When you arrive home from work at 6 p.m., your groceries will arrive shortly after you do (like magic).

<h3><span>Cooking Appliances</span></h3>

Until a decade ago, the “all-in-one range,” with burners on top and the oven underneath, was the only game in town. Today, the many advantages of separate cooktops and wall
ovens have made them popular.

First, your back will thank you. Instead of reaching and groping into a hot oven, a wall-mounted oven can be installed at a height that allows safe, easy and direct access. Second, with separate units, you can install the cooktop near the food prep area  —  in the countertop or the island — at a convenient height. And third, if there’s more than one cook at a time in your household, one person can use the cooktop free and clear without having to dodge oven doors and large hot pans coming and going. Be sure that both appliances have generous countertop space on both sides for setting down hot dishes and the like.

Most standard wall ovens are electric and self-cleaning. Select a side-opening door so you can get at the interior of the oven easily, and install a heat-resistant pullout shelf under the oven where you can set down hot pans. Install the oven, depending on your needs, so its base is 29 to 34 inches (73.5 to 86 cm) above the floor.

If you don’t have the room for a separate cooktop and wall oven, however, the freestanding all-in-one range is a good choice. Today’s options include gas and electric, or even a combination of these; in addition, you can get an induction cooktop. When choosing a range, you’ll want to look for controls located on the top front surface, and a lockout safety feature that allows you to disable the oven and burner controls (good for young children or adults with memory loss).

Select a model with a large, clear glass window and good interior lighting; this helps you see the food cooking without having to open the oven, an eco-friendly feature.

Rating the Safety of Cooking Technology

Wall Ovens

Microwave Ovens

Stove Range Hoods


As with any appliance, when it comes to dishwashers you want performance, energy efficiency and convenience. Dishwasher efficiency has improved dramatically in the past decade as new soil sensors determine both the wash cycle time and the water temperature needed to clean the dishes. And that’s not all. Better pumps, filtration systems, rotating jets and pressurized spray nozzles get dishes cleaner, with less water and — you’ll really appreciate this — with no prescrubbing. Some models even allow you to run a half load with less water, a real plus for someone living alone. Choose a dishwasher with a quiet motor that makes it possible for everyone to hold a conversation while the dishes are being washed. Now if only it came with robots to load the dishwasher!

The universal design approach is to install the dishwasher on a platform at a back-friendly height, about 9 inches (23 cm) from the floor. For increased storage space, you can install a drawer in the platform for seldom-used items. There is a trade-off, though: because the counter on top of the dishwasher will be higher than the adjacent one, you won’t be able to slide pots and pans across the countertop easily, an inconvenience when moving heavy pots. As always, choose what’s best for your situation.

<h3><span>Washers and Dryers</span></h3>

One of universal design’s main goals is to make life easier; so think about moving your washer and dryer into or near the kitchen. You can cook dinner and do a load of wash at the same time! Plus, you won’t have to walk up and down stairs to a basement to do the laundry.

Washers and dryers are now available in fun colors and in space-saving styles. If your washing machine is old, it’s probably a water hog; now is the time to replace it with an energy-efficient model that uses up to 50 percent less water and energy per load. You’ll save money in the long run. Front-loading appliances cost more than top loaders, but they clean better and are more energy efficient, too. When shopping for a dryer, choose one with a moisture-sensor option that automatically shuts off the machine when the clothes are dry. This eco-friendly feature saves energy and wear and tear on your clothes. To avoid having to bend with an armful of heavy, wet clothes, go for a frontloading washer or dryer that is placed on a simple platform to make the door higher. A pullout drawer placed in the platform makes a great storage space for seldom-used items.

'Revitalizing Your Home' by Rosemary Bakker (book cover)

Rosemary Bakker is the author of the AARP Guide to Revitalizing Your Home, which is available through Barnes & Noble. Bakker holds a master of science degree in gerontology and is a certified interior designer.

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