Really, my stove does not need wifi
October 19, 2013 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to have to replace my kitchen appliances at some point, so I browse the interweb late at night to see what is out there. I'm dismayed at the universality of high-tech interfaces on mid- to high-end appliances, by which I mean panels with LEDs and buttons that beep, and are both fragile and expensive to replace; kosher fridges that I just know will malfunction and leave my food in the dark every Saturday; programming functions on my dishwasher that will require me to go back to school to understand. What other options are out there?

I'm not a Luddite, and I've got no problem with computers, smart phones, etc. I can see the value in technology, and embrace it.

But I've read that many of the computer panels on dishwashers, for example, fail about 20 seconds after the warranty expires because they're exposed to all that steam, and they're $300 to replace. I'd like to avoid this kind of waste, expense, and nuisance. I'd like a modern, mid- to high-end set of appliances that aren't high-tech -- that have knobs, not beeping buttons; that don't glow in the dark; that can be repaired instead of replaced as they age; that will not be obsolete before Apple comes out with a new iPhone model.

Besides the archetypical Aga (which just will not fit in my kitchen without a full remodel), what are my options?
posted by Capri to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Assuming you are in the US (and have gas, not electric): We have a DCS stove like this one. It's got knobs you turn and switches you push. It's a workhorse that's given us zero trouble in ten-ish years.

The dishwasher is a Kenmore, with controls like the ones on this model and it has also (knock wood) not given a lick of trouble in ten-ish years.

(I also lusted after an Aga, but the feeling went away when I thought about how we would have to reinforce the floor so it wouldn't fall through and crush our downstairs neighbors.)
posted by rtha at 11:02 AM on October 19, 2013

Broadly speaking, I think, the alternative is prosumer and professional-level stuff.
posted by box at 11:07 AM on October 19, 2013

Get commercial stuff.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:09 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

The easiest thing is to just look at cheaper appliances. They have fewer features, which means fewer circuits to go out. I'm afraid that LED/microswitch type controls are here to stay, because they're probably cheaper to make that the older electromechanical controls.

I also think you're probably processing a lot of horror stories, because consumer electronics comments, reviews, etc. tend to focus on the failures (why else would someone come back and comment on their stove they bought 2 years ago). The fact is, we've owned a number of formerly new-fangled stoves, microwaves, etc. with the plastic lighty kind of controls, and they're holding up fine. We started to have trouble with our stove, which was about 15 years old, and probably the contractor-grade job that came with the house. We mentioned it to some neighbors, and they said they had a stove, probably ALSO 15 years old and came with THEIR house, and it was in the garage because they wanted to switch to gas. Would we be interested? Otherwise it was just going to go to the curb.

We got a handtruck, rolled it down the sidewalk, and plugged it in. It's a stop-gap, because we still want a little bit better stove and the cosmetics are a bit off, but those plastic light-up panels are actually worn through and yet all the essential controls still work.

Another data point - bought a mid-range dishwasher for a house we lived in, and now rent out. Typical light-up electronic controls. It's doing fine, going on 5 years old.

I never worked on consumer kitchen appliances, but in an earlier life I worked on similar kind of electromechancial gadgets, only commercial. Trust me, the knobs may seem more solid, but inside the guts are kind of a Rube Goldberg compared to modern solid-state logic circuits.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:14 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

You'll only be seeing more automation in home appliances, not less. The driver is demand-side management (aka "smart grid"): if you can power appliances only when electricity is cheapest while still meeting the user's needs, it reduces consumer's costs. Utilities are having to rely much less on power sales for revenue as energy efficiency and distributed generation become more prevalent, and they are looking at ways of managing loads inside the home.

That's why modern appliances have wifi, NFC and bluetooth. Your freedom to run your appliance at any time also will come with the freedom to pay the prevailing spot rate for power.
posted by scruss at 11:23 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

We had the same problem when we were tracking down a 30" gas range a couple years ago -- the pricier ranges skip the digital cruft that's beepy and hard to clean, but they're pricier.

When we were looking, Viking had just begun marketing a range in the upper-mid tier of the market. Wolf has entered, too, I think.

We opted for a GE Cafe range (despite the electronic doo-dads), because it offered the most stovetop space for big pots and pans (the Electrolux was terrible in this regard), which matters when you're trying to get a holiday meal on the table.

Fingers crossed that the control panel has a long, uneventful life.

It seems most of the online retailers have stopped including price on their product pages ("Call for our BEST PRICE!"). Visit a local appliance retailer and tell the sales staff what you're after, and why.
posted by notyou at 11:52 AM on October 19, 2013

You likely won't have a problem with the control panel going out. We got all new appliances when we bought our house 3+ years ago and all of them have displays and buttons and all of them work fine. The washer had some problems with the electronics, but they were fixed under warranty, and it has been fine since. (I don't think it was a malfunction per se, I think it was simply bad programming that was later updated.)

We also had problem with the fridge but it was a blocked freezer drain, not the electronics.

On the other hand, you know the plastic cover that goes on the front of the range hood to prevent it from venting into the room? A dead simple piece of plastic, no electronics at all. It fell off in like three months. Fortunately it's a cheap piece of plastic and easy to replace... but still. Simple isn't always more reliable.

Remember, online you'll only hear complaints from people who have had problems. People who haven't had any problems don't go online to complain.
posted by kindall at 11:58 AM on October 19, 2013

Best answer: If you don't want to buy vintage refurbished, there's new made to look like vintage ("Big Chill") which are seemingly pretty straightforward and low-beep.

(I have a lovely gas stove that is just old enough to make expensive repairs a dodgy proposition, but it is just new enough to have the problem be the bleeping electronics panel. Which is 'old' as electronics go so no repair place wants to fix it for me. I am in complete agreement with your thoughts about appliance design...)
posted by kmennie at 12:11 PM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you pay enough, you can get commercial-grade appliances that don't have much in the way of fragile electronic gadgetry. In the case of commercial stoves, it's not uncommon for them to have zero electronics, and still use old-school pilot lights and bimetallic strip thermostats. (Unfortunately they may be illegal to install without a real vent hood too... but you wanted a vent hood anyway, right?)

Of course, really cheap stoves are like that too, but they're unpleasant to use for other reasons.

It's unfortunately the mid-market that's been taken over by overly-complicated, fragile, impossible-to-fix, designed-for-obsolescence crap. You have to either buy very low-end and be okay with the general jankiness or be prepared to shell out quite a bit for the high-end stuff that's designed to be used day after day for years and has been stripped down to the bare minimum as a result. Luckily, restaurant equipment lasts a lot longer than the average restaurant does, so there's a huge secondary market. In most cities you should be able to find used equipment dealers. I'd start there, rather than at an appliance store, if you're serious.

What I'd suggest you avoid is "fake commercial" ... that is the tendency of residential appliances to look like commercial stuff but not really be any different from mid- or even low-grade residential appliances under the skin. E.g. putting stainless-steel cladding and big red knobs on a regular residential stove doesn't make it "commercial". There you are just getting the worst of both worlds: the price of actual commercial equipment but with the quality, longevity, and difficulty of repair that comes with residential equipment. (But it's shiny and morons buyers really like it, so if you're trying to sell your house it's what you basically need to equip it with to be competitive. Along with the absolute cheapest granite countertops you can find. *sigh*)

Fridges are even worse. There's no such thing as a "commercial" fridge with a little compartment for butter; if you see that (or glass shelves, or an integrated ice maker), what you're looking at is an overpriced residential fridge with stainless steel skin. However, actual commercial refrigerators are expensive enough — and due to their size, expensive to run — so that it's probably not worth it, even though the lifespan of a residential refrigerator will be shorter and it probably won't be worth repairing when it inevitably fails. However, if your refrigeration requirements are such that you'd need more than 1 large residential fridge (e.g. you're up to 2+ regular standup fridges), then it might make more sense to get a real commercial standup fridge. Refrigeration, just as a general rule, scales up very well in terms of efficiency, so one large fridge is probably better than two smaller ones, if you're going to be running both of them all the time. Again, if you want to go that route, your best bet is probably to look at used restaurant equipment from a retailer who specializes in it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:20 PM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I had a washing machine that had an LED display that kept going wrong (until the engineer was called out and it'd start working again, naturally). But he explained to me that a front-loading washing machine has a big block of concrete inside to stop it from jumping all over the floor when it's on the spin cycle. LEDs don't play well with that and regularly crap out from the vibration.

So when I replaced the machine I bought one with a dial you turn to set the programme rather than a fancy push-button LED display.
posted by essexjan at 12:25 PM on October 19, 2013

a front-loading washing machine has a big block of concrete inside to stop it from jumping all over the floor when it's on the spin cycle

This is not hard to believe. Commercial front-loading washers come in two variations: "hardmount" and "softmount". The hardmount versions have to be bolted to the floor, softmount are freestanding. But the softmount ones are significantly heavier, presumably because of the ballast they need to not 'walk' away.

I've never seen a residential washer in a hardmount version (maybe RV / marine ones?), but if you could get one it would probably be very light.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:09 PM on October 19, 2013

Honestly? Go to a store like Sears and explore the range of what is there. It's much easier to get a feel for what controls are like, their sturdiness, and their usability when you are there in person. The interwebs are probably skewing your options more toward high-tech for high-tech's sake.
posted by Smells of Detroit at 1:59 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my experience of US market white goods, Kenmore universally has the simplest range of appliances. There are few dishwashers simpler to operate. The electric stoves have a minimum of cruft; the gas and duel fuel ones, even less. And it is very possible to buy fridge freezers with no bells or whistles at all. They come in a variety of sizes, styles and price points and the customer service is excellent.

FWIW, we bought a very inexpensive dishwasher 5 years ago with buttons and an LED display for countdown. It performs great, is way past warranty and nothing has ever broken.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:04 PM on October 19, 2013

The downside of truly commercial appliances -- as opposed to the "professional" branding designed for yuppies that Kadin2048 discusses -- is often noise and power consumption: working kitchens are very different environments from home ones.
posted by holgate at 5:02 PM on October 19, 2013

Can you afford a Sunfrost fridge?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:03 PM on October 19, 2013

I've had far better luck with Kenmore appliances than with any other--the low-end Kenmore stove I bought for House the Original, thirteen years ago, is still going strong (for the tenants), and works far better than the fancier stove that came with House the Sequel. Same with my basic Kenmore w/d.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:25 PM on October 19, 2013

The GE Artistry line has a really basic range and fridge. The matching dishwasher has a hidden electronic panel, so that may not suit your needs.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:06 PM on October 19, 2013

After having to replace the electronic control module, not once, but twice on our last range, we bought one of these Premier Pro models. Does what it needs to do, made in America, and reasonably priced. My only initial negative impression of it was that it doesn't have that thick braided seal around the oven door you see on most new ovens, and instead has a older style rubber seal. Can't say I've noticed any lower performance because of it though.
posted by spudsilo at 9:54 PM on October 19, 2013

I would not recommend an actual commercial stove. There will be many expensive regulations as to fireproofing, venting, etc. There are, however, plenty of commercial style stoves that are properly insulated, etc. for home use but still have high-BTU open burners and minimal electronics.
posted by slkinsey at 7:43 AM on October 20, 2013

Instead of trading on anecdotal evidence, which is what you typically find on the internet (website reviews, forum discussion posts, etc....), I suggest looking up product test results from Consumer Reports. Their content online is paywalled but your public library will usually have a copy of their Buying Guide which have objective test results as well as information about the overall reliability of a particular brand. They also give you information for a range of models across price points so you can make an informed decision before making a big purchase.

From what I remember glancing at the stove reviews in the 2012 edition of the Consumer Reports Buyers Guide, GE brand ranges scored well in terms of reliability, however, the "prosumer" ranges (even the ones that look low-tech) from the usual brands (Wolf, Viking, DCS, etc.) were not that reliable.
posted by scalespace at 1:36 PM on October 20, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all. My fear of electronic controls comes from experience, not just web reviews, and I also hate the infernal beeping. I'm still thinking of getting an Aga (luckily there's a I-beam, literally, right where it would go. I'll just need to redo all the cabinets on that side of the kitchen to make room for its great width). If not, I like the DCS stove and the Big Chill fridge. I'm entirely unlikely to embrace this rush to computerize kitchen appliances, although I can't rule out a head injury in my future.
posted by Capri at 9:33 AM on October 21, 2013

« Older More reading material, please   |   Where can I find good drum machine programs to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.