Kitchen appliance anxiety
January 13, 2014 8:13 AM   Subscribe

It's time for another big grown-up milestone: new kitchen appliances. And I'm paralyzed by the thought of making the wrong decisions.

Our current kitchen set-up is: electric stove/vent hood original to the house (late 1980s), bottom-of-the-line fridge (a little over 10 years old), and mid-level dishwasher (about 10 years old). We want to re-do the whole shebang. I'm kind of irrationally drawn to the GE slate series, but I want to be smart and not swayed by esthetics. I'd like to stick to new, brand-name items, not the cheapest but not the fanciest, and keep the whole budget (including install/delivery/whatever) around $5,000 if possible. I'm not averse to mixing-and-matching if that's the best solution. (Not concerned about resale value.)

Specific questions:

The house is a cheaply built 1980s townhouse. Are we going to have issues with wiring? Should we have someone come in and check first?

I'm wary of the smooth cooktop stoves, but that seems to be our only option if we want convection or anything above the most basic level. How hard is it to keep them clean, really? How easy it it to damage them?

Our current basic fridge does not have ice or water attachments. I heard many different answers asking if a water line could be installed from the sink from "no problem" to "you have to call a plumber."

Is there a real difference in where you buy? Everyone seems equally fond of small print and hidden costs, and you can find online horror stories about everyone as well.

Extended warranty. I was brought up to think they were nothing but scams, but...should we get one? Maybe just for the stove and/or fridge?

Any and all advice appreciated! We are located in the DC metro area if that makes a difference.
posted by JoanArkham to Home & Garden (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For purchases this big, I'd pay for a subscription to Consumer Reports.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:25 AM on January 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Wiring: If your house was built in the 1980s it's probably mostly ok. Fridge probably needs a regular old plug, though maybe 20 amp. Stove would need a 220 volt plug. Chances are the one there is good but some stoves need a recessed outlet in order to be flush against the wall.

The dishwasher might need an accessible kill switch.

If I were you I'd pull the current stuff away from the wall, take pictures of the plugs (or wiring), and check your breaker box to find out how many amps they are. Take this information to the store and they'll tell you if you need any upgrades.

Glass top: I love mine. Pretty easy to clean after cooking and every once in a while you can go over it with some special cleaner and/or a razor blade to get off any burnt-on stuff. Did I mention I love mine? I love mine. I use cast iron on it all the time with nary a scratch.

Ice/Water: Do you have a basement or access to a cold water pipe? Home Depot or your local appliance store will sell a kit to tap into a cold water pipe. I installed one once and it was pretty simple. You just need access to a pipe and be willing to install a thing that will literally punch a hole in said pipe. Some folks might tell you that's a flood waiting to happen. I had no problem with mine. Your appliance guy might be willing to install this. To me it's overkill to hire a plumber if the kit will work but a plumber might be willing to do a more thorough job.

Where to buy: In my experience local appliance shops will be more willing to go the extra mile if, say, they need to cut a hole to plumb the dishwasher or arrange for an electrician to wire something. The delivery guy from Best Buy probably won't be willing to do anything but swap out the appliances.

Extended warranty: Generally I don't think they're worth it but I'm also willing to fix things myself when I can.
posted by bondcliff at 8:27 AM on January 13, 2014

We have a glass cooktop, and having come from a house of electric stoves, I find them easier to clean. You do need to be careful about heavy objects on them, though - my brother in law stood on his to reach something above the stove and broke it. :)

Having a hand-me-down cheap-o fridge, I would say, in lieu of ice-maker and whatnot, consider your freezer space instead. Drawers at the bottom of the fridge are much nicer than a compartment at the top.
posted by LN at 8:27 AM on January 13, 2014

Aren't cast iron pans a no go on these glass cooktops? Seems like that would be a deal breaker for some folks.
posted by thelonius at 8:28 AM on January 13, 2014

Have used cast iron on mine for seven years with no issue, theolonius. It's all good.
posted by LN at 8:29 AM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I also love my glass cooktop and use cast iron on it with no issues. So much easier to clean than electric coil or gas!

Seconding Consumer Reports. Personally, I buy Kenmore appliances from Sears which are rebadged brand-name appliances and last forever. I've heard/read that Bosch makes the best dishwashers though.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:32 AM on January 13, 2014

Unless you bake a lot, the refrigerator/freezer uses the most energy and has the largest carbon footprint of your kitchen appliances. So what you might do is first decide on the most energy efficient refrigerator/freezer that suits your needs and then build around around that.
posted by three blind mice at 8:36 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Our coil stove died this summer and we got a glass top. I was pretty skeptical but I actually really like it. Easy to clean, and when it isn't on it can serve as additional counter space (to a degree). Whirlpool brand seems to be pretty reliable in our experience.

As for fridge, our fridge died last january so we had to get a new one. We didn't have water/ice dispenser in our old one and we opted not to get it in our new one. It just felt unnecessary and was just one more thing that could break. The make or break for our new fridge was the door shelves. They are fully adjustable, they are sturdy, and they were "bucket" like so that if anything spilled it would just stay in that one shelf instead of getting all over everything. (I had this happen with hotsauce once... never again...)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:38 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aren't cast iron pans a no go on these glass cooktops? Seems like that would be a deal breaker for some folks.

The biggest issue with cast iron on a flat top is that a lot of cast iron skillets have slightty convex bottoms, making the skillet roll-around and not sit flat. Obviously, making sure your cast iron have flat bottoms is a must.

Also, owing to the weight, there is always a greater chance of cracking the glass top if you handle the iron pan less than carefully.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:39 AM on January 13, 2014

Speaking of energy-efficiency, ask about rebates. A lot of states have rebate programs that will give you cash for replacing old appliances with newer, more efficient ones. We got a couple hundred bucks back when we replaced our fridge.
posted by bondcliff at 8:39 AM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, if you're getting a glass-top range, get yourself one of these. There is nothing better for removing dried/burned-on stuff on a glass top.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on January 13, 2014

Is a gas cooktop out of the picture? Because, while I agree that glass-top stoves are much easier to clean (and not any worse than standard electric cooktops), I was very happy to move away from a glass-topped electric stove to even a cheap gas cooktop. Our (current) nice gas stove is even better and there's no way I'd go back (even with the added pain of cleaning). I don't have experience with convection, but I'm never going back to electric cooktops if I can help it.

Call me paranoid, but I would call a plumber in to get you a proper water line to your fridge. There are few things that I wouldn't do DIY with, but punching holes in pipes is where I draw the line.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:46 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm wary of the smooth cooktop stoves, but that seems to be our only option if we want convection or anything above the most basic level. How hard is it to keep them clean, really? How easy it it to damage them?

Cleaning: lots easier than the usual thing where you have to scrub heat-encrusted food drips out of awkward spots between burners. You just wipe it clean, like a counter-top.

Damage: we got one of these when they first hit the market in the early 90s, and when we sold the house in 2000-2001 it was still in perfect condition despite an active family with four kids. My dad has one in his current house which was installed in the early 90s when the house was built, and it's still in perfect condition ~20 years later. My dad and stepmother are a little easier on appliances now that they're empty nesters, but the house was built for a large family, and they moved into the house when my younger brothers were teenagers.

My only thing about the ceramic cooktops is that they suck compared to gas. But if you're not looking to replace your electric stove with gas, that's a nonissue.
posted by Sara C. at 8:46 AM on January 13, 2014

I used to sell these (appliances, that is). The GE vendor was just the nicest person... the GE products were hit and miss. If the slate finish is the "it LOOKS like stainless" finish, it isn't particularly new. It does clean up more easily than basic stainless finishes (because it doesn't fingerprint, because it's just paint) but I never really liked the way it looked, or felt.

For a dishwasher, look for a stainless steel interior, and these days you can probably get a sanitizing cycle relatively cheaply. Bosch and Miele are indeed good brands, but sadly enough, the repair times (should you ever need one) are often quite long, since the parts are sometimes shipped from outside North America. They also may be out of your price range, if you want to stick to $5k for the package.

For a stove, your other option is dual-fuel; gas top, electric oven. If you have gas in at all. As well, other people have said this but I will reiterate: dropping a cast iron pan on the glass countertop can crack and chip it. Replacing them is expensive. Also, if you like to caramelize things, the molten sugar can apparently eat right through the top and should be removed immediately if you drip it on there. (From the vendor's mouth, folks.)

For a fridge, I'm fond of the french-door bottom-freezer style, because it doesn't require as much clearance for the door swing - if you get an ice-water machine in the door, you'll lose an entire side of storage, so keep that in mind. Call a plumber to put the line in; most delivery personnel can attach the water line but not install one.

Best advice? Go to a real store and test them out. Play with the shelves, pull the racks in and out, see how it feels. The ergonomics can vary pretty wildly between brands - I loved the GE Profile but didn't really care for the entry level GE. Avoid Maytag. Whirlpool is not bad. I dunno if I'd buy from Sears - the company doesn't seem to be doing very well at the moment, awkward if you need warranty service down the road.

Things they may throw in: free delivery, extended warranty, discounts. 10% off is a pretty good deal; 25% off is an awesome deal.
posted by Nyx at 8:51 AM on January 13, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I would love a gas stove but that's not an option. I don't have any cast iron cookware right now, so that's not really an issue. I mostly use the cooktop for thing like boiling water for vegetables or pasta, or maybe making soup. The oven is mostly for baking, sometimes roasting veggies.

I dunno if I'd buy from Sears - the company doesn't seem to be doing very well at the moment, awkward if you need warranty service down the road.

I had that thought about Best Buy as well. We did our first round of IRL shopping yesterday: a smaller local chain (Bray and Scarff) - not a great selection and didn't seem too interested in our business since we weren't doing a full reno, Lowe's which had a really crappy selection and clueless service, and HH Gregg which had the best service and in store selection but still felt kind of...hard sell? Maybe that's just the nature of the thing though.

My office has a subscription to Consumer Reports but it's hard to actually track down a current issue. I may do the one-month subscription just to access the ratings.
posted by JoanArkham at 9:08 AM on January 13, 2014

Aren't cast iron pans a no go on these glass cooktops?

My dad uses his all the time.
posted by Sara C. at 9:09 AM on January 13, 2014

Measure everything, ESPECIALLY your fridge. Buy so that you have enough room around the fridge because it needs to breathe. Also, doors are reversable. I live in an apartment and life would be grand if the fridge opened from the left side, instead of the right.

Most appliances are going to be fine, with no hassle. Don't buy a better line of appliances than your home can support. If you spend $5,000 on appliances in a $200,000 home, you'll never get it back.

I used to recommend the Sears Outlet, but my sister is having a NIGHTMARE expereince with them, so I don't recommend them anymore.

Go to your favorite big-box dealer and see what their deals are. I'm thinking Home Depot or Lowes. Ask for a 10% discount (or go to the post office for the "moving packet" it includes a 10% off coupon) and free delivery. Better yet, discuss your options for all appliances and then ask, "So, since I'm buying all of this here, what can you do for me?"

I've had great luck with Whirlpool/Kitchenaid appliances. I've found GE stuff to be noisy and not as long lasting. YMMV.

I will recommend convection ovens. I miss mine, baking and roasting in one is a dream!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:12 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check your library for consumer reports. If you log into my local library (in the library it self, or via your library card remotely), you can freely access CR's online archives etc.

Sorry gas isn't an option, since that's all I'll ever suggest ;) (5+ days w/o power, but I can still cook and brew coffee..)
posted by k5.user at 9:13 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't buy from HH Gregg! We did in our house in Nashville and every single item was scratched and/or dented. I had two other friends who had the same experience.

I bought my last load of appliances at Lowe's and got fine deals!

My mom bought the very first Corningwear stove in 1971. I can't even find a picture of one on line. But, it lasted for DECADES and as long as you cleaned it when it was cold, every night, it was pretty clean and easy to maintain.

So if you like a flat surface, go for it!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:16 AM on January 13, 2014

Try M&M Appliances for more personalized service and advice than the big box stores and someplace that will be happy to talk with you even if you aren't spending $20,000 on your McMansion (unlike Bray and Scarff). You can always price check and if they end up charging a ridiculous premium you could go with a big box, but my impression based on limited experience is that they will charge a bit more but that the service will be worth it.

For info and reviews on other local retailers, spring the $28 for a subscription to Washington Consumer Checkbook (in addition to Consumer Reports). Compared to the $5000 budget, not a big expense.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:19 AM on January 13, 2014

I will speak only to the icemaker question: Pull your fridge out (you'll want to do this to measure and vacuum behind the current one anyway) and see if there's anything like a water line sticking out of the floor, the wall, or the nearest cabinet side. It might be a small copper or flexible tubing pipe. It might be a tiny little spigot. If you don't see an actual line, do you see any small (probably about the diameter of a pencil) holes from which such a thing might emerge?

If no, then you are probably going to have to have a water line run to the fridge from the nearest water source, which could be the kitchen sink but could also be a bathroom or laundry room if there's a close or shared wall. The complexity of that job will depend on the route. (In a 1980s construction, I would fully expect an icemaker line. It was hardly a novelty at that point.)

Get a plumber out to give you an estimate, before you make a decision, if there's not a water line already there. If it's just going to be an insane project, maybe you decide you can live with store or tray ice and don't need in-door water and ice. (However, if you felt this might be a future project, you can dump a bag of ice in an icemaker bucket and it will dispense out the dispenser. I did that for about a year and did not hate it.)
posted by Lyn Never at 9:55 AM on January 13, 2014

I recommend an induction range like this one.

I think it does make a difference where you buy appliances. In the Chicagoland area, we have ABT. They are really trustworthy and returns are easy if you are not satisfied. I'm guessing there's a DC equivalent, so I recommend asking co-workers are friends. I would shy away from big box stores since I don't get the impression that they care about individual customers.

I would wait to decide on the extended warranty. You can get an extended warranty as long as your initial warranty is still in effect (so you'll have at least a year to decide). I avoid the extended warranties in most cases. Instead of paying for extended warranties, I recommend putting the money you would have spent on the warranties into a unused savings account. That way, if something does break, you'll have the money to fix it.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't forget a good ventilation system for the kitchen.
posted by conrad53 at 10:15 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, right. We currently have a hood that vents to the outside, likely original along with the oven. We may wait on replacing that if we go with the slate though, as they don't currently have a hood in that color. Or maybe we'd go with stainless.
posted by JoanArkham at 10:23 AM on January 13, 2014

Something I don't think I've seen mentioned that you should look out for is that it is really hard to compare appliances between stores. The manufacturers have complex model numbering schemes that I think are designed with this in mind. So there may be very similar (or even the same) fridges at two separate stores with completely different model numbers. Makes the internet research and price matching difficult and/or impossible.
posted by Big_B at 10:42 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's true that different stores may have different model numbers (Sears is noted for this) but you should actually be able to match appliance models between stores if it's not a store brand or "EXCLUSIVELY AT BOB'S APPLIANCE"-type deal.

I used to pricematch appliances quite a bit. Look at the manufacturer's website, walk into the big box store and ask for the model. They will either have it on the floor, or they'll be able to order it (most likely).

Oh, and whoever said "measure" - yes, THIS. Also measure your doorways and hallways, because the delivery guys don't bring sawzalls. If the door does not have a water/ice supply, it may be removed for wiggle room, but if it does, it can't. Usually. And inspect whatever you receive very carefully on delivery - I know it's rough to carry appliances in, but really, you want your stuff to be beaten up by you, not the truck.
posted by Nyx at 11:38 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having had two family members go through icemaker line breakages and floods that required extensive clean-up, I'm anti-icemaker. You can get better lines and shutoff valves than are often supplied, but it's still a fairly vulnerable bit of plumbing, and if you're going to do it, it's worth doing properly.

Most appliances are going to be fine enough. Up-front money on a more efficient fridge will pay itself back to some degree in your electricity bill.
posted by holgate at 11:43 AM on January 13, 2014

Read the reviews here: The Sweet Home
posted by defcom1 at 12:04 PM on January 13, 2014

My wife and I just went through literally this exact thing when we bought our '80s townhouse in the DC area a couple of months ago!

We bought Kenmore appliances: a French door fridge with the freezer on the bottom, a glass top stove/convection oven, and an over-the-stove microwave, about on the middle-to-high end of the line, for about $2800. The experience of buying at Sears was fine, but delivery was annoying. I know people who got a new stove from Best Buy and their experience was about the same.

Regardless of who you go with, make very sure when you get stuff delivered that you either get them to take the old stuff in advance or make other arrangements to get rid of it. It was annoying to suddenly figure out how to get rid of a stove. Also if you go with Sears and have a mounted microwave they will not remove the old one or install the new one. Just a word of warning - that procedure took a whole day, because the old one was built like a tank.

As for our new glass cooktop, it's okay. I wasn't happy about it at all at first, but I've come around a bit. Coming from gas in our old place was a big adjustment. The main thing that takes some getting used to is that heat changes are much slower, so it takes a long time to heat the surface and then a long time to cool it down.

For the fridge - we actually haven't gotten our water line hooked up yet, but we were quoted about $300 when we first were trying to get it done. For us it would require punching through a wall and into piping in the bathroom, so a plumber or a general contractor/handyman service seems like it would be prudent.

Anyway, good luck! Feel free to MeMail me if you have any specific questions about installation or anything.
posted by malthas at 12:28 PM on January 13, 2014

Consider that brands are now coming out with "luxury" lines that are white and/or colors, and no longer stainless or stainless-lookalike. If these are the last appliances you'll buy for a long time, I suggest white.

Stainless is going to look dated really soon [citation needed] and like pink bathrooms and avocado refrigerators, we'll wonder "What were we thinking?"

I also have a gas-only range (1957 model) and love it. I would be very sad to go back to electric. I've formerly had a flat-top electric and thought it was awful. They must be a lot better now, considering the other responses.
posted by fritley at 1:18 PM on January 13, 2014

If you can at all wait, you might consider buying your appliances at Thanksgiving. We just bought a house and (purely coincidentally) needed to buy a fridge, dishwasher and washer/dryer right around the Thanksgiving weekend. The sales were insanely good. We got a top line fridge and dishwasher, a high capacity washer/dryer set and a (throw it on the pile why not?) upright freezer for a little over $5500. Without the sales and additional instant rebates and additional money back from Home Depot for buying so much at one time, it would easily have cost upwards of $8000.
posted by marylynn at 4:16 PM on January 14, 2014

Response by poster: Update: I managed to score the most recent 5 issues of Consumer Reports through my library at work, and based on those ratings and what people have been saying here I think we're going to take a look at the Kenmore appliances at Sears before we decide for sure. Even if Sears tanks I suspect there will be enough of them out there that I'll be able to find people willing to repair Kenmores for a while. I'd most likely not go with an extended warranty in that case.

I sure do like the look of those fancy slate GE ones though. The heart vs. the head.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:36 AM on January 15, 2014

Response by poster: Final update:

We went with all Kenmore appliances from Sears. The sales guy at the Sears we went to wasn't the best - he wasn't able to describe differences in models and was completely flummoxed by the actual ordering process for some reason - but we had done so much research beforehand we basically just went in, took a look, and bought them.

We received no deals and no discounts, beyond getting them at the sale price. This kind of annoyed me, as we were purchasing 4 high-ticket items at the same time.

Installation was a mixed bag. The stove and refrigerator were fine, guys came on time and it went well. The hood and dishwasher needed special installation - those guys were 2 hours late and left screws all over my carpet. We decided to splurge and get a water line installed for the fridge which was yet another appointment - those guys showed up without the kit needed to actually install anything. Apparently that's yet another tacked on charge (beyond the $130 for the line install, $10 a piece for haul-away, $60 for the dishwasher kit, etc.). Then they asked me if they could take my credit card (!) to Home Depot to buy one. I kind of flipped my shit and then the "found" one in the van, and charged me for it via credit card.

Once I called Sears and told them all this they refunded the installation charges, so they get a plus for customer service there.

The appliances themselves seem to be working fine, although I'm still nervous about that flat electric cooktop. The convection oven is great!

Final verdict: Sears worked out ok in the end, but I wish I had known the true cost of everything while comparison shopping. Be sure to add up all the nickles-and-dimes.
posted by JoanArkham at 9:01 AM on February 10, 2014

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