Selecting Appliances

Focus on features, capacity, energy efficiency, and cost when selecting appliances.

By Bob Vila | Updated Jul 30, 2020 3:48 PM

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Selecting Appliances


When researching and selecting appliances, keep a tally of a week’s usage to help you decide what capacity and features you really need from your new appliance. For washers or dryers, note the number of laundry loads. List particulars such as the number of bath towels or jeans, whether each wash was a full load, and if there was time wasted waiting between wash and dry cycles. Some models offer synchronized timing cycles, lower water usage, and even notification by remote when the load is finished.

For refrigerators, put a pad on the door and have family members log the items they were looking for, where they found them, and whether they were difficult to find. For stoves, keep a list of meals, reheats, microwave uses, and warming duties. Maybe your next stove should have a warming drawer or a greater selection of heat settings. When reviewing your dishwasher, note the number of loads, the capacity, type of dishes, and any problems getting items clean. Some dishwashers feature faster cycles or dual washing drawers for multiple loads.

Appliance Size and Features
When the week is done, review your use and determine which features are most important for your family. Having matching timing cycles on a washer and dryer can eliminate waiting for loads to finish. A larger-capacity washer or dryer can reduce the number of loads overall. A pullout freezer compartment may make more storage and accessibility sense for your family. Maybe it’s time to downsize the dishwasher or get a convection oven. A family with young children might choose appliances with safety features. An older household might select easy-to-reach controls and compartments. Analyze how you use your appliances before you start shopping.

Finally, add a gripe column and list frustrations with present or past appliances. A poorly designed lint trap on a clothes dryer, a stovetop without independent heating elements that required total replacement when one element failed, or loose seals on refrigerator doors can all drive you crazy. A loud dishwasher can prevent you from using the kitchen phone or helping with homework. When you buy new, make sure to correct past problems.

Definitely consider your available space before you select an appliance, because it won’t do you any good if it doesn’t fit. Measure your available space and include footprint, height, and width. Measure the doorswing or space needed to fully open doors, drawers, or lids. Decide if it must be right-handed or left-handed because of counters or obstructions. Determine how the appliance will be ventilated and how much clearance is needed. And don’t forget to size your openings before you get the appliance home. Measure hallways, stairways, and door openings to ensure the appliance can pass through.

Judging Appliance Efficiency
Part of the problem in comparing models is that they can look alike outside but have major differences inside. Motors, compressors, insulation, and electronic sensors are the real brawn and brains of any appliance, so it’s important to find a source of information that will sift through it all.

Efficiency plays a bigger role in consumer decisions as the cost of utilities rises. Appliances, after all, account for about 20 percent of a household’s energy consumption, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Larry Costello, of Sears Holdings, says consumers now list efficiency in water used and energy consumed as second only to performance when deciding to buy an appliance. Refrigerators, clothes washers, and clothes dryers are the top consumers of energy and resources.

EnergyGuide and Energy Star are appliance labels that offer energy-related appliance information to consumers. The EnergyGuide lists features, capacity, and model. It estimates annual energy consumption or efficiency, compares it with similar models, and suggests an estimated yearly operating cost. The cost estimate, however, will vary depending on local utility rates and how the appliance is used—things like partial dishwasher loads will be inefficient with any model. Energy Star is a certification program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy Star recognition signifies that the appliance has been tested and meets standards for energy efficiency, making it significantly more energy efficient than comparable models.

In communities with tighter water restrictions, wise use of resources is also a factor. For example, Energy Star dishwashers consider the “water factor.” That is a measurement of the gallons of water used per cycle per cubic foot. The lower the water factor, the less water used. Appliance manufacturers are responding with washers and dishwashers that are cutting water use in half.

True-Cost Calculations
Consumers know that cost is more than purchase price. The cost to operate and maintain an appliance must be calculated over time. Since refrigerators can last an average of 13 years; dishwashers, about 11 years; and clothes washers, about 9 years, costs add up.

Two refrigerators may have the same capacity, but one may use 600 kilowatt-hours per year and the other 800. That difference may equal $20 in saving over one year and $260 or more over the life of the refrigerator. Rising energy costs could make the savings even more significant.