CKBR: Selecting Appliances

by Kacey Larsen

Last month, we began the discussion about kitchen remodeling materials with cabinets. This month we will discuss appliances, which after cabinetry represent the second most expensive component of the kitchen remodel.

Cooktops, Ovens, Warming Drawers and Ranges

Cooking is the purpose of the kitchen, so choosing equipment that enables the homeowner to cook should be based on practical considerations. The question of which appliance or appliance combination best suits the workspace and the owners’ cooking style can be determined using a systematic approach.

First, choose between residential and commercial equipment. Next, select the appliance style: built-in, dropped in or slide in. Then, specify the type of ventilation system and determine whether the heat source is gas or electric. And finally, the method of heat transference: convection, conduction or radiation.


Refrigerators are available in a number of styles and sizes. With advances in technology, the placement of refrigerator/freezer systems allows more flexibility for the designer but may bring challenges for the installer. The selection of the refrigerator must be completed before the cabinets are ordered to ensure proper cabinet selection and placement.

Most refrigerators require a minimum space between 1 and 2 inches above them to allow for proper compressor ventilation. In addition, the bottoms of these units need to be kept free of obstructions, as airflow restrictions can severely reduce the life of the refrigerator. As a general rule, separate refrigerator/freezer combinations take more space than a combo.

Side-by-side refrigerator/freezers have become very popular. Many have water and/or ice dispensers built-in on the door. If the homeowner intends to use a refrigerator with one of these built-in dispensers, be sure to plumb a water supply to a location near the refrigerator. Side-by-sides will also reduce the amount of door projection into the kitchen, but the doors tend to block access to the countertops on both sides of the refrigerator.

Built-in refrigerators are becoming more available. The units are typically 24 inches deep and tend to be much wider than standard-depth refrigerators to hold a comparable-size food load. The upside to these units is that panels can be installed that enable the refrigerator to match the kitchen cabinets. The price of built-in refrigerators is typically higher than a comparable standard unit, but using built-ins can have a dramatic impact on the kitchen.

The cabinet above a refrigerator should be 24 inches deep to optimize the storage space usage. It is recommended that you measure the physical unit before ordering. Refrigerators that support the use of wood panel inserts require you to exercise care when matching the inserts to the cabinet panel. If the color or grain do not match, it can cause a distraction.

Modular units have appeared on the market recently and enable refrigerators to be placed next to the location where their contents will be used. The inclusion of modular refrigerators must be planned at the design phase. When installing these units, be sure to note all clearances and safety precautions listed in a manufacturer’s installation instructions.

Food Disposal

Like most appliances, the price range of disposals will vary. Lower-end disposals tend to have less power and are very noisy. Higher-quality products have a better level of sound dampening and tend to have larger motors and cavity capacity.  Determine if noise is a consideration and estimate the amount of waste clients will create. Check local code concerning disposals; some communities may require disposals while others may not allow them. If disposals are used with septic systems, more frequent maintenance of the septic system may be required.

If a disposal is more than three years old, it should be replaced. Typically if a disposal is removed and left in a non-operational state for a few weeks, the seals will dry and metal bearings may rust, causing the device to fail when reinstalled.


Dishwashers are energy- and time-saving devices that most clients want installed. Usually a dishwasher is positioned as a built-in next to the sink and wired to its own electrical circuit, or shared only with a disposal. Factors  to consider in the selection of dishwashers are the level of noise generated, the best location based on use, and how it will be concealed.

New, high-tech dishwashers reflect the move to modularization, as they can be mounted in a stacked, pull-out drawer combination or as a side-by-side system. In a smaller kitchen, single drawer models can be used. Modular dishwashers require special cabinets for installation, and mounting must conform to manufacturers’ specifications. For homeowners with back problems or who are wheelchair-bound, the modular dishwasher may be lifted higher off the floor for ease of use.

Appliance Disposal

If you will be responsible for disposal of used appliances, ensure adherence to proper precautions. Some contractors donate working appliances to local charities and provide the receipt to the client. Others sell them to
scrapyards. |QR

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