Kitchen remodeling: Appliances

Wooden toolbox filled with tools

A kitchen isn't really a kitchen without appliances.

But finding the right type with the right look takes some thought and planning.

If you regularly prepare gourmet meals for a crowd, you'll almost certainly want larger more versatile appliances than if your idea of cooking is warming up a favorite take-out dinner.

Stainless steel is considered the most stylish finish. It's what almost all of the most expensive ranges, refrigerators and dishwashers come with. Yet white, beige or black might be a great fit for your decor and budget.

Our quick guide to kitchen appliances help you make all the right choices.

Refrigerators

Because refrigerators operate most efficiently when they're full, you want one that comfortably matches your family's appetite. The most common home refrigerators run 18 to 20 cubic feet, but they can go as large as about 30 cubic feet

If you think you need a big one, make sure you have the space for it. Carefully measure the height, width and depth of the opening before you even start looking.

The vast majority of refrigerators are 36 inches deep, which means they'll stick out about six inches beyond standard cabinets and countertops.

You can get a shallower model that achieves a built-in look by moving the coils from the back to the top or bottom. But that can make those models taller than the average refrigerator, and there's really nothing quite as exasperating as bringing home a refrigerator that won't fit under an overhead cabinet.

You'll also need to choose a style -- a top-mounted unit with the freezer above the refrigerator, a side-by-side model with the refrigerator and freezer running the entire height of the unit, or a bottom-mounted unit with the refrigerator above the freezer.

Side-by-side units are the standard in higher-end kitchens; they allow you to access the most commonly used shelves without bending, provide more freezer space and are the most frequent style to offer ice and water through the door. The down side is that the freezer shelves usually are narrower, making it tough to store items such as frozen pizzas or family-sized casseroles. And side-by-side units generally are more expensive than top- or bottom-mounted ones.

Since the refrigerator uses the most energy of any kitchen appliance in most homes, it's worth the little bit extra to get an Energy Star-rated refrigerator. They're clearly marked with a sticker on the door. You'll pay a little more up front, but make up the extra cost over time in lower electric bills. Go to the Energy Star Web site for product ratings.

No-frills refrigerators with no ice makers start at around $400; expect to pay at least $750 for one with ice and water available in the door and $12,000 for a top-of-the-line Sub-Zero Pro 48.

Dishwashers

The two big items in dishwashers are the tub size and the noise factor.

Choosing the right tub size will save you time, money and energy. Too small and you'll waste water and time running extra loads or re-washing dishes that didn't get clean in an over-packed tub. A standard-sized tub holds up to 12 five-piece place settings.

A tall tub, sometimes called a super capacity, works well for families who use a lot of dishes. It holds up to 14 five-piece place settings, and gives you space for large or odd-shaped dishes that might not fit in a standard tub. And no, a tall tub doesn't require any more space for installation than a standard-sized tub.

A study from Brigham Young University says dishwashers generate an average of 54 to 85 decibels, a little more than the 50 to 70 decibels created by normal conversation and laughter.

Unfortunately, there's no rating system that allows you to compare how noisy each model will be.

About all you can do is expect machines with insulation all around the tub will run more quietly than those with less insulation, and that stainless steel tubs will deaden sound better than plastic tubs. European manufacturers design their machines to meet European noise standards, so they tend to make less racket. But brands such as Bosch also tend to be more expensive and don't include a food disposal or self-cleaning filter, so you'll occasionally have to clean the filter.

You can get a good, basic dishwasher with a plastic tub for as little as $200. The price goes up to about the $500 range if you want a stainless steel tub, electronic controls, lots of cycles and adjustable racks or extra-quiet models. On the high end, you can spend as much as $2,500.

For something cool and different, check out KitchenAid's drawer dishwasher. The two racks are separated into separate drawers, giving you the option of running infinite numbers of small loads without wasting extra energy. List price is $1,300 to $1,500.

Ranges

A range actually is two appliances in one -- a stove with variable-temperature burners for cooking everything from eggs to pasta, and an oven to handle baking and broiling.

True gourmets say gas is the only way to cook because you can control the temperature in infinite degrees of subtlety. Plus, Asian and Hispanic dishes need the high heat and open flame that gas cooking offers.

But if your kitchen is wired for an electric stove, and doesn't have a readily available gas line -- or is plumbed for gas and doesn't have a readily available 220-volt outlet -- switching heat sources is probably more expensive than it's worth.

You should certainly get an estimate on how much new gas lines and wiring will cost before buying a stove you can't use.

Depending on your cabinets, you'll either get a slide-in model that sits on the floor or a drop-in version that hangs from the countertop or sit on a low base. There are infinitely more options in slide-ins; if your remodeling project allows it, it's a great choice.

Electric ranges are the least expensive, with slide-in models using coil burners starting as low as $250. But if you can afford to spend a little extra, you can get an oh-so-easy-to-clean smooth cooktop starting at about $450.

If you want electronic controls, a self-cleaning oven or stainless steel finish, expect to pay at least $500. Add a warming drawer and the cost climbs to $1,000 or more. A commercial-grade range with a gas grill and electric griddle such as the Thermador Pro Grande can go as high as $9,500.