Know Your Stuff is a new column that unlocks the hidden secrets about the everyday products you own.
Now that the holidays are over, you may be mulling over some big-ticket upgrades to your house. Perhaps in the rush of holiday guests, you noticed that your dishwasher just wasn’t up to the task anymore. Or maybe after trying to store those heaps of leftovers (for the third time), you decide to get a refrigerator that finally fits all the food your family needs. New appliances may be in order.
If you’re planning a more substantial remodel, it’s also good to know that spring is the busiest time for contractors. That means smart consumers should be starting product research now, or you may find yourself rushing into bad decisions so your kitchen can fit in someone else’s timeline.
Picking out a new appliance can be intimidating. The big price tags, delivery trucks, and installation are all daunting. And, if you’re the average household, it may have been 10 years or more since the last time you had to think about appliances. There have been major technology and efficiency breakthroughs since then—not to mention all the new cosmetic trends—so you may have a world of new options to consider when making your choices.
Before you start debating color schemes, you should make a few important decisions to make the whole process smoother. Here’s a list of seven things you can do to get ready for your next major appliance purchase.
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1. Set a budget
It may seem obvious, but many consumers find themselves magnetically drawn to the most beautiful and expensive products once they see them. Vaccinate yourself against temptation by setting a firm budget ahead of time.
If you need a whole kitchen suite, most retailers offer discounted bundles for an oven, dishwasher, and refrigerator. You may lose some flexibility if you wanted very specific features for each item, but at least all the appliances will match.
2. Kitchen reno? Consider a designer
Doing a kitchen reno entirely on your own is certainly possible. There are hundreds of advice blogs and Pinterest boards to set you on the path. Big box stores like IKEA, Home Depot, and Lowes also have in-house designers that can help you create a new kitchen, though you’ll be limited to just the items each store carries.
But consider a professional designer, as well. They bring objectivity and out-of-the-box solutions, which can be vital if you have an unusually shaped room or other limitations. Yes, you’ll pay for their services, but it may save you money, time, and a lot of hassle in the long run.
Identifying the right size for your next appliance is absolutely critical. While dishwashers and ranges are mostly standardized in their dimensions, refrigerator and laundry units vary wildly. Make sure you know how much space you need to fill, and keep in mind how much space you need to leave open for airflow, electrical cables, or other factors.
But it’s not just the cutouts in the cabinetry you need to worry about. Remember that appliances also need to get through every door, up ever staircase, and around every corner. The delivery people may be experienced, but they’re still bound by the laws of physics. So measure every passageway between the delivery truck and the final destination before you purchase.
4. Read reviews
At the risk of sounding a little self-interested, I’d like to stress the importance of product reviews. There are a very small handful of publications, including Reviewed, that perform rigorous testing on large appliances. We see how hot, cold, wet, dry, sturdy, cheap, simple, or complicated all these products are, and we share that data so you can base your decisions on real-world information.
You don’t have to take our word for it as the sole source of truth, but consider what editorial reviews have to offer. You might find articles perfectly tailored to your search, like “Best French-door refrigerators under $2,000” or “Best portable dishwashers.”
User reviews can also be valuable, but it’s helpful to remember that satisfied customers rarely bother to leave comments. Negative comments should be taken with a grain of salt, but if you find everyone is complaining about the same aspect of a product, they’re probably onto something.
5. Visit a retailer
As wonderful as reviews are, seeing a large appliance in person is just as important. Due to their sheer size, the aesthetics matter. You’ll want to judge for yourself if you can, especially when it comes to materials and color. For instance, the look of a given brand’s black stainless steel can vary more than you’d think.
Since kitchen appliances are also high-touch items, it’s worthwhile to feel them with your own hands ahead of time. Do the doors open smoothly? Are the crisper drawers in the refrigerator on track, or are they just crammed in there?
Often, locally-owned appliance stores are also service providers, so they’ll have insight into brand reliability or difficulty in getting replacement parts.
6. Measure (again)
This part is so important we’ll say it again: Measure everything before you buy. The last thing you want to see is your dream oven going back into the truck because it won’t fit through the door.
7. Know your warranties and return policies
Many more articles could be written on the subject of appliance warranties. The short version is that you should be aware of what is (and is not) covered under the manufacturer and retailer warranty. Typically it’s one year for parts and labor. After that, core parts of the product, like a washer’s drive or an oven’s heating elements are often covered for up to five years, but you’ll need to pay for the labor to service them. Extended warranties are usually not worth the money.
Want to know more? Email us!
Readers, this column is for you. So please send us your questions on appliances—or any other product you’re curious about. Odds are good that if you’re wondering something, so is someone else. Your email might become the basis for our next topic, and the answer to someone else’s problem.
David Kender is the editor-in-chief of Reviewed, a product review website and part of the USA TODAY Network. If you have a question about how your stuff works, or just want to know what to buy, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.