Archive for the ‘Appliances’ Category

Picking Appliances is as Difficult as Manufacturers Choose to Make It

While the house plans are in for approval, I’ve been checking out appliances — both online and in-person — looking for the right dishwasher, fridge, washer, dryer, and oven/range.

The quality gap between appliance websites is simply astounding to me. It’s 2009… you’d think everyone would know how to do a “help me select my appliance” feature by now. The worst I found was ironically the company whose brand I had already decided on: Bosch. Bosch makes TWENTY models of dishwashers and the process of distinguishing between all of them is maddening. None of the features are explained in a convenient manner, none of the sub-brands are clearly differentiated, and worst of all their “product comparison tool” only lets you select three models at a time. To compare each model against every other would require 1140 different combination trials. Go ahead, try it… it’s embarrassingly bad.

On the other side of the spectrum is Samsung. Ironic as well, since their cell phone interfaces are so second rate. Where Bosch fails in leading me towards a happy, confident purchase, Samsung excels. Samsung’s washer selector lets me pick features one by one and removes models that don’t fit the criteria on the fly. It also has some nice Flash demos demonstrating some of the features that might need explaining. By the time I was done checking off features, I was down to one model. That is how it’s done, BOSCH!

I haven’t made any final decisions yet, but here’s what I’m leaning towards (if you have experience with any of these brands or others, please let me know in the comments):

Dishwasher: Bosch

Despite the awful website, Bosch seems to have a great reputation with regard to dishwashers. Multiple people, including Build, have recommended them personally to me so I am loath to go against that sort of word-of-mouth claqueury. It’s the one appliance that a lot of people seem to agree on: Bosch makes the best dishwashers. That said, thanks to their website, I have no idea which model to choose. My only requirements are integrated cabinet face and the adjustable upper rack option. Depending on the model, it should cost anywhere from $800 to $1600.

Refrigerator: GE Profile

There are tons of good refrigerators out there, but so far I’ve only found one that has the top two features I’m looking for: French doors with the freezer on the bottom and an external water/ice dispenser. French doors seem to be in these days, but external water/ice dispensers are harder and harder to find. Many models just do the water-only dispenser on the inside now apparently. Boooooooooo. External seems a lot more convenient.

The GE PFSS6PKXSS seems to fit the bill perfectly and has dope LED lights on the inside as well, which is just awesome. It’s $2699 retail, but since I work at msnbc.com, my GE employee discount should knock a good portion off of that. Not bad considering some of the other fridges I looked at were twice that amount.

Washer/Dryer: Samsung

I didn’t even know Samsung made washers or dryers. They do and they are awesome, according to Consumer Reports and other sources. Among the more novel features is something called “SilverCare” which embeds microscopic silver particles in your clothing to keep the stank away. Watch this video for the entertaining details of how Consumer Reports performed the test.

The kicker, however, is something called VRT. It’s a technology that Samsung pioneered which dramatically reduces the vibration of and noise of the washer and dryer during spin cycles. According to everyone who has tried it, it’s a no-brainer if your washer/dryer is not on a concrete floor. Since we’re putting ours upstairs right next to the master bedroom, this seems like a slam dunk.

The other set that looked awesome is the Electrolux. Honestly, they look even better than the Samsungs but I couldn’t find a single review online and Consumer Reports hasn’t tested them yet. They are priced similarly as the Samsung set (about $1500 per piece), so at that price, I feel much better buying something that’s been thoroughly tested and reviewed.

Oven/Range: Probably GE Monogram or Wolf

This is the appliance I’m least sure about right now. I do know I’ll be getting a dual-fuel 36-inch wide unit, but no one model has stood out yet. The Wolfs are nice, but $8500 for a range seems ridiculous, considering how often I failover to the microwave. Currently, I’m leaning towards the 36 inch GE Monogram Dual Fuel Oven/Range with 4 burners and a griddle. It’s more like $5500 and hopefully the discount will knock a substantial amount off of that as well.

So that’s where I’m at on appliances so far. If anyone has any advice or positive/negative reviews for certain brands or models, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

UPDATE (8/8/2010): I just published this new post describing the final appliance package.

Thinking About Induction Cooking

It took a well-placed comment from The JimRay™ in my last post, but induction cooking is beginning to look very interesting to me.

Check out this illustrative image from GE showing ice cubes sitting calmly on one side of an induction burner and a half-pot of boiling water on the other:

You don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to set ice cubes randomly on a burner.

Anyway, induction cooking is more than just an impressive technology for party tricks. It heats pots faster than even gas and expends less energy doing so… all via the power of magnetic force. The chief downside appears to be that you need to use iron or steel cookware, which isn’t a big deal to me since I only own a few pots and all are magnetic. The other downside is that I haven’t found a model which includes any sort of built-in griddle, which kind of sucks.

For more information on induction cooking, check out GE’s Induction Cooking site. It looks like you can get models ranging from about $1000 to several thousand, depending on what you’re looking for.

Anyone have any experience with induction cooking? Is it all it’s cracked up to be?

The Appliance Package

Choosing appliances can be either fun or frustrating, depending on what type of person you are. If you’re satisfied to just have decent equipment that won’t break down on you, I imagine searching the broad array of available equipment in stores and online is exasperating. If, however, you love researching features, prices, and new technologies, the whole process can be quite fun. It was fun for me. Here is what we picked and why:

Ovens

Many people will tell you if you’re building a gourmet kitchen, you need two wall ovens. We do a fair bit of cooking, but two wall ovens seemed just a tad excessive. Additionally, we couldn’t find a microwave that didn’t look cheap (seriously, even Wolf microwaves look terrible) so we came up with a great hybrid solution: one GE Monogram ZET1PMSS convection wall oven and one GE Monogram Advantium ZSC2202NSS speed oven. They both look super pro and the speed oven is pretty amazing. It can cook food in four ways, even simultaneously: with standard electric heating elements, with a convection fan, with microwave rays, and with halogen lights. That last bit is the special bit. The halogen lights allow you to enjoy the speed of microwave cooking but still get the crispiness of traditional cooking.

Nobody ever recommends microwaving a steak, but I put a 10-ounce filet mignon in the Advantium and in exactly 10 minutes, it was more or less perfectly cooked (the steak setting uses all four modes of cooking).

With this solution, we have two ovens when we need them, one microwave that doesn’t look cheap, a special way of speed cooking, and the whole setup only takes up two spaces in the kitchen island.

Cooktop

As discussed in Thinking About Induction Cooking, we thought about induction cooking. In fact, we thought so highly of it that we eschewed gas and went for the GE Monogram ZHU36RSMSS 36″ Induction Cooktop in silver. It’s been a perfect purchase so far, doing everything we expected and more. It’s quiet, safe, energy efficient, easy to clean, attractive, and oh so fast. My favorite “house demo” to do so far is pouring a quarter inch of water into a frying pan and watching it boil in under 10 seconds on the induction cooktop.

We didn’t have a whole lot of good cookware to begin with, so we purchased a set of Pro-Clad Emerilware from HSN and a couple of Le Creuset pots to make the most of the cooktop.

If you’re stuck using an electric cooktop or are thinking about putting in a gas one, do yourself a favor and check out induction. Thanks to my buddy Jim Ray of Salt and Fat for the initial recommendation and peer pressure.

Dishwasher

Based on the advice of some friends and family, we ended up choosing a Miele Optima G2472SCVI dishwasher over our previous frontrunner, Bosch. It’s very quiet and the rack space is arranged intelligently and flexibly. I don’t really have any complaints about it besides the user interface being a little, umm, austere. Thankfully you don’t really use the UI of a dishwasher too often, but it looks like it was designed ten years ago. We got a fully integrated model, meaning there are no visible buttons or surfaces (it just looks like another cabinet). I do wish the little red light that tells you the thing is on shined on the floor instead of the underside of the cabinet, but oh well. All in all, it seems like a solid dishwasher so far.

Side note: Dishwashers were probably the most infuriating appliance to research. Almost every manufacturer’s site, especially Bosch and Miele, are atrociously designed and impossible to get any useful comparison information from.

Kitchen Hood

Kitchen hoods can be the biggest ripoff of all household appliances. It’s basically a fan surrounded by some steel and these things can get into the $5000 range. Rubberduckulous. Via the recommendation of Build, we went with the sharp, understated Zephyr ZRME36BS Roma island hood. It was “only” about a thousand dollars and it’s worked great so far. It sucks a lot of air, looks great above the cooktop, and doesn’t attract fingerprints too easily.

Refrigerator

Refrigerators are one of those items you’re really best of consulting Consumer Reports for, so we did. There are just a lot of things about fridges that you can’t easily test out yourself (like how evenly they cool or how long they last without repairs) and CR has already done this work for you. Just about the only things we knew going in were that we wanted a french-door-bottom-freezer model because the layout was so convenient and that we wanted ice and water on the outside of the door. Thankfully, Consumer Reports’ top-rated model, the Samsung RFG237AARS French Door refrigerator, fit the bill perfectly. We had originally spec’d the full depth model which is several cubic feet larger, but because of how the kitchen was designed, we had to switch to the counter-depth model. So far it’s been a great fridge, although we will admit to still wishing we had been able to fit the full-depth version.

When people ask me what type of fridge I got and I answer Samsung, it often elicits puzzled looks. Usually people think of big Sub Zeros and Vikings when they think of gourmet kitchens, but read the reviews… they aren’t great. The Samsung provided us all we needed: an attractive, well designed, well reviewed fridge with all of the features we wanted for an affordable price.

Washer and dryer

Much like fridges, washers and dryers are too complicated to fully understand without the help of a place like Consumer Reports. Since we put our machines upstairs, right next to the master bedroom, our number one concern was picking the quietest washer/dryer pair on the market. The number two concern after that was how well the machines laundered clothes, and the final concern was durability. In the end, it came down to either the Electrolux EWFLS70JIW (and matching dryer) or the Samsung WF448AAW Washer and DV448AEW Dryer. We loved the Electrolux user interface and purported 18-minute “short cycle”, but according to all reports, the Samsungs were simply the quietest machines on the market and had a longer track record of reliability.

So far, the Samsungs have been spectacular. We’ve even grown to love the happyfun Korean melodies they play when they’re done with their cycles. They also have something called SilverCare which needs to be seen to be believed. Watch this Consumer Reports video test of the technology.

All in all, we’re very happy with all of the appliances we’ve chosen. Thanks also to Albert Lee Appliance Company for providing all of the non-GE appliances (I get an employee discount for the GE stuff since I work at msnbc.com). They matched or beat all online prices that I quoted over the phone to them, and as a result, got all of my business (hint: do this!).