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How Do Kitchen Appliances Rate in Consumer Reports?

June 07, 2012

Consumer Reports' latest kitchen package confirms that consumers don't need a bottomless budget to get a kitchen that looks and feels expensive. The magazine rated ranges, cooktops, wall ovens and microwaves, dishwashers, refrigerators, countertop materials and flooring products to make sure a homeowner's $15,000 to $30,000 kitchen renovation budget goes further.

"Manufacturers and retailers are working harder than ever to earn your business, creating a market that's ripe with savings and deals for those who know where to look," said Bob Markovich, home and yard editor at Consumer Reports. "Our annual kitchen package is like a personal GPS for finding the best kitchen products with the best features at the best stores—at the right price."

Finding a retailer that offers low prices, good service and top quality is an area where consumers can save time and money. In Consumer Reports' appliance-buying survey, respondents named independent online retailer Abt Electronics out of Chicago as the top choice for major appliances. Amazon.com was among the best for small appliances, while respondents also praised Costco, Kohl's and Sam's Club for their prices. About a third of survey respondents tried negotiating down the price on a major appliance in store with success more than 70 percent of the time—and an average saving of nearly $100.

The magazine’s latest tests found a number of choices that outperform high-end models and other well-known names for less money. GE's JB650DTWW, blends heating and simmering with a large oven and a cooktop warming zone that keeps the veggies warm while the main course cooks. The report also lists manufacturers that are known to have repair-prone products.

High-end features, such as temperature-controlled drawers, adjustable shelves, split shelves and internal water dispensers are increasingly available on even the most affordable refrigerators. Two tested French-door refrigerators that earned Consumer Reports' Best Buy rating, the Kenmore 7160[3] and the Whirlpool Gold GX5FHDXV—both under $2,000—come loaded with features, including pullout shelves and bins, a temperature controlled meat/deli compartment and touchpad controls.  

Dishwashers built since January 2012 must use roughly 9 percent less electricity and 27 percent less water to meet the Federal Environmental Protection Agency voluntary Energy Star standard. Bosch's Ascenta SHX3AR7 [5]UC and Kenmore's 1328[3] are among twelve recommended models priced under $760. Consumer Reports recommends looking for dishwashers that scored well for ease of use with features such as adjustable racks and lots of flatware slots.

Consumer Reports' latest tests found a new flooring pick that blends the toughness of vinyl with the natural feel of slate. Armstrong's Alterna Mesa Stone Canyon Sun mimics the real stuff with dappled colors and random textures, but delivers wear and damage resistance.

Except for recycled glass, the kitchen package found huge differences in countertop materials, but little variation among brands. Authenticity is the current catchphrase in countertops. To get the look for less, shop around for affordable stone slabs. There are even bigger savings with granite and laminate, the most affordable countertop option, which has come a long way. Formica has even eliminated the unsightly black line along the edge of the countertop that used to be laminate's telltale sign.

If cabinets are too far gone to be refinished, consumers can save 30 percent or more by choosing to replace them with semi-custom units. Whether semi-custom or stock, the features that held up best in Consumer Reports' cabinet tests include solid-wood or plywood doors; boxes made of 1/2- to 3/4-in. plywood; solid-wood drawer sides with dovetail joints, full-extension glides and a plywood bottom, and adjustable, 3/4-in. plywood or medium-density fiberboard shelving.

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