How to shop for major appliances

Learn what major appliances to look for—and what to skip—to get the best value on dishwashers, dryers and more.

Photo: Thinkstock

Appliance-Shopping Do's

If you’re in the market for a major appliance, you know how overwhelming the options are. But investing in a top-of-the-line model loaded with bells and whistles isn’t always your best bet.

By knowing what features to look for, and which you can ignore, you can score a high-functioning appliance without blowing your budget.

Read on to learn how to get the most value for your money.

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Washing Machine

Don’t scrimp on this purchase, says Steve Ash, appliance expert for PartSelect.com. So how can you get more for your money?

Ash recommends looking at energy-efficient models, most of which are front-loading, to score long-term savings as well as environmental kudos.

According to Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance, “saving a few dollars each month on your water and energy bill may seem minimal, but it can add up to hundreds or thousands per year.”

Another feature to look for: a spin speed between 1,100 and 1,200 rpms. Matt Sarkela, owner of Mr. Appliance in Wilmington, NC, says this faster spin cycle removes more water from your laundry, which in turn shortens your drying cycle. A washing machine needs less power to run than a dryer, so a few more minutes of a washer’s spin cycle conserves more energy (and cash for paying energy bills) than running the dryer for longer.

 

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Dryer

“Added features drive up the cost of higher-priced models,” says Ash. “But wrinkle-prevention cycles, steam functions and other bells and whistles won’t dry clothes any better than a regular dryer.”

As Serkela echoes, most of the high- and low-end dryers use the same heaters and motors anyway, so no need to go for broke here. Unlike washing machines, dryers don’t offer many energy-saving features, but one add-on will save energy: An automatic dry cycle prevents the machine from running for longer than it needs to. 

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Range/Oven

Though they’re often pricier than their counterparts, smooth-top stoves have become popular because they’re easy to clean. But don’t be fooled, warns Ash.

Cleaning’s only simple if you tend to spills right away; otherwise, the grime just gets burned onto the surface. Plus, “these stoves are designed to work with flat-bottomed pots and pans. If you don’t already have a set, you may have to shell out to stock up,” he notes. “And while these stoves look nicer than standard ones, they don’t heat up much faster.”

Ovens are similar—you won’t need many extras, but definitely go for a self-cleaning feature. Not only are self-cleaning models more efficient cookers thanks to better insulation, according to Ash, but they’ll also save you from purchasing chemicals to clean the oven by hand—not to mention the elbow grease!

Credit: Thinkstock

Dishwasher

Dishwashers are relatively energy-efficient, says Sarkela, so loads of features won’t necessarily lower your bills.

“You want a regular cycle, a light cycle and a heavy or scrub cycle, but you don’t need a full electronic panel,” says Ash.

One thing to spend on, he says: nylon-coated racks. The alternative, vinyl coating, may be cheaper, but it's more prone to damage. “A replacement rack for a dishwasher can run around $200. At that point, you may as well replace the dishwasher,” says Sarkela.

Credit: iStock

Refrigerator/Freezer

A smaller model may save you upfront, but make sure you pick one that has enough room—and some to spare—for your family’s needs.

“Refrigerators and freezers don’t work as well when they’re jam-packed,” says Ash. “With no room for air flow they won’t cool properly or be as energy-efficient.”

As for what you likely won’t need, Sarkela advises skipping multi-temperature zones or digitally programmable temperature controls, since they won’t cool your food any better and can up costs and hassle. 

Credit: iStock

Microwave

Unless you plan to use your microwave like an oven/range for baking cakes and browning meat, there’s no point in splurging, says Ash.

Almost any microwave is fine for reheating meals, cooking frozen dinners and making popcorn.

Countertop models are so cheap that they’re basically a throwaway item,” says Ash. “Hardly anyone even services them anymore.” As long as the microwave is big enough for your needs, you likely won’t need any fancy features. 

 

 

 

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