- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Refrigerators with built-in television panels and sleek warming drawers that keep food at serving temperature are two of the high-tech, high-style appliances helping to confirm the kitchen’s role as the heart of the home.

With the biggest change being a move from basic necessities to specialty and state-of-the-art appliances, experts say that homeowners today want refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers that have extra features and look good.

Whether making selections for a new kitchen or updating an older one, there are appliances that appeal to all kinds of needs and styles. Since many homeowners use the kitchen as the primary eating area as well as the entertaining hub, appliances must be aesthetically appealing — just like cabinetry, counter and floor selections.

Stainless steel and integrated appliances have been creating a strong niche.

“Looking at new construction, be it a house, condo or new renovations, you find more and more that the kitchen appliances are all stainless steel,” says Frank Snodgrass of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the District.

He adds that it’s not uncommon for a homeowner to replace perfectly good— even new — appliances that are white or black with new, modern-looking stainless steel appliances.

Industry insiders say that in addition to the stainless-steel trend, integrated appliances are gaining popularity. These are built into cabinetry that complements or matches the kitchen cupboards and don’t scream out “appliance.”

Homeowners like them because it’s impossible to tell that an appliance is not a cabinet and they don’t have to have the refrigerator sticking out into the room. It blends in, creating one symmetrical line.

Jill Notini of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), headquartered in the District, says that appliance selection has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

“Consumers are looking for convenience, and manufacturers are delivering — through innovation and new technologies,” Ms. Notini says.

Consider the refrigerator. Andy Thomas of Bray & Scarff Appliance & Kitchens Specialists in Rockville says bottom freezers have become more popular because they are much easier to access.

Bottom freezers account for 20 percent of Bray & Scarff’s refrigerator sales within the past year. They amounted to 5 percent a few years ago.

Sub-Zero has come out with a commercial-style refrigerator and freezer combo with separate doors and temperature control for individual storage drawers.

The LG Refrigerator comes with a built-in LCD television. The television is cable ready and comes with a remote control.

Diane Ritchey, editor of Home Appliance Magazine, says that appliances can now “sense” things for us — such as the refrigerator that senses how cold the temperature is inside and adjusts accordingly.

Industry experts say that several brands of dishwashers have soap dispensers that can hold a 45-ounce bottle of detergent. Sensors release the appropriate amount after determining how dirty the dishes are.

Since homeowners spend more time in the kitchen, Mr. Thomas says manufacturers are making dishwashers quieter and a lot more accessible. He says the dish drawer is becoming popular and buyers especially like the two-drawer design, allowing them to run small or large loads and separate the pots from the china.

In addition, experts say that the newer three-rack dishwashers and taller tubs increase the loading capacity of dishwashers while making them more accessible.

“You can wash a lot more dishes with a taller tub,” Mr. Thomas says.

Many homeowners crave the design and durability of commercial appliances.

“Commercially designed appliances, meaning stoves that have a higher capacity for heat, such as the ones found in a restaurant kitchen, are larger and heavier but are safe for the residential home,” Ms. Ritchey says.

Six-burner ranges with built-in grills have eased their way into the kitchen for the family cook.

The new GE Profile free-standing 120-volt dual-fuel range has the best of both worlds — gas on the cooktop with the even heating of an electric oven.

The cooktop includes a power-boil burner, a center oval burner to accommodate large cookware, and a precise simmer burner.

The oven comes with a fast preheat feature, along with a warming drawer to keep food at a ready-to-eat temperature for busy families.

Ms. Notini says there are even ranges that keep food cool until its ready to be cooked at the proper time to be ready to eat when the family comes home for dinner.

Other convenient appliances include built-in steamers, built-in coffee makers, and wine coolers.

“It’s such a great time to buy a new appliance,” Ms. Ritchey says.

She says there are appliances available for any area of the home, including outdoors, such as built-in ice makers, dishwashers and refrigerators that can be put on the deck or patio. There are under-the-counter refrigerators to put in the bedroom for the coffee and juice bar in the master suite.

Although current appliance design and technological innovation are driving purchases, Ms. Notini says people are also interested in energy efficiency.

The latest AHAM consumer survey shows that consumers who have purchased an appliance in the past five years are more aware of energy efficiency when considering their purchase than consumers who purchased more than five years ago.

“In fact, 26 percent of appliance purchases within the past four years were made by consumers to upgrade to a new appliance that was more energy efficient or had more modern features,” Ms. Notini says.

“Today’s appliances are so much more energy efficient than the ones five, 10 or 15 years ago that you actually save money — $200 a year — on energy costs by replacing a 10-year-old refrigerator, for example, with a new one,” Ms. Ritchey says.

Valerie Green of RE/MAX Realtors in Fort Washington says kitchen appliances can have an impact on the sale of a home. She advises sellers to invest in upgrading their kitchen prior to listing the property.

Mr. Snodgrass concurs.

“If a buyer is looking at two properties that are basically the same, except one has an updated kitchen, this could definitely be the deciding factor,” he says. “Even if the kitchen appliances are brand new, but white or black, there is a premium that is given for the property with stainless steel.”

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