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Kitchen redesigns: Appliances, Cabinets and Space

During a redesign, your appliances, cabinetry and counter space work together to create a balance between function and style. Choices like the size of your range and other appliances can directly affect cabinet space, and choosing more storage or counter space could mean you’ll have to make concessions elsewhere.

Kitchen design is a personal process, and while there are plenty of trends to go around, each design and redesign is unique and shaped by homeowners’ preferences, personality and desires. We spoke with two designers who have a combined 50 years of kitchen design experience between them. Both agreed that kitchens are built around the appliances, where any design project should start.

Paula Kennedy, Timeless Kitchen Design, Seattle

For designer Paula Kennedy, the kitchen redesign process starts with a discussion on appliances. Many of her clients are one step ahead and have already begun researching their options, but she encourages them to take their time. “I tell them to go to an appliance dealer I trust and respect, and I make sure they don’t just walk in on a Sunday when everyone else is in there,” Kennedy says. “Take some time off from work and do it right.” She’ll sometimes join her clients on a visit to the retailer or give the dealer a heads up that they’ll be coming in. “I’ll specify some things to help them avoid mistakes,” she says. If they want a built-in refrigerator, for example, she’ll make sure they’re looking at the right models. “Saying ‘built-in’ to one manufacturer is different than to another,” she says. “There’s built-in, there’s flush-door, there’s framed-door, there’s fully integrated. They don’t all use the same language.”

Your choice of appliance, particularly the size, directly impacts the cabinet design. “It’s one of the most critical points,” Kennedy says. Cabinets take time to build, and they need to be ordered early in the process. A late change can affect how the cabinets and appliances fit. Be comfortable with your decisions, because even a quarter-inch difference in the size of an appliance can have major implications on the cabinetry. Does your dream kitchen design include appliances enclosed in custom cabinets? You’ll need to decide in advance, as panels must be an exact fit.

“We often start with the cooking range,” Kennedy says. “Do you want a range vs. a cooktop? How many ovens do you want? More cooking means less storage, and everyone is just screaming for more storage. It’s a tradeoff. Clients come to me with a list of appliances. We have to prioritize their needs. You aim for function plus storage.”

For portable kitchen appliances, it’s a matter of balancing countertop space for their use and kitchen storage. “People love their small kitchen appliances, but storage for those is a nightmare. When I walk into a house and see them all on the countertop, I have the challenge to properly design space for those countertop appliances so it’s not an eyesore, it’s not cluttered, it’s functional and not taking up counter space.” Talk to your designer about storage options that make it easy to access the appliances you use regularly and store those you use less often in a way that makes sense.

Your choice of appliance finishes should fit within your overall color scheme. Stainless steel is popular, but it may not be a good match for you. “Finish is a huge factor,” Kennedy says. “It drives what color we’re choosing for the cabinets. It has to be a color you love.”

Toni Sabatino, Toni Sabatino Style, New York

Toni Sabatino of Toni Sabatino Style calls her approach to kitchen design “appliance-driven.”

“The style of the appliance, along with the architecture of the home and ventilation are really important.” Your lifestyle should determine what you need, Sabatino says. Some factors to consider are cooking habits, diet and family size.

“A family that goes to Costco and Price Club and buys 130 boxes of pasta will need more pantry space than somebody who buys fresh food,” Sabatino said. “Somebody who keeps a kosher kitchen may have two sets of dishes.” Do you do enough entertaining to warrant including a second dishwasher? Put your priorities in order and allow them to guide your decisions.

When choosing cabinetry, Sabatino encourages clients to take style cues from their home’s architecture. “If you want an old house, classic look, inset white shaker cabinets are popular,” she says. “That will pair with just about any interior because it’s simple and has a built-in furniture look. It will pair with just about any appliance style—stainless or wooden ventilation covers. That’s a timeless look.”

Even though they aren’t built-in, you’ll have to think about your portable appliances during your design as well, both those you use frequently and those you don’t. If you use many small appliances on a regular basis, think about whether an appliance pantry might make it easier to store and get to what you need. Sabatino asks clients about their portable appliances during the planning process. “Do they have a yogurt maker that’s in the basement because they don’t have space for it?”

Also think about what you’re giving up when planning how to incorporate portable appliances. If you drink a lot of coffee, you might want to reserve some space on the countertop for your coffee maker. But that also means you’ll have less counter space. Designing cabinet space especially for portables means you’re limiting what can be put in that space, Sabatino says.

Do your homework, understand your options and apply them to your lifestyle. Plan carefully and know what you want before you begin, Sabatino says. “Changing your mind can throw off everything.”

Kitchen Appliance Secrets: Pro chefs share top year-round and holiday tips

Busy chefs at work in the restaurant kitchen

Combine the right appliances with some culinary knowledge, and you have the tools to take your meals from ordinary to memorable. And now that we’re into the biggest cooking season of the year, it’s time to step up your kitchen game. AHAM is here to help. We interviewed two seasoned professional chefs about how appliances help them get the job done in the kitchen. Here’s what they had to say about their favorite appliances, their advice to aspiring home chefs, cooking at the holidays and how they apply their pro cooking techniques at home.

Lance Nitahara
Lecturing Instructor, Culinary Institute of America.
Former winner of the Food Network’s “Chopped” and contestant on “The Iron Chef”; Certified Pastry Culinarian, Certified Hospitality Educator

Chef and instructor Lance Nitahara
Credit: Phil Mansfield, Culinary Institute of America

Appliances for Cooking Success
Stand mixer: A traditionalist may prefer knead by hand, but a mixer will help you get the same results. The mixer is also your ally for mashed side dishes.It’s hard to replace mixing doughs by hand, but I rarely do it anymore,” Nitahara said. “If I’m doing a pasta dough, I’ll put it in a mixer with a dough hook. It comes out more consistent. I’ll do it by hand if I have to, but I don’t have to if my stand mixer is right there.”

Food processor with attachments: Another time-saving must for the aspiring chef. It’s worth your time to read your operator’s manual and find out if you’re getting the most use out of your attachments. “The regular food processor with attachments for grating and mixing are essential,” Nitahara said. “If I have to grate a ton of cheese, I’m not going to do it by hand. After being in an industrial kitchen, there are certain things I won’t do by hand. I know the time investment. It won’t change the quality and it’s the same amount of cleanup.”

Oven and range: The heat distribution in your oven will affect how your dishes turn out. “Whether you’re going with gas, electric or propane, look for a stove that has a good convection fan,” Nitahara said. “You’re not paying that much more for it. It cooks so much more evenly. If I’m doing baked items—pastry or dough, or things that have to be browned on top like potatoes au gratin—the convection current of air evenly distributes the heat across the item. Because of the convection, you have a more even transfer of heat and you’re getting a faster cook time.” Don’t forget about ventilation. “You’ll need a good ventilation system if you’re doing a lot of meats and high-heat cooking. It’s absolutely important if you’re doing a lot of searing.”

Cook like a pro
Top skill for the budding chef:
Organization and knife skills. “One of the running problems most people in the U.S. have is space. If you aren’t organized, it’s going to be dreadful to prep or cook for a large number of people. The next would be knife skills. You need to learn how to cut things without cutting your hand off. Now, with technology and appliances, a lot of things get done for you.”

Holiday cooking: The holidays are about spending quality time with friends and family. But you’ll miss out on that if you’re stuck in the kitchen. That’s why you should do as much prep as you can in advance. And forget about all the tricks you may have heard to know when a turkey is done cooking, and invest in a digital meat thermometer. “Never use that plastic pop-up, and forget about time per pound,” Nitahara said. “Take the temperature of the turkey. It should be a minimum 165 in the thickest part of the breast. Make sure it’s thawed out. If you have a 25-pound turkey, you need to bring it into the fridge six days in advance.”

John Dion
Associate professor, culinary arts, Johnson & Wales University; Independent and collaborative foodservice and educational consultant

chefdion

Appliances for cooking success
Digital thermometer: Thinking of frying your turkey this Thanksgiving? You’ll want to have a good digital thermometer on hand. “I like them for their exactness,” Dion said. “They’re easy to read.” A fryer thermometer will help you keep the oil right around the 300 degrees necessary for a low, slow fry, Dion said.

Immersion blender: “I love my immersion blender,” Dion said. “It’s multi-purpose for your smoothies and fruit dishes, even making your own mayonnaise, aiolis and vinaigrettes.”

Oven: Dion is also a proponent of convection as a tool for more precise cooking. “You definitely have to have convection now,” he said. “It’s great to see more convection ovens coming out. Ideally, it’s best if the fan is variable and you can adjust the speed.” However, if you have spices to toast, save them for a conventional oven where they won’t be blown around by the fan.

Range: More burners can be a blessing on a busy day in the kitchen. “In my last house, I had a 36-inch, six-burner range, which was wonderful.” If you can, consider adding an induction cooktop to your center island. “What I like about induction cooking is there’s no flame, so you’re keeping the surface area cool,” Dion said. “It’s going to be more efficient than gas, and I can be precise. If I want to melt chocolate, I can set it at 78-79 degrees. It’s more about the precision temperature than anything else.” Of course, if you use induction cooking, you’ll need cookware made from cast iron or another magnetic material. Don’t skimp, Dion advises. “I have restaurant quality pots and pans,” he said. “You’ll get better heat distribution. The cheaper ones get too hot and the handles start to smoke up.”

Refrigerator: Organization is an indispensable skill for cooking success, and your refrigerator can help you stay on track. “I look for height, plenty of adaptable shelf space, and compartments,” Dion said. “I’m partial to double doors so you’re not opening the whole thing at once.”

Cook like a pro
How to choose appliances: Look for quality and durability. “In homes, you don’t beat them up like you do in a restaurant, but they should be able to take a beating,” Dion said. “Look for good craftsmanship. Pay a little more and get a better quality product.”

Top skill for the budding chef: Knife skills and staying on schedule. “You have to know how to cut,” Dion said. “We don’t teach speed, but we teach to work like you don’t have enough time.

Holiday cooking: Don’t think of a holiday meal as a one-day cooking project. It isn’t something you should expect to knock out in a few hours, so start in advance. “Prep, prep, prep,” Dion said. “Start a couple of days ahead of time.” Cut the vegetables you can in advance and prepare the dining area. “Know how long it takes something to cook,” Dion said. “If you put your turkey in the oven two hours before your guests show up, you’re not having turkey.”

Easy oven and range-cleaning tips

Even the most dedicated neat freak might cringe at the thought of cleaning their oven. But putting it off can make cooking more challenging.

Turkey for Thanksgiving Day in the oven

Over time, residue from cooking and spills can build up and become a drag on oven and range performance. And the “leftovers” that build up on the bottom and sides of your oven can also make the food you prepare taste different. (We’re guessing neither you nor your guests would appreciate the subtle flavors of the charred residue of several meals in their entree or dessert, but we could be wrong!)

Grease and grime can clog the burner and affect performance. Sugary spills on glass cooktops with traditional elements can damage the glass.

Fall behind on cleaning, and before you know it, your range looks like this.

A very very dirty kitchen!

Instead of waiting until it’s unavoidable, clean your oven and range after every use. That may sound like a lot, but it’s the difference between a guaranteed quick and easy job and one that could require significantly more time and elbow grease. Make cleaning a regular part of your cooking and baking.

Clean every part of your range. That means the oven walls, glass cooktop, burners, finish, and knobs. Each is made from different materials and therefore may require a different approach. Your appliance’s manufacturer will be able to provide instructions for each.

What to use: This is where it gets tricky. Appliance manufacturers test many cleaners on their ovens and ranges, but it’s impossible to test all of the options that are on the market. Your oven’s use and care manual may have some suggestions, as will the labels of the specific cleaners. You can’t go wrong, however, with warm soap and water or a white vinegar and water solution, which are unlikely to damage any finish. Avoid cleaners with abrasive qualities, as these could scratch the oven’s finish. Some manufacturers recommend carefully using a razor blade to clean stubborn dirt from oven glass.

Technique: Again, consult your appliance’s use and care manual for specific instructions. Avoid steel wool and similar products, which can damage the finish. Go with the grain (not in a circular motion) to avoid scratching, particularly if your oven has a stainless steel finish. Wait until the oven cools before you begin cleaning to avoid burning yourself. That could take a while, so be patient.

Self-cleaning: Many ovens offer self-cleaning features. Traditional self-cleaning means the oven will heat to an extremely high temperature—as high as 900 degrees—while the residue is burned off. You will not be able to open the oven during a self-cleaning cycle. Oven racks and all pans should be removed during the cycle. After the cycle is complete and the oven cools, you should be able to easily wipe out the ashes. Many manufacturers are now offering a steam cleaning option as well. These models heat water to a boiling point and utilize steam to soften anything in the oven for easy cleaning.

What’s your best oven and range-cleaning advice?

Is your water filter counterfeit?

Is it time to change your refrigerator’s water filter? Be careful about where you buy the replacement. Many consumers, perhaps attracted by lower prices, are being duped into purchasing counterfeit water filters. These convincing but fake filters, which can be nearly impossible to distinguish from the real thing, may put consumers’ health and property at risk.

Only one of these filters is genuine. Can you tell the difference?

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AHAM and its refrigerator members Amana, Beko, Blomberg, Bosch, Electrolux, Frigidaire, Gaggenau, GE, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, Miele, Samsung, Sub-Zero Wolf, Thermador and Whirlpool, along with testing and certification organization NSF International and the Water Quality Association, in the Filter It Out campaign to call awareness to the significant problem of counterfeit and deceptively labeled refrigerator water filters.

The problem

Counterfeit water filters are being sold online every day. But even though these products may appear identical to those sold by legitimate manufacturers, their performance is anything but. Counterfeit filters are illegal, and often don’t deliver on their promises or function near the level of authentic filters. Impurities found in some parts of the US water supply, such as lead, asbestos, pesticides and insecticides may not be filtered out by counterfeit or deceptively labeled filters.  Even scarier is the fact that the consumer may not have any indication that these and other contaminants are not being removed from the water they drink. The water doesn’t look any different, so consumers assume it is being filtered.

The blue water means that contaminants are present, even after the water was run through a non-genuine filter.

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This video from Filter It Out shows how easily contaminants can make their way through counterfeit filters.

And unlike the water filters made by legitimate brands, counterfeit water filters are not designed, tested and certified to fit your refrigerator. A poor fit could damage the refrigerator and cause leaks that could lead to costly property damage.

How to avoid buying a counterfeit water filter

It’s often difficult even for experts to tell the difference between a legitimate model and a counterfeit. Sometimes, they’re only distinguishable by differences in weight. Consumers can avoid purchasing counterfeit water filters by buying replacements only from trusted manufacturers. Filter it Out has tips on how to avoid purchasing counterfeit and deceptively labeled filters.

How Filter It Out is fighting the problem

Filter It Out is pushing back against counterfeit and deceptively labeled water filters through the combination of a public awareness campaign, testing that shows the ineffectiveness of the counterfeits and educating regulators and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, who often are the first to come into contact with counterfeit products, to flag suspect shipments before they have the opportunity to reach consumers.

Get more from Filter It Out on how to avoid counterfeit buying water filters.

No “nukes”: How to use your microwave oven for real cooking

Using microwave oven
Microwave ovens are in about 90 percent of American households. They’re great time savers and are regularly used to warm up leftovers, heat that morning cup of tea or defrost the evening’s main course. That’s their role in many homes. Their cooking capabilities, however, go well beyond reheating and defrosting. And if you take the time to learn, they’ll take your cooking to new levels of convenience.

We recently chatted with microwave cooking expert Jennipher Marshall-Jenkinson, chair of the United Kingdom-based Microwave Technologies Association and author of Microwave Magic: The Heart of 21st Century Cooking, to pick her brain on a microwave’s role in producing a home-cooked meal. Just as with using a range or oven, there’s a method to microwave cooking, she said. The trouble is that many simply focus on cooking time, not technique.

“The most important thing about basic cooking in the microwave is understanding what you’re doing,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “You have to understand and think about the cooking technique behind it. You don’t cook everything in the microwave oven. You don’t make roast potatoes or put a crispy edge on your chicken. But anything with its own moisture cooks perfectly. It’s the perfect environment for saving time, energy and nutrients. In minutes, you can have a proper meal.”

So how does one progress beyond popcorn, break free of frozen meals and harness the real cooking power of a microwave? Marshall-Jenkinson has some advice:

Get to know your oven: Microwave cooking is a skill, and it’s going to take time and practice to perfect. Marshall-Jenkinson recommends starting with vegetables to set benchmarks for how long it takes to cook certain portions. She’s also a big fan of microwaving all types of sauces. “If you follow the instructions, those are guaranteed to be successful.” In addition, all microwaves aren’t created equal. They vary in size and wattage, both of which have impact cooking times. Knowing your wattage will help you get a sense of your oven’s capabilities.

Watch your turns: Many microwaves have turntables to rotate food and help it cook more evenly. If yours doesn’t, you’ll likely have to manually turn the dish at 90-degree angles and stir the food during cooking.

Put a lid on it: Microwaves cook foods in their own moisture, and a lid or cover will help it retain that moisture to improve cooking. “If it’s allowed to evaporate, you won’t end up with cooked food whatsoever,” Marshall-Jenkinson said.

Make use of different power settings: Many microwave users simply default to full power for everything they cook. That’s a bad move and can result in poor quality cooking. Find out what’s best for the dish you’re preparing. “I would never cook a cake or baked sponge pudding on full power,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “I would cook that on a medium-power setting. That means the heat developed within the dish as it’s cooking has a chance to even out before you put another burst of energy in there.” Remember, you’re cooking, not just heating. “You can make a great casserole by bringing it to a boil on high and reducing the power to 10 percent and cooking at 10 percent for an hour and a half.”

Be adventuresome: Don’t be afraid to experiment with your microwave. Search out recipes and cooking techniques. “It’s there to make your life easier. Use it instead of just heating up a cup of coffee in it.”

Now that you know the basics, what should be your first microwave-prepared meal? “Any dish that is cooked for your family or makes your life easier,” Marshall-Jenkinson suggest. She’s a fan of the microwave’s ability to quickly produce baked treats. “I’m a cake lover myself,” she said. “A lovely sponge cake is going to take 3-4 minutes in comparison to 25 minutes.”

Ready to give microwave cooking a shot? This recipe for microwave mac and cheese cups (with a gluten-free option included) from MOMables will help you prepare a quick, tasty meal for the kids:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup pasta, uncooked

1/2 cup + 1/8 cup water

1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons milk

Instructions

  1. Add pasta and water into large soup bowl or mug
  2. For regular noodles: Microwave for 6 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  3. For gluten-free noodles (corn-based pasta), microwave for 5 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  4. After the microwaving is complete, add in the cheese. Stir.
  5. Microwave again for 25 seconds.
  6. Add the milk, stir and serve.

What’s your favorite microwave recipe?

Easy ways you can prevent cooking fires

There are more than 100 million ranges and cooktops in use in the U.S. today, and most are operated safely and without incident. When fires do occur, they’re usually preventable through a few simple steps. AHAM has partnered with UL, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, and the National Safety Council to develop its Recipe for Safer Cooking. These preventive measures will help you greatly reduce the chances that a cooking fire will occur in your home:

  • Stay in the kitchen when you’re cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires.
  • Wear short or close-fitting sleeves when you cook. Loose-fitting clothing can catch fire.
  • Keep an eye on children in the kitchen. When they’re old enough to cook, teach them how to do it safely.
  • Keep your cooking areas clean. Food and grease build-up can increase the risk of fire.
  • Keep curtains, towels, pot holders and other fabrics away from hot surfaces.
  • Store solvents and flammable cleaners away from heat sources. Never keep gasoline in the house.
  • Turn pan handles inward to prevent food spills that can result in serious burns.

Unfortunately, fires sometimes happen even when preventive measures are taken. Memorize these steps so you and your family are ready if a fire happens:

  • Immediately call your local fire department. Have the department’s emergency number on hand, as calling 911 will instead direct you to a central emergency services center. That means the response time could be slightly longer.
  • If a grease fire breaks out, put a lid on the pot to smother the flames, then turn off the heat and leave the lid in place while the pan cools.
  • Use baking soda to extinguish cooking fires.
  • If a fire starts inside the oven or broiler, keep the door closed and turn off the heat to smother the fire.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to use it. Contact your local fire department for training.
  • Keep a working smoke detector in your home and test it every month.

AHAM and appliance manufacturers are attacking the problem of unattended cooking fires through the technical advances to cut down on the potential for fires, and through consumer awareness initiatives like the Recipe for Safer Cooking. Visit AHAM’s store to order copies of the Recipe for Safer Cooking and other fire-prevention information.

Are you looking for more ways to make your kitchen safer? Take this kitchen appliance safety advice from John Drengenberg, also known as “Mr. Safety.”

Advice from a dietitian on how your appliances can help you eat healthier

From your oven and ranges, to your refrigerator and freezer, to your blender, your appliances, when used properly, can be one of your best tools in your efforts to eat healthier. Much of healthy eating comes down to planning and preparation, says Tamara Melton, MS, RDN, LD, founder of LaCarte Wellness, a corporate wellness consultation firm in Atlanta. Melton is not only a registered and licensed dietitian, she’s also a busy working mom who loves to cook and regularly puts the meal prep tips she offers her clients into action for her family.

“You don’t have to have the fanciest appliances, but having high-quality appliances that you know how to use can aid someone who is trying to eat healthier,” Melton said. “They help store your food and cook it well. It’s really important.”

While your appliances can’t do all of the work for you, they’ll make your path to a healthy lifestyle much easier. You’ll have to put in the prep time, though, so Melton recommends carving some time out of your week to prepare the foods you’ll eat. Melton offered her advice on how to take advantage of your kitchen appliances:

Refrigerator: If you organize your food for easy access, you’ll be less tempted to grab your phone and order takeout. Put your food in easy-to-access containers so the ingredients are easy to grab when you’re making the next meal. Slice up vegetables and fruit and store them in sandwich bags for snacks. Keep snacks for the kids within their reach on the lower shelves of the refrigerator. Want to save time in the morning? Boil eggs in advance and store them in your refrigerator until you’re ready to eat.

Freezer: Melton bakes muffins and quick bread and stores them in the freezer, defrosting them in the microwave for 15-30 seconds for an on-the-go breakfast. She’ll also freeze extra portions of spaghetti, chili and other dishes to take for lunch or serve as leftovers.

Rice cooker: The rice cooker gets a lot of use in Melton’s home and is a cornerstone of her cooking. “I cook most of our grains in there,” she said. She regularly takes advantage of the rice cooker’s convenience to prepare grains like couscous, quinoa, bulgur and farro. “I’ll put rice in with chicken broth, coconut milk, cilantro. I’ve made quinoa that I’ll take out and make into a Greek quinoa salad.”

Oven and range: “I like to make a lot of one-pot dishes,” Melton said. “We do a lot of roasted veggies.” The range and oven are used to prepare healthy foods for that night and later in the week. “I can walk away from it, and prepare some for the rest of the week.” Pay attention to your cookware and invest in quality saucepans, sauté pans, roasting dishes and dutch ovens, Melton recommends.

Microwave: The microwave oven can be the best friend in the kitchen for busy parents. Melton has a large microwave that she uses to quickly steam vegetables and defrost proteins. “We have steamed veggies as a snack,” she said. “Now that school’s back in, I steam veggies three times a week. The microwave is really important.”

Blender: The blender is an essential tool for making healthy smoothies and juices that can get the kids to eat their fruits and vegetables without them even knowing. Try one of her favorites: ½ a cup to a cup of cottage cheese, a cup of frozen berries, a cup of orange juice and a bit of honey. Add a hard- boiled egg (from the refrigerator), a muffin or quick bread (from the freezer, defrosted in the microwave) and coffee, and you have a convenient, healthy breakfast.

Toaster oven: Take advantage of your toaster oven to reheat leftovers with a smaller appliance and cut down on food waste, Melton recommends. It’s may be a more efficient option than your oven for reheating smaller portions.

How you arrange your appliances can also affect how willing you are to cook a healthy meal, Melton said. She recommends keeping the appliances you use regularly within easy reach. Make sure you reserve enough prep space as well.

Universal design: How to select appliances

Universal design started as a concept aimed primarily at creating accessible, barrier-free homes for people with disabilities. But it has evolved into the concept of creating a comfortable, accessible space for all members of the household, and there are number of reasons why a homeowner may decide to pursue it during a remodel or renovation.

“Aging in place is a huge thing,” said Chris Salas, owner of Cocina Interior Design in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and a Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer. “Multiple generations may be living in one home. You may have small children and older parents living under one roof and need flexibility in the spaces according to who’s using them. Resale is also a big factor. You aren’t ruling anybody out.”

Many appliances already incorporate universal design concepts and are easy for anyone to use, Salas said. But if you’re looking to build a kitchen that’s accessible to people of all sizes and physical abilities, there are certain features and elements you should consider when choosing your appliances. Salas, who has more than two decades of design experience, shared her insight on what homeowners who are pursuing a universal design concept should keep in mind.

Cooking

A traditional oven/range has limits to where and at what height it can be installed. Wall-mount ovens and microwaves can be mounted and placed at different heights according to the needs and abilities of the user, so they may be preferable. How the oven opens is also a factor. “Side-opening ovens are handy for everybody,” Salas said. Think about how all household members will reach the controls, not just those for cooking. For example, you may choose to put the fan control at counter level rather than at the rear of or above the range, or use a remote-operated fan. Many cooking appliances already have safety features in place that are appropriate for universal design concepts, Salas said. “A lot of cooktops and ranges have an indicator showing that the surface is still hot. Some even have a lock-out so you can’t turn on the cooktop without knowing how.”

Dishwashers

You’ll need adequate space and access to load and unload dishes as well as put them away. Salas has designed kitchens with all dish storage on the same side of the dishwasher door so those who are unloading the dishes don’t have to go around the open door. Dishwashers with single or double pull-out doors rather than a standard design may make opening, closing, loading and unloading easier.

Refrigerators

Consider the width of the door swing and whether all parts of the refrigerator are reachable. “It might be hard to get out of the way of a 36-inch door,” Salas said. “The smaller doors come in handy. The French door is probably the best invention for universal design.” Keep the height in mind as well. “The door swings may not be as big as a one-door model, but you might not be able to reach half the fridge because it’s tall.” Salas recommends testing appliances before you buy them. “Some fridges have a really good feel but may be difficult to open,” she said. “The bells and whistles might look or sound cool, but once you’re living with it, it might not add value. Get out and try these things to make sure they work.”

Outside the kitchen: Laundry

The height of the appliance relative to the user’s needs is also a factor in choosing and installing clothes washers and dryers, Salas said. “Keep flexibility in mind,” she said. “The washer and dryer can be on a pedestal. You can build them up onto your custom platform. It’s all about the user’s height. The front load is optimum for anybody to use.”

Stay cooking with these kitchen appliance safety tips

An excited mother and her happy children cooking a roast together in the kitchen

When used properly, home appliances have a proven and extensive track record of safety. Appliances are rigorously tested for safety long before they make it to retailers’ shelves. Many of the accidents that involve appliances are easily preventable.

John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL, has been involved in the appliance safety and testing business for more than 50 years, earning the informal title of “Mr. Safety.” He recently spoke with AHAM and shared some of the kitchen appliance safety knowledge he’s gained over more than a half century spent in and around appliance testing.

Don’t touch hot surfaces: Manufacturers design portable appliances to be carried and handled in a way to reduce the risk of injury. In the case of cooking appliances, handles and knobs are often designed to stay cooler than other parts of the appliance when the appliance is in use. “All crock pots come with two handles, and that’s the way you should carry it,” Drengenberg said. If a knob or handle breaks, contact the manufacturer for a replacement. Only the manufacturer’s parts will have been tested with that appliance, and improvising or using one intended for a different model could create a risk.

Unplug your appliances…: Any appliance, regardless of whether it’s turned on, poses the risk of electrical shock. Unplugging the appliance when it isn’t in use will drop that risk to nearly zero.

…but don’t let that cord hang: “Cords are a snagging hazard,” Drengenberg said. A child can be injured by a falling appliance or burned by cooking appliances like crockpots or deep fryers. Some models include breakaway connectors to reduce the chance that an appliance will fall if the cord is pulled.

Don’t toast your toaster: Toasters and other portable appliances shouldn’t be stored near ranges. The heat from the stove can melt or damage the outer surface of the appliance. That both damages the appliance and could create other hazards if the inner components are exposed, Drengenberg said.

Keep  plugged-in appliances away from the sink: Plugged-in appliances used near the sink might fall into the sink, creating an electric shock risk. “Now it’s turned on, in a sink full of water, in a metal sink,” Drengenberg said. “It’s a perfect storm.”

Treat blades as knives: Most food processors include interlocks to stop the blade from rotating when the appliance is taken apart for cleaning, Drengenberg said. But the blades on blenders and food processors are sharp and should be handled with care during cleaning. “When you’re washing the blender or blade, it’s a sharp cutting tool,” he said.

Set the proper microwave cooking time: Care for a potato or some popcorn? Cooking those two foods for too long is a common cause of fires in microwaves, Drengenberg said. When fires happen, it’s often because the user mistakenly put too much time on the microwave and forgot the food was cooking, he said. Manufacturers have installed sensors in many models to shut the oven off in case of fire. If there’s a fire in your microwave, turn it off and keep the door closed. Opening the door could make the fire worse.

Watch what’s cooking: Most of the more than 100 million ranges and cooktops in use in the U.S. are used safely. But unattended cooking remains a leading cause of household fires in the U.S. and the leading cause of cooking fires. Monitor what you’re cooking when your range or oven is in use. AHAM, appliance manufacturers and UL are working to reduce cooking fires through technical developments and consumer education.

Prevent range tipping: Never use the oven door for support or as a step. Check to see that an anti-tip device has been installed on your range.

Read your manual: The instruction manual for your appliance should include ways to reduce hazards. Appliance safety standards from UL contain a list of “important safeguards” that are to be included in instruction manuals, Drengenberg said.

Do you have a question about kitchen appliance safety? Ask us in the comment section, and we’ll get an answer from “Mr. Safety.”

Do your part to prevent range-tipping

Ikea’s voluntary recall of tens of millions of chests and dressers in North America after a number of children were injured or killed as a result of tip-over accidents has thrust both the risk of tip-over accidents and the importance of prevention into the spotlight. The risk of tip-overs, while low, also exists for kitchen ranges. Typically, range-tipping accidents occur when a child climbs on to the open door of a range which has not been secured to the floor or wall by an anti-tip bracket and the child’s weight causes the range to tip over onto the child. This can cause death or serious injury from the weight of the range, plus burns and scalding injuries from hot food and liquids that fall from the cooktop.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 70% of tip-over accidents involve televisions and furniture, 26% involve dressers and tables and 4% involve appliances. Tip-over accidents occur in most rooms in the home, but only 4% occur in kitchens. That’s compared to 45% in bedrooms, 24% in living rooms and 29% in other areas of the home.

Range-tipping is easily prevented, and taking right measures can reduce the risk to almost zero. Here’s what you can do to remove the risk of a range-tipping tragedy from your home:

  • Have an anti-tip device installed: S. safety organizations, including UL, require that manufacturers include an easily installable anti-tip device with every new range. The devices prevent tip-over accidents by securing ranges to the floor or wall. All AHAM members that manufacture ranges adhere to the safety and stability requirements. The devices anchor the range so that it will not tip over. Manufacturers also require that anti-tip devices be included as part of installation. Check with your installer to make sure this is being done. Contact your range manufacturer, appliance dealer or an authorized service agent if you aren’t sure whether anti-tip device was installed or if you think you need a replacement anti-tip device.
  • Keep the door closed: Keep the range door closed when the appliance isn’t in use.
  • Talk to your children: Educate your children on the proper, safe use of the range. Tell them that the open door should never be used as a step.
  • Keep the weight off: Never use the door of the range as a step or to support other objects, such heavy pans that may be inside the oven cooking.
  • Check your range for an anti-tip device: If you don’t know whether an anti-tip device has been installed on your range, it’s easy to find out. Take a look under the range to see if it’s anchored to the floor, or pull gently on the back of the range to see if you’re able to pull it off the floor. If you aren’t, it’s likely that an anti-tip device is installed.

Appliance manufacturers include the installation of range-tipping devices in their instruction manuals. But ultimately, it is the responsibility of the consumer and the professionals who install the ranges to make sure the anti-tip devices are installed.

AHAM has been a leading voice for the prevention of range-tipping accidents. Its extensive public education campaign led to manufacturers including information on preventing range tipping in their manuals. AHAM has also worked to educate building inspectors and code officials, federal housing officials, building managers, landlords and insurance companies.

Get AHAM’s brochure on how to protect against range tipping.