How to Buy a Range

First Things First: Gas or Electric?

If you don’t have a gas supply to your house, the answer is easy. But if you can go with either gas or electric, budget and cooking preferences play a significant role in deciding. Also, some people prefer electric ranges because of safety issues — there’s no chance of a gas leak. Here’s food for thought:

Popularity: Electric smooth-top ranges are the best sellers because of price and performance. They account for more than 60% of all ranges sold.
Budget: Electric ranges are typically less expensive than their gas counterparts. However, gas ranges are usually cheaper to operate, depending on whether your natural gas rates are lower than your electricity costs.
Cooking preferences: Listen to your inner chef. Many cooks prefer gas ranges because the burner flame works as a visual temperature gauge and can heat things up quickly. Most bakers prefer electric ovens because of the consistent and even heat they generate.
Here’s a surprising fact: There are no federal energy regulations for consumer ranges, so you won’t find a model that’s Energy Star certified.

Types of Ranges and Costs

There are three standard freestanding range types: electric, gas, and dual-fuel (a gas stovetop with an electric-powered oven). Each type includes:

A stovetop (with a minimum of four burners — many premium models have five)
An oven (usually two racks and one oven — many premium ranges will have a larger oven with three racks or two ovens)
If you want your range to look like it’s built into your cabinetry, there are two additional options. Both are somewhat rare and may require special ordering through an appliance dealer:

Slide-in ranges. The range fits between two cabinets and the edges of the cooktop rest on top of the counters, eliminating gaps. They’re available in gas, electric, and dual-fuel range styles.
Drop-in ranges. They‘re fitted into a pre-built cabinet opening with a cabinet panel across the bottom. The panel eliminates the bottom storage drawer typical of most ranges. They’re available in electric power only.

1. Electric ranges

Electric ranges feature three options for cooktop heating elements.

Coil-top models have exposed heating elements. Cookware goes directly on the elements. They’re the least expensive ranges you can buy ($389 to $650) and typically are available in only two colors: black or white. Features include:

Porcelain-enamel cooktop finish
Indicator lights that let you know when the burner’s coil heating element is on
Dials and knobs for oven and burner control
Coil-top ranges at the top end of the price range usually include:

Digital displays for heating temperatures and cooking times
Single storage drawers for cookware
Large oven windows
Drawbacks:

Coil heating elements are slow to heat up and cool.
Heating elements must be removed for thorough cleaning.
Indicator lights only go on when the cooktop’s coils are switched on, but not when the coils are off but still hot (and cooling down).
Coil cooktops tend to distribute heat unevenly.
Smooth-top models have solid disk or radiant heating elements beneath a one-piece ceramic glass cooktop that makes cleanup easy. Smooth tops are the best-selling ranges because of their performance, price, and good looks.

Mid-range models start at $550. Standard features typically include:

Standard electric ovens
Electronic oven controls with preset cooking options and digital displays
Indicator lights that let you know when the heating elements are on and when the surface area is hot and cooling down
Self-cleaning functions
Premium smooth-top ranges include fast-cooking convection ovens that use fans to circulate heat so foods bake or roast more quickly and evenly; they can slash cooking times by up to 30%. Premium models start at around $900 and typically include:

Hidden heating elements (rather than an exposed wire element sitting on the bottom of the oven’s interior) for easier oven cleaning
Warming centers that keep prepared foods warm
A fifth stovetop heating element
Smooth-top models with two ovens start at around $1,300.

Drawbacks:

Glass ceramic surfaces are a cinch to clean but prone to scratching.
You can’t use cast-iron, stoneware, or glass cookware on the cooktop because they can scratch. Also, glass and stoneware are poor heat conductors, which increases cooking time. The intense heat that cast iron creates can actually shut down the range. Stainless steel and copper are best.
Overheated metal cookware may bond with the cooktop’s glass ceramic surface.
Induction-top models are known for speedy stovetop cooking. Their burners don’t generate heat like other stovetops. Instead, they use magnetic technologies to turn compatible cookware into a heat source. If you can stick a magnet to your cookware, you can use it. As a result, the induction top’s glass ceramic surface remains cool to the touch.

Induction stovetops can boil water about 50% faster than other stoves. They’re also energy-efficient; 90% of the energy they generate is used to cook food (a standard electric stovetop uses about 65% and a gas stovetop uses 50%).

They’re typically equipped with convection ovens which speed cooking time by using fans to circulate and boost heat transfer.  Induction ranges include:

Control lockouts that prevent the range from being accidentally turned on
Touch screens instead of knobs and dials
Hidden baking elements for easier cleaning
Warming drawers
Drawbacks:

Not all your pots and pans will be compatible with the induction stovetop. Aluminum, copper, glass, and some types of stainless cookware won’t work.
They’re expensive.
2. Gas ranges

Besides the visual control of the flame and quick, uniform heating, benefits include:

Compatibility with all cooktop and oven cookware
Surface burners and ovens that still work when the power goes out (but not a fan-driven convection feature)
Lower operating costs than electric ranges — depending on your local utility rates
Heat output for gas range burners is described in Btu (British thermal units). Burners range from 5,000 to 20,000 Btu. Ranges with high-heat burners usually cost more.

General retail price range: Standard models are the least expensive gas ranges you can buy and typically are available in two basic colors: black or white.

Porcelain-enamel cooktops
Burners that don’t burn as hot as more expensive ranges (average 9,500 Btu)
Storage drawers
Cast-iron grates over the burners
Dials and knobs for oven and burner control
Oven windows that are typically much smaller than those on more expensive models
Mid-range models start. Features typically include:

High-performance burners (up to 12,500 Btu)
Digital settings for cooking times and temperatures
Storage drawers for pots and pans
Oven control lockouts that stop unintended changes to oven settings
A self-cleaning oven
Easy-to-clean steel grates over the burners
White, black, and stainless steel color options
Premium models start at around $1,000; double-oven-type gas ranges start at around $1,600. Features typically include:

High-performance burners (up to 17,000 Btu)
A bonus fifth burner
A removable stovetop griddle
Electronic control panels for programmed cooking times
Convection ovens
Hidden baking elements for easier cleaning
. They’re wider than standard ranges and have large oven capacities of 5.8 cubic feet and more. Additional features typically include:

A bonus fifth burner, with one being a super-hot burner of up to 20,000 Btu
Two convection ovens
Heavy-duty rollout cooking racks
Multiple color and metal options
Drawbacks:

Gas ranges tend to be more expensive then their electric range counterparts.
You need a natural gas line hooked up to your kitchen.
3. Dual-fuel ranges

These ranges combine the best of both worlds: a gas stovetop that chefs love with an electric-powered oven that provides even heat for baking. They come with a premium price tag of $2,000 to $7,500.

Features include:

Gas stovetops with five burners
One or two electric convection ovens
Glass touch screens for burner and oven controls
Wi-Fi-enabled programming so you can control oven features with your personal device
Size Does Matter

Freestanding ranges typically fall into two conventional widths: Standard ranges are approximately 30 inches wide; dual-fuel and pro-style gas ranges are 36 to 48 inches wide.

You’ll need to make sure your range’s oven cavity size is large enough to accommodate your cooking needs:

2 to 3 cubic feet will accommodate households with one or two people.
3 to 4 cubic feet will accommodate households with three or four people.
4 cubic feet and up will accommodate households of four or more.
Want to Color Your World?

Unlike refrigerators and clothes washers that are available in fashion-forward shades like ruby red or apple green, mid-range and premium ranges are typically available in shades of black, white, and stainless steel. You’ll have to look at pro-style ranges to get custom colors such as red, blue, and green.

Features and Functions You Should Have

We think the features that pack the most value for homeowners are the ones that boost convenience. Here’s a list of best bets:

Lots of rack positions so you can create room in your oven for additional or tall items when needed. Most ranges have five (yea!) but some lower-price ranges will not (boo!).

Hot surface lights on electric stovetops will let you know if the burner area is too hot to touch. You won’t find this feature on most coil-top electric ranges.

Double ovens will allow you to cook multiple items at different temperatures. Keep in mind you’ll sacrifice the convenient storage drawer for the extra oven.

A high heat burner is desirable for quickly heating up large quantities and for searing foods.

Warming drawers keep cooked foods warm prior to serving.

A self-cleaning cycle makes cleaning your oven less of a chore.

Sabbath mode settings allow observant Jews to preprogram oven settings so cooked foods remain warm during the Sabbath when cooking is forbidden.

Features You Shouldn’t Pay More For

You shouldn’t buy a range just because it has some of the following features. (Some features are standard on ranges with electronic screens.)

The delayed-start feature allows you to program your oven when to turn on, and Wi-Fi-enabled features allow you to control your oven when you’re not home. The National Fire Protection Association says you should never operate your oven when you’re not home to check on it regularly.

Low-powered burners with extra-low settings aren’t necessary because burner output can be easily adjusted.

10 Tips for Saving Energy in the Kitchen

Spending less money on utility bills doesn’t mean you need to rush out and purchase a whole new suite of Energy Star appliances. With occasional light maintenance and good habits, you can greatly improve the energy efficiency of your large kitchen appliances — up to about $120 annually — without sacrificing convenience.

Refrigerator/freezer

Energy-efficiency experts tell us to focus our efforts on the biggest energy hogs in the house, and that definitely includes the fridge. Because it cycles on and off all day, every day, the refrigerator consumes more electricity than nearly every appliance in the home save for the HVAC systems. The average refrigerator costs about $90 per year to operate, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

1. Adjust the thermostat. By setting the thermostat colder than it needs to be, you might increase your fridge’s energy consumption by as much as 25% on average. Adjust the refrigerator so that it stays in the 37-40 degrees F range. For the freezer, shoot for between 0-5 degrees F. You could save up to $22 per year. If your model doesn’t display the current temps, invest in two appliance thermometers (one for the fridge, one for the freezer).

2. Clean the coils. As dust accumulates on the condenser coils on the rear or bottom of the fridge, it restricts cool-air flow and forces the unit to work harder and longer than necessary. Every six months, vacuum away the dust that accumulates on the mechanism. Also, check to see that there is at least a 3-inch clearance at the rear of the fridge for proper ventilation.

3. Use an ice tray. Automatic ice makers are a nice convenience, to be sure, but it turns out the mechanisms are energy hogs. An automatic ice maker can increase a refrigerator’s energy consumption by 14% to 20%, according to Energy Star. By switching off the ice maker and using trays, you can save about $12 to $18 off your annual electricity bill. Most units require little more than a lift of the sensor arm to switch them off. To reclaim the space remove the entire unit, a simple DIY job on many models.

4. Unplug the “beer fridge.” Many homes have an extra fridge that runs year round even though it’s used sparingly. Worse, these fridges tend to be older, more inefficient models. By consolidating the contents to the main fridge and unplugging the additional unit, you eliminate the entire operating cost of a fridge. The second-best solution is to make sure the extra fridge remains three-quarters full at all times. The mass helps maintain steady internal temps and lets the fridge recover more quickly after the door is opened and closed, according to the California Energy Commission.

Ovens and ranges

“Green” cooking all comes down to proper time and space management. By using gas and electric stoves more effectively, you can painlessly save a few dollars a year.

5. Cut the power early. As anybody who’s ever bumped a burner on an electric stove can attest, those heating elements stay hot long after they’ve been switched off. Put that residual heat to work by shutting off the burner several minutes before the end of the cook time. The same technique can be applied to the oven. The savings can add up to a couple bucks every month.

6. Match the burner to pan. When a small pan is placed on a big burner you can practically see the money disappearing into thin air. By matching the burner to the pan, electricity won’t be squandered heating the kitchen rather than the food. The reverse is true, too. A small burner will take considerably longer to heat a large pan than would an appropriately sized burner. For gas stoves, don’t let the flames lick the sides of the pot. Follow these tips and watch the utility bills shrink by a few dollars a month.

7. Do away with preheating. You can save about $2 a month by not preheating your oven (20 cents per hour to operate electric oven; eliminate 20 30-minute preheats a month). Many cooks agree that the practice is wholly unnecessary for all but a few recipes, namely baking breads and cakes. This approach may add a few minutes to the overall cooking time, but it eliminates all that wait time on the front end.

Dishwasher

As with washing machines, most of a dishwasher’s energy needs go to heating the water. Still, says Lane Burt, an energy policy analyst with The Natural Resources Defense Council, a 10-year-old dishwasher can be made nearly as efficient as a newer model simply by knowing when and how to run it.

8. Manage the load. Most dishwashers use the same amount of water and energy whether they’re run full or half-full. You can cut your operating costs by one-third or one-half by running the machine only when it’s full. It costs about $54 to run a pre-2000 model dishwasher per year, based on government data.

9. Activate energy-saving features. A dishwasher’s heated dry cycle can add 15% to 50% to the appliance’s operating cost. Most machines allow the feature to be switched off (or not turned on), which can save $8-$27 per year, assuming an operating cost of $54 annually. If your dishwasher doesn’t have that flexibility, simply turn the appliance off after the final rinse and open the door.

10. Use the machine. Many homeowners believe they can save water and energy by hand washing dishes. The truth is that a dishwasher requires less than one-third the water it would take to do those same dishes in the sink. By running the machine (when full), you can cut down the operating time of the hot water heater, your home’s largest energy hog. Not only will you save a buck per month, you won’t have to do the dishes.