Restoration Guide: Kitchen and Bath Appliances

Susanne Clemenz

Editor's Note: This is article 5 of 8 in Chapter 6: The Kitchen and Baths Guide of Old House Web Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Rehab Guide.


Section 1--Overview

Older appliances are gas guzzlers, making replacements cost effective. Modern appliances are much more convenient, and the Department of Energy's ENERGY STAR ratings help with appliance choices. Remodeling with new appliances is part of many overall home restoration plans. Relocating appliances often provides better work flow and ease of access.

1.1: Appliance Techniques and Tools

  1. Refrigerators: Poor temperature control, leaking gaskets, and other inoperable features cost you monthly. Today's models include traditional 30-inch depths, non-protruding 24-inch cabinet depth, recessed built-ins, and retro styles. Expect a 15-year life. PROS: Operational savings and improved conveniences. CONS: Available space, including flooring, may have to be reconfigured. ENERGY STAR models may cost more.
  2. Ranges: Signals for range replacement include malfunctioning burners, ignition, and self-cleaning cycles, and gas-wasting pilot lights. Decide whether to change your power type (gas or electric.) A new free-standing range often fits available space. Drop-ins or slide-ins may require carpentry. For commercial-style ranges, check power and ventilation needs. PROS: Improved controls, cleaning, safety, and appearance. CONS: Rethink carpentry and ventilation.
  3. Cooktops: Some electric coil cooktops remain, but most electrics are easy-cleaning smooth-top ceramics with halogen or induction technologies. Gas cooktops are also prevalent. Both types offer many configurations. Malfunctioning burners, ignition, and temperatures signal replacement time. Carpentry may be needed. PROS: Many new features and styles. CONS: Counters and cabinets may need remodeling.
  4. Range ventilators: An exterior-vented extraction fan over your stove removes smoke, grease, vapor and odors. Use a ventilator rated at 10 percent of your range's BTUs. Many overhead microwaves merely return filtered air to the room. This should be corrected. Kitchen surfaces accumulate the grease and grime. CONS: Strong ventilators may need a fresh air intake. Ventilator ducts crowd cabinet space.
  5. Wall ovens: New wall ovens can be up to 30-inches wide, requiring wall changes. Power use is the same, but separate cooktops and ovens cost more. Changing your power type requires plumbing and/or electrical work. Choose electronic ignition over gas-hog pilot lights. Convection ovens circulate heated air for reduced energy and cooking times. PROS: More efficient than older models. Lockouts boost safety. CONS: Installation usually takes space.
  6. Microwave ovens: Safety issues like sparks and shutoff failure mean replacement is needed. Built-ins or microwave/convection combos have the same issues as wall ovens. Mounted microwaves free up counter space. PROS: Extra features, smaller sizes. CONS: Built-ins may require carpentry.
  7. Dishwashers: Don't tolerate noise, excessive water use, leaks, or motor failure. Options like matching cabinet panels, low water use, special cycles, and built-in food grinders, are replacement bonuses. Raising the dishwasher to breakfast bar height enhances access. Life expectancy is 12 years. PROS: Monthly savings from ENERGY STAR technologies. CONS: Old washer may be hard to remove. Difficulty matching cabinet style. ENERGY STAR models sometimes pricier.
  8. Food disposers: Old food disposers rust and burn out. Run plenty of cold water to push ground food through the pipes completely. Compare motor size, septic-friendliness, anti-jamming capabilities, and noise insulation on new models. Decide between continuous feed types with a wall switch or batch-loading that start with a lid turn switch. PROS: Eliminates many garbage odors. CONS: Check local codes for septic use.

Section 2--Streamline Workflow with Task Centers

Kitchen work flow follows this pattern: Refrigerator to prep area near sink, to mixing area between sink and stove/cooktop, to stove, to table, to sink/dishwasher, to storage. A work triangle under 26 lineal feet between refrigerator, sink, and stove maximizes efficiency. Keep triangle legs between 4 and 9 feet. Yes, old house preservation is important, but reconfiguring the kitchen streamlines work for years. Keep other uses and task areas out of the main work triangle.

2.1: Workflow and Appliance Placement Considerations

  1. Refrigerator location: Refrigerator placement that doesn't break up counter space is good if there's 15 inches of counter space on the freezer side of a side-by-side. Top- and bottom-freezer models need 15 inches of counter on the handle side, and all refrigerators are handy if there's setting space directly across from them. Side walls protruding beyond the hinged side(s) prohibit full door opening. Locate under-counter refrigerators or beverage chillers in secondary work triangles. Drawer-type refrigerators and freezers provide easy access. PROS: Correct work triangle placement of refrigerators expedites work flow. CONS: Changing appliance placement is expensive. Drawer-type refrigerators sacrifice base cabinets.
  2. Separate cooktop and ovens: Ovens are used less frequently than cooktops and refrigerators. Placing ovens away from the work triangle permits separate setting areas and accommodates multiple cooks. PROS: Facilitates access and use. CONS: Costlier than replacing one freestanding stove.
  3. Cooktop relocation: Cooktops need an item-setting space of 15 inches on one side and 3 to 9 inches to a heat-proof wall on the other side. For safety, allow 9 inches of rear clearance or a rear counter height change for island installations. Installed height can be 30 inches for seated cooks or more than 36 inches for tall chefs. PROS: Improved safety and access. CONS: Small islands may lack safety clearances.
  4. Oven placement: Double ovens are flexible and convenient, but sometimes too high for safety. Adding a single wall oven with its bottom 24 inches from floor level, or its top 30 to 40-1/2 inches above the floor increases safety. Add a drawer below. Side-opening styles are available. Install pull-out setting boards below them. PROS: Improved safety and access. CONS: Possible space restraints.
  5. Microwave location: Today's smaller microwave ovens sit on counters, recess under stovetop cabinets, or sit above a wall oven. Other ideas include mounting underneath 36- or 42-inch countertops. Install a cooking microwave between refrigerator and sink, plus a "snack" microwave outside the work triangle. PROS: Handy placement encourages use. Fairly inexpensive. CONS: Base microwave size on potential uses and size constraints.
  6. Dishwasher placement: Installing a dishwasher with all racks 15 to 48 inches above the floor improves comfort and access. Leave minimum counters of 12 and 24 inches on either side of the sink to a raised dishwasher, and 36 inches maximum to any dishwasher. Have 21 inches on each side of the dishwasher, especially if it's at right angles to other appliances, counters, or cabinets. PROS: Proper placement aids use. CONS: Kitchen size may preclude raised installation.

Section 3--Appliance Decor Options

Delaying appliance replacement expenses helps home restoration budgets. Instead, update the appearance of functioning older appliances.

3.1: Unique Decor Options

  1. Appliance paint: Paint can refresh worn, dated appliance exteriors. Empty and unplug appliances, ventilate the area, and clean surfaces thoroughly. Apply paint in multiple thin layers or hire a professional. PROS: Achieves an up-to-date appearance. CONS: Time consuming. Interiors may not match.
  2. Cabinet panels: Trim kits for inserting door panels matching your cabinets may be available. Call appliance companies with your model and serial ID numbers. Find a cabinet company or craftsman who can provide door panels. Panels shouldn't crowd door handle operation. PROS: A budget-friendly fresh look. CONS: Panel kits and cabinet matches may be unavailable. Appliance still wastes energy.
  3. Refrigerator build-in: To achieve a built-in look with a 30-inch deep refrigerator, move cabinets flanking the refrigerator wall forward 6 inches. Allow for manufacturer's required ventilation space near compressor and coil. PROS: Adds deeper flanking counter spaces and contemporary appearance. CONS: Adjacent countertops must be remade. Exposed cabinet end panels need refacing.
  4. Refrigerator recess: Steal space from a non load-bearing-wall, room, or garage behind the refrigerator. Cut a refrigerator-size opening. Move unit back 4 to 6 inches--flush with lower cabinet faces. Frame with 2-by-4s and sheet-rock. Allow required ventilation. Install a high outlet. Allow refrigerator door to swing over adjacent cabinets. PROS: Flush-mounted appearance. CONS: Noise and ventilation concerns.

Section 4--Energy Improvements for Older Appliances

20 to 40 percent of home energy use is in the kitchen. Adjacent appliances affect energy use and remodeling needs.

4.1: Temperatures, Circulation, and Ventilation

  1. Air temperatures: Direct sunlight and adjacency to cooktops, ovens, and dishwashers affect refrigerator energy use, as do higher air temperatures and humidity. These make the compressor overwork. Separate the refrigerator from other appliances, or install 3-inch fiberglass or 1-inch foil-faced insulation between appliances. PROS: Improves efficiency, extends refrigerator life. CONS: Kitchen redesign may be needed.
  2. Interior circulation: Follow manufacturer's air circulation specs for built-in appliances to avoid "smothering" them. Provide extra airflow around free-standing refrigerators. Clean coils semi-annually. PROS: Improves performance, efficiency, and appliance life. CONS: Takes more room.
  3. Exterior ventilation: Long clothes dryer ducts accumulate moist air, increasing drying times and energy use. Keep ducts clean. Consider an inline fan. PROS: Improves performance, efficiency, and appliance life. CONS: Access may be difficult.

Section 5--Choose Energy-saving Appliances

Two handy tools describe energy-saving appliances: The ENERGY STAR rating system, and the Energy Guide, which compares initial and lifetime costs of similar appliance models. Old appliances gobble water, electricity, and gas.

5.1: Appliance Replacement Considerations

  1. Refrigerator replacement: Buy an ENERGY STAR refrigerator for long-term savings. Refine choices with the Energy Guide's comparisons of capacities, features, styles, etc. Side-by-sides are least energy efficient. Weigh conveniences like water dispensers, ice makers, and automatic defrost against energy consumption. Keep shelves full, if only with water bottles. PROS: Operational savings. Power companies often offer tax credits. CONS: Higher purchase price. Only certain models are ENERGY STAR.
  2. Dishwasher replacement: Dishwashers with water heat boosters provide 140 degree water--20 degrees above other household needs. Light load settings or waiting for a full load further reduces water use. Select air drying. Dual-pump appliances use 50 percent less water than single pump units. All this improves even ENERGY STAR performance. The Energy Guide compares features and costs. PROS: Saves money, energy, and water. CONS: Possible higher initial cost. Only certain models are ENERGY STAR.
  3. Oven replacements: Convection ovens, and speed cooking ovens that combine lightwaves and microwaves, save money with shorter cooking times. Extra insulation in self-cleaning ovens creates efficiency during all oven use. PROS: Lowered operating costs. CONS: Some need 240V. Possibly pricier.
  4. Washer and dryer replacement: Front-loading horizontal axis tumble-action washers are big water savers. Cleaning is excellent. Add a front-loading dryer and stack them to save space. ENERGY STAR washers and dryers top efficiency ratings. PROS: Good access, low operating costs. CONS: Pricier initially.

About the Author
Suzanne Clemenz designed her passive solar home and interacted with the contractors every day of the 6-month project. She started drawing floor plans and making models in the early '70s after purchasing several building lots. Recently she expanded and remodelled her newly-purchased home, working with contractors on the floorplan, electrical changes, painting, installation of wood laminate flooring, flood prevention walls and stonework, major drainage issues, an irrigation system and a landscaping. Researching and keeping up on issues and products related to home design and maintenance is an ongoing avocation.

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