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Low-cost alternatives to our top-scoring high-end appliances

Consumer Reports News: May 28, 2013 12:38 PM

In putting together our annual report on kitchen remodeling, Consumer Reports broiled 3,384 burgers, applied more than 900 stains to a variety of countertops, and dropped two tons of weight onto 51 different flooring products. Never mind the torture tests for refrigerators, dishwashers, and sinks. Upwards of 150 products earned a spot in our coveted winner's circle. They're all great options if you're planning a kitchen remodel. Here, though, are some of our absolute favorites, aimed at free-spending remodelers and those who need to stick to a budget.

Refrigerators
High-end winners: You can go all out on a built-in refrigerator, spending upwards of $8,000 on one of our recommended models from Thermador, Jenn-Air, Sub-Zero, or Miele. But you won't get nearly as much storage capacity, compared with the massive interior on our top-rated French-door bottom-freezer, the LG LFX28991, $3,000. We also like the GE Cafe CFE29TSDSS, also $3,000, another top-performing French-door bottom-freezer that dispenses hot water.
For less:Want very good performance for well under $2,000? The Kenmore 7201[2] French-door bottom-freezer for $1,550 delivers excellent temperature control and energy efficiency. Among top-freezers, check out the Whirlpool WRT771REY for $1,100, one of the few in its category with an external water dispenser.

Dishwashers
High-end winners: Spending more on a dishwasher gets you all the features that matter most, like soil sensors, stainless-steel tub, adjustable tines, and ample flatware slots. Our-top rated Kenmore Elite 12783, $1,200, adds excellent washing performance, energy efficiency, and quietness. We also like several Bosch and Miele models for between $1,000 and $2,000.
For less: If you're willing to give up the stainless steel tub, the Bosch Ascenta SHX3AR7[5]UC offers washing performance comparable to our top models for just $700. It's slightly noisier, but still manages a very good score.

Ranges
High-end winners: There are two smart ways to splurge. Either go for a 30-inch smoothtop double oven, like the top-rated GE Profile PS978STSS, $2,800, in which you can cook two dishes at two different temperatures at the same time. Or choose induction for its pinpoint heat control. The Kenmore 92163 for $1,550 leads among induction models.
For less: There are some outstanding electric smoothtop ranges for $1,000 or less, including the Kenmore 92803, $850. Prefer gas? The Frigidaire Gallery FGGF3032MW performs very well for $775. And don't rule out old-fashioned electric coil ranges. The Kenmore 90212, $430, actually does better than some ranges costing five times as much.

Countertops
High-end winners: Granite still has pride of place in many luxury kitchens, though the availability of less expensive versions at home centers has sparked some granite fatigue. Consider quartz instead, which actually does better than granite in our tests, fending off stains, cuts, heat, and abrasion. Design-wise, it comes in solid patterns that play well in today's kitchens.
For less: Laminate has gotten so much better looking in recent years (hence the moniker "glaminate" used by some designers), while still costing just $10 to $40 per square foot, installed. The synthetic material resists staining and heat, though you'll need to be mindful of cuts and abrasions.

Flooring
High-end winners: Solid wood floors offer a warmth and elegance suited to high-end kitchens, and they can be used in adjacent rooms, creating a seamless flow between spaces. They also have a softness underfoot that's fairly forgiving of dropped dishes. In our tests, which includes leaving grape juice on the surface overnight to measure stain resistance, a prefinished solid wood floor from Teragren earned the highest score for the category. It costs $7.50 per square foot, not including installation.
For less: Many vinyl floors look the spitting image of solid wood for a fraction of the cost. Tranquility Antique Oak from Lumber Liquidators has a convincing faux pattern, plus it's a floating floor system that simply clicks together over your existing floor or other sturdy substrate, so you're only paying $2.90 per square foot for the cost of materials.

Daniel DiClerico

   

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