Ways to Save on New Appliances

Expert tips that help you buy better appliances and install them easier and faster

The benefits of doing it yourself

When you're buying a new appliance, it's tempting to have the dealer handle the installation hassles. But here are two good reasons to tackle the installation yourself:

Save serious money
Dealers charge anywhere from $100 to $200 to hook up a major appliance. Some dealers may not be able to make gas connections for a gas oven or dryer, which means hiring a plumber and spending even more.

Get it done right
Appliance installation mistakes are a major cause of home catastrophes, from water damage to fires. The quality of dealer installation varies: You might get an experienced perfectionist to install your new appliance or you might get a kid who just started his job last week. By tackling the installation yourself, you can make sure it's safe and reliable.

DIY Success Story

“Last year my wife and I bought all new appliances. The installation fees ($80 to $120) seemed reasonable until I added them up. Then my innate frugality kicked in. It took me two weekends, but in the end I figured I had paid myself about $200 per day. Not bad for a part-time job! ”—Travis Larson, Senior Editor

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Tip 1: Buy a fridge that fits

Most appliances come in standard sizes. But with refrigerators, there's no such thing as “standard.” They vary in width, depth and height, and lots of homeowners don't realize this until they try to slide the new fridge into place. Measure before you shop so you're sure your new fridge is going to fit between and under existing cabinets. And make sure its doors and drawers can open fully in your kitchen.

Also measure doorway openings and hallways to be sure the fridge will fit through your front door and into the kitchen. Removing the doors from the refrigerator and freezer will make the unit lighter and easier to carry. This only involves removing a few screws, and will make it easier to fit through doorways without damaging the doorway or the appliance.

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Tip 2: Don't push with your knee

The easiest way to nudge a heavy appliance into place is with your knee—and it's also the easiest way to dent the thin metal. Ease the appliance into position by placing your hands on the sides and pressing firmly with even pressure. Also, take off your rings and other jewelry when you're moving an appliance to avoid scratching it.

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Tip 3: Buy “no-burst” stainless steel washer hoses

Many washing machines come without water supply hoses at all or come with poor-quality rubber hoses. Buy quality “no-burst” hoses, which have a braided stainless steel sleeve. Let your homeowner's insurance company know you're using no-burst hoses and you might get a discount on your premium. (Type “insurance” in the search box above.)

Note: Burst washing machine hoses are one of the most common sources of water damage, accounting for more than $150 million in insurance claims each year in the United States.

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Tip 4: Check your old washer shutoff valves

If you have old hose bib–type shutoff valves, don't assume they'll work well after going unused for years. Try the handles a day or two before you plan to install the new washer. If you can't turn them at all, you have two choices: Replace the valves or shut off your main water valve when you replace the washer. If the handles do turn, there's still a good chance the valve won't close completely. So have a bucket handy to catch drips while you replace the washer.

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Tip 5: Protect the floor

Even the toughest tile floor can be scratched by the metal wheels of a refrigerator. Rolling or pushing them over vinyl or wood flooring can cause dents and gouges. “I learned the hard way how much damage a tiny grain of sand caught beneath the wheel of a refrigerator can cause to a tile floor,” says Costas Stavrou, owner of Nicollet Appliance Repair in Minneapolis. “Let's just say the homeowner was not pleased.”

Laying down stiff cardboard or a chunk of leftover carpeting usually works fine. If you want the ultimate protection, use a sheet of 1/8-in. hardboard. The smooth surface not only protects floors but also allows appliances to move smoothly into and out of place.

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Tip 6: Spend extra for a quiet, energy efficient dishwasher

Energy Star–rated dishwashers use about 32 percent less electricity than non–Energy Star models, so they're definitely worth buying, and they're available in every price range. But energy efficiency translates into longer cycle times—up to three hours or more. Keep that in mind when you're pricing dishwashers. You can find Energy Star–rated dishwashers that clean well at prices from $400 to $1,000. (You probably don't need all the bells and whistles of models priced over $1,000. They don't clean any better than lower-priced dishwashers.)

Often the biggest difference between the cheapest and slightly higher priced models is noise. Dishwashers outfitted with better sound insulation cost more. If your kitchen is open to the rest of the house or near a room you like to use when the dishwasher's running, consider spending an extra $200 to $300 to get a quiet, energy-efficient model.

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Tip 7: Beware of plastic fridge tubing

Cheap plastic is unreliable. It can dry, crack and leak as it ages. According to the U.S. insurance industry, leaks from plastic water supply tubing are a primary cause of water damage each year. If your previous icemaker hookup used plastic tubing, replace it with flexible braided stainless line. It doesn't kink like copper; the screw-on fittings make it easier to connect than the compression fittings required by plastic or copper; and it provides better water flow than plastic.

If your existing copper tubing is in good shape, reuse it. But if it's kinked, switch to braided stainless. If you have PEX plastic tubing and you've never seen a mouse in your house, you should be fine. Otherwise, stick with the copper or braided stainless steel “gnaw proof” options so you don't encounter a nasty surprise, as TFH editor Travis Larson did. “I came home to a sagging, waterlogged basement ceiling thanks to the leaky plastic line feeding my refrigerator. The telltale signs of a gnawing mouse were all over it!”

Note: A three-hour icemaker supply line leak can be the equivalent of dumping three 55-gal. drums of water on a kitchen floor.

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Tip 8: Check for leaks

After you've hooked up a water-using appliance, wipe up any water that dripped during the installation and run the appliance through a couple of cycles to be sure there aren't any leaks. Give it some time. A leak may not show up for 20 to 30 minutes. Do this before you reattach the front access panel of your dishwasher. Get down on your hands and knees and check for leaks underneath it with a flashlight.

After hooking up your new icemaker, check that it's filling, and look for leaks behind the fridge before you push it back to the wall. Run a small load in your new washing machine and watch it drain. Make sure the drain hose doesn't leap out of place when the water pours through it. If there's a leak, tightening the connection just a little is usually enough to stop it.

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Tip 9: Glass and ceramic cooktops require special care

A new smooth glass or ceramic cooktop adds a sleek, updated look to any kitchen. If you buy one, keep in mind that they can be damaged without proper care. Most require a special cleanser to keep them looking good. If you switch from coiled burners to a glass cooktop, replace your older copper-bottomed pots and pans with a set that won't damage the cooktop surface. Pans with colored bottoms can fuse with the glass top and damage it. Also, lesser-quality pans can warp due to the intense heat of glass cooktops, and rough-bottomed pans can scratch the glass surface.

Induction cooktops and dual-fuel ranges have special requirements as well. Induction cooking requires cookware made of steel, cast iron or some other combination of metals that will react with the magnetic field. And both induction cooktops and dual-fuel ranges with a gas cooktop and electric oven require your kitchen to be wired for 220 volts (which isn't likely if you're currently using gas). Be sure to add these costs to the appliance price tag to get the real cost of your new purchase.

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Tip 10: Never, ever use plastic dryer duct

When you replace your dryer, take the opportunity to clean any lint that has built up in your existing dryer duct. If you have to replace any ducting, smooth rigid metal duct is the best choice. If you have to use flexible duct, make sure it's semi-rigid metal duct rather than thin foil or flexible plastic duct, which are both fire hazards. Avoid using screws to connect the vent pipe sections. They collect lint that can block the vent. Instead, connect all the sections with aluminum foil tape.

(For step-by-step dryer vent installation instructions, type “dryer vent” in the search box above.)

Note: Between the years 2002 and 2004, an annual average of 12,700 clothes dryer fires occurred…failure to clean out lint buildup is the leading factor.—U.S. Fire Administration

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Tip 11: Save the old dishwasher elbow

Most dishwasher water connections require a 3/8-in. elbow. “Save yourself a trip to the hardware store by removing the elbow that's connected to the intake valve on the water supply from your old dishwasher,” says our master plumber, Les Zell. “Reuse it on your new dishwasher and orient the elbow in exactly the same direction on the new machine so that the water line feeds directly into it so you don't kink the line.”

Some dishwasher hookup kits at home centers include this elbow; some don't. If you're installing a nonstandard or European dishwasher, check its electrical, drain and water line connections at the store. That way, you'll know if you need to move anything for your new dishwasher before it arrives. (For step-by-step installation instructions, type “replace a dishwasher” in the search box above.)

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Tip 12: Make clothes washer hoses easier to remove

Once you screw your new washer hoses to the shutoff valves, there's a good chance you won't unscrew them again for a decade or more. To make the hoses easier to unscrew years from now, use Teflon pipe thread tape or pipe joint compound on the threads. It won't prevent leaks, but it will prevent mineral deposits and corrosion from welding the hose fittings to the valves.

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Tip 13: Install a surge suppressor

Small internal power surges in your home's electrical system occur every time you turn on or off hair dryers, power tools and vacuum cleaners. These small voltage spikes can wreck the sensitive electronic circuitry in appliances with digital displays. Prevent this by plugging your new appliance into a high-quality surge protector or by swapping out the existing electrical receptacle behind the appliance for a point-of-use surge suppressor receptacle.

For hard-wired appliances, ask your electrician about installing surge suppression equipment at the junction box. (For information about how to install a surge suppressor receptacle, type “surge protectors” in the search box above.)

Note: “My mother had to replace the electronic circuit board in her beautiful new range twice in the first year, and each time it cost $500—all because of power surges.” —Elisa Bernick, Associate Editor

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Tip 14: Don't lose the manual

New appliances come with manuals, wrenches, extra washers and accessories. Put it all in a zippered plastic bag and tape or tack it to the appliance, the wall or inside a nearby cabinet so you have everything together when you need it.

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Tip 15: Don't use saddle valves

A saddle valve commonly comes with an icemaker hookup kit, but it's prone to leaks and doesn't meet plumbing code in some regions. Instead, remove a section of the cold water pipe and solder in a regular 1/2-in. copper tee. If you don't want to solder, you can cut the copper water pipe and install a 5/8-in. O.D. compression tee instead. If you have CPVC (plastic) or steel pipes, add tees made of the same material. (For step-by-step refrigerator installation instructions, type “refrigerator plumbing” in the search box above.)

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Tip 16: Install leak detectors

Consider installing leak detector units behind or under water-using appliances to prevent water damage from leaky hoses. Battery-operated models (inexpensive) sound an alarm when they detect water. Other models, like the one shown here (over $100), automatically shut off the water when they detect leakage on the floor. Some monitors can be wired to a centrally monitored alarm system or to an automatic shutoff valve on your main water line or at individual shutoffs.

Note: More than 80 percent of household leaks in 2007 were caused by plumbing and major appliances. . .with the average leak costing policyholders more than $7,500 to repair. —State Farm Insurance Co. (For more information type “automatic sensors” and “prevent floods” in the search box above.)

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