Kristen Hicks on July 14, 2016 2 Comments Table of Contents Types of Microwaves Factors to Consider While Shopping Popular Features to Consider Customer Reviews of Popular Brands The microwave may not be the most important technological breakthrough of our age, but having one in your kitchen has probably saved more hours of your life than you can count. As a new invention, microwaves may have briefly seemed like a luxury, but they’ve long since moved into the category of necessity for most of us. In fact, 97% of households in the United States have one, and with a life expectancy of about 7-12 years, at some point every homeowner will find themselves needing to purchase a new one. While the question of whether or not you should own a microwave is an easy one, navigating the wide world of microwave options available to purchase is another thing altogether. To help you find the best microwave for your lifestyle, we’ve created the following guide on everything you need to know when you are shopping. 4 Types of Microwaves The type of microwave type you buy will depend on the design layout of your kitchen. If you’re building a home or completely remodeling your kitchen, then you have a few types of microwaves that can seamlessly blend into your home. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to go with a microwave of size and type that best works with the space you already have. 1. Countertop Microwaves Click Here to View All Countertop Microwaves Countertop microwaves are easily the most common type of microwave you will come across. This popularity is probably due to how easy these units are to buy, replace and set up. There is virtually no installation required, all you have to do is plug in the microwave and start cooking. The only real consideration you need to take into account is the size of the oven and whether you have enough space on your kitchen countertops. The vast majority of most affordable microwaves you will come across are likely to fall into the countertop category. Benefits: Affordable options. Easy to set up and replace. No installation requirements, just plug and play. Very portable, lightweight and easy to move around. To Keep in Mind: Takes up counter space. Often smaller and lack many features. 2. Over-the-Range Microwaves Click Here to View All Over-the-Range Microwaves An over-the-range microwave will be installed directly above your stovetop or cooking range. These microwaves usually are installed flush amongst your kitchen cabinets, so it blends right into rest of the kitchen. Widely regarded as luxurious and elegant, an over-the-range microwave have a few extra benefits that are not available in other types of microwaves. The most obvious benefit is how much countertop space you can save. However, the majority of these microwaves also have a light fixture at the bottom of it to help illuminate the cooking surface down below. Additionally, they typically have a built-in ventilation system that can remove odors, fumes and excessive heat, much like a range hood or exhaust fan. If your kitchen is small and the counter space is limited, an over-the-range microwave may be the most practical choice for you. Benefits: Doesn’t use any counter space. Provides extra lighting to the range below. Helps vent fumes, odors and heat created from cooking on the range. To Keep in Mind: More expensive than countertop models. Often hard for kids (and some adults) to reach. Require installation. 3. Built-in Microwaves Click Here to View All Built-In Microwaves Over-the-range are the most common type of built-in microwave, but you have plenty of other options as well. In fact, this type of microwave can be built into your kitchen in just about any space that can fit the dimensions and electrical requirements of the unit. These are common if you are remodeling your kitchen, having a custom cabinets designed or if you want a drawer-style microwave. Built-in microwaves are often installed directly above a wall oven, but the location you install it can vary depending on your kitchen design. You do need to keep in mind factors like convenience and aesthetics when deciding where to install a built-in microwave, but the choice is ultimately up to you. Benefits: Doesn’t use counter space. Elegant built-in look that matches other appliances. To Keep in Mind: Requires installation. More expensive than other types of microwaves. Should be installed in a spot where they will be convenient to use. 4. Convection Microwaves Click Here to View All Convection Microwaves A convection microwave utilizes a completely different method of cooking food. Much like an oven, a convection microwave acts uses high heat temperatures and an internal fan to circulate the air, whereas other microwaves use electromagnetic waves to heat your food from the inside out, Due to its unique cooking style, this is the most versatile type of microwave available. You can use convection units to cook foods in many ways that other microwave ovens could never even attempt, such as baking cookies or making casseroles. Roasting, baking, broiling or just adding a little crisp, all of these can be accomplished with a convection unit. And to make it even better, you can find convection microwaves available for countertops, over-the-range or built-in. They do cost a bit more than other types, but the versatility you gain and the quality of the food make it well worth the investment. If you’re looking for an all around cooking appliances, then a convection microwave may be the best option for you. Benefits: Convenient and versatile. Unique cooking style leads to better flavors and textures. More cooking options, including baking, roasting and broiling. To Keep in Mind: They cost more than conventional microwaves. It’s easier to burn your food, if you’re not careful. When you’re using the microwave as a convection oven, it’s unavailable for more typical microwave functions until it’s had some time to cool. 8 Factors to Consider When Choosing Your New Microwave When it comes to buying a microwave, some of the factors you need to keep in mind will be about your personal preferences, while others will be determined more by the space you have to work with. Here are some of the most important factors to consider in order for you to find the best microwave for you. 1. Your Kitchen Your microwave needs to fit in to the kitchen it will become a part of. If aesthetics are important to you, then you need to think about how it will look with everything around it. If the other appliances in your kitchen are stainless steel, then you will likely want to go with a microwave that matches. Or perhaps you want a pop of color in your kitchen. If you’re replacing a built-in microwave that no longer works, you’ll need to find something that fits in the space (or be willing to pay to re-design the space). Consider the dimensions of the microwave you’re replacing and try to find a unit that matches. Many times, you can start with the same brand and find a comparable size. You should consider how you use your kitchen each day and which areas of it would be the most convenient or inconvenient for the microwave to be placed. Countertop space is a valuable commodity in every kitchen, so are you willing to give it up for a new microwave? Don’t just buy the first microwave you see that you like, take some time to make sure it will work well in the kitchen you have first. 2. Size No matter what type of microwave you end up going with, size will matter. To start, you have to consider the space available to you in your kitchen (as already mentioned). You don’t want to face the fate of bringing home a microwave you love only to realize that it won’t physically fit in the space you’ve allotted to it. For a built-in or over-the-range microwave, you have to fit it exactly to the size specifications available. If you opt for a countertop model, you have a little more flexibility in the size you go with, but you still need to carefully consider the amount of counter space you have to work with, as well as how much you’re willing to give up. Making sure it will fit is one thing, but you also want to keep in mind what items you can fit within it. Consider what kind of things you typically cook in a microwave. Will the plates you use the most often fit in the microwave you have in mind? If you’re going for a convection microwave and intend to make casseroles or pizza, make note of the size of the pans you usually use for your favorite dishes. Size is, hands down, one of the most important things you have to consider when buying a microwave. Before you start browsing all of your options, it would be wise to get a clear idea of the space available and the size that would work best for you. 3. Wattage The main thing you need to know about wattage is that the higher the wattage, the faster the cooking time and more evenly you can expect the microwave to heat the contents inside. Usually, as long as a microwave is at least 1,000 watts, it should cook your food well. You can find microwaves with lower wattage that are usually cheaper, but they’ll be slower and oftentimes less reliable. With these low-wattage units, we would definitely recommend buying from a reputable brand and reading reviews for each unit. 4. Reliability Even the most durable microwaves are likely to have a shelf life of somewhere around 10-12 years or so, with the average lifespan of a microwave coming in at 9. If it’s important to you to find a microwave that will last for as long as possible, take some time to read any reviews you can find of the model you’re considering. Chances are, you will be replacing the microwave one way or another within a few years, so you may find it makes more sense to focus your decision on other features than durability. 5. Price Price is always an important consideration when buying any appliance, no matter how large or small it may be. You will quickly notice the price ranges for microwaves will vary considerably, with a lot depending on which type of microwave you decide to invest in. All of the most affordable options will be found in the countertop category. But if your kitchen design makes a built-in or over-the-range microwave a more practical choice, the extra investment will be well worth it. Not only will a built-in unit save countertop space, but it will create a more elegant kitchen that improves the value of your home. You can easily get by with a microwave that costs less than $100 if your needs are basic, but if you decide an over-the-range model or a convection oven is the best choice for you, expect to pay a bit more. 6. Preprogrammed Settings How valuable preprogrammed settings are for you have everything to do with your personal preferences. Some people never think to use them even when they’re there, others find it annoying anytime they actually have to bother putting in a time manually. Most microwaves will come with at least a Popcorn setting that allows you to cook based on the size of the bag. Defrost is another common setting that will be found on most microwave ovens. When you start to explore more high-end microwaves, you will notice a whole new range of preset cooking options for uses from baking potatoes to reheating pizzas to warming up beverages like coffee. If you like to get what you need from a microwave without having to put much thought into it, look for a model with a variety of preprogrammed settings that includes the items you will most likely be using your microwave for. 7. Noise This won’t be a concern for everyone, but some microwaves will be louder than others and if you’re sensitive to the noise they produce, you’ll want to try out the model you’re buying before purchasing to get a feel for what to expect from the sound. If you’re considering buying a microwave online and won’t have a chance to try it out, customer reviews will often mention it if a microwave is particularly noisy, so you can find out which models to avoid. While this is rare for microwaves, you may also find decibel ratings listed for each unit. 8. Safety While you may encounter the occasional alarmist article about microwaves leaking radiation that causes cancer or zapping all of the nutrients in your food, so far there’s no real research to back up those claims. The only real safety concerns that come with microwaves are the slight possibility of one catching fire and the need to teach kids to be careful when using them — especially with over-the-range microwaves where reaching over the stove and removing hot items that are difficult to reach can cause problems. For the most part, microwave safety issues generally have more to do with proper use than which model you buy, but to be careful, you can always check the reviews of a model to see if you encounter any warning signs. 9. Ventilation This is mostly a concern for those considering an over-the-range microwave that replaces the range hood that would otherwise provide ventilation while you cook on the stove. Few over-the-range microwaves get many points from reviewers for ventilation, but Consumer Reports has given a look to how different models perform in this regard. Their research is well worth the read if you’re buying an over-the-range microwave. Popular Features You May Be Interested In While those are the main factors that will be important to most buyers, there are a few additional features that you may be interested in when buying a microwave. These features are specific, and may not appeal to all buyers, but nonetheless, they are worth looking into. 1. Inverter Tech Inverter technology is still fairly rare in microwaves, but you can certainly find some models with it on the market. The idea behind inverter tech is to allow the option of cooking your food more evenly at a consistently lower temperature. Most microwaves don’t have too many options for temperature levels, so you’re limited in the types of food you can make in them (convection microwaves being a clear exception). Inverter microwaves broaden your options a bit, but still are not as versatile as convection units. If this is of interest to you, Panasonic makes a very popular microwave that uses inverter technology and garners many great reviews from customers. 2. Child Lockout Features If you have kids and don’t want to worry about them messing with the microwave oven, you can look for a unit with a lockout feature. This will allow you to set up a code that must be entered before the microwave can be used, so only those in the house you trust with it will have access. This minimizes the risk of somebody getting hurt, or perhaps a fire from starting. 3. Combination Microwave & Other Appliance If you’re remodeling your kitchen and thus in a position to appreciate a good deal on multiple appliances at once, you might benefit from considering a combination microwave and oven or one that combines with a fridge. Buying both in one fell swoop could potentially simplify your installation process, as well as save you time and money. If you’re looking to buy a unit for a dorm, small apartment or just to keep close by in a single room, a combo microwave and fridge is a popular option that is both functional and convenient. 13 Popular Brands of Microwaves Many of the big manufacturers of kitchen appliances include microwaves in their portfolio, and several less familiar names offer high-quality products as well. We looked at some of the reviews out there of some of the biggest brands in the microwave industry to help get a picture of the overall performance of each brand. 1. Avanti Avanti is a brand with solid reviews throughout the web for producing simple microwaves that fully live up to their purpose. Their black rotary control microwave gets special points from reviewers for providing a rare rotary display that many users – particularly those that are older or deal with certain types of disabilities – find easier to use than the digital touchscreens found on most microwaves. 2. Cuisinart Cuisinart is a brand name familiar to anybody who buys kitchen appliances with any regularity. They offer a variety of microwave models that earn mixed reviews from users based on the particular model type and expectations of the buyer. If you’re considering a Cuisinart microwave, take a few minutes to look at the different reviews online to see if any of the criticisms speak to what you’re looking for. 3. Danby Danby offers a range of affordable countertop microwaves with similar functionality in different aesthetics and sizes. Reviews of Danby microwaves are mostly positive across the board, especially for customers looking for quiet, compact microwaves that can fit into relatively small kitchen spaces. If you’re looking for a small microwave with simple functionality, this is a great brand to look at. 4. EdgeStar If you’re looking for a microwave and fridge combo, EdgeStar has a couple of models worth checking out. This brand has a strong reputation for manufacturing wine coolers, beverages refrigerators and mini fridges, so it is only natural that they combine a microwave. While the reviews online are more scarce than other microwaves, the ones out there are very positive. Many customers recommend the combo as a convenient solution for college students who want the functionality of both products, but have limited space to work with. 5. GE GE is another familiar and trusted brand for home appliances. They have many different microwave models available, many of which are available in different colors and sizes. While many of the reviews are positive, there is a noticeable trend of customers expressing disappointment in the durability of some of the more expensive higher-end models, as well as the cost that comes with fixing the issues that do arise. While this sentiment is not widespread, it does serve as a good reminder to consider the warranty that comes with the microwave you buy. 6. Kenmore Kenmore is another popular brand making home appliances. They have a number of affordable microwave options avaialble. Reviews of their microwaves are fairly inconsistent, with a good number of happy customers mixed in amongst those disappointed in the quality and durability of their products. Since they do have a lot of different microwaves to choose from, it is wise to research the reviews of the particular model you have your eye on before making a buying decision. 7. Magic Chef Magic Chef sells a few stylish and affordable microwaves that earn pretty solid reviews from customers on the whole. Reviewers especially seem to praise the company’s models for their convenient size, attractive appearance and durable build. This is definitely a brand that you should consider while buying a new microwave. 8. Nostalgia Electrics Nostalgia Electrics makes microwaves with a neat retro design that customers pretty much uniformly love. However, the reviews are a bit mixed when it comes to the performance, leaning more toward the positive on the whole, but still enough to warrant hesitation when buying a microwave. The design, however, gets enthusiastic praise across the board. This may be the ideal brand for somebody looking for a cute unit, but one that they don’t plan on using much. 9. Oster Oster is another popular brand, especially for small kitchen appliances. Perhaps best known for their blenders, Oster sells a number of countertop microwaves that are both affordable and effective at cooking your food. Like many other well-known brands listed here, the reviews are mostly positive with a few complaints mixed in. If you want to buy a microwave that works and doesn’t cost too much, Oster is a solid choice to look into. 10. Panasonic Panasonic is another well-known brand that sells a wide range of microwave models. Their units earn mostly strong reviews from customers, with some complaints about their lack of durability thrown in. Since there’s so much variety in the models they offer, it would be wise for you to dive deep into the reviews left on the particular model you’re interested in before making a decision. 11. Sharp Sharp is another brand that offers an extensive selection of microwaves. You can find a lot of variety in their offerings to match a number of different needs and price points. While mostly positive, the reviews follow the usual trend of highs and lows per each model. Since there are so many models to choose from, it is recommended that you hone in on the particular model you’re considering, and seek out reviews on each. 12. Smeg Smeg is a fairly well-trusted international brand name that makes a wide variety of retro appliances. This includes a number of luxurious built-in microwaves with a sleek and elegant design. When it comes to customer reviews, they seem to vary quite a bit based on the particular model and the expectations of the reviewer. If a built-in microwave is what you’re looking for, you should absolutely look into this brand. 13. Summit Summit has a wide range of microwave options on the market, all of which garner pretty strong reviews across several sites online. Customers praise the microwaves for being well made and having sleek designs. With a lot of models to choose from, this is definitely another brand that you’d benefit from focusing on the particular microwave you have in mind in your research. Final Thoughts As far as appliances go, microwaves are a relatively minor financial investment. That leaves most consumers with a little more room to be picky and really go with the microwave that best fits their needs, preferences and overall lifestyle. Take some time to browse and do the proper research, but don’t agonize too much over it. If you see something you want that fits in the space you have available, go for it.