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A refrigerator, hot water heater or other large home appliance is probably your biggest purchase of the year. Treat it as you would any major investment: Do your homework before you start shopping.

Here are five tips that will make shopping for a major appliance easier and help you get the best value for your money:

  1. Consider when you shop for appliances the room where the appliance will “live.” Is it important that your new appliance matches the others in the room? Not every brand’s off-white or even stainless steel looks exactly the same. Some stainless models, for instance, have metallic fronts and black sides. Will that“go” with your décor? Also, measure the space the appliance will occupy, from side to side and from top to bottom, to be sure it will fit without forcing you to sacrifice any overhead cabinet space. Is there enough room to open the doors or lids and enough room behind it for ventilation? These details will help you narrow your choices.
  2. Shop around. If you’re buying a whole suite of new appliances as part of a all-out kitchen remodel, you might want to join a buyers’ club, which offers deep discounts on mid- and high-end appliances (and cabinets, counter tops, floors and furniture) in exchange for a substantial membership fee. Also, check out appliance outlets, boutique electronics stores and big-box retailers to see who has what. Not every store carries the same brands and models, and some honor their competitors’ sales prices. Finally, see if you can get a dealer discount by buying through print catalog, the Internet or at overstock sales.
  3. Check out the bells and whistles. Some new models boast an amazing array of convenient features, things you might not have thought of; like a warming drawer outside of the oven or a storage bin for laundry detergent between the washer and dryer. Compare the features and performance of different brands and models. Review product literature from the manufacturer,and surf the Internet for published comparisons in Consumer Reports and other publications. Ask your sales rep lots of questions about the features of each model. Find out if it’s noisy, how prone it is to breaking down and whether it has the safety features you want for your family.
  4. Don’t rely on the sales price alone to convince you of the appliance’s value. Compare the energy efficiency and operating costs of the models you like when you shop for appliances. The Energy Guide label on each appliance will help you estimate how much the appliance will cost to operate and compare it to similar models. If the difference it makes on your monthly utility bill is significant, it might be worth it to go with a slightly more expensive, more energy-efficient model than the one that’s on sale but is an energy guzzler. This especially applies, when you consider the 15+ year lifespan.
  5. Find out if your local electric or gas company is offering cash rebates to customers who buy energy-efficient appliances.

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