The Trouble with High-End Appliances

Beefs, anecdotes, and general observations about installing expensive, fancy kitchen appliances. January 9, 2006

The "Overpriced Yuppie Appliance List" started years ago with the SubZero built-in refrigerator. For a price much higher than a standard refrigerator, you got an interior which was mainly held together by silicone caulking, and a sometimes noisy compressor which often failed prematurely.

Add to the list the present day Bosch integral-front dishwasher, designed with the controls on the edge of the door so a complete cabinet front can be mounted on the face to match adjacent cabinet. Of course, the good news ends there. There seems to be a worthless system provided for attaching the cabinet front to the dishwasher. I now use double face tape. And the door swing system doesn't allow you to have a toe space, which is only 3 1/2" high, ruining the continuity across the bottom of your base cabinets if you don't make all your toe spaces higher. I guess Germans have thick feet...

And for a second nomination, consider the Fishers & Paykel Dish Drawer. I recently did a kitchen cabinet job with two dishwasher spaces. How's that for yuppie? I think they wanted the maid to not take so long cleaning up.

Anyway, the granite contractor talked the customer into tops with 2 1/4" thick edges, and, you guessed it, the Bosch dishwashers were too high. So they switched to the dish drawers, which use applied cabinet fronts as well. After seeing the units, I realized that they vent the steam from the drying cycle out a narrow slit between the bottom of the drawer and the next drawer below. The steam is not routed through any kind of sleeve or tube where it passes between the wood fronts. I wonder how long the wood finish is going to last on the drawer fronts when being steamed once a day.

It's amazing that no matter how much more you pay than average for something, you can still get crap.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor R:
Another one is the undermount sink. While it's not necessarily junk, how come it's twice the price?

From contributor J:
The undermount sink is twice the price because it only works with solid surface or granite or other natural stone tops, so they must figure if you can afford the higher end options, you can also afford paying double on the sink. I know there's new options for undermount sinks to work with laminate tops, but it doesn't look like it would hold up, and I refuse to offer it to my customers.

From the original questioner:
Ten years ago or more, every high end kitchen I did had to have a trash compactor. Then the word got out that keeping the same trash in your kitchen for two weeks could cause quite a smell. In the meantime, I got quite a call for trash drawers in cabinets. Compactors must have improved, however, and they seem to be coming back. Or it could just be there's a new generation of yuppies who don't know the old problems. I still install about three trash drawers for every compactor, however.

From contributor T:
I must be lucky - I don't pay for my customers' appliances!

From contributor D:
Have you noticed the decline in quality control at Subzero? Every one I have received lately, be it an integrated 700 series, or a 600 series, has been out of square or otherwise defective. The new 736 models hinge pivots on a point 1/4" forward of the freezer drawer closed position, on every one off the assembly line. I now have a Subzero surcharge.

From contributor G:
A kitchen that I did last year had both the SubZero and two Fisher & Paykel dish drawers. The SubZero failed within 6 months, when the compressor failed. The owner isn't really happy with the dish drawers, because one large dishwasher holds more than two small dish washer drawers... and it's a bad setup for a family with more than two people, and really bad with a large party.

P.S. I have a 5 year old Bosch dishwasher, which is a pretty great unit.

From contributor B:
Our first Whirlpool lasted about 22 years. It still worked, but leaked from the front seal. I expect our new Whirlpool will last as long. It's much quieter and already has about 7 or 8 years on it. Nary a malfunction on either.

From contributor A:
Yes, I have noticed the lack of overall fit and finish with SubZ. Try a dbl 700 install and try to get your panels to align! The doors and drawers vary in thickness on the same unit and applied panels always need shimming.

I would like to add to this list:
1) The AGA
2) Any type of warming drawer
3) Miele built-in coffee system
4) 1-DCS dbl wall oven,1-48" Viking range, 1-700TR subz, 1-700BR subz, 1-424 wine cooler, 1-U-line base fridge, 2- Bosch D/W… all in the same kitchen

From contributor D:
And let's not forget everyone's favorite… The downdraft ventilator!

From contributor C:
I find this thread somewhat disconcerting. If the customers' judgment and choice of appliances is criticized, then what light does that shine (or shadow does it cast) on the people they hired?

From contributor S:
We all know that no one makes a perfect appliance. Especially not every day of every week. I know that none of you make perfect cabinets or kitchens, and your installations aren't perfect, either.

If you got a subzero held together with silicon, you got a reject. Yes, their compressors fail, so do Amana's. Why are you using 3 1/2" toekick? Bosch will accommodate a 4" toekick, which is the industry standard. Build whatever you/your customers want, but don't bellyache because the appliance world doesn't make what works for you. Thick counters are not a problem if the design was correct. None of these built-in products work if you have a counter lip hanging in front of it. The bottom of the counters should be flush with the top of the base cabinet carcass. Better rethink your approach. I know the face frame guys like to have the counter lip drop below the top of the carcass. Better change if you're going to compete in the high end arena where these appliances show up. Not necessarily to frameless, but your install management and approach. These built-ins are a finesse product and you should charge accordingly.

We do about 2-3 700 series subzeros a month and at least a side by side 700 series install a quarter. I have yet to use a shim for a door/drawer panel since they came out in 95. You should also abandon the double stick tape idea for the DW panel. The enclosed hardware looks cheap, but works fine. It's a pain in the butt to do if you don't do it regularly - just budget more time. I wonder if you're the installer that a consumer was complaining about a month or so ago on gardenweb in which their newly installed DW panel fell off on their toe. Better check your liability policy while you're at it, to verify it's still in effect.

All of the appliances blacklisted here have quite detailed installation planning guides, and if followed, they work fine. If you wing it, results will vary and your margin is at risk. Subzero's guide is like a magazine, it's so detailed.

I see no one mentioned the granddaddy of tough installs in my book: Miele washer and dryer with door panels and toekick to match the adjacent cabinetry doors. This takes us about a day to make look decent, and that's just for the W/D, not the rest of the cabinets in the run.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the constructive criticism. I completely agree that I could be more astute in these installations; however, I don't actually install these units. I am just the cabinetmaker.

That said, it has become somewhat of an ordeal just to set up the cabinets right so that these appliances will work! I can't tell you how whiney the appliance installers who come after me in the new kitchen construction process are when it comes to not having the cabinets set up just right for their little specialty. They don't seem to be able to modify or adapt anything to the appliance. They just throw up their hands to the homeowner and say "This won't work. Tell the cabinetmaker to fix it!" So I become the victim of the wet dream of some engineer in Stuttgart, having to know all these little tricks to install their stuff.

From contributor T:
I always start with a complete appliance list before I build any kitchen, and I always request spec sheets on all of the appliances. I once had a customer give me specs, then she decided to order a different refrigerator. She was upset because there was a 3" gap between the refrigerator and bottom rail of the cabinet. Fortunately, her husband explained the situation to her and I was out of hock. I understand frustrations with appliances - there are so many and they're always different, I have never cared what, where, or by whom they get the stuff because I don't put them in. I like working for people who prefer expensive things.

From contributor O:
I agree. I want to work for people with expensive taste, because my cabinets are a lot more expensive than most in my area, just like SubZero is more expensive than Kenmore. I install, or help install, most appliances in my jobs. I charge for it, and make sure everything looks great when done. I don't want some delivery guy screwing up my cabinets trying to install the appliances. I am the owner of the cabinet company; he is the delivery guy for an appliance store. Who do you think is more concerned with the final appearance? In fact, often the appliance store calls me to install their built in appliances on other jobs, rather than trust it to their own people.

From contributor D:
Now I know who is getting all of the good Subzeros! If you have never planed a little off of a 700 series drawer or had to use a shim to make it work and you are satisfied with the result, great. It takes more than that on the units I have been getting.

From contributor P:
Dealing with these appliances is part of the challenge of a custom cabinetmaker. My perspective is that we are here to facilitate the client's wishes. If they really want 7 F/P dish drawers, I'm here to help make it all work and look beautiful.

The problem I have with some appliances is incomplete documentation. At our shop we take model numbers for the appliances and pull the installation specs off the internet. But this information can be inadequate and incomplete.

Example: European style cabinets, an installation of Bosch microwave with trim kit above a Bosch wall oven. Both are 30" units. However, the specs for the trim kit are incomplete. Local appliance dealer doesn't have the unit on hand. Bosch faxes me the same incomplete information as they have online. Apparently, LG makes the trim kit in Korea for Bosch. So it is wider than the oven. So I have to do a convoluted cabinet to get it to look all nice, and even then I'm doing some guesswork because it's not clear from the documentation exactly where the trim kit sits in relation to the microwave.

Another example: Kitchenaid Compactor documentation does not show how the cabinet-door-front panel sits in relation to the appliance. So I can't determine how to build the front without cutting into the box and analyzing the appliance itself. For cabinetmakers who are just trying to make these appliance manufacturers' products look sweet, this is frustrating.

From contributor T:
Does anyone else get the specs from the homeowner? I try to do as much as possible for them, but I don't want to spend my time gathering info that they can get while they're picking appliances out. Let your customer do some leg work. Have them sign off on the dimensions and build it. The appliance store gets paid for this service, not us.

From contributor S:
Let the homeowner or appliance seller do this legwork. You should also do it and bill for it, because you'll end up doing it anyway most times. If you want it done right...

Tell the bozo appliance guys to get some training and quit whining. Meet the homeowner, show them the specs of the appliance, opening, show them how you've built it to specs, and politely tell them it will work if the appliance guy will actually work instead of just deliver and unbox. Call the appliance owner and set a meeting to find out why his guys can't deliver at the high end. Surcharge any dealer that doesn't get with the program.

Be prepared to turn down jobs that don't fit your practices. Learn some appliance setting skills yourself, to be really dangerous to those hack BS artists. This will give you an advantage to take these jobs if you choose, or turn them down if they can't make you money. A good turn is nice, but I bet none of you do this as a hobby to get out of the wife's hair during the day.

From contributor V:
I agree about the lack of competence coming from appliance installers. Their main concern is finding a reason why they can't install something so they can leave as soon as possible and move on to the next hack job. Watch a couple of guys trying to install a subzero and level it sometime!

That said, I frequently ask the seemingly more capable installers how often the cabinets are wrong and usually the answer is "almost always." I see the problem as a lack of communication between the appliance designers and the cabinet industry. A lot of the Euro appliances are not completely Americanized yet, either. Keep doing good work, but get paid for it!

From contributor L:
Hey, get real here. These "yuppie" appliances are driving your clients to come to you. We have displays in the regional SubZero/Wolf distributor showroom and get many referrals from it. I know when a client walks in the showroom talking SubZero/Wolf that they are qualified to buy our cabinets and are educated on quality. The secret is knowing that you can charge for all those little extra things you will do to make them happy. Do you think you can compete with Home Depot and Lowes? By the way, try Dimension Express to solve most of your appliance sizing headaches.