Buying Guide to Microwave Ovens

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6 Things to Know Before You Buy

Think all microwave ovens are the same? Think again. This must-have kitchen tool comes with enough variety to suit just about anyone's needs. You can opt for a model that's simple and straight forward (perfect for college students just looking to zap a cup of noodles). Or invest in a unit with enough bells and whistles to create a three course meal (hello, moms looking to make a quick, filling dinner for the family).

Not sure which unit is your perfect fit? Peruse these must-know facts before you make your purchase.

Fact #1: Microwaves don't have to sit on your counter.

Countertop ovens may be the most popular model, but that doesn't mean they are the only option. Consider an over-the-range or built in microwave. The former is installed over your oven range, while the latter is built in flush with the cabinetry. The pro to these alternatives is that they free up much-needed counter space. The con? Both can be expensive to install and over-the-range units don't tend to vent as well as countertop microwaves.

Fact #2: Size matters.

Looking to invest in a countertop unit? Then you'll want to measure the available space before you head to the store. Those homeowners with kitchens that suffer from a lack of counter space should keep in mind that midsized and larger models can take up to 3 square feet.

Fact #3: The bigger the microwave, the more watts it has.

And usually, the more watts a unit has, the more heat it's capable of producing. That said, don't waste time debating between two units that have a 100 watt difference -- they produce about the same amount of heat.

Fact #4: The list of microwave features available is long and varied.

Before you even begin your search it's smart to have a solid idea of what you want to use your microwave for. If you're just looking to reheat leftovers, then you probably don't need a unit with an epic amount of extras. However, those looking to accomplish more creative cuisine (in a short amount of time) may want to consider any number of these features:

-Those prone to over cooking food? Look for a unit with sensor cooking. This feature measures the steam emitted from your food so it can determine when it's done cooking.

- Looking for one-step cooking? Pick a microwave with shortcut keys tailored to cooking items like veggies, popcorn, oatmeal and even pizza.

- Love to be in control? Try a model with multiple power levels and 1-minute or 30-second keys so you can tack on extra time if need be.

-Have small children? There are microwaves available with child lockout features that prevent little ones from accidentally turning the unit on.

Fact #5: Nonporous stainless steel interiors don't absorb odor, moisture or food particles.

This is a bonus for those who use their microwaves as the main tool for cooking food.

Fact #6: Microwaves have a life span of about 10 years.

Look for one that has an extended warranty so you're covered for as long as possible.