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Choosing Kitchen Appliances for a Passivhaus

What we like — and don’t — about our refrigerator, dishwasher, induction cooktop, oven, range hood, and microwave

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Most of our appliances have served us well. Our kitchen includes an induction cooktop (under the floating range hood) and two cabinet-mounted ovens (a conventional oven and a "built-in" microwave oven).
Image Credit: All photos: Andrea Lemon
Most of our appliances have served us well. Our kitchen includes an induction cooktop (under the floating range hood) and two cabinet-mounted ovens (a conventional oven and a "built-in" microwave oven).
Image Credit: All photos: Andrea Lemon
To be invited into our kitchen, a microwave oven has to have a potato button.

After living in our house for 1½ years, I finally have enough distance to evaluate the many decisions that went into building it. I plan to write a series of “Hindsight” posts, speaking frankly about what worked and what we’d do differently if we had to do it all over again.

To start the series, I’m going to keep it simple and talk about our kitchen appliances. Don’t worry, I’ll cover all the hairy Passivhaus details eventually, but I’ll start at the shallow end.

Refrigerator: Frigidaire FGUI2149

When we built our house in Tucson, we found out the hard way that there are two categories of refrigerator: standard depth and counter depth. Counter-depth refrigerators look sleek amid the cabinets since they don’t stick out past the counter, but they cost more, have lower capacity, and are generally less energy-efficient than their standard-depth brethren. Our kitchen in Tucson was designed for a counter-depth model, so we were stuck paying more for a smaller, less-efficient fridge.

With this in mind, I designed our current kitchen to accommodate a standard-depth refrigerator.

My choice of brands was limited by my irrational grudge against the Whirlpool Corporation — I had a vexing over-the-range microwave experience with them back in 2004 — so I combed the list of CEE Tier 3 refrigerators and discovered that Frigidaire made a couple of likely 21 cubic foot models.

We got the Frigidaire FGUI2149 (356 kWh/year) because our local vendor was able to locate one for us (it was a relatively obscure model), but the slightly-fancier FPUI2188 would have done equally well. Both models seems to have been discontinued, alas, but Whirlpool appears to still make a few with similar specs.

The shelves inside the refrigerator door are a good size and easy to rearrange, and I’ve never found myself cursing at the refrigerator, so it must be pretty good. My only gripe is that the cover of the ice cream compartment (which sees a lot of traffic in our house) has a cheap plastic catch and seems likely to break one of these days. There is also an occasional rattle when the condenser is on, but we’ve never bothered leveling the refrigerator according to the manual so I suspect that might fix it.

Long story short, if you have a time machine and can buy appliances that were discontinued two years ago, I can cheerfully recommend the Frigidaire FGUI2149. We haven’t owned it long enough to know how reliable it is, but for now we have no real complaints.

Stove: Bosch NIT3065UC Induction Cooktop

No custom home is complete without a huge and powerful gas range. The ultimate expression of this would be a $50,000 La Cornue Grand Palais, but plenty of fine stoves are available for a mere $10,000 or less from Viking, Wolf, Dacor, and others. (I was also perfectly happy with my humble GE range back in Chicago, and probably would have done fine with something similar.) Ted makes a lot of stir-frys, so he longed for a lot of power, and a gas range seemed like the obvious choice.

But our blue-flamed ambitions came to an unexpected end when energy guru Marc Rosenbaum persuaded us to skip the gas range and install an induction cooktop instead. In a super-tight house like ours, the combustion from a gas stove would require more makeup air than we would expect to get from random leaks in our envelope. Furthermore, gas cooking requires fossil fuels, and it would be nice to build a house that could operate exclusively from clean energy. Induction stoves, we learned, could give us a high-powered, responsive cooking experience without any carbon-spewing combustion.

Induction burners are electric, but unlike radiant electric burners they use magnets to induce a current in the metal cookware, essentially turning the pan itself into the heating element. They boil water extremely quickly, like a radiant electric burner, but they are every bit as responsive as a gas flame. And unlike a gas flame, the settings are electronic and therefore extremely consistent, which means I can set the burner to 7 and know it’s exactly the same power as every other time I’ve set it to 7.

We bought the low-end Bosch induction cooktop (Bosch NIT3065UC, MSRP $1,699), and it has all the features we need. All it lacks compared with the higher-end models is precise heat controls, which allow you to press the “5” button rather than pushing the up-arrow until it reaches 5. But I don’t mind using the arrow buttons (you can hold them down until they reach the desired setting), and the low-end model has the same cooking power as the others. (The most powerful burner goes to 3,600 watts, which is roughly equivalent to a 26,000 BTU gas flame — insanely powerful.)

It also has a separate timer for each burner, which is particularly handy when using the pressure cooker. For example if I’m cooking chickpeas, I bring the cooker to pressure, lower the heat, and then set the timer to 30 minutes. It stops on its own, and then the pressure releases naturally at its own pace — great for set-it-and-forget-it cooking.

Our cooktop gave us a bit of trouble initially, and we had to get the logic board replaced under warranty, but otherwise it’s worked very well.

Oven: Frigidaire FGEW3045

I don’t have much to say about our Frigidaire oven, which is actually a fairly glowing recommendation.

The controls are straightforward (I don’t think I’ve ever had to consult the user’s manual), and I can’t recall ever being annoyed with it. The one weird behavior is that the fan blows for a while after you turn off the oven, but it’s not obnoxiously loud, so I don’t mind it.

Dishwasher: Miele G Dimension 5575

I have mixed feelings about our Miele dishwasher. It has some good features: it’s very quiet, and it has a dedicated tray on top for silverware.

But sadly it doesn’t clean the dishes all that well. I checked the sprayers, I clean the filters regularly, and I’ve tried various types of detergent, but a few dishes per load tend to need soaking and rewashing. If anyone from Miele reads this, I invite you to contact me and troubleshoot this further, but for now I am not particularly impressed.

But it’s nice and quiet!

Range hood: XOMI Island Hood

Externally-vented range hoods are not the best idea in a tightly-sealed passive house because they require a lot of makeup air, so we weren’t going to install one at all. But Aubrey from Zehnder America, who sold us our heat recovery ventilator, recommended that we get a recirculating range hood to suck grease and smoke from the air before the HRV exhaust vents suck it up.

Unfortunately, island range hoods are a lot more expensive than wall-mounted range hoods. XO Ventilation had the best prices (though Frigidaire seems to have introduced a few models as well), and the one we bought is fairly attractive.

One of the lights didn’t work, so we fixed that under warranty, but otherwise there’s not much to report.

Microwave: GE JES1451DSBB

We actually bought this in 2010 for the apartment where we lived during construction, with the intention of moving it to the new house. It’s a mid-sized countertop model, which now looks built-in thanks to some clever carpentry.

We bought it at Best Buy, and my main requirement was that it have a one-touch “potato” setting, simply because I love living in a world where you can stick a potato in a microwave and press a button that says “Potato.” This model eclipsed its rivals by having a little picture of a potato on the button, bringing the magic of one-touch potato cookery even to the unlettered.

Approximately 366 days after we bought it, the microwave stopped working. Ted dourly assumed it would cost more to fix than to replace, but I stubbornly refused to submit to our throwaway society. I therefore paid the diagnostic fee at the local appliance store and was pleased to find out it merely needed a new magnetron and could be fixed inexpensively. That was three years ago and it’s still working fine.

Ted and I don’t really push the envelope with our microwave use (no duck à l’orange, for example) and there’s nothing specifically eco or passiv about it, but we never swear at it, which is perhaps the highest praise an appliance can receive.

Andrea Lemon lives in Brattleboro, Vermont, where she works as a web designer for BuildingGreen, Inc. She and her husband Ted Lemon write the Almost Passive House blog.


  1. rjparker | | #1

    Appliances - The Biggest Offender and the Annoying Oven Fan
    Thanks for the article on appliances and how to avoid make up air issues. My biggest question is not in the kitchen, it is in the laundry room. How do you keep a dryer inside (not in the garage or unconditioned basement) and still exhaust huge air flows without incurring a make up air penalty large enough to impact the house temperature and humidity? It would seem the manufacturers could provide a separate make up air duct directly built into the dryer that could be plumbed from the outside.

    Second, the annoying oven fan is actually a safety and quality feature. It cools the oven and the electronics that control the oven to at least 300F, preventing latent heat from damaging the surrounding electronics or cabinets. Otherwise we would be back to the fifties with standing pilots (for gas ovens) and large gaps between our freestanding stoves and cabinets. Electric ovens with self cleaning features can reach 850F during the cleaning cycles, a temperature that warrants attention.

  2. ANDREA LEMON | | #2

    Ah yes, the dryer
    Our solution to the dryer conundrum was not to have a dryer at all. Our house is dry enough in winter that we welcome the extra humidity from air-drying our clothes, and we have an outdoor clothesline for use on sunny days (rare this summer!). If Ted and I had kids, not having a dryer would be a real drag, but we're doing OK without one.

    LG Electronics is reportedly releasing a heat pump dryer this year, at which point we may revisit the issue.

    And thanks for pointing out the importance of the oven fan. We assumed it had some useful purpose, but it's always fun to complain about something :-)

  3. Brent_Eubanks | | #3

    dishwashers by ASKO
    We recently upgraded from a standard (probably ~$250) dishwasher to an Asko 5424 XXL. I want to give that unit my wholehearted recommendation.

    The 5424 is Asko's "low end" unit, and at that it's $1,110 and worth every penny. (The higher end units have features like more dishracks, but nothing that was compelling to us. And the 5424 has a front panel display, which we wanted and is actually rather rare these days.)

    The "XXL" means that it's the extra tall tank. It fits under a standard cabinet, but it has about 4" extra height inside. That extra height makes loading weird or big things much, much easier.

    The machine is super quiet, and is one of the most water and energy efficient options on the Energy Star list.

    It has no exposed heating element. It heats water (when needed) using an internal heat exchange block. For drying, it uses a ventilation fan instead of a heating element! The latent heat in the tank (stainless steel, of course) is enough to dry the dishes since the fan ejects humid air and draws in fresh air.

    Best of all: it cleans EVERYTHING. Daily wash mode will clean unrinsed dishes very reliably. The pot scrubber mode takes 3.5 hours, but it will remove really stubborn baked-on goo.

  4. Expert Member

    Interesting blog but...
    I'm having trouble finding anything even tangentially related to building a Passive House in it.

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Response to Malcolm Taylor
    Blame me, not Andrea; I wrote the headline.

    While the headline is technically accurate, I'll admit that it may not describe the article Andrea wrote.

  6. nelsonl | | #6

    Response to Malcolm Taylor
    I currently live in a Passive House and I noticed several issues related to kitchen appliances in a Passive House. Since there is a ceiling on total energy use in a Passive House the proper selection of kitchen appliances is very important.
    First is the refrigerator as one of the major energy uses in the kitchen. Andrea describes the selection of a very energy efficient refrigerator with an annual energy rating of 356 kWh/year. Next is the selection of a very energy efficient induction cooktop. Then the selection of an electric oven, since a gas oven would be a problem in a Passive House. The selected dishwasher has no dryer element is more energy efficient and uses less water than many dishwashers. The range hood is not vented to the outside. Recirculating range hoods are typical in a Passive House. That leaves the microwave. Okay, for a microwave oven I don't know of any specific selection criteria related to Passive House.
    So, I'd argue that you're right for 1 out of 6.

  7. user-1115477 | | #7

    Question about Frigidaire Refrigerator-Freezers
    Are these units intentionally designed with an icemaker that tries to fill up the entire damn freezer compartment with ice cubes, like mine does, totally ignoring the shutoff trip wire that works manually, but fails to ever work in the cube-induced mode?

  8. Expert Member

    You know there are is a ceiling on energy use in a Passive House that affects appliances, but from reading this article I didn't. What is it? How much do the appliances generally account for and does the selection of the appliances affect other decisions? After meeting certain general criteria what, apart from preference, informed the decision to select these specific brands when there are dozens to choose from? That's the kind of meat and potatoes I would have liked to see as a base for other interesting observations the author chose to include.
    i made my initial comment because I saw Ms. Lemon intends to do a series of similar articles, and I hoped it might prompt her to integrate her observations with the PassiveHouse process a little more closely in future ones.

  9. albertrooks | | #9

    Kitchen Exhaust
    Andrea and Len,

    Thanks for the comments on non vented range hoods. It's a common question that we are being asked as project owners try to grapple with the range hood question. It really helps us out to be able to point to this blog and your unsolicited reports of success. It a big leap for some folks to move to a non vented filtration hood and trust that the Zehnder ventilation system will keep the kitchen comfortable.

  10. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #10

    Non-vented Hoods
    It's worth remembering though that the goal of range hoods isn't occupant comfort but the reduction of indoor pollution. Any alternate ventilation system would need to be sized that that in mind.

  11. [email protected] | | #11

    Was a fresh air inlet with damper, controlled by the hood, close to the cooktop, considered?
    I assume you have a boost mode for the erv exhast duct in the kitchen. What is the cfm in boost mode while the hood fan is running?

  12. LenMinNJ | | #12

    Appliances For Our Passive House (Pre-certified)
    For our pre-certified Passive House, we selected a Kenmore Elite 6.1 cu. ft. freestanding induction range with a convection oven (model # 95073) , an Ikea re-circulating range hood, an LG counter-depth LFC21776ST 20.7 cubic foot french door refrigerator/freezer (Energy Star rated, 572 kWh/year per the Federal standard), a Kenmore clothes washer (26-41272, Energy Star rated), and an LG DLEC855W condensing (ventless) clothes dryer (also Energy Star rated). We also have a GE GeoSpring GEH50DNSRSA 50 gallon hybrid heatpump/resistance domestic hot water heater which we use in hybrid mode (Energy Star rated).

    We really wanted a vented clothes dryer, but after considering what it would take to adequately insulate a dryer vent and its ducting, and talking to our local bulding inspector about duct dampers, we came to the conclusion that it couldn't easily be done without a serious amount of effort, and it was simpler to buy a condensing dryer. We scanned the condensing dryer reviews carefully before selecting the model we bought.

    Our Zehnder ComfoAir 350 Luxe ERV has an intake in the kitchen ceiling, away from the range. It has a boost mode which we use when we switch on the range hood. Between the two of them, we haven't had any kitchen exhaust problems yet.

    We bought the dryer and hot water heater second-hand, saving a fair amount of money.

    Even though it meets CEE Tier 3 the refrigerator seems to heat the first floor a bit. With the first floor at 72 degrees ambient, if I leave the Mitsubishi 12k BTU minisplit ductless heat pump switched off overnight when it's below 72 degrees outside, when I check the room temperature in the morning it has risen a few degrees. I wish the refrigerator was closer to the heatpump water heater (which is in the basement)!

    Once we get the PV array up with the battery backup system, I expect we'll be net energy positive.

  13. LenMinNJ | | #13

    Indoor Air Quality, Hood
    If I recall correctly, the Zehnder ERV was sized to provide the house with a complete air change every three hours when it's on its high setting (218 cfm). It's probably safe to say that the air quality in our home is good even when we're baking and cooking. (It's an all-electric house, so there's no combustion in the house at all.)

    The ERV is a balanced system, and the house is very well sealed, so a fresh air inlet for the hood would have required as much air to be exhausted as was taken in.

    And unless the vent air went through a heat exchanger, the supply wouldn't be thermally conditioned, and the return would exhaust conditioned air. That's a good way to waste energy.

    Also, a duct damper is not a very good insulator so a fresh air inlet for the hood would have been the equivalent of a four-to-six inch hole in our R-37/R-67 thermal envelope. Even the windows are roughly R-9.

  14. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #14

    Make up air
    A well designed system brings make-up air for the range hood from a wall in very close proximity so the energy loss is minimal - especially with a motorized damper.
    While the damper might not be the best insulated element in your building envelope, it provides a better seal than that found at bathroom exhaust fans. It's a pretty large stretch to see either vent as equivalent to a four to six inch hole.

  15. LenMinNJ | | #15

    Range Hoods
    When the hood vent fan is running, it's a lot worse than a simple unpressurized hole.

    Take our tiny little Ikea Luftig range hood which can be installed either as vented or filter-only. It's rated at 225 CFM, which means if I ran it vented for an hour, it would exchange roughly one-third the volume of air in the entire house with thermally (and humidity) unconditioned exterior air. In the Winter and the Summer, can you imagine what that would do to a passive house's energy budget? Whether or not the exhaust was positioned close by, it would have brought in that volume of unconditioned air.

    For a tornado-inducing range hood like we had in our last home, the effect is amplified.

    We went through a relaxed exercise of determining the effect of a vented clothes dryer, and it seemed as if the way to make it work well was to design the dryer's room to be outside of the house's primary thermal envelope. That's sort of like what you'd do if you wanted a fireplace in a passive house.

  16. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #16

    You are probably right. As long as you don't have a gas range a lot of the risk disappears. Having an air intake in close proximity to the range does mitigate the energy loss though, because the vent is the source of most of the air which is immediately exhausted - before it has had time to reach indoor temperatures.

    "For a tornado-inducing range hood like we had in our last home, the effect is amplified."
    The fashion for those immensely powerful commercial style hoods really is a problem. I'm surprised pets and small children don't end up being sucked outdoors by some of them.

  17. kevin_in_denver | | #17

    Charcoal Filters?

    According to the manufacturer, if the range hood isn't vented outside, then charcoal filters should be used. Do you find them effective, and how often do you change them?

  18. user-2069108 | | #18

    Vent-A-Hood units
    I have owned a vented version of these and was very pleased - interesting technology for de-greasing the air. They make a couple ductless versions with their usual "Magic Lung" (for de-greasing) and an "ARS" (for smoke and odor removal). This is likely what I will use in my future Passive House.
    I cannot see how anyone could have a passive house with a simple make up air vent nearby. How can you even put that into the PHPP?

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