Experts say shoppers should consider three things when choosing a microwave oven: type, size and features. Microwaves are available in countertop, over-the-range and built-in versions. Countertop microwaves, the most popular option, are typically the least expensive and don't require complicated installation. However, they do take up quite a bit of counter space. Over-the-range microwaves, which eliminate this problem, include extra fans for venting heat from a range. However, experts caution that they don't do this job as well as a fume hood that extends over the full range top.
Over-the-range microwaves are generally more expensive than traditional countertop units. They're also more complicated to install because they're heavier and require a dedicated electrical outlet and an outside vent in the area where they will be installed. While experienced do-it-yourselfers can install their own over-the-range microwaves, experts say most individuals should enlist the help of a professional. The same goes for built-in microwaves, which are installed within custom cabinetry. These models leave counter space clear and leave the area over the stove open for a range hood. However, they are also the most expensive type of microwave. Typically, built-in units are added to a kitchen during a remodel or as a replacement for an existing built-in. We do not cover built-in microwaves in this report.
Microwaves come in a variety of sizes. Full-size microwaves (1.5 cubic feet or larger) can accommodate large dishes such as casseroles and lasagnas. Midsized microwaves usually have capacities of around 1.2 cubic feet, and compact microwaves may be as small as 0.5 cubic feet. Although smaller microwaves require less counter space, they also offer less cooking power. Large microwaves usually have cooking power of around 1,200 watts, while compact microwaves typically measure around 800 watts. Microwaves with lower power require longer cooking times and may not heat food as evenly. However, experts say differences of around 100 watts are not significant.
Here are some other features you should consider when buying a microwave:
To learn more, watch this About.com video on how to clean a microwave.