Alternatives to the microwave oven gain steam among high-end homeowners

07.08.18 12:46 AM By Paul Cantor

Trivia question of the day: what was the microwave oven originally called when it was introduced in the 1960s? Answer: the “Radarange.” It wasn’t until the ‘70s, however, that Sharp introduced low-cost microwave ovens for residential use.   When homeowners began buying countertop microwaves in droves, it wasn’t long before builders began integrating them into the cabinetry (often over the cooktop), almost as a feature of the newer kitchen. Now? They get hidden in lower cabinet drawers, nearly incognito in appearance.   While microwave remain popular no matter how you cut it, according to a report in  Remodeling Magazine and reiterated by Builder Magazine’s Vincent Salandro, higher-end homeowners are opting for something different.   “For some high-income homeowners, microwaves are one of the first things they look to replace in their kitchens,” says Salandro. “Steam and speed ovens are two alternatives that provide many of the same functions as microwaves at a higher quality.”   More than 344.7 million microwave ovens were sold in 2017, included in 92% of homes. While the elite speed and steam ovens range from $1,700 to $8,000, microwave units cost in the hundreds, with smaller units available for as little as $70 at Target. Even the more stylish microwave-in-a-drawer can be had for less than $1,200.   Modifications like the microwave drawer (Sharp owns the patent, even though other product manufacturers put their names on them) are one of many options for homeowners who prefer to lessen the look of their microwaves as a stand-alone appliance. “The drawer microwave can be integrated into open floor plans, which typically don't have much wall space in their designs,” says Salandro, although he admits that some homeowners see them as an accessible danger for children and a pain in the back for some homeowners.   The west coast seems to lead the way in “new stuff,” and alternatives to the microwave oven are no exception. The speed oven, a smaller appliance with convection cooking and microwaving capabilities, seamlessly fits into open design plans and kitchen islands. Homeowners are beginning to prefer them to traditional microwaves, citing how, especially when children leave the home, the quality of food preparation can become more important than speed.   Health-conscious homeowners are also opting for steam ovens rather than microwaves. However, for most remodelers across the country, the majority of kitchen jobs still include microwaves, especially important for families with smaller children because of the convenience of reheating and food preparation.   “Additionally, in order for substitutes like the steam oven or speed oven to become more reasonable for a broader range of consumers, manufacturers would need to invest in more cost-effective production to drive down the cost of the appliances,” says Salandro.   Today’s microwaves may now have a smaller role than envisioned 20 years ago when many expected the appliance to displace the range and oven and frozen food was more popular.