By Nigel F. Maynard. Appliances are perhaps the most dynamic category in the building products landscape. Manufacturers in this segment do more in a year than other categories do in two. The ever-changing product range is a win-win for builders who want to distinguish themselves from the pack, as well as for homeowners who want products that offer more power, style, and convenience.

Nowhere was this more evident than at April's Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Orlando, Fla., where manufacturers unveiled their latest products for 40,000 industry professionals from across the United States and abroad. Though there was a bit of something for everyone, cooking appliances generated the most heat.

"It's shaping up to be another exciting year for appliances," says Michael Jones, the general manager for contract sales at Louisville, Ky.-based General Electric Consumer Products. Jones says the company has dedicated a significant investment to the development of new products that combine style and innovation.

GE's latest offering is a freestanding electric range with one-touch pads in place of conventional knobs. This new design allows the homeowner to control the cooking element in a more efficient and user-friendly manner, the company says. The range features a Tri-ring element that gives cooks the choice of using the burner with a 5-, 7-, or 9-inch element. In addition, four of the five burners can be used as regular cooking elements or as warming zones.

Not to be outdone, Waterbury, Vt.-based Caldera and Diamond Bar, Calif.-based Dacor also have taken a "knob-off" approach when it comes to cooking controls. Dacor's 30-inch electric range allows users to control the heating element by touch. The burners come standard with safety features such as a heat limiter to prevent empty cookware from melting and a residual heat indicator light that remains on while a burner is on or still hot to the touch.

Caldera has applied similar technology to a gas range and says it is the first time a gas product can be controlled with electronic touch controls. The Arrow Series cooktop gives users the ability to digitally set the cooktop with 21 flame levels; it also has eight simmer settings that go as low as 210 BTUs.

The ability to deliver such low BTUs is good and well, but homeowners also want an element that delivers the maximum amount of power possible--just in case they need it. On the heels of Newton, Iowa-based Jenn-Air announcing its ultra-high-output gas cooktops with 17,000 BTUs, DCS in Huntington, Calif., now offers 17,500 BTUs. The sealed, dual-fuel 30-inch gas range, the manufacturer says, is the only such product on the market. "Our patented Sealed Dual Flow Burner technology provides perfect heat for cooking any meal, providing a level of professionalism not possible before," says Tom Caulfield, senior vice president of sales and marketing at DCS.

Joining the fray, Electrolux North American has introduced a new line of major appliances that is making its debut in North America. Falling under the Electrolux brand, the full line of products features European styling and includes a wall oven, an electric cooktop, and gas versions with BTU-ranges from 5,000 to 17,000.

"The Pro-style look is still strong," says Nancy Butner, contract marketing manager for Whirlpool Corp. in Benton Harbor, Mich. "Though stainless steel is still popular, homeowners want the option of something else." Which is why KitchenAid, a division of Whirlpool, introduced its new Pro Line kitchen appliances in a meteorite finish.

The products move away from the heavy industrial look and feature more rounded edges. "It's not overwhelming to the kitchen. It's softer and homier," says Butner, who adds that this is likely to be a future trend in the appliance industry.

"Consumers are becoming more savvy so they are looking for a high level of performance," she says. "They still want the luxury, but they do not want the bulk and the heft of regular stainless steel."

For more product information, search Hanley-Wood's ebuild catalog.

Courtesy Maytag

Wide load: This range can accommodate a 24-pound turkey and four side dishes all at once, the manufacturer says, because the oven has the largest capacity of any range available to consumers. Possessing 5.22 cubic feet of cooking space, the oven has a Precision Cooking System feature, which delivers consistent temperatures throughout the oven, so users don't have to move food around for even, thorough baking. The range has five burners, including a 16,000-BTU element and a 650-BTU simmer burner. Maytag. 641-792-7000.

Micro managed: Aerotech uses a microprocessor and electronic controls instead of a traditional thermostat, so temperature fluctuates less and food cooks better, the manufacturer says. The technology evenly distributes hot air throughout the oven cavity, so food cooks and browns faster than other ovens. It has 13 shelf positions, 10 cooking modes, and 3.5 cubic feet of useable cooking capacity. Fisher amp; Paykel. 949-790-8900.

Courtesy General Electric

Electronic control: The new Profile freestanding electric range features one-touch pads that have replaced conventional range knobs. A Tri-ring element gives cooks the choice of using the burner with a 5-, 7-, or 9-inch element, and four of the five burners can be used for cooking or for warming. The oven uses a fan that reverses direction to allow heated air to circulate around food for more even and thorough baking. General Electric. 800-626-2000.

Courtesy KitchenAid

All pro: The Pro Line cooktop features five burners including a high output 18,000-BTU element that also can be converted into a wok. In addition, it has a simmer burner that can go as low as 600 BTU. A triple-tier burner design gives each element more consistent cooking power, the manufacturer says. It is available in stainless steel or in the new meteorite finish shown here. KitchenAid. 800-422-1230.

Courtesy Caldera

Look Ma, no knobs: The Arrow Series marks the first time a gas cooktop can be controlled with electronic touch controls, the manufacturer says. The product allows users to digitally set the cooktop with 21 flame levels so the flame is consistent every time. The simmer settings cycle on and off to keep the pan heated evenly, and eight simmer settings give the user the ability to go as low as 210 BTUs. Instead of spark ignition, the unit uses "hot surface ignition" that eliminates clicking and snapping. Caldera. 802-244-3000.