Question: The cooktop and oven (separate appliances) in my original 1960s kitchen have given up. It's time to replace them. But we can't afford to renovate the entire kitchen for another year or two, though we would like to convert from electric to gas cooking now. Is it possible to have new appliances installed and then incorporate these appliances when we can afford to replace everything else? --Bethesda
Answer: It's possible, with a couple of caveats and a warning that you might lock yourself into a design that you'll regret later.
First, consider whether you really want to switch to gas for both the cooktop and the oven. Changing the cooktop is a good idea, but gas wall ovens are prone to going out of adjustment, says Jerry Weed, a certified kitchen designer and owner of Kitchen and Bath Studios in Chevy Chase (301-657-1636, www.kitchenbathstudios.com ). He recommends sticking with electric for the oven and notes that most high-end ranges are "dual fuel" appliances with gas burners and electric ovens for just this reason. Having an electric oven also eliminates concerns about breathing combustion gases curing long baking sessions.
Even if you stick with an electric wall oven, you might have trouble finding a model you like that fits in the existing opening. Many 1960s wall ovens fit in cabinets 24 or 27 inches wide, while most wall ovens made today are for cabinets 27 or 30 inches wide. The wider widths accommodate the extra insulation needed for the high heat of self-cleaning ovens. If your oven no longer works and you eventually want a self-cleaning oven but don't have space for one now, consider shopping for a second-hand oven to use for a couple of years.
Converting an electric cooktop to one with gas burners is relatively straightforward, provided you can find a gas model that fits into your existing opening and has a lip wide enough to cover any gap around the edges. To measure the opening, just push up on the cooktop from underneath (it shouldn't be sealed) and slip in a tape measure. A kitchen and bath designer can help you find a cooktop that will fit, or you can browse manufacturer Web sites on your own. It's usually fairly easy to enlarge an opening; filling in around a lip that's too small to cover gaps is harder. Note that the listed "cooktop width" typically includes the lip.
Just as with wall ovens, a used cooktop might be the way to go if your cabinets preclude you from getting a the model you want.