October 22, 2014

Paying for Your Next New Appliance

Household appliances are generally so reliable, having one break down takes us by surprise. The hassle of shopping for a new appliance is trouble enough without worrying about paying for it too. Plan ahead, because the dryer is not going to sound out announcements before it conks-out.

Repair or Replace?

The first decision to be made is if you really need a new appliance, or if repairs are in order. If the repair costs half the price of a new appliance, seriously consider buying new, says Mark Kotkin at Consumer Reports. According to the magazine’s research, any major household appliance more than eight years old should be considered for replacement rather than repair. The magazine also suggest you skip the repair and buy new if your appliance costs less than $150.

Budgeting

“I’ve seen a lot of people’s budgets over the years, and it seems like household maintenance is one category that people miss,” says Matt Bell of MattAboutMoney.com. People who know the age of their appliances and their expected life spans can budget better for replacements. Or they could maintain a more general emergency fund for when bad things happen. Either cash stash will help you avoid finance charges on a credit card you can’t pay off right away, said Bell.

Home Warranty

A home warranty is a service contract for an existing home that covers major operating systems, such as a furnace or a dishwasher. The homeowner buys a repair contract, often for $300 to $500 a year, and pays a service charge for each call. If many of your major appliances are near the ends of their useful lives, a home warranty might be worthwhile. But warranties are complicated, covering some types of breakdowns and not others. Pre-existing conditions and malfunctions that stem from poor maintenance or installation can be excluded. Some companies will cover all or part of an appliance’s replacement cost. Choose this option carefully.

Best Stores for Buying Appliances

When you’re shopping for a new appliance, you want a store that will provide good prices, helpful staff and ease of service along with a good selection.

Unfortunately, two surveys from the Consumer Reports National Research Center show that no one retailer seems able to provide it all.

CR did find some cause for hope. Abt Electronics, in the Chicago area, and independent local stores garnered high praise from shoppers who bought a major appliance in the past year. For small appliances, independents also rated highly, along with Costco, though the standout was Amazon.com, as in past years.

CR’s rankings for shopper satisfaction came from more than 21,000 respondents to its 2009 Appliance Shopper Satisfaction Survey. It also commissioned a separate, nationally representative Home Gripes survey of 1,405 homeowners about their experiences shopping at home stores.

Only Abt Electronics scored better than average on price for major appliances. For small appliances, Amazon.com and Costco got readers’ highest marks for price for the second year in a row.

Here’s more from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Consumer Reports:

Besides price, the expertise and manner of a store’s sales staff were key reasons for choosing a major appliance retailer, according to the CR Shopper Satisfaction Survey. But respondents to the Home Gripes survey cited difficulty in finding a useful salesperson at all as one of their chief shopping annoyances. Salespeople who were arrogant or even nasty were especially bothersome for women.

Independent retailers, Abt Electronics and Pacific Sales in California received top marks for having salespeople knowledgeable in major appliances. The trio also stood out for service rendered; Best Buy scored below average for its staff. For staff expertise and service in small appliances, independent local retailers scored best. Among major retailers, only Lowe’s stood out; and for service, Sears scored above average.

Around a quarter of major- and small-appliance shoppers chose retailers based on their reputation for high-quality products. Retailers varied significantly on both counts. Poor selection was a complaint for less than 5 percent of respondents to CR’s Shopper Satisfaction survey. But almost a quarter of small-appliance shoppers at Sam’s Club complained that the store had too few brands or models available for selection. For major appliances, no store scored better than average for shopping ease.

For major-appliance product quality and selection, Abt Electronics and Pacific Sales scored best; for selection, Home Depot scored below average. For small-appliance purchasing, Amazon.com and independents stood out for quality and selection. Shopping for small appliances in stores was more varied, with independent retailers getting top marks for shopping ease, followed by Sears, Lowe’s and Best Buy, which all scored above average.

Stores that push extended warranties were among the top annoyances in CR’s Home Gripes survey. In the Shopper Satisfaction Survey, respondents who bought a major appliance were much more likely than those buying small appliances to be hit with an extended-warranty offer.

For small appliances, Amazon.com’s storage of shipping addresses and payment preferences might have contributed to its high score for checkout ease in the Shopper Satisfaction Survey. Independent retailers also received top marks, followed by Costco. For major appliances, no retailer scored worse than average. But Abt Electronics and independents fared best.

Newest Microwave Features

Microwave ovens have been around for over forty years during which most people used them for exciting tasks such as heating leftovers, warming coffee and making popcorn.  There were those adventurers that added to their cooking repertoire by preparing whole meals in the microwave.

But how to improve a product whose entire purpose is to be simple? Oven makers right now are betting on steam. Sharp has a $1,000 microwave that uses steam to cook more thoroughly, keep food moist without adding fat and help heat penetrate better (consumers fill a water reservoir attached to the oven). Whirlpool Corp. offers steam in a combination microwave-ventilation hood, starting at $349. It’s a space saver because it goes over a gas or electric range.

Steam microwaves are aimed at people who are in the market for an oven with special features, but not necessarily a microwave. “For anyone looking for a steam oven, it’s much cheaper than the other options,”  says Jason Hughes, associate director of product planning and development at Sharp Electronics, a unit of Sharp Corp., in Japan.   Conventional steam ovens cost upward of $2,000.

Now could be an opportune time to introduce new features. The number of meals Americans prepared at home using a microwave rose 9.5% to 47 billion meals last year, the first usage increase in decades, according to NPD Group.

Consumers are “actually doing a lot more meal preparation” in their microwaves, says Bob Schiffmann, president of R.F. Schiffmann Associates Inc., a New York consulting firm.

New-and-improved microwaves face big challenges. “Not every customer’s lifestyle is the same,” says Sue Bailey, director of major-appliance product management at Viking Range Corp., which has introduced a $1,275 microwave in a pull-out drawer that sits under the kitchen counter. Viking says it may come out with a steam device. “Some want steam, some just want things a little more quickly, and others just want a little more space” inside, Ms. Bailey says.

“It’s a product that still hasn’t been perfected after all these years,” says David Lockwood, director of consumer insights at Mintel International Group, whose research indicates 93% of households have a microwave oven. “It still doesn’t do everything people want it to do,” he says.

It may be simply a matter of sex appeal. Boxy, noisy, at times smelling bad, the microwave oven hasn’t inspired the kind of lust and romance that a trophy refrigerator or oven marketed as professional-grade commands from upscale homeowners.

The average microwave lasts only about eight or nine years, Mr. Lockwood says, and many consumers own microwaves that cost less than $90. “The average buyer still wants the cheapest possible solution,” he says.

You can read about the history of the microwave oven in our article “The Microwave Oven-a Brief  History”

Energy Star Credibility

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy recently outlined a new two-step process to strengthen the credibility of the Energy Star brand.

Step 1: Testing. More aggressive product testing will be required in the future in order to be Energy Star-certified.

DOE began tests at third-party test labs on six of the most common appliances categories:
• freezers
• refrigerator-freezers
• clothes washers
• dishwashers
• water heaters
• room air-conditioners.
DOE noted that these appliances account for at least 25% of a typical homeowner’s energy bill. It will test about 200 basic models in the coming months.

The agencies are also developing a new system to require all products seeking the Energy Star label to be tested in approved labs and require ongoing verification testing.

Step 2 Enforcement.

The agencies have taken action against 35 companies in the last 4 months to enforce compliance with Energy Star as well as with DOE’s minimum appliance efficiency standards. A news release details some of the enforcement actions taken in 2009-2010, including:

• July 2009: Subpoenas issued to AeroSys Inc. to obtain air-conditioner and heat pump documentation.
• Sept. 2009: AeroSys required to provide product samples for DOE testing to verify models met U.S. federal minimum energy efficiency standards.
• Dec. 2009: DOE and EPA took steps to remove Energy Star labels from 20 LG refrigerator-freezer models that had been shown, via testing by multiple independent labs, to consume more energy than allowed by Energy Star criteria.
• Jan. 2010: DOE signed a Consent Decree with Haier regarding actions to address four Haier freezer models, including two Energy Star models, that were consuming more energy than reported.
• March 2010: EPA terminated its Energy Star relationship with US Inc./US Refrigeration based on a history of logo misuse, unresponsiveness, and failure to comply with program guidelines.

Other actions addressed problems with lightbulb and showerhead manufacturers.

The agencies noted that Energy Star violations receive much media attention but account for a small percentage of total products in the program. A recent independent review found 98% compliance.

The Microwave Oven- a Brief History

I remember my parents first microwave; my father insisted my mother needed this newfangled  appliance, and she was equally insistent that it would, and I quote, collect dust.  Fast forward 35 years or so, and she’s using her newest stainless steel model daily.

I was a kid when that first microwave appeared and never gave much thought to the technological progress it represented – how it came to be sitting there- ’til now, so…

Here’s a quick overview of the history of the microwave oven:
1945
Percy Spencer of Raytheon Co. discovers microwave heating after finding that microwave energy had melted a candy bar in his pocket.

1947

Raytheon produces its first microwave oven. It costs between $2,000 and $3,000, and is intended for commercial use.

1960′s

Companies are developing countertop microwaves, like this Litton model.

1970′s

Microwaves start to become widespread. Primary buyers are men, who purchase them as gifts for their wives. (My Dad probably thought he had thought of a unique gift.)

Early’80′s

Orville Redenbacher introduces its first room-temperature microwavable popcorn.
1987
Barbara Kafka’s “Microwave Gourmet,” a cookbook for those who want to do more than heat leftovers and make popcorn with their microwaves, hits shelves.
2009

Heinz introduces the Beanzawave. It is 7.4 inches tall and is said to be the world’s smallest microwave. 

Just How Much Energy is That Appliance Using?

My computer stays on through the week, only getting shut off on the weekend.  My answering machine and TV stay plugged in, their little red lights glowing in the night.  I do turn off the treadmill between uses and the DVD player too.

My energy habits are probably similar to many Americans.  If you’re wondering how much energy you’re wasting, or conversely, saving by turning appliances off, check out this energy calculator from GE:

This is a really cool tool that calculates  how much power each appliance consumes in watts or kilowatthours.  Alternatively, you can see how much each appliance costs to use in dollars, and how much it consumes in equivalent gallons of gas.

Some appliances are marked with a blue star indicating that an  EnergyStar model is available or click on the green star to see how much energy (and money) you’ll save with a new appliance.

Use Appliance Cash For Clunkers or Repair

So many people have been looking forward to replacing their appliances with new ones using the government’s appliance rebate program, but a new appliance may not be your wisest choice according to Angie Hicks of angieslist.com.

Under the new program, consumers will receive a rebate – expected to be between $50-$200 per appliance – in return for getting rid of old energy-consuming appliances and purchasing new appliances certified as energy efficient by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program.

“A good rule of thumb to determine if you should repair or replace an appliance is to look at the age factor and the cost of repair,” Hicks said. “The average price of a service call is between $60-100 before parts and labor. Many companies will deduct their call charge from the total bill if you hire them to make the needed repairs. However, if a repair will cost more than half the cost of the new appliance and the unit is more than six or seven years old, you’re probably better off replacing it.”

That’s when the Cash for Appliances program could really benefit those in need of an upgrade. In addition to the Cash for Appliances rebate, some states and local utility districts already offer rebates for purchases of energy efficient appliance, leading to even more savings.

States have the flexibility to select which appliances to include in their programs and the individual rebate amount for each appliance, however, the Department of Energy recommends that states and territories focus on heating and cooling equipment, appliances, and water heaters, which offer the greatest energy savings potential. States had until Oct. 15 to present the DOE with a plan for how they want to implement their respective programs. The rebates were to go into effect in late November.

The distribution formula for the $300 million program is about $1 for every resident in a given state. California, for example, would receive about $35 million to allocate to the program, while Wyoming would receive about $500,000. Unlike the popular “Cash for Clunkers” vehicle rebate program, consumers will not be required to trade in their old appliances. The DOE, however, is encouraging states to develop recycling plans in their proposals.

“This program is designed to help spur economic growth, create jobs, make homes more energy efficient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Hicks said. “Part of being environmentally friendly is to use products as long as possible, so we’re not filling up landfills with unnecessary waste. So, if your appliance is worth fixing and you can get several more years out of it, repair might be the way to go.”

Angie’s 10 questions to ask to determine whether to replace or repair an appliance:

    Is it really broken? The trouble may be a short in the plug, a tripped circuit breaker, or a bad surge-protector outlet. Check the troubleshooting section of the unit’s instruction manual for the most common problems and solutions.

    How old is the appliance?

    Have you had trouble with the unit before?
    If it’s performed well, it might be worth fixing instead of replacing with something unproven.

    How much will it cost to repair the unit?

    What would a similar appliance cost?

    Are there any hidden costs to purchase (removal, installation, disposal, tax, etc.)?

    How difficult is it to replace the appliance (Is it a built-in)?

    What additional features will I get with the new appliance?

    What energy savings will I get with the new appliance?
    Will they offset the cost of a new appliance vs. repair?

    What tax credits are available for purchasing an energy efficient unit? Will they offset the cost of a new appliance vs. repair?

Angie’s List went to the experts for their estimates on the average life of major appliances:

10-15 years for refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers.

10-20 years for ovens, ranges, and water heaters.

15-20 years for central air-conditioning unit

Recall:Samsung Over-the-Range Microwaves Due to Shock Hazard

Name of Product: Samsung Over-the-Range Microwave Ovens

Units: About 43,000

Importer: Samsung Electronics America Inc., of Ridgefield Park, N.J.

Hazard: If an installation bolt comes in contact with an electrical component inside the unit and the microwave is plugged into an ungrounded outlet, it could create a shock hazard.

Incidents/Injuries: None reported.

Description: The recall involves Samsung 1000 watt over-the-range microwave ovens. The following model and serial numbers are included in this recall:

Affected production lots Affected Serial Number Range
From serial number To serial number
All SMH9151x produced from January through May 2009: xxxxxxxS1xxxxxx xxxxxxxS5xxxxxx

Some products produced in June were also affected: From serial number To serial number
SMH9151B xxxxxxOS600001
xxxxxxTS600001 xxxxxxOS600100
xxxxxxTS601100
SMH9151S xxxxxxTS600001 xxxxxxTS601386
SMH9151ST xxxxxxTS600001 xxxxxxTS600330
SMH9151STE xxxxxxTS600001 xxxxxxTS600330
SMH9151W xxxxxxOS600001
xxxxxxTS600001 xxxxxxOS600200
xxxxxxTS602055

Sold at: Retail stores nationwide from January 2009 through July 2009 for between $180 and $200.

Manufactured in: Malaysia

Remedy: Consumers should immediately unplug and stop using the recalled product, and contact Samsung to schedule a free repair.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Samsung toll-free at (888) 402-6974 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET 7 days a week, or visit the firm’s Web site at www.samsung.com/otrrecall