September 19, 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.

You Can Use Less Laundry Detergent

Over the next few weeks, Procter & Gamble plans to introduce easier-to-read plastic measuring caps for its liquid detergent brands, including Tide, Gain, Era and Cheer. The new caps will have more-defined measurement lines inside and bigger numbers that are staggered, not stacked, says Dawn French, P&G’s head of laundry research and development for North America.

Why?  Because, according to the Wall Street Journal, Americans use too much detergent per load.  They have come to think that more soap equals cleaner clothes, which is not the case – rather it causes build-up and dingy colors.  Additionally,  more consumers are buying high-efficiency washers which need even less of today’s concentrated detergents.

Packaging, in most cases, hasn’t helped. The molded lines and numbers inside detergent caps are hard to read, especially in a dimly lit laundry room. And even though concentrated detergents have been on the market since at least 2007, many caps still hold more than is needed for an average load.

Method Products Inc. this month launched an ad blitz for a new detergent with a pump dispenser, designed to help curb overdosing. Method found that 53% of people don’t use the recommended amount of detergent per washload, preferring instead to guess or, worse, to simply fill the cap up to the top—a practice that wastes more than half the loads a detergent bottle could wash, Method executives say.

Through much of Europe, detergent premeasured in tablets and sachets has been popular for years. But in the U.S., pre-dosed products have been largely unsuccessful. Consumers usually pick up their laundry habits during adolescence from their mothers, and changing them is hard, says Bob Deutsch, founder of Brain Sells, a marketing consulting firm.

American consumers, it seems, also want more control. Many people have their own laundry “recipe,” and each one believes her unique method leads to superior results, industry executives say. P&G, the world’s leading detergent maker, calls such involved laundry doers “master chemists.”

General Electric Co.’s top-of-the-line Profile frontload washer offers to take on all dosing decisions itself. The SmartDispense feature, adding $600 to the cost of the machine, holds up to six months’ worth of detergent and allocates the right amount for each load, taking the detergent concentration level and the amount of clothes into account.

Proper dosing is the biggest laundry concern among callers to Seventh Generation Inc.’s help line, says Sue Holden, head of the consumer-insights team at the Burlington, Vt., household-product maker. Two years ago, the company started making its detergent bottle cap with translucent plastic partly to make it easier to read. “We’re trying to train people to do something that doesn’t come naturally,” says Ms. Holden. “Growing up, a lot of us just poured it in.”

Seventh Generation’s co-founder, Jeffrey Hollender, wonders why more people haven’t stumbled upon laundry’s big, dirty secret: “You don’t even need soap to wash most loads,” he says.  The agitation of washing machines often does the job on its own.

Avoiding the 10 Most Common Laundry Problems – From the Thor Appliance Company

1. Detergent Overuse

As highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Americans continue to overuse laundry detergent. Detergent overuse not only shortens of the life of clothing, it can damage or even ruin a perfectly fine washing machine.

High levels of detergent can get trapped in fabric, making clothing appear dingy and faded. Inside your laundry machine, detergent residue gums up the inner workings of your washer, including the door gasket and drain system. In a washer dryer combo, suds from too much soap can accumulate in the condensing chamber, causing longer dry times.

The reason for detergent overuse is twofold. High efficiency washers of today use significantly less water (and therefore need less detergent) than the top loaders of an earlier era. While Americans are still getting used to new frontload machines, they continue to measure detergent based on top load washers. Making matters worse, modern detergents are much more concentrated, which means that a little goes a long way.

Today, accurately measuring out laundry detergent is more important than ever. Be sure to read the detergent box to determine the correct amount of soap for your load size and water temperature.

2. Overloading

Even with the expanded capacity of modern washers and dryers, overloading continues to be a common problem. Unlike old tub-style topload washers which use an agitator to stir clothing clean, new frontload machines clean by tumbling laundry. In order for frontload washers to work properly, there must be room for the laundry to tumble. These washers should be loaded to about 3/4 of full capacity to allow the clothing to fall away from the drum during the wash cycle. An overfilled washer will result in poor cleaning results and wrinkled laundry.

3. Forgetting to Empty the Lint Filter

Forgetting to empty the lint screen not only creates longer dry times, it can be a potential fire hazard. When emptied after each cycle, lint filters eliminate the collection of gooey lint in vent line ducting. However, screens that are not cleaned regularly can cause potentially hazardous lint accumulation within the dryer housing.

A perfect kindling for a fire, lint that comes in contact with a dryer’s heating element has the potential to ignite. While newer dryers are designed to be less susceptible to fires, no dry system is completely immune from years of lint built up.

Take the time to empty the lint screen after each cycle and be sure to inspect old dryers for lint accumulation behind the filter and where the vent line exits the back of the machine.

4. Forgetting to Remove Packing Bolts

Frontload washers use packing bolts to secure the machine’s suspension system during transportation. If the packing bolts are not removed before the washer is operated, the suspension system will not function and the machine will jump and vibrate. Be sure to refer to your user manual for directions on how to remove packing bolts. Also, remember to replace packing bolts if your washer is moved to a new location.

5. Not Using Fabric Softener

When most of us think of fabric softener, we think of soft fluffy towels or that snuggly little teddy bear. And while fabric softener can make your towels fluffy and your sweater softer, it also plays an important role in frontload washer operation.

As mentioned earlier, frontload washers tumble clothing during the wash cycle. In addition, they extract water by spinning laundry between rinses. The high speed spin of a frontload washer can cause clothing to stick to the side of the drum, keeping them from tumbling freely during the rinse cycle. A small dose of fabric softener will help laundry fall away from the drum and ensure that clothing is rinsed properly.

If you are averse to using a scented fabric softener, there are many mild and unscented softeners on the market today.

6. Mixing Fabrics and Colors

As life gets more hectic, we’re all more apt to cut corners when it comes to laundry. This often results in tossing every color and fabric type in the washer and selecting a warm water wash. Mixing colors and fabrics can not only discolor clothing (e.g. the pink sock that used to be white), it can break down delicate fabrics.

Be sure to read the washing instructions on each garment and take a few extra minutes to sort laundry into white, colors and delicates. Not only will your clothes last longer, you won’t have to be seen with that embarrassing pink sock.

7. Shrinkage

In a push for record breaking dry times, many appliance manufactures have turbo charged dry cycles with scorching heat and too often poor results. Excessive heat can ruin delicate clothing and significantly shrink cotton fabric. Hang drying garments in the spring and summer is a good way to save energy and avoid cotton shrinkage – and a quick five minute fluff in the dryer will release any wrinkles that may have developed while hang drying. In the cooler months, selecting a more moderate dry cycle will extend the life of clothing and keep shrinkage to a minimum.

8. Out of Balance Loads

Unless you live adjacent to a pile driving project, the sound of an out of balance washer is hard to mistake. While most modern washers have an automatic shut-off trigger that eliminates damage to the machine, the few seconds of earth shattering pounding is not something that can (or should) be ignored.

While reshuffling clothing will usually do the trick, larger blankets and bedding can be hard to balance, particularly if they’re too bulky to fit comfortably in your washing machine. The best way to avoid out of balance loads is to use an extra large washer at your neighborhood laundromat or have those bulky items professionally laundered.

9. Pens and Other Pocket Hazards

Long hailed as a nerdy fashion accessory, the pocket protector just might be the best defense against this next laundry mistake. That’s because one unsuspecting ballpoint pen left is a pocket can ruin an entire load of clothing.

If a single ink stain is tough to remove, image dozens on ink streaks scattered over an entire load of shirts and pants. The best way to avoid this disaster (other than the pocket protector idea) is to take the extra time to check each pocket for pens, gum, rocks or any other unfriendly item that may cause harm to your clothing or washer and dryer.

10. Leaky Hoses

A leaky or bursting washer hose can cause major water damage in a matter of minutes. Like any material, the rubber used in laundry hoses breaks down after years of use, particularly under high pressure. Thankfully there are a number of products on the market that can eliminate leaks before they become disasters.

There are many aftermarket multi-layered hoses that offer additional flood protection. One word of caution about aftermarket hoses; many European washing machines have custom hoses with a metric sized connection for the washer and a standard sized connection for the water input. In this case, you may need to stick with the stock hoses or search for a more customized hose option that blends metric and standard sizing.

Getting Dry Dishes

One of the simplest ways to save a little money and energy is to let your dishes air dry after they are washed in the dishwasher. Simply use the wash only cycle and open the dishwasher door as soon as the cycle finishes. The dishes will be very hot and will dry quickly.

If you are still using the dry setting on your dishwasher and find that the dishes are wet when the cycle is complete, first check that you really programmed the washer for the heat dry setting, then check to see if the rinse aid dispenser needs filling, evaluate how well the dishes are loaded, and make sure a large item doesn’t block smaller items.

Here are some additional problems to check:

Did you use the proper amount of detergent? Too little or too much detergent can have an affect on how well dishes dry.

The next things to check are the filters, drain valve, drying fan, heating element, and the thermostat. Sometimes a clogged filter will prevent all the water from being able to exit the unit. Clean or replace clogged filters. A faulty drain valve that leaves too much water in the cabinet can be to blame. Is there too much standing water left in the unit after the dry cycle is complete? Check for blockages at this valve.

Some dishwashers have a fan that circulates the cabinet air to help dry the dishes. If the fan is not working properly, you need to replace it. At the bottom of the dishwasher is a heating element that warms the air in the dishwasher. The increased temperature speeds up the evaporation process and decreases the drying time. Visually inspect the element and look for any burned or broken areas on it, and if it’s burned out or if you can’t measure continuity with it removed, it will need to be replaced.

There is also a thermostat that measures the water temperature and drying temperature. If the thermostat is faulty, the cycles may not complete properly. If it’s faulty, you need to replace it. You may want to unload the dishes in the bottom rack first so that any water left pooled on dishes in the top rack won’t spill onto the bottom rack’s dishes.

Will That New Appliance Really Save Energy?

If you are shopping for a new, energy efficient appliance, and thought all you needed to do to was look for the yellow EnergyStar tag, think again.

The Department of Energy has released new findings that show a handful of appliances may not be as energy efficient as advertised because of problems with the “energy star” labeling program.

That little yellow sticker you see on some new appliances is supposed to guarantee an appliance is in the top 25% of energy efficiency, but an internal audit, just released, shows that the Department of Energy has not been properly tracking how the star has been used.

Initially manufacturers would self-report whether their products met the energy star guidelines, but with the new revelations, that’s changing.

Industry watchdogs are quick to point out, despite a few problems, the energy star program is not a washout.

“It’s not like we found rampant cheating and mis-representation in our testing,” said Celia Kuperszmid Leharman of Consumer Reports. “I think that for now that the stickers are pretty reliable, and they’re good comparative things from one product to the next.”

Before you purchase a new appliance, check out the Department of Energy’s consumer’s webpage for news on energy efficient appliances.

Affresh Tablets for the Dishwasher and Garbage Disposal

While the aroma of baking pies and browning roasts are welcome in the kitchen, dishwasher and disposal odors are not. To keep smelly kitchen odor at bay and ensure appliance workhorses run smoothly, Whirlpool introduces the new affresh Dishwasher and Disposal Cleaner, the only national two-in-one cleaner for dishwashers and garbage disposals.

If not properly cleaned as indicated in the Use & Care guide, all brands of dishwashers and garbage disposals have the potential for odor. Dishwashers in particular can be a problem when dirty dishes sit for multiple days or when food residue is not completely rinsed away. Until now, no product on the market removed both dishwasher and garbage disposal odors.

An extension of the affresh washer cleaner brand, the affresh Dishwasher and Disposal Cleaner is simple to use. Simply place one tablet in the main dishwasher detergent tray and another tablet in the prewash tray or in the bottom of the dishwasher. Run on the heaviest cycle – without dishes – using the hottest wash temperature to activate the affresh chemistry to dissolve and neutralize odor, leaving behind a crisp citrus scent. If consumers have a garbage disposal, they should follow up with a tablet in the disposal to remove odor in the drain pipe, which connects to the dishwasher. To clean the garbage disposal, place one tablet into the disposal, slowly run hot water through the disposal for 15 seconds. Turn off water and disposal, and wait 30 minutes before flushing with hot water.

Affresh Dishwasher and Disposal Cleaner is safe for septic tanks, dishwashers, disposals and plumbing, and is the #1 recommended cleaner by KitchenAid, Whirlpool, Maytag and Amana brands. For more disposal and dishwasher maintenance tips, consumers should review their appliance Use & Care guides.

The MSRP for a package of six affresh Dishwasher and Disposal Cleaner tablets is $5.99 and is available at major home appliance dealers.

Should You Buy a New Refrigerator?

You can find good information about appliances in large and small news outlets. I recently found a clear, simple explanation in the Cape Cod Times of why it could be worthwhile to replace a refrigerator even if it seems to be running perfectly.

Thanks to updates to federal energy appliance standards, all of today’s major home appliances do use much less energy. If you’ve got a product you use often like a refrigerator, washing machine or other major home appliance that is 10 to 15 years old or more, you’ll probably offset the purchase price of a new one by saving enough money on its energy use in the coming years.

I know it might not seem to make a lot of sense, especially in today’s economy, to replace a major appliance that seems to be working well just because it’s old. But this could cut monthly utility bills substantially.

Just like the purchase price of a new car is actually what you pay the dealer to buy it, pay the mechanic over time to maintain it, and pay the gas station over time to fuel it, appliances also need to be viewed as having the same types of actual costs.

A new refrigerator, for example, that carries the government’s ENERGY STAR designation showing that it greatly exceeds current minimum standards will probably save $1,000 or more over its lifetime compared to an older model.

The yellow EnergyGuide labels that come with major appliances show the estimated annual energy consumption of the model and other information regarding its energy efficiency. They also show where the appliance fits into the range of energy consumption of comparable products.

Most new appliances probably will last for many years, and energy-efficient models will continue to pay you back with lower energy costs over their lifetimes.

Check out the ENERGY STAR Web site that gives information on special offers, sales tax exemptions or credits, rebates and other discounts on energy-efficient products in your area at http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction rebate.rebate—locator.

You also ought to look around your home to see how many products you’ve got plugged into electrical outlets. About 20 percent of the average family’s utility bill goes toward powering these home appliances. It’ll help you appreciate the importance of buying efficient products.

One shopping tip that can help save money is to buy only the features you need. If you figure a certain-sized refrigerator is best for your family, don’t be tempted to get a bigger one. Will you use the through-the-door water dispenser or the ice maker? If so, they can be great features. If not, they add not only to the purchase price but to the unit’s energy use as well.

The bottom line is simple. When buying an appliance for your home, keep in mind that the cost of the energy to operate it over its lifetime will very likely be more than you’re paying for it. Purchasing an energy-efficient model makes a lot of sense.

Washing Machine Shopping Guide

Buying a new washing machine can be daunting. Many consumers find themselves standing in an appliance store looking at so many styles and brands, they are overwhelmed. Add to that the fact that often washer purchases are made in a rush because the old machine is broken and the laundry is piling up.

To help the frazzled shopper, we offer this list of questions to consider before heading out to the store.

What type of washer do I need?
If you are buying a replacement washer, you’ll probably choose the same type. If you are moving into a new home, remodeling or just looking for a change, you’ll want to choose a washer that fits the washer/dryer configuration you prefer; either side-by-side or stacked. If you live in a smaller home or apartment, compact washers require little space. They come in both stationary models and portable versions which can be stored in a closet and rolled to a nearby sink for use. Full-sized washers are now available in either top-loading or front-loading models. Front loaders can be placed under counters or stacked under a dryer, and save on energy costs. They are more expensive to purchase than conventional top-loading washers, and require special low-sudsing detergents to get the best results. If you live in an area with very high water and energy costs, like the western U.S., your energy savings could offset the purchase price difference. If you live in another area, you’ll want to spend some quality time with your calculator to determine if a front loader or a top loader is best for you.

What capacity washer should I choose?
Since your new washer is likely to last 10 to 15 years, you’ll want to consider both your family’s current and future size. Your laundry habits are also a consideration. Do you prefer to do your laundry in frequent small loads, or does your schedule require you to do large infrequent loads? There can also be seasonal factors, like sports and other outdoor activities, which might make a large capacity washer a welcome convenience.

How quiet should my washer be?
With more laundry rooms moving out of the basement and into living areas, quiet operation is becoming an important consideration. If you’re looking for a quiet washer, be sure to check for insulation inside the cabinet. Some models have sound-absorbing pads on all sides. Quality engineering and design also play a big part in sound reduction. A strong frame and suspension can help reduce a washer’s vibration from an unbalanced load. You’ll want to ask your appliance dealer about the quality of the stabilizing springs on models you’re considering, and be sure to check for thick rubber pads on the legs. They not only help reduce sound, they also protect your floors from scratches.

Should I look for an energy-efficient model?
Different washer models do vary in the amount of energy they use, and front-loading washers generally use less energy than top loaders. Front loaders cost more, and you will have to determine if energy costs in your area justify the higher purchase price. If you choose a top-loading washer, much of your energy savings will come from the choices you make when washing. Having a lot of cycle, water level and temperature options on your new washer will allow you to match the amount of hot water you use with your load. Some models offer a cold water rinse feature, which saves energy and gives you the same washing performance as a hot water rinse. Presoaking really dirty clothes can also save energy because, after the clothes have soaked, you can choose a regular wash cycle instead of the highest cycle setting. And, remember… when you’re in the store, be sure to compare the bright yellow Energy Guide labels to see which models run most efficiently.

What features are important to me?

Use catalogues, flyers and the Internet to identify your favorite two or three features. Popular features generally fall within three benefit categories:

* Ease-of-use Features
Consider who does laundry in your family before deciding which type of controls you want. Do children or an elderly family member need special consideration? Washer controls have become more advanced and, in many cases, easier to use. Electronic controls offer one-touch cycle selection and have easy-to-read digital displays. Other models have color coding and cycle indicator lights. A large lid opening can make loading and unloading easier. Most manufacturers offer automatic detergent, fabric softener and bleach dispensers, which make washing simpler and help avoid damage to fabrics. Some models also have self-cleaning lint filters. And, if you choose to stack your washer and dryer, you’ll not only reduce bending over, you’ll also save floor space.
* Performance Features
New washers offer a wide range of water temperature and cycle options, which allow you to customize your laundry for different fabrics and garments. Generally, the more cycle options your new washer has, the cleaner you’ll be able to get really dirty jeans, while protecting your fine delicates. You’ll want to find a washer that gives you the cycle and water temperature selections which match the clothes you normally wash. Some models have a water temperature sensor which automatically monitors and adjusts the hot and cold water flow to insure the ideal temperature for best washing results. And, remember to check your water heater setting to make sure the water coming to your new washer is hot enough. Normally, a setting of 120 degrees F. to 140 degrees F. will get good results.
* Durability Features
Washers must endure the corrosive effects of water and laundry chemicals, so rust protection is important. Ask your appliance dealer about the rust-proofing features which different manufacturers provide on washer cabinets and frames, as well as on working parts, like the pump. Check the fill hoses and fittings to make sure they are rust resistant and strong enough to last under high water pressure. Most washer models have a porcelain-coated wash tub, but you’ll want to find out if the coating is thick enough to withstand years of use without chipping. Stainless steel and plastic tubs won’t rust, but check the surface to see if it’s smooth enough to protect fine fabrics. If you’re going to use the top of your new washer as a work area, a porcelain enamel surface is more durable than paint. And, be sure to check the warranty. Some manufacturers cover rust and corrosion.

Good luck and enjoy your new washer!

Here are some of the Washers and Dryers available on the WEB: