July 23, 2014

Do You Like Your Front Loading Washer?

It might not have been the most stylish, but for decades the top-loading laundry machine was the most affordable and dependable. Now it’s ruined—and Americans have politics to thank.

The above is quote from a Wall Street Journal Opinion piece by Sam Kazman. He goes on to say:

In 1996, top-loaders were pretty much the only type of washer around, and they were uniformly high quality. When Consumer Reports tested 18 models, 13 were “excellent” and five were “very good.” By 2007, though, not one was excellent and seven out of 21 were “fair” or “poor.” This month came the death knell: Consumer Reports simply dismissed all conventional top-loaders as “often mediocre or worse.”

How’s that for progress?

The culprit is the federal government’s obsession with energy efficiency. Efficiency standards for washing machines aren’t as well-known as those for light bulbs, which will effectively prohibit 100-watt incandescent bulbs next year. Nor are they the butt of jokes as low-flow toilets are. But in their quiet destruction of a highly affordable, perfectly satisfactory appliance, washer standards demonstrate the harmfulness of the ever-growing body of efficiency mandates.

The federal government first issued energy standards for washers in the early 1990s. When the Department of Energy ratcheted them up a decade later, it was the beginning of the end for top-loaders. Their costlier and harder-to-use rivals—front-loading washing machines—were poised to dominate.

Front-loaders meet federal standards more easily than top-loaders. Because they don’t fully immerse their laundry loads, they use less hot water and therefore less energy.

When the Department of Energy began raising the standard, it promised that “consumers will have the same range of clothes washers as they have today,” and cleaning ability wouldn’t be changed. That’s not how it turned out.

In 2007, after the more stringent rules had kicked in, Consumer Reports noted that some top-loaders were leaving its test swatches “nearly as dirty as they were before washing.” “For the first time in years,” CR said, “we can’t call any washer a Best Buy.” Contrast that with the magazine’s 1996 report that, “given warm enough water and a good detergent, any washing machine will get clothes clean.” Those were the good old days.

In 2007, only one conventional top-loader was rated “very good.” Front-loaders did better, as did a new type of high-efficiency top-loader that lacks a central agitator. But even though these newer types of washers cost about twice as much as conventional top-loaders, overall they didn’t clean as well as the 1996 models.

The situation got so bad that the Competitive Enterprise Institute started a YouTube protest campaign, “Send Your Underwear to the Undersecretary.” With the click of a mouse, you could email your choice of virtual bloomers, boxers or Underoos to the Department of Energy. Several hundred Americans did so, but it wasn’t enough to stop Congress from mandating even stronger standards a few months later.

Now Congress is at it once again. On March 10, the Senate Energy Committee held hearings on a bill to make efficiency standards even more stringent. The bill claims to implement “national consensus appliance agreements,” but those in this consensus are the usual suspects: politicians pushing feel-good generalities, bureaucrats seeking expanded powers, environmentalists with little regard for American pocketbooks, and industries that stand to profit from a de facto ban on low-priced appliances. And there are green tax goodies for manufacturing high-efficiency models—the kind that already give so many tax credits to Whirlpool, for example, that the company will avoid paying taxes on its $619 million profit in 2010.

If you have switched from a top loading to a front loading washer and have a definite opinion about which is better – and why – please add your comment below. Let your voice be heard – are the socks you’re standing in clean enough?

Proud Appliance Ownership

Just in time for Mother’s Day- a photo I found recently that I liked for its quaint look back in time. This woman seems so pleased with her new washer and dryer. I imagine that the family had saved for a while to acquire the set and ease her workload. Her daughter writes that it is probably 1953 and this is the family’s first automatic washer and dryer. “Before that she used a wringer washer and we either hung the clothes in the basement, or outside if the weather was good.”

Does Size Really Matter?

Is bigger always better? Maybe not, when you are talking about washing machines.

Just how many clothes can effectively be washed and rinsed in a single load is covered by new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) guidelines—and the answer may surprise you.

“Due to new Department of Energy regulations regarding clothes washer capacity, consumers may hear a lot of conflicting information about whether size really matters when it comes to laundry,” said J.B. Hoyt, director of regulatory affairs for Whirlpool Corporation. “The common belief is that bigger is better, but that is only true if your clothes still get clean.”

The Imperial Valley News writes that as part of the guidelines, manufacturers including Whirlpool, Maytag and Amana will voluntarily report new capacity measurements based on DOE test procedures in order to provide accurate measurement of all clothes washers across all brands.

For those in the market for new laundry appliances, Hoyt shares the dirt on capacity, cleaning and, most importantly, what to look for when shopping for a new washer.

• When making a new purchase, ask about capacity as it relates to cleaning versus just how much the machine will hold. What is the largest maximum capacity that will get your clothes clean?

• No matter how big the machine is, do not overload. Clothes will get cleaner when given room to move freely.

• Thanks to high-efficiency washing machines, you don’t have to stuff everything into one load just to save energy and water. Today’s high-efficiency washing machines use only enough energy and water to properly clean your clothes, which means you can do small loads when you have time, rather than waiting for the basket to fill up.

Aging in Place – Appliance Placement

If you are a retiree building a new home, you can plan your kitchen and laundry areas to accommodate your aging body. For those of us who plan to stay right where we are, some simple adjustments and purchases can make daily tasks easier.

So, let’s start with the easy ones, like the Washer & Dryer. Front loading models are very popular today, but bending over and getting inside for the very last sock can be a problem for those with mobility issues. Most brands, including Bosch, Whirlpool and Frigidaire make pedestals for all their newer models, and can retrofit them to older models.They range from 11″ to 17″, depending on the brand. The other solution is to pull the machines out, and have your contractor frame in a raised platform at just the right height for you, cover it with linoleum, and your washer and dryer will be much more accessible.

Another place to ‘right height’ appliances is in the kitchen. Here are more tips from HB Building and Design: One popular solution is a lowered cooktop with the controls on the front. If you have room to make this modification, and lower this part of the countertop with the adjacent required landing space, it really makes things easier for shorter people, or someone sitting in a wheelchair or using a walker.

The second kitchen appliance that should be considered is the refrigerator. A side-by-side refrigerator freezer is a much better choice, giving access to both the freezer and the refrigerator from a sitting position. In a more extensive remodel, a wall oven can be installed at a lower height as can the microwave oven.

A final consideration are countertops which should be smooth to allow you to slide rather than lift heavy pots and pans. Cabinets can also be prepared for someone with a progressive illness by specifying removable base cabinets for future wheelchair access.

Is Steam the Thing? – Washers and Dryers

In this, the fourth and final segment on steam appliances, we discuss steam washers and dryers.

In a washing machine, steam and water form a dynamic duo. Steam complements water in the cleaning process by keeping the fabrics soft and wrinkle-free. One patent filed by LG Electronics, the company that put out the first home steam washer, explains the different advantages that steam can offer when applied in three different stages of a washing machine cycle:

* Pre-wash phase: While the water loads into the wash tub, the steam works with the water to help soak the fabrics more thoroughly.
* During the washing phase: If added while the detergent is mixed with the water, the steam increases the temperature of the wash tub to improve the cleaning power, which also helps to activate the detergent. It does this by dissolving the detergent more effectively, to get the most out of it as possible.
* Post-wash phase: Steam added after washing lends more high temperatures to the tub to sterilize the clothes. It also softens the clothes to remove hard wrinkles that formed while the clothes tossed in the tub.

Steam washing machines use less power and consume less water than conventional models. A little bit of water can produce a lot of steam, which expands to take up more volume.

Nebraska Furniture Mart salesman Scott Price wanted to replace his own top-load washer and dryer, so he chose Whirlpool models that were each $150 more than machines that don’t use steam. He likes how the steam cycle on his washer gets out tough stains . He uses the steam dryer to de-wrinkle his clothes.

“I’m the type of person who throws a load of clothes in the dryer overnight,” Price says. “So the de-wrinkling cycle touches them up in 10 to 20 minutes in the morning.” The dry clothes look better, he says, when he de-wrinkles one item at a time. Price’s observations are in line with Consumer Reports’ test results.

“We found that with washers, the steam does improve the performance somewhat,” says Emilio Gonzalez, senior program leader in the appliance division at Consumer Reports. “With dryers, it’s mixed. They’re great at alleviating odor buildup, so you can freshen up clothes. But they’re not always great with wrinkles.”

Not all steam dryers are the same. They apply different steam in different ways. Maytag models don’t release a stream of pure steam, but rather a fine mist to the clothes. The heat in the dryer then raises the temperature of the mist to turn it to steam. Other dryers use a steam generator to release pure steam to the clothes.

Steam can potentially dry fabrics too. An advanced drying technique involves using superheated dry steam, which is steam that doesn’t contain any liquid water. This kind of steam is purely gas and invisible to the human eye, as opposed to wet steam, which suspends visible water droplets. By super-heating dry steam to a high enough temperature, machines can use steam to dry items. The very hot steam effectively heats moisture to the evaporation point . Then, the dryer circulates the resulting evaporated moisture out of the system and repeats the process. Though intended for industrial dryers, perhaps the technology of super-heated steam dryers will eventually make its way into mass-produced home dryers.

Appliance Prices Are Going Up

Top appliance makers Whirlpool and Electrolux are raising prices to pass soaring raw material costs on to customers, but their attempts may not pass muster with bargain-hungry shoppers.

According to Reuters, both companies reported quarterly profits that fell short of estimates as they grapple with tepid demand in major markets like the United States and Europe.
Many analysts questioned the timing of the move, especially since consumers in the developed world continue to look for incentives to buy expensive goods like appliances.

Korean manufacturer Samsung has not announced increases and appears to be planning to hold existing prices. Still, Whirlpool’s chief executive, Jeff Fettig, insisted it was not “economically feasible” for Whirlpool to remain indefinitely in the promotional mindset it adopted for the holiday season and last year in general. “For 2011, we expect positive but uneven demand levels around the world,” Fettig said, adding the company still hoped to expand operating margins in the year through price increases and boosts in productivity.

LG Electronics does plan an increase as well. The planned price increase matches moves announced earlier by Whirlpool and Electrolux.

Whirlpool has shut plants, cut jobs and moved some manufacturing to lower cost centers like Mexico. It has also started using common parts across its lineup of dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines.

Electrolux, which sells under its own name as well as the Zanussi and Frigidaire brands, is planning to raise prices by 8 percent to 10 percent in North America starting in April and gradually in Europe and other markets. The move comes as manufacturers around the globe plot price increases to offset higher materials costs and regain ground lost in the recession. Electrolux Chief Executive Keith McLoughlin said the rise in raw materials’ costs had been across the board.

Good Housekeeping Honors New GE Profile Washer with VIP Award

It is the late-night dilemma of many busy Americans — keeping their eyes open another hour or so to wash and dry clothes they just realized they needed the next morning. GE has an answer that’s much better than staying awake through another late-night talk show: the GE Profilefrontload washer with Steam technology that cleans clothes and gets them ready to wear by morning — right out of the washer.

“Good Housekeeping is proud to honor GE Profile’s Frontloader Steam Washer with Overnight Ready Cycle with a 2011 Very Innovative Products (VIP) Award. This represents an outstanding achievement, as the winners of our VIP Awards are chosen from thousands of products,” says Miriam Arond, director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, “Our VIP Award winners are products that are ingenious breakthroughs and solve everyday problems in new and exciting ways. The fact that GE’s product performed so well is extremely impressive.”

The washer’s innovative “Overnight Ready” cycle washes clothes, then removes so much moisture that clothes are comfortable to wear without transferring to the dryer. It’s the first unit in the industry with the ability to wash small loads on an overnight cycle. The cycle even helps prevent clothes from wrinkling compared to clothes that are left sitting in the washer overnight. The “Overnight Ready” cycle keeps clothes moving gently up to eight hours to remove moisture content. Two easy-to-clean filters trap lint for excellent results.

The GE Profile frontload washer and dryer with Steam and SmartDispense technology is white (PFWS4600LWW, PFDS450ELWW, EST: $1,399* each). Additional frontload models include the GE Profile frontload washer and dryer with Steam and SmartDispense technology in champagne (FW4605LMG, PFDS455ELMG, EST: $1,499* each). Optional SmartDispense pedestals in white (SPBD880JWW, EST: $499*) and in champagne (SPBD880JMG, EST: $599*).
*Resellers determine their own resale price.

GE Appliance Cash Sweepstakes

Beginning January 13th, GE is running an eight week sweepstakes, with weekly $250 VISA card giveaways and a grand prize of $20,000. You can enter each day for a chance to win. Here’s the link to get you there: GE Sweepstakes