October 24, 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.

Appliance Repair Saga

We all have to deal with this on occasion- here’s a lighthearted look at one woman’s recent experience with an appliance failure.

Most of us are familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of dealing with death, but I think they work equally well with appliance repair.

Not long ago, the electronic control panel on our stove went south, mid-meat loaf. Where moments before had been a glittery display panel reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise was now the Black Screen of Death. An ominous notation appeared: “Error F5.”

Instantly, I went into Denial. As in, this can’t be happening to me! This range is practically new! It had great ratings! I even went so far as to search online as to what Error F5 was. It was possible, I thought (see Denial, above) that it could be something innocuous. But basically Error F5 is code for “This is SO going to cost you.”

Finding out that the first available repair appointment from the Authorized Dealer was going to be nine days away made an easy segue into Stage 2: Anger. Loads of anger.

One teensy weensy component goes bad and the entire control board has to be replaced? This is felony design abuse! What was so wrong (caution: Luddite alert) with the old two-knob ranges, bake knob on the right, temp knob on the left? It is immoral! It’s un-American! It’s – no, no, I’m not turning down the appointment. But – and here we glide seamlessly into Stage 3: Bargaining – are you sure you can’t get me in any sooner? The kids and grandchild are going to be visiting next weekend and having no way to cook except a microwave is going to be really, really hard. Maybe you have a cancellation list I could put my name on? (Please?)

Like dying, it only gets worse from there, because eventually the Authorized Dealer actually shows up. The kids had been very nice about it all when they came. It wouldn’t be their last visit, they said, consolingly. And it never hurts to remind oneself from time to time how wonderful warm food tastes on a cold rainy evening especially since they didn’t get any.

But by this time, Olof and I are ready for some serious bakables. So it was with total shock when the Authorized Dealer mentions that control panels are a special order, usually 30 days. Stage 4: complete and total Depression, slams you right between the taste buds.

But during that long month, a funny thing happens – Stage 5: Acceptance. You develop an inner peace, not to mention an intimate relationship with the pizza guy. Cooking is over-rated. Vast technological improvements have been made in microwavables. You can now often recognize the animal they were made from.

So when the Authorized Dealer calls to install the new panel, you’re almost not sure you want him to come out. Especially when he tells you that the control board is $590 and labor to install $150. More, of course, than a whole stove used to cost.

But then you think about your mother’s wonderful cassoulet and about the grandkids coming to refer to you as Grammy Nuke. So you fork over the money and fix the range, assuming this was just a fluke and you’ll have many more years of life out of this appliance.

Talk about Denial.

EnergyStar Ratings – Can They be Trusted?

According to retailers, the Federal Appliance Rebate Program has increased appliance purchases nationwide.  The rebate is for energy efficient appliances which is great – only you might not be getting what that EnergyStar  label promises.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggests that some Energy Star products aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Responding to a request for investigation from Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), the GAO submitted 20 fictitious products between June 2009 and March 2010 for certification by Energy Star, a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Fifteen of the fakes–including a phony “room-air cleaner” that was little more than a space heater with a feather duster taped to it–received an Energy Star label.

Parade Magazine reports that in response, federal officials announced plans to strengthen the program. From now on, each application will be reviewed individually by an EPA staff member (as opposed to the automated approval process previously in place). By the end of the year, companies that want Energy Star certification for their products will be required to submit lab results from an independent testing agency rather than conduct their own evaluations.

Meanwhile, consumer advocates say we can still have faith in our Energy Star appliances: Most Energy Star brands on the market are about 10% more energy-efficient than their counterparts.

Sen. Collins applauds the reforms, calling them long overdue. “Energy Star wasn’t just slipping a bit,” she says. “It was in danger of falling off the quality cliff–putting taxpayers at risk of getting ripped off. Now that the EPA and DOE are moving to put more stringent oversight in place, I believe consumers will be better served and the integrity of the program will be restored.”

Basic Appliance Care and Safety

If you are lucky, you rarely need to pay much attention to the appliances that run, some of them 24 hours a day, in your home. But to keep everything trouble free, it’s good to follow some basic guidelines for care and safety when using or installing appliances in your home. Handymanclub.com offers some simples steps for use with your washer, dryer, refrigerator, ranges, cooktops, even your water heater.

Ventilation and combustion (dryers, water heaters, ranges and cooktops)
• Clean the clothes dryer’s lint filter before or after each load. Check behind the dryer for trapped lint. Clear lint from the exterior vent often. Lint buildup results in inefficiency and excessive wear and can even pose a fire hazard. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an estimated 15,500 fires each year are associated with clothes dryers.
• Use only metal ducting for gas dryers because they run hotter than electric machines. Rigid rather than accordion-pleated ducting is best for airflow.
• Never vent clothes dryers or water heaters into the house to supplement heating.

Plumbing (washers, refrigerators and water heaters)
• To prevent leaky or bursting waterlines, check washing machine hoses for signs of wear. Consider replacing rubber hoses with newer braided stainless steel hoses.
• Check the screens at either end of the water hoses and remove sediment that may have collected there. This is especially important after road construction or water-main work has been done in your area.
• Periodically check that the washing machine is soundly footed and level so the hoses and the drain hose do not come loose.
• If a dishwasher’s tub doesn’t empty after operation, detach the drain line from the household drain and clean any debris from the line.

Gas (dryers, ranges and water heaters)
• Never use an oven as a room heater — combustion pollutants resulting from fuel-burning appliances can cause illness or death. Have gas appliances serviced periodically to ensure they burn with the proper mix of air and fuel.
• Be sure all vented appliances are checked for backdrafting. (This is one reason that it’s important for a city building official to inspect newly installed vented appliances.)

Electric
• Diehard DIYers may bristle at this warning from the CPSC — nonetheless, it’s a lifesaver. Never attempt to repair a microwave oven — because they use high-voltage power, they can pose a risk of electrical shock even after they are disconnected from the power source.
• Use dedicated circuits for large appliances such as washers and dryers.
• Keep appliance cords away from hot surfaces.

Choosing Kitchen Appliances – Refrigerators

Continuing now with refrigerators, we bring you part two of our series on choosing kitchen appliances.  The features that most people consider when looking for a new fridge are storage capacity, ease of use, price and hopefully energy usage.  One of the first things you can do to save energy when purchasing a new appliance of any kind , is to buy one with the Energy Star seal.  A 2007 Energy Star refrigerator uses at least 15 percent less energy than a standard one. 

HowStuffWorks.com, Consumer Reports and Appliance.net have some tips we’d like to share with you that will help clarify your refrigerator needs.

While you’ll find an array of refrigerator brands, only a handful of companies actually make these appliances, with essentially similar models under several names. Frigidaire, General Electric, Kenmore, and Whirlpool account for some 75 percent of top-freezer sales and, with Maytag, more than 80 percent of side-by-side purchases.
You can still get the basic 18-cubic-foot, freezer-on-top model with wire shelves, but the most popular style offers 20 cubic feet of storage; adjustable glass shelves; meat keeper with temperature control; vegetable crisper with humidity control; ice-maker; and door bins.   These typically cost the least and offer more space than comparably sized side-by-sides. Widths typically range from about 30 to 33 inches. Fairly wide refrigerator shelves make it easy to reach the back, though you must bend to reach bottom shelves and drawers. Usable capacity is typically about 80 percent of what’s claimed (about 10 to 25 cubic feet), which brings top-freezers closest to their claims. Price: $400 to $1,200.

Bottom-freezer brands include Amana, Frigidaire, GE, Jenn-Air, Kenmore, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, Samsung, Sub-Zero, Thermador, and Whirlpool. Mainstream companies have introduced high-end brand lines such as Electrolux Icon, Frigidaire Gallery, GE Cafe, Monogram and Profile, Kenmore Elite and Pro, and Whirlpool Gold. These brands cover built-ins: GE (Monogram and Profile), Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, Sub-Zero, Thermador, and Viking. You can also get built-in-style, or cabinet-depth, models from Amana, Bosch, Electrolux, Frigidaire, GE, Jenn-Air, Kenmore, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, and Whirlpool among others. These put refrigerator items at eye level on wide shelves that provide easy access. You’ll have to bend to find items in the freezer, but you’ll typically open the refrigerator much more often. Bottom-freezers tend to cost more than top-freezers and offer less space for their size, however. Widths typically range from 30 to 36 inches. Claimed capacity is up to 26 cubic feet, though usable space is typically a bit less than for top-freezers.

While most French-door models are 36 inches wide, some are 33 inches, and some offer through-the-door ice and water. Price: $700 to $1,500; $1,600 to $2,000 for French doors. French door fridges, are side-by-side on top with freezers on the bottom and are one of the newer options on the market.

Side-by-sides are split units that have a freezer on one side and a refrigerator on the other. They’re typically equipped with through-the-door ice and water—among the most requested features—along with temperature-controlled bins and rapid ice-making cycles. Narrow doors that fit tight kitchens are another plus, though most don’t open wide enough to fit pizza boxes and other wide items. High, narrow compartments also make it hard to find items at back. Side-by-sides are typically 32 to 36 inches wide, with claimed capacity of 20 to 30 cubic feet, though we’ve found that only about 65 percent of that space is usable. They’re also pricier than top-freezer models. Price: $800 to $2,000.

Built-ins are pricey refrigerators that are designed to fit nearly flush with cabinets and counters, and typically comprise bottom-freezers and side-by-sides. Most can accept extra-cost front panels that match other elements of your kitchen. You can even buy a separate refrigerator and freezer mounted together in a 72-inch opening. On the downside, built-ins are wide (36 inches or wider), yet relatively shallow (25 to 26 inches, front to back), making them least-efficient overall. They’ve also been repair-prone in Consumer Reports’ surveys. And at roughly a foot taller than conventional models, they could be hard to fit beneath overhead cabinets. Price: $4,000 to $7,000.

Cabinet-depth refrigerators are less-shallow, freestanding and offer the look of a built-in for less money. They are available mostly in side-by-side styles, with some top- and bottom-freezers and French-door models available. Many accept extra-cost panels for a custom look, but cabinet-depth models have less usable space than deeper freestanding models and cost more. Price: $1,500 to $3,200.

Under cabinet refrigerator drawers are among the latest luxuries for kitchens where even the biggest refrigerator simply isn’t enough. But refrigerators drawers tend to be large on price and small on space. They cost little to run because of limited capacity. Price: $1,800 to $3,000.

How much refrigerator do you need? One rule of thumb says plan on 12 cubic feet for two people and 2 more cubic feet for each additional household member, but other considerations also matter. If you like to stock up during sales, or cook often for crowds, the more room the better. Side-by-side models are easiest to organize, but the smaller models have relatively narrow freezers.  In all cooling sections, look for pull-out, roll-out bins and baskets that make it easy to see everything without having to dig around, squandering energy (yours as well as the refrigerator’s!).  If you’re a serious entertainer, you may want to look into ice makers that fit into the space of a trash compactor and produce large quantities of ice daily.

Consumer Reports offers this extra advice:

HOW TO CHOOSE

Size is usually more important than style, since most new refrigerators must fit in the same space as the old one. Begin by measuring the available space, particularly the width. Include the space you’ll need to open doors, and check that the new fridge you’re considering can fit through halls and doorways.

Once you’ve chosen a type that fits your space, needs, and budget, keep these tips in mind:

Look for space-stretching features. These include split shelves and cranks for adjusting shelf height. Pull-out shelves provide access to the back of the fridge and freezer. In bottom-freezers, full-extension drawers help you find items in the rear.

Consider efficiency. Despite advances, refrigerators still use more electricity than other kitchen appliances, since they’re always on. Top- and bottom-freezers are typically more efficient than side-by-sides. Choose a model that scored well for energy efficiency in our tests.

Think twice about multimedia models. More brands are also pushing $3,000-plus models that include TVs, DVD players, and other features as kitchens become the new living room. But we’ve found you can save hundreds and get better performance by buying a separate refrigerator and flat-screen TV.

Don’t jump at package deals. While buying a refrigerator with other appliances from the same brand can save you money and help coordinate styling, you’ll probably have less choice, and you could sacrifice refrigerator performance and reliability.

Choosing Kitchen Appliances – Refrigerators

Continuing now with refrigerators, we bring you part two of our series on choosing kitchen appliances.  The features that most people consider when looking for a new fridge are storage capacity, ease of use, price and hopefully energy usage.  One of the first things you can do to save energy when purchasing a new appliance of any kind , is to buy one with the Energy Star seal.  A 2007 Energy Star refrigerator uses at least 15 percent less energy than a standard one. 

HowStuffWorks.com, Consumer Reports and Appliance.net have some tips we’d like to share with you that will help clarify your refrigerator needs.

While you’ll find an array of refrigerator brands, only a handful of companies actually make these appliances, with essentially similar models under several names. Frigidaire, General Electric, Kenmore, and Whirlpool account for some 75 percent of top-freezer sales and, with Maytag, more than 80 percent of side-by-side purchases.
You can still get the basic 18-cubic-foot, freezer-on-top model with wire shelves, but the most popular style offers 20 cubic feet of storage; adjustable glass shelves; meat keeper with temperature control; vegetable crisper with humidity control; ice-maker; and door bins.   These typically cost the least and offer more space than comparably sized side-by-sides. Widths typically range from about 30 to 33 inches. Fairly wide refrigerator shelves make it easy to reach the back, though you must bend to reach bottom shelves and drawers. Usable capacity is typically about 80 percent of what’s claimed (about 10 to 25 cubic feet), which brings top-freezers closest to their claims. Price: $400 to $1,200.

Bottom-freezer brands include Amana, Frigidaire, GE, Jenn-Air, Kenmore, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, Samsung, Sub-Zero, Thermador, and Whirlpool. Mainstream companies have introduced high-end brand lines such as Electrolux Icon, Frigidaire Gallery, GE Cafe, Monogram and Profile, Kenmore Elite and Pro, and Whirlpool Gold. These brands cover built-ins: GE (Monogram and Profile), Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, Sub-Zero, Thermador, and Viking. You can also get built-in-style, or cabinet-depth, models from Amana, Bosch, Electrolux, Frigidaire, GE, Jenn-Air, Kenmore, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, and Whirlpool among others. These put refrigerator items at eye level on wide shelves that provide easy access. You’ll have to bend to find items in the freezer, but you’ll typically open the refrigerator much more often. Bottom-freezers tend to cost more than top-freezers and offer less space for their size, however. Widths typically range from 30 to 36 inches. Claimed capacity is up to 26 cubic feet, though usable space is typically a bit less than for top-freezers.

While most French-door models are 36 inches wide, some are 33 inches, and some offer through-the-door ice and water. Price: $700 to $1,500; $1,600 to $2,000 for French doors. French door fridges, are side-by-side on top with freezers on the bottom and are one of the newer options on the market.

Side-by-sides are split units that have a freezer on one side and a refrigerator on the other. They’re typically equipped with through-the-door ice and water—among the most requested features—along with temperature-controlled bins and rapid ice-making cycles. Narrow doors that fit tight kitchens are another plus, though most don’t open wide enough to fit pizza boxes and other wide items. High, narrow compartments also make it hard to find items at back. Side-by-sides are typically 32 to 36 inches wide, with claimed capacity of 20 to 30 cubic feet, though we’ve found that only about 65 percent of that space is usable. They’re also pricier than top-freezer models. Price: $800 to $2,000.

Built-ins are pricey refrigerators that are designed to fit nearly flush with cabinets and counters, and typically comprise bottom-freezers and side-by-sides. Most can accept extra-cost front panels that match other elements of your kitchen. You can even buy a separate refrigerator and freezer mounted together in a 72-inch opening. On the downside, built-ins are wide (36 inches or wider), yet relatively shallow (25 to 26 inches, front to back), making them least-efficient overall. They’ve also been repair-prone in Consumer Reports’ surveys. And at roughly a foot taller than conventional models, they could be hard to fit beneath overhead cabinets. Price: $4,000 to $7,000.

Cabinet-depth refrigerators are less-shallow, freestanding and offer the look of a built-in for less money. They are available mostly in side-by-side styles, with some top- and bottom-freezers and French-door models available. Many accept extra-cost panels for a custom look, but cabinet-depth models have less usable space than deeper freestanding models and cost more. Price: $1,500 to $3,200.

Under cabinet refrigerator drawers are among the latest luxuries for kitchens where even the biggest refrigerator simply isn’t enough. But refrigerators drawers tend to be large on price and small on space. They cost little to run because of limited capacity. Price: $1,800 to $3,000.

How much refrigerator do you need? One rule of thumb says plan on 12 cubic feet for two people and 2 more cubic feet for each additional household member, but other considerations also matter. If you like to stock up during sales, or cook often for crowds, the more room the better. Side-by-side models are easiest to organize, but the smaller models have relatively narrow freezers.  In all cooling sections, look for pull-out, roll-out bins and baskets that make it easy to see everything without having to dig around, squandering energy (yours as well as the refrigerator’s!).  If you’re a serious entertainer, you may want to look into ice makers that fit into the space of a trash compactor and produce large quantities of ice daily.

Consumer Reports offers this extra advice:

HOW TO CHOOSE

Size is usually more important than style, since most new refrigerators must fit in the same space as the old one. Begin by measuring the available space, particularly the width. Include the space you’ll need to open doors, and check that the new fridge you’re considering can fit through halls and doorways.

Once you’ve chosen a type that fits your space, needs, and budget, keep these tips in mind:

Look for space-stretching features. These include split shelves and cranks for adjusting shelf height. Pull-out shelves provide access to the back of the fridge and freezer. In bottom-freezers, full-extension drawers help you find items in the rear.

Consider efficiency. Despite advances, refrigerators still use more electricity than other kitchen appliances, since they’re always on. Top- and bottom-freezers are typically more efficient than side-by-sides. Choose a model that scored well for energy efficiency in our tests.

Think twice about multimedia models. More brands are also pushing $3,000-plus models that include TVs, DVD players, and other features as kitchens become the new living room. But we’ve found you can save hundreds and get better performance by buying a separate refrigerator and flat-screen TV.

Don’t jump at package deals. While buying a refrigerator with other appliances from the same brand can save you money and help coordinate styling, you’ll probably have less choice, and you could sacrifice refrigerator performance and reliability.