April 17, 2014

Check Your Cart at Sears.com

Is Sears.com tacking on added purchases without your consent? Automatically adding on a service package is up-selling and Sears.com may have been doing just that.

Edgar Dworsky, a nationally-respected consumer advocate and founder of the website ConsumerWorld.org, says he went on the site on Black Friday weekend looking for a refrigerator. He found a model he liked, put it in his cart and noticed that a five-year service contract for $469 had been added without his consent.

Dworsky points out that the charge for the service plan is easily removed from the cart if the customer spots it. If not, they could overpay from $110 to $550.

“How many shoppers have in their mind, ‘Oh, I’d better check the cart just to make sure they haven’t slipped something in there that I didn’t order?’”

Dworsky shopped for various appliances on Sears.com and he says the same thing happened every time: an expensive five-year extended warranty turned up in the shopping cart.

After Mr. Dworsky contacted Larry Costello, Sears’ public relations director, who says the company has received “very little negative customer feedback” about its up-sell policy,the company says it will change the way its website operates. Sears will now make their extended warranties an optional add-on, just as other major appliance sellers do.

New GE Profile and GE Café Bottom-Freezer Refrigerators

Dining in can be delicious. And it’s a good thing, because in these money- and health-conscious times, many of us are doing it more often.

Nearly half of Americans, or 46 percent, say they’re dining out less frequently, according to a 2009 Nielsen survey. Also reflecting a trend toward meals served at home, household spending increased on deli items, fresh seafood and meat, and produce for the year ending September 2009. And, as any kid will tell you, some meals at home include leftovers — at least once a week in 77 percent of households, according to a 2010 report by the National Grocers Association.

Regardless of what you’re putting on the dinner table, a key ingredient is convenient food storage. New GE Profile and GE Café bottom-freezer refrigerators not only help preserve your favorite foods for home cooking, they also make it easier than ever for your family to serve themselves — thanks to convenient storage features and an improved ice-and-water-dispenser.

Refrigerators with the freezer on the bottom are increasingly popular, in part because of the convenience they offer in organizing and accessing both fresh and frozen foods. Having the fresh food compartment at eye level allows family members to easily help themselves to frequently used fruits and vegetables, deli items and drinks. In the freezer compartment, slide-out drawers and baskets allow a variety of frozen food packages to be seen at a glance and quickly retrieved.

“Another advantage is that the freezer is wider than in a side-by-side refrigerator,” says Dan Capelle, GE Appliances product manager. “The freezer area is the full width of the refrigerator, providing room for larger items, such as a whole turkey, pizzas, a tray of frozen appetizers, or extra bags of ice.”

Sales of bottom-freezer refrigerators increased more than 40 percent in 2010 alone, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. “Consumers love not only the convenience, but also the style and appearance of these models,” says GE’s Jeff Cooksey, marketing manager for refrigeration.

The new line of GE Profile and GE Café models also features more capacity for ice storage, thanks to a new design that places the water and ice dispenser in the door of the refrigerator. In addition, this frees up more usable space in the fresh food area.

The new line of GE Profile and Café bottom-freezer refrigerators will be available to consumers on May 11, 2011.

Models are available in freestanding, counter-depth, and armoire styles.

Energy Standards for Refrigerators Upgraded

Advocacy groups and appliance manufacturers hailed a 25 percent increase in energy efficiency for most new refrigerators, starting in 2014, thanks to new efficiency standards that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today, continuing a 40‐year trend of improving energy efficiency for this essential home appliance.

The groups said the new standards are the first step in the department’s implementation of the
recommendations they proposed to DOE in July for new minimum efficiency standards, tax credits and ENERGY STAR incentives for smart appliances affecting six major categories of home appliances.

According to the proposed rule, a typical new 20‐cubic‐foot refrigerator with the freezer on top would use about 390 kilowatt hours (kwh) per year, down from about 900 kwh/year in 1990 and about 1,700 kwh/year in the early 1970s. On a national basis, the new standards would, over 30 years, save 4.5 quads of energy, or roughly enough to meet the total energy needs of one‐fifth of all U.S. households for a year. Over the same period, the standards will save consumers about $18.5 billion. DOE will finalize the standards by year’s end, and they take effect in 2014.

“This big step forward for refrigerator efficiency proves that the well of innovation leading to energy savings is very, very deep,” said David B. Goldstein, energy program director for the Natural Resource Defense Council and winner of a MacArthur Prize for his work on refrigerator efficiency. “These standards pave the way for manufacturer investments in a next generation of products that demonstrate ever‐increasing energy and cost savings.”

Based on the July agreement, home appliance manufacturers and efficiency, environmental and consumer advocates have agreed to jointly pursue with Congress and the administration new standards for six categories of home appliances (refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers and room air conditioners), a recommendation that ENERGY STAR qualification criteria incorporate credit for Smart Grid capability and a package of targeted tax credits aimed at fostering the market for super‐efficient appliances.

As part of the new refrigerator standards, ice maker energy consumption also will be reflected in product energy‐use ratings, giving consumers a better way to gauge actual energy use when making a choice among refrigerators.

“Even though refrigerators have become much more energy efficient, they still account for about 10 percent of household electricity use,” observed Alliance to Save Energy Vice President for Programs Jeffrey Harris. “With the new standards, consumers will not only save energy, they’ll also have a better picture of total energy use, because the ratings will include automatic ice makers.”

Several prior refrigerator standards, including those put in place in 1993 and 2001, are also the result of joint industry/advocate agreements.

A table showing the percent energy savings achieved by the proposed standards relative to current standards for select categories and the complete press release can be seen at AHAM.org

Broken Appliance? Do You Repair it or Not?

Having a broken appliance is annoying, not knowing whether or not to fix it is frustrating. We’ve found some questions to ask yourself before you decide what to do, along with appliance lifespan estimates and some simple maintenance advice. Read on.

10 questions to ask:

- 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 versus repair?

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

Average life of appliances:

Industry experts say washing machines tend to break down the most because they take the most beatings and contain many moving parts.

- 10-15 years for refrigerators and freezers.

- 10-20 years for ovens and ranges.

- 10-15 years for dishwashers.

- 10-15 years for clothes washers/dryers.

- 10-20 years for water heaters.

- 15-20 years for central air-conditioning unit.

Preventive maintenance:

- Clean the condenser coils on your refrigerator annually and check door seals to ensure they are airtight.

- Check air filters monthly and replace as needed.

- Replace washer fill hoses every five years.

- Avoid overloading the washing machine.

- Have the exhaust duct on the clothes dryer inspected and cleaned once a year. Clean the lint filter before each use.

Time to Replace That Old Refrigerator

Is your refrigerator more than ten years old? If so, replacing it can save you some serious money. The problem is can it save you enough to warrant shelling out the money for a new unit? A new refrigerator isn’t cheap, but an older one accounts for anywhere from 5-8 percent of your household energy.

The nonprofit advocacy group Alliance to Save Energy estimates that if the older refrigerators were replaced, Americans would save $866 million a year in utility costs. In general, a new efficient refrigerator uses about half the energy of its 10-year-old cousin, federal statistics show.

If you plan now, you might be prepared when the new federal stimulus bill funneling $300 million into rebates for energy-efficient appliances, is enacted. But be ready to act because with 112 million households in the country, that $300 million won’t go far.

How to know when to buy? Uncle Sam’s efficiency program, Energy Star, has a refrigerator calculator on its Web site: www.energystar .gov. All refrigerators manufactured in the United States must meet minimum efficiency standards, but Energy Star-certified models are at least 20 percent more efficient.

If you’re thinking of buying a new refrigerator, here are some tips from EnergyStar:

• Start with the calculator at www.energystar.gov.

• When shopping, factor in the appliance’s yellow “EnergyGuide” label listing the energy use and approximate annual operating cost.

• Go smaller. Larger models cost more to operate, and a full refrigerator is more efficient than a half-empty one.

• Models with top freezers are the most efficient, using 10 percent to 25 percent less energy than side-by-side models.

• Consider doing without the ice-maker and dispenser. These increase energy use by 14 percent to 20 percent.

To get the most out of any refrigerator:

• Position it away from heat – an oven or dishwasher. Leave room at the back and sides for air circulation.

• Keep the air intake and condenser coils clean.

Helpful Refrigerator Tips

Here are a few quick ideas to help keep your fridge cool and your family healthy:

Refrigerate hot foods as soon as possible and within two hours after cooking.  You can put hot foods in the refrigerator – they cool faster there – just put them in small, shallow containers for faster cooling.

Keep the refrigerator at 40F degrees or lower.  If you’re not sure of te temperature, you can buy and inexpensive refrigerator thermometer and adjust the temperature if necessary.

Date leftovers so they can be used within a safe time.  Most foods are usually safe if eaten within three to five days of being refrigerated.  Foods from restaurants should generally be eaten sooner.

Don’t overload the refrigerator. You need space between the containers for the cold air to circulate.  This not only keeps the food uniformly cold, but helps the unit run efficiently.

Food Safety and Your Refrigerator

We all know how important it is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables everyday.   One of the easiest ways to do that is to keep the fridge produce drawers stocked with your family’s favorites .  The problem arises with how most people maintain those drawers.  The details of how a refrigerator is cleaned and its temperature, along with how food is prepared and stored were discussed by a panel of experts meeting in New Orleans this June.

Vegetable bins in home refrigerators contain the highest percentage of bacteria,” said Sandria Godwin, a food scientist with Tennessee State University and part of a four-member panel that presented its findings on consumer refrigeration trends.

“You don’t have to go to a party or a restaurant to get food poisoning,” she said. “We are all looking for someone to blame when it comes to food safety, but there are things we can do to reduce the risk, especially for high-risk groups such as the elderly, infants and children.”

Poor refrigerator cleaning, mixing unwashed vegetables with uncovered raw meats in the storage bins, failing to install a refrigerator thermometer, and not maintaining the recommended refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees are all food spoilers and bacteria multipliers.

While less scientific than some of the other findings, uncertain economic times have also forced consumers to view raising the temperature in the refrigerator as a way to save on their energy bill, panelists said. It has also made consumers less likely to throw away food that is past its recommended self date.

Consumers with a higher income are less likely to keep their refrigerator clean, Godwin said. She cited busy lifestyles and time constraints as the cause.

We have a big challenge because it’s hard to change behaviors,” said Danielle Schor, senior vice president of food safety with the nonprofit International Food Information Council in Washington, D.C.

“People think food-borne illness is something you just get over,” Schor said. “It’s not a stomach ache; it can cause a lot of damage, but people don’t always see the immediate consequence so they don’t realize the danger.”

The 68th Annual Meeting and Expo of The Institute of Food Technologists, has attracted about 15,000 food scientists and others in the food technology industry, including representatives from the academic, private, nonprofit and government sectors.

LG Appliance Rebate

If you have been considering buying a new kitchen appliance, now might be the time to act. LG is offering a rebate of up to $500 on their kitchen appliances. The deal starts at $250 for two appliances and goes up to the $500 if you buy four. You can outfit your whole kitchen if you choose, as LG makes gas and electric ranges, dishwashers, refrigerators and microwaves, all of which are part of the rebate program. The offer ends May 12, 2008. You can view the details here.