A World of Appliances

It really is a world full of appliances these days! There are so many choices between all the available major and not-so-major creations beckoning us with their promises of ease, utility and service!

Modern appliances do make housework and chores easier and quicker. Major appliances – stove, refrigerator, water heater, dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer, air conditioner, microwave, etc. – also can make life one long learning curve! Solid-state electronic controls for most of these, coupled with high standards set by industry and government, currently affect all energy- and water-using appliances.

There is frequently a need or desire to service, repair or replace an older or less energy-efficient appliance.  When looking for a new appliance, I find myself checking Consumer Reports magazine or their website (www.consumerreports.org) frequently for research-based advice on new appliances. Consumer Reports is an independent testing organization that strives for objectivity and accuracy; they test just about everything, and are well known and respected for their efforts for the consumer.

When considering buying a new appliance, a trip to a local appliance store is just about mandatory. Not only will buying from a local retailer keep dollars in your community, but the visit can be an education in itself.  Scott Dilg, of Ginno’s Kitchen and Appliance Center in Chico, agrees that talking with a knowledgeable sales person can offer information you won’t get elsewhere. You’ll learn about the latest options, special features, tax credits, rebates, warranties and service agreements, plus can find out  about delivery and installation, in-store specials, what’s currently available,  how to special order, and how to dispose of old appliances.

Energy efficiency is a big topic these days and is being emphasized to promote appliance sales as never before. Look for Energy Star labels and shop for appliances that offer energy-saving settings. Newer refrigerators are significantly more energy efficient than older models, and because of this, some utility companies offer rebates and will pick up and recycle older refrigerators to encourage consumers to buy new ones. Many newer clothes washers are much more water and energy efficient than the older models. Mini-split ductless heat pumps are more efficient and quieter than old standard heat pumps or old-fashioned air conditioners. Water heaters are more efficient, too. – the list goes on.

Things to consider:

Stoves:  Stoves are gas or electric, and in some cases both. Ovens can be standard, convection, steam or a combination of these, plus microwave. Or a cooktop and separate oven or ovens. Find out how easy the stove is to clean, and what materials it’s made of.  Do you like the controls?

Refrigerators: Top freezer, bottom freezer or side-by-side? Bottom freezers are most efficient, followed by top freezers, and side-by sides are the least efficient.  Ice makers take up a lot of room in the freezer, and through-the-door models are less efficient. Consider how easy the refrigerator will be to clean and how its storage matches your lifestyle.

Washing Machines:  Free-standing, top or front loading, stackable, full size or small size, pedestals … the choices go on and on. There is a big range of energy usage between different models, and BIG price differences. Some units spin at higher speeds than others so clothes have less moisture and dry quicker in the dryer, saving energy there.

Dryers:  Again, free-standing, top or front loading, stackable, full size or smaller, pedestals, gas or electric; and more advanced technologies for energy saving and faster drying are coming soon. A moisture sensor that shuts off when the load is dry can save a lot of energy.  Outdoor clotheslines offer the most economical way to dry clothes!

Water Heaters:  While gas or electric models are still relatively standard, solar options are very efficient in some climates as a pre-heater to your gas or electric system, or consider a solar system with a gas or electric back up. Heat pump systems are currently under development. Increase savings by insulating tanks and pipes, and by using less hot water.

Microwave:  Microwaves use less energy and time to heat or cook items, and can be very convenient for a quick cup of tea or for heating leftovers. They do take up counter space, or can be built in to cabinets, included in a range or double oven, or even hung under a cabinet. Many colors, styles, controls, features and prices are available.

Air Conditioning/Heating:  The old-style window or wall units are still available, but are typically noisy, not very efficient and have significant air leakage problems.  Heat pumps with forced air systems have become the norm in many homes requiring seasonal heating and air conditioning.  Unfortunately many of these older heat-pumpsystems are not very efficient, especially at lower outdoor temperatures, as many require supplementary electric elements to meet heating demand, making them expensive to operate. In the last few years super-efficient and quiet Asian-style heat pumps called mini-splits/ductless systems have become available and are becoming much more common.  Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, Daikin and Sanyo are major suppliers, along with some Chinese and American-made spin-offs. These mini-splits come in a variety of sizes, effective from single room to commercial office buildings, and are very reliable, quiet and economical to operate. Some of these systems can operate efficiently at subzero temperatures as low as -17 F.

Dishwashers: Practically a necessity for families, today’s dishwashers are quieter, more versatile and offer more choices than ever.  Most will heat their own hot water or boost normal hot water temperatures in order to clean better.  Check Consumer Reports for general information, and talk to a knowledgeable sales representative to learn details about features, problems and opportunities regarding specific models. My own pattern with a dishwasher is to use it as a rinse and storage place until I get a full load, then I wash and put away the dishes and start again. Some people run a full cycle daily, and some prefer to hand wash and only use the dishwasher when needed for special occasions.

Small appliances: Generally it is a good idea to buy brands you recognize, and to keep in mind that there may be some correlation between price and quality.  Again I suggest checking http://www.ConsumerReports.org, or their magazine and year-end reports, available at your library. You can also search online for reports, reviews, recalls or problems with specific appliances.

Appliance Safety: The Consumer Product Safety Commission, using estimates from 2006 through 2008, states that major appliance malfunctions cause more than 150,000 residential fires each year, resulting in 3,670 injuries, 150 deaths, and $547 million dollars in property damage. Over 15 million appliances were recalled for potential fire-causing defects. It is very important to register your appliances so you can be notified in case of a recall. If you experience an appliance fire, report it to http://www.SaferProducts.gov, a CPSC website. It is also recommended that you have a working smoke alarm in each bedroom, the kitchen, and on each level of your home. Additionally, keep a good fire extinguisher on each level and in the kitchen. Unplug appliances when they are unused or you are away. For more information on appliance fire safety, visit http://www.tinyurl.com/CR-ApplianceFires

John Sanguinetti
About John Sanguinetti

John Sanguinetti is a fourth-generation native North State resident. He is a retired electrician, a used book store owner and volunteer for environmental causes. He is known for being tight with a dollar and useful under the hood of a car.

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