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Appliance Reviews



Whirlpool CoolVox fridge plays music to cook by

Whirlpool CoolVox fridge plays music to cook by

Refrigerators with built-in TVs never quite made it to prime time for a public that apparently responded with a collective yawn. But what if you could listen to your music collection, catch up on an audiobook, or hear step-by-step spoken recipes without leaving the kitchen?
 
Whirlpool hopes that possibility will spark your interest in its new French-door refrigerator, which was announced as a concept at last year’s International CES. This year attendees can see it and listen to it. Expected to be available at Lowe’s this summer, the Whirlpool Refrigerator with CoolVox Sound System sports low-profile Harman/Kardon speakers mounted out of view on top.
 
Whatever you can currently listen to from your phone, provided it’s Bluetooth-enabled, is fair game for the CoolVox fridge. And if you’ve got a sleeping infant, you can keep tabs on her if the baby monitor supports Bluetooth. Pricing details have not been announced.
 
If you prefer your refrigerator to be seen and not heard, read our refrigerator buying guide before checking our Ratings of 330 top-freezer, bottom-freezer, side-by-side, and built-in refrigerators. And for more CES coverage, check out our Insider’s guide to CES 2014.

—Ed Perratore

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Put your house on an energy diet

Put your house on an energy diet

January is the traditional time for belt-tightening and waist watching. To offset your holiday expenses, you may also want to take a look at ways to trim your bloated utility bill. Adjusting your home heating to your schedule is one way as is switching to more energy-efficient lightbulbs and appliances. Here are some tips from the experts at Consumer Reports and the Department of Energy.

Energy-saving thermostats
Programmable thermostats can trim about $180 a year from your energy bill by automatically reducing your heating or cooling when you need it least. There are two types to consider, weekday/weekend models and seven day models. If your schedule changes every day, you may want to consider the latter type. But for most people who work or go to school, the weekday/weekend model will suffice and may be easier to use.

In our tests of programmable thermostats, we recommend 10 of the 30 in our labs, which range in price from $70 to $300. The top-rated Venstar ColorTouch Series T5800, $170, has a colorful, interactive touch-screen display with programming prompts that are clear, simple and its screen is easy to see. The ecobee EB-STAT-02, $300, and Honeywell Prestige HD YTHX9321R, $250, did almost as well and we named the $70 Lux TX9600TS a CR Best Buy. The round nest Learning Thermostat, $250, is Wi-Fi enabled, can program itself based on changes you make and keeps on tweaking.

Energy-efficient lightbulbs
Replacing 15 incandescent lightbulbs with energy-saving bulbs can save you $50 a year and more than $600 in energy costs over the life of the bulbs, according to the DOE.

Most screw-in lightbulbs have to use at least 27 percent less energy by 2014, according to an energy act passed in 2007. The phase-out of inefficient bulbs began in January 2012 with 100-watt bulbs that use too much energy and this year the 75-watt bulb is being phased out. CFLs, LEDs, and some halogen bulbs, a type of incandescent, meet the requirement. Standard incandescents do not although retailers are permitted to sell out their current inventory of these traditional bulbs.

In Consumer Reports tests of scores of LEDs and CFLs, we found 22 to recommend in varieties that fit most fixtures. At least four of the bulbs scored a brilliant 98 or 99 out of 100 on our tests including replacements for 60-watt and 75-watt incandescents and a floodlight for outdoor use. When shopping for lightbulbs, remember to match the bulb to the fixture—here's our lightbulb FAQ on how—and to check retail and manufacturer websites for rebates.

Energy Star appliances
Replacing your old refrigerator, washing machine and other appliances with models that meets Energy Star standards can save you $900 over the lifetime of the products, says the DOE. Appliances and electronics account for 20 percent of your energy bill so it's wise to look for Energy Star models when replacing old ones, especially if they are a decade old or more old. Products that earn the Energy Star use 10 to 15 percent less energy and water than standard models, says the DOE.

When Consumer Reports tests refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, dishwashers and air conditioners, it measures energy and water efficiency along with other performance factors. For example, some of the top-scoring refrigerators in our tests use about half as much energy as those near the bottom of the Ratings so it's a number well worth considering.

Mary H.J. Farrell

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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LGs new dryer saves energy and money

LG's new dryer saves energy and money

Residential clothes dryers aren’t known for their efficiency, which is why they’re not yet part of the federal government’s Energy Star program. Yet LG has announced a dryer that the company claims will be up to 50 percent more efficient than a standard model.

The LG DLHX4072V uses a heat-pump exchange system to achieve its target efficiency. Dryers typically lose 20 to 25 percent of their heat through the dryer vent, according to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, but this model includes components that recycle wasted heat energy.

Expected to ship by the summer, the LG DLHX4072V should cost between $1,500 and $1,600. In our reader surveys, LG has been among the most reliable brands of electric clothes dryers, and it was the least repair prone brand of gas clothes dryer.

Should you run into a problem with the LG, the company’s SmartDiagnosis feature lets you diagnose it by pressing a sequence of buttons while holding your smart phone’s mouthpiece close to the power button. In addition to getting troubleshooting tips that might avoid a service call, any service you do get should be cheaper since you didn’t need a professional’s visit to determine the trouble. You can also use your smart phone to download additional cycles to your LG washer.

Another clothes-dryer innovation we saw from LG: models that can open either from the side or from the top for greater flexibility in loading and unloading.

We hope to get the LG DLHX4072V in our labs for testing. In the market now? Check out our Ratings of 275 electric and gas dryers, and be sure to see our buying guide for clothes dryers.

—Ed Perratore

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Samsung hits industry high in washer capacity

Samsung hits industry high in washer capacity

Top-loading washers too deep for easy emptying have been a recent topic of user-reviews for a number of our more petite readers, some of whom use tongs to retrieve socks and other small items from the bottom of the tub. But Samsung announced last week a washer that should solve the problem—while hitting a new high for capacity in the process.

Manufacturers have been boosting the tub sizes of some washers, which has resulted in ever-deeper tubs. But for the $1,399 Samsung WA9000, the company made the tub notably shallower—yet wider. While doing so may seem like a wash, with the two conflicting modifications canceling each another out. Yet the resulting tub is 5.6-cubic-feet, which is .4-cubic-feet larger than LG’s largest top-loading washer, the LG WT5680HV, $1,099, which has attractions of its own. Samsung claims its top loader can handle two king-size comforters at once.

Available in white or stainless platinum, the washer includes a steam-cleaning option, along with sanitize and allergen cycles. The washer and its matching dryer, the DV9000, $1,399, should be available by the spring.

With a 9.5-cubic-foot capacity, the DV9000 dryer also outdoes LG’s largest new dryer, the 9.0-cubic-foot LG DLEX8500V, $1,499, for tub space. It has an Eco Mode that is claimed to offer 25-percent energy savings, steam cycles, a “VentSensor” feature that can text you if the vent is blocked, and a “SmartCare” feature for diagnosing error codes using your smart phone.

Among front-load washers, Samsung also offers a 5.6-cubic-foot model, the $1,599 WF9100, with a matching, same-priced 9.5-cubic-foot dryer. LG and Samsung are the most reliable of front-loader washer brands in our reader surveys.

We hope to get these washers and dryers in for testing as soon as they’re available. But if you need a new washer or dryer now, especially if you do laundry for a busy household, time is of the essence. Don’t miss our Ratings of 166 top- and front-loading washers and 275 electric and gas dryers, but be sure to read our buying guides for washers and dryers before heading out to the store.

—Ed Perratore

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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What the purchase of Nest by Google means to you

What the purchase of Nest by Google means to you

Google is buying Nest Labs, a company that makes Internet-connected products for the home—combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarms and thermostats that take note of your schedule and preferences and fine-tune your home’s climate accordingly. So Google gets a company that makes smart devices for the home; Nest receives a reported $3.2 billion in cash. But what does it mean for consumers?
 
“Nest’s privacy policy, so far, has been pretty good, but it’s something that definitely should be watched since Google collects information about its users based on their behavior on the Internet and Nest collects information about users’ behavior in their homes,” Glenn Derene, lead electronics editor for Consumer Reports, said. “There’s no explicit reason to believe the data would be abused but it’s something that should definitely be watched.”
 
Ad Age reported that Google did not offer specific plans for Nest, but parsing the possibilities wasn’t hard, adding, “The company has built a $50-billion business based on gathering information from Internet-enabled services like search and e-mail that can then be packaged to sell and target ads.” Nest’s blog post on Monday assured readers that Nest will continue to be Nest and explained the acquisition this way: “Google will help us fully realize our vision of the conscious home and allow us to change the world faster than we ever could if we continued to go it alone. We’ve had great momentum, but this is a rocket ship.”

Consumer Reports is testing the Nest Protect Smoke +Carbon Monoxide alarm now and we’ll report our results soon. It has some promising features, including Heads-Up, an early-alert signal that’s supposed to light up and speak in a human voice to let you know where there's smoke or that your home’s CO levels are rising. And rather than stand on a chair to push the hush button or throw a towel at the alarm to silence it, the Nest Wave feature is designed to let you quiet the alarm by standing beneath it and waving your arm.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is one of 39 programmable thermostats in our Ratings and a top thermostat pick. The $250 thermostat is round and has a rim dial for making adjustments, a nod to the traditional thermostats common in many older homes. But everything else about it is entirely modern. Program it or it will program itself based on changes you make the first week, and from then on it keeps on tweaking. It’s connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi, so it automatically installs software updates made by the company. You can control the thermostat from your computer, tablet, or smart phone and set the Nest to send you e-mail alerts. That’s some rocket ship.

—Kimberly Janeway

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Maytag Man gets a makeover and gets busy

Maytag Man gets a makeover and gets busy

The days of the lonely Maytag Repairman lamenting his lack of work are over. He’s been replaced by a younger spokesman who’s kept busy performing the functions of a refrigerator, range, dishwasher, and matching washer and dryer. Not only is the rebranded Maytag Man working, he’s multitasking—washing your clothes, cooking your meals, and literally running to keep your refrigerator running.

As far as repairs go, Maytag is neither the most nor least repair-prone brand in Consumer Reports tests of kitchen and laundry appliances. And some Maytag products have been stellar performers in our tests, including the top-rated Maytag Maxima XL MHW8000AG front-loading washer, $1,450. In our washing machine tests, the Maytag Maxima had superb wash performance, a large capacity, and excellent water efficiency and energy efficiency. We also recommend the matching electric dryer, the Maytag Maxima XL MED8000AG, also $1,450, which was excellent at drying and among the quietest we’ve tested.

In our tests of kitchen ranges, the Maytag MET8885XS, $1,700, just missed the top spot. The 30-inch electric smoothtop range features a smaller oven on top and a larger oven below, allowing you to cook a roast in one while baking a pie in the other. It was excellent at baking and cooktop heating but not as good at broiling and self-cleaning.

In the new ads, the Maytag Man squeezes himself into a spot for a French-door refrigerator but in our refrigerator tests, none of the five models in that configuration made our list of top refrigerator picks. We do recommend two conventional bottom-freezer Maytag refrigerators, the Maytag MBF2258XE[W], $1,100, and the Maytag MBF1958XE[W], $1,150. Both were very good overall with excellent temperature performance. We also recommend the Maytag M1TXEGMY[W] top freezer, $770, but don’t expect many convenience features. No Maytags made our list of recommended dishwashers.

We’ll kind of miss the old Maytag Repairman but it’s clear that his replacement has a lot more to do. In addition to filling in for your appliances, he has his own Maytag Man website and is active on social media. You can follow him on Twitter @TheMaytagMan and he has his own Facebook page and YouTube channel. Guess that’ll keep him from being lonely.

—Mary H.J. Farrell

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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How to prevent your pipes from freezing

How to prevent your pipes from freezing

Plumbers have been busy during the recent cold snap because when the temperature plummets, the risk of pipes freezing goes up. In fact, frozen pipes are one of the most common causes of property damage during frigid weather and can cause more than $5,000 in water damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. The pipes that freeze most frequently are those in such unheated interior spaces as basements, attics, and garages. But pipes that run through your cabinets or that are against an exterior wall are also at risk. Here’s some advice from the American Red Cross on how to prevent your pipes from freezing as well as how to thaw them if they do.

How to prevent pipes from freezing
Once the temperature starts dropping outside, you should take measures inside to keep your pipes warm and water running. Some may go against your better instincts of conserving water and heat but the extra expense is nothing compared to a hefty repair bill. Here’s what to do.

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (If you have small children, be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals.)
  • Let the cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe—even at a trickle—helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night.
  • If you plan to be away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.
  • For the long term, add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in those areas.

How to thaw your pipes
If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include those against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation. If the water is still running, you can take the following steps but if you suspect a more serious problem, call a plumber.

  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
  • If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.

If your you need supplemental heat, you can add a space heater to a room where pipes may be at risk. In Consumer Reports tests of space heaters, the Ambia ACH-120, $60, was the best at heating up a standardized room in 15 minutes. But models from Holmes, Lasko, Vornado and Bionaire were very good at heating a room in that time and also made our list of top space heater picks.

—Mary H.J. Farrell

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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5 biggest goofs when buying a refrigerator

5 biggest goofs when buying a refrigerator

The hundreds of refrigerator models on the market means there's definitely the perfect unit out there for you. The flipside to the bounty is that there are also a lot of ways to go wrong. We boiled the many pitfalls into five common gaffes committed by refrigerator shoppers. Give them a look before seeing our refrigerator Ratings for more than 300 models available in stores and online.     

Choosing the wrong size. This is especially important to avoid if you're working with an existing opening in the kitchen. Remember to measure the doorway leading into the kitchen to make sure your new unit will fit though it. And factor in the refrigerator's door swing in relation to adjacent walls, cabinets, and other appliances. Lastly, make sure to leave at least a 1-inch clearance around the unit and the surrounding cabinetry to ensure adequate air flow.

Ignoring noise. We recently had a letter from a reader unhappy with his refrigerator purchase over its clamorous operation. "The unit works excellently, but the noise is so loud and distracting that it sounds broken, and can literally be heard from multiple rooms in our small house," he wrote. Noisy refrigerators can be particularly annoying in open-plan homes, where the kitchen is within earshot of other living spaces. In those situations, we advise getting a model that earns an excellent for noise in our Ratings. Many of our recommended refrigerators get top marks for quietness.

Buying by brand alone. The top spots in our Ratings of the various refrigerator configurations are GE, LG, Samsung, Thermador, and Whirlpool. But each of these brands also has models that miss our recommended list, in some cases by a wide margin. That's why we always advise checking the Ratings for specific models, rather than choosing by brand alone.

Glossing over the features. Refrigerator design has gotten increasingly sophisticated, catering to specific lifestyles and routines. For example, more models have a middle drawer that can be handy for keeping kids' snacks. If maximum storage is a priority, consider a model with a slim in-door icemaker, which frees up space on the upper shelf. Entertain often? Paying more for a model with a second icemaker might be a worthwhile investment. And if you store a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, consider a model with dual evaporators, which maintain higher humidity levels in the fresh-food section.  

Overlooking energy costs. Even with today's tougher energy efficiency standards, the refrigerator is still one of the most power-hungry appliances in the home. That's especially true if you choose a less-efficient model, which might cost you an additional $50 per year to run versus an energy-sipping model. Over the lifetime of the unit, that can add up to a difference of $500 or more.    

—Daniel DiClerico         

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Dependable washing machines for 600 or less

Dependable washing machines for $600 or less

Spend $1,000 or more on a washing machine and you can choose between a front-loader and high-efficiency (HE) top-loader, with high performance a good possibility and handy features a given. If your budget is $600 or less then a top-loader’s for you—you can even find a large capacity HE model that uses a lot less water than a conventional top-loader yet is impressive at cleaning. We found five that fit the bill. But first a warning. All five are relatively noisy.
 
In our Ratings of 100-plus HE and conventional top-loaders only one was relatively quiet in the $600 and under price range, and that washer, the Frigidaire Affinity FAHE1011M[W], $600, is near the bottom of the Ratings and takes nearly two hours to do a normal wash load (it sounds really long because it is). So how noisy are the five washers we liked? They earned a good in our noise tests, so they make annoying, sustained sounds, making them better suited for basements. To find out how loud a washer that scored excellent is and how poor is poor, watch the video below. And here’s a glimpse of the five HE top-loaders.

Maytag. The Maytag Centennial MVWC425BW is $600 and a CR Best Buy. It has a large capacity, was impressive at washing, water efficiency, and extracting water, so dryer time is less. Its 45-minute wash time is among the fastest of the recommended models and half the time of some. That’s a normal wash on the heavy-soil setting. But in addition to being relatively noisy, it wasn’t that gentle on fabrics.

Whirlpool. The Whirlpool WTW4900BW and Whirlpool Cabrio WTW5500BW, each $600, are CR Best Buys, have large capacities, and the Whirlpool WTW4900BW performed similarly to the Maytag (Maytag is a Whirlpool brand). We expect the Whirlpool Cabrio to perform similarly to the tested WTW4900BW and the Cabrio has a 40-minute wash time, five minutes faster than the Whirlpool WTW4900BW. But neither is gentle on fabrics.

Kenmore. The Kenmore 27102 didn’t make our recommended list but at $600, this HE top-loader has a large capacity and was impressive at cleaning, water efficiency, and water extraction. Normal wash time on the heavy-soil setting was a brisk 45 minutes and it was gentler on fabrics than the Maytag and both Whirlpools. We expect the $400 Kenmore 25102 to perform similarly to the tested Kenmore 27102.

If your laundry room is near bedrooms or the family room, you’ll want a washer that scored very good or better in our noise and vibration tests. You’ll know the washer is working, but it shouldn’t disturb you. The top scoring top-loaders, the $700 LG WT1101CW, and the $750 Samsung WA422PRHD[WR], scored very good in our noise tests, are HE models, and are CR Best Buys. Our Ratings of top-loaders and front-loaders tell the whole story.

—Kimberly Janeway

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Refrigeration arrives at Downton Abbey

Refrigeration arrives at Downton Abbey

Fans of "Downton Abbey" on PBS are used to the tension between progress and tradition that's played out over the series' four seasons. This week's episode added a technological twist to that theme with the arrival of refrigeration to the noble estate. Mrs. Patmore, the simple-minded head cook, offers up her usual fearful resistance while Lady Grantham maintains her agent-of-change status.

We all know how this one ends—at least where refrigeration is concerned. Maybe more than any home appliance, refrigerators have made life easier and safer for consumers. Point Lady Grantham. But that doesn't mean every appliance innovation should be greeted with open arms. Indeed, channeling your inner Patmore can be prudent when appliance shopping. Here are a few items to be wary of.

Appliances that talk to the utility company. This is one of the claimed benefits of certain smart appliances, which can supposedly be programmed to turn on during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lowest. The catch? You'll only reap the savings if your utility company offers time-of-use pricing, and very few currently do. Check with your company before spending more on an energy-managing smart appliance.

Refrigerators with multimedia screens. More manufacturers are hawking $3,000-plus refrigerators that incorporate high-tech equipment such as TVs, digital-picture or music devices, and family-organizing centers. But our refrigerator tests have found that you can save hundreds, if not thousands, and get better performance by buying such equipment separately.

Steam-enhanced washing machines. More and more washers feature a steam setting that promises to clean better while also sanitizing fabrics. Some of the models in our washing machine Ratings did in fact clean better than the competition, but they did so even without the steam option in use. And they cost a lot more than other top performers.  

—Daniel DiClerico       

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Maker of NuWave Oven deluged with complaints

Maker of NuWave Oven deluged with complaints

Like any popular infomercial product, the NuWave Pro Infrared Oven makes some pretty bold promises, including “delicious fried chicken from frozen to your table in just 15 minutes.” After Consumer Reports put a few of those claims to the test a few years ago, we were impressed by the results. But before you rush out to buy the $120 countertop cooker, check out the consumer complaints that have been dogging it.

The Better Business Bureau reports that consumers from all 50 states and three Canadian provinces have now filed 1,291 complaints against Hearthware Inc., maker of the Nuwave Oven. Most of the complaints aren’t performance related, but rather have to do with exorbitant shipping and processing fees tacked on to supposedly free products. Given the volume of complaints, the BBB has given the company an “F” rating.

Still looking for a speedy countertop cooker? For our recent report on saving time in the kitchen, we tested several devices that also promise to curb cooking times. That includes the Cuisinart Steam Advantage CSO-300, a $300 combo steam/convection unit that cooked nicely browned chicken in about 40 minutes. And the user reviews we're seeing online are mostly from satisfied customers.       

—Daniel DiClerico

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Do you own one of these recalled dehumidifiers

Do you own one of these recalled dehumidifiers?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission today announced the recall of 350,000 dehumidifiers sold under the GE brand name. The units can overheat, smoke, and catch fire, posing fire and burn hazards to consumers. There have been 16 reported incidents with the GE dehumidifiers, including five in which fire spread beyond the units, causing about $430,000 in property damage.

The affected 30, 40, 50, and 65-pint dehumidifiers were sold at Sam’s Club, Walmart, and other stores nationwide and in Canada, and online at Amazon.com and Ebay.com, from April 2008 through December 2011. You can find the models numbers of recalled units on the recall notice. In September 2013, Gree, manufacturer of the defective GE units, was part of a larger recall involving 2.2 million dehumidifiers sold under 12 other brand names. Those units have been associated with more than 71 fires and $2.7 million in property damage. None of the models are in our current dehumidifier Ratings.  

If you own one of the recalled dehumidifiers, unplug it and contact Gree to receive a refund. The manufacturer can be reached toll free at 866-853-2802 or online at www.greeusa.com.

For more information on appliance fires, including tips for protecting yourself from defective models, read our special reports "Appliance Fires: Is Your Home Safe?" and "Microwave Mystery: When Do Wayward Ovens Warrant a Recall?" Our advice includes registering new appliances so that you'll hear about recalls and other prooblems promptly, and warning signs that your appliance may be defective.        

—Daniel DiClerico

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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5 dependable dishwashers for 400 or less

5 dependable dishwashers for $400 or less

For some of us, the extra benefits of paying the average $1,200 price for one of the dishwashers recommended by Consumer Reports aren't worth the extra money. What you get by paying more—lots of flexibility, quiet running, a stainless tub, and shorter cycles—doesn’t matter if you can’t afford more than, say, $400. With this in mind, here are a handful of dishwashers that aren’t perfect—they all lack a stainless interior and an adjustable upper rack— but they'll get your dishes clean and you can spend the extra money on something else.

Frigidaire Gallery FGBD2432K[W], $400
The best of the bunch, this Frigidaire was Very Good in our wash test, which uses a full load of very dirty items, and was energy-efficient and easy to operate. Where it fell short was in its middling scores for noise, but if you’re replacing a dishwasher that’s 10 or more years old, you might not find this one particularly loud. It has all-visible controls but lacks an adjustable upper rack and special flatware slots.

Can’t find this one? Consider these similar models, which should perform the same but may differ in features: the Frigidaire Gallery DGBD2432K, Frigidaire Gallery LGBD2432K (Lowe's), and Frigidaire Gallery BBBD2432K (Best Buy).

Maytag MDB4409PA[W], $380
Washing, drying, and efficiency were impressive in this model, and you do get delayed start and ample flatware slots. What you don’t get are hidden controls (a matter of preference) and adjustable tines—helpful if you want to fit a larger item. Yet there’s a bonus: With a 115-minute normal cycle, this machine finishes more quickly than some tested models costing more than $1,600.

Frigidaire Gallery FGBD2434PF, $400
This Frigidaire also did fine in our wash test, and it was energy-efficient, too. For drying it was so-so, and it lacks flatware slots and adjustable tines as well as the adjustable upper rack. The Frigidaire Gallery FGBD2432K[W] and its similar models did better overall, but you could do worse for $400.

Amana ADB1100AWW, $300
Inexpensive models sometimes lack a soil sensor, which adjusts water and wash time to the turbidity of the water, but this Amana had Very Good washing in our tough tests despite having none. It was also efficient. What you give up for the price is fine drying, ease-of-use, and such features as delayed start, adjustable tines, and hidden controls. But while you might shudder at the plodding 160-minute time to run a normal cycle, note that five models in our tests that cost more than $1,000 took even longer.

Frigidaire Gallery FGBD2435N[W], $400
Although this Frigidaire scored the lowest overall of the five, it washed well and efficiently—and has a soil sensor. For flexibility, options include delayed start and adjustable tines. But none of the controls are hidden and the filter is self-cleaning. That means a bit more noise but no filter-cleaning to remember. You also get no flatware slots, just the usual basket.

Whatever price range you have in mind, you’ll find something to like in our Ratings of 228 dishwashers. Before heading out to the store, remember to look up our dishwasher buying guide.

—Ed Perratore

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Smart thermostats respond to your every command

Smart thermostats respond to your every command

Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest shows how quickly mobile-controlled thermostats are heating up. Now, other big-name brands are getting in on the action in some interesting new ways as discovered at Design & Construction Week in Las Vegas.

As with the Nest, you can program Honeywell’s Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat from your computer, tablet, or smart phone—handy if you want to turn up the heat before getting home from work or to make sure you didn’t forget to turn down the heat or AC while you’re away.

And when you’re home, you can literally talk to this thermostat and tell it what to do—a first for these devices. Other features include an easy-to-read color touch screen, automatic alerts if temperatures get especially hot or cold, and an indoor humidity sensor.                

Honeywell’s Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat costs $300 at Home Depot, Amazon, and Best Buy. The Nest was a top pick in our thermostat tests, though some other models proved easier to use. We’ll see whether this new Honeywell can be convenient without being too complex.

Then there’s the Lennox iComfort Wi-Fi thermostat, which costs between $300 and $400 installed. As with the Honeywell, it can be controlled from anywhere. Its touch screen has clear prompts, and a weather-on-demand feature includes five-day forecasts. An available zoning system called iHarmony lets you remotely control and vary temperatures in up to four areas of your home—a potential energy-saver—though you’ll need to spend roughly $3,000 to upgrade your home’s ductwork for iHarmony to work.

With or without iHarmony, the Lennox also makes a style statement, with customizable covers in your choice of artwork, photographs or simply your favorite color.

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Is it wise to control appliances by smart phone

Is it wise to control appliances by smart phone?

From cars to garage doors, the list of things you can control with your smart phone is growing fast. That list now includes more home generators and even the kitchen stove. We saw a bevy of smart appliances at Design & Construction Week in Las Vegas.

A new app lets you control Dacor’s Discovery iQ dual-fuel range and wall oven with a built-in wireless tablet or your own tablet or smart phone. The app sends you Wi-Fi product updates and lets you choose pre-loaded recipes or download your own. The promise? You put in what you’re cooking and do other things until the app texts you that food is ready and switches the oven to warming mode.

But if texting while driving poses risks, so might remote-control cooking: The app lets you preheat the range and wall oven remotely—but won’t accept commands for full cooking or running the cleaning cycle. It also lowers temperatures to warming mode if you’re delayed. That control comes at a hefty price: $4,300 for the Discovery IQ single wall oven, $7,400 for the double oven and $12,000 for the dual-fuel range.  We’ll see whether Dacor’s  range and wall ovens live up to their lofty prices in our kitchen range tests.

Kohler’s new OnCue Plus mobile app lets you monitor the brand’s whole-house generators on your phone—and tells you and a servicing dealer if there’s a problem. The new app runs on Apple and android systems and could also help you save energy by checking how much electricity your home is using—even when you’re back on the grid.

That convenience and control doesn’t come cheap: You’ll pay some $290 a year, including hardware as well as the roughly $40 in annual service fees. But those fees are waived for the first year—and downloading the app is free.

--Ed Perratore

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Frozen dinners get the steam treatment

Frozen dinners get the steam treatment

“Freshly steams in minutes,” the Lean Cuisine package says about its latest garlic chicken. “Uses the power of steam to cook flavorful Seven Whole Grain pasta in just minutes,” Kashi says of its new three-cheese ravioli. But are those steamable meals any different from standard frozen entrées?  We decided to put 10 to the test.

The packaging is clearly different. Kashi and Lean Cuisine use vented plastic bags that release steam during cooking. Healthy Choice and Marie Callender’s have a steamer basket that sits inside a sauce bowl. Cooking times for most were 4 to 5½ minutes—about what it takes to heat conventional frozen entrées.

Flavor and texture were also what you’d expect from a typical frozen meal: tasty, but not off-the-charts. Lean Cuisine’s garlic chicken has large white chicken pieces and flavorful vegetables, Kashi’s sesame chicken offers a nice mix of chewy whole grains, and Marie Callender’s three-cheese tortellini has a soft cheese filling and decent tomato sauce. With the others, pasta could be hard in spots and the chicken could be dry.

Nutritional profiles were comparable, too, with most steamable meals receiving the same very good scores we’ve seen with many diet meals. But if you’re counting calories or following a low-sodium diet, check the labels, because we did note some variations there.

Bottom line

Steamable meals offer a fast and fairly tasty and healthful dinner for one. But any suggestion that they’re reinventing frozen entrées is just a lot of hot air.

This article appeared in the February 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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Bosch cooking gear has common-sense features

Bosch cooking gear has common-sense features

When it comes to kitchen appliances, convenience is increasingly synonymous with high-tech mobile control. But some new work-saving features are more about good old-fashioned common sense as we discovered when we saw some new appliances from Bosch at Design & Construction Week in Las Vegas.

Take the door on Bosch’s 30-inch Benchmark electric wall oven: Instead of opening downward, this one opens to the side like a microwave’s. That’s an advantage when you’re cooking a big roast because you don't have to lift it over a hot door. The price is about $3,000 for a single oven, $4,600 for a double oven,  including a convection feature.

Then there’s Bosch’s Benchmark FlexInduction cooktop. Like other induction cooktops, it uses an electromagnetic field that sends most of the heat to the pot or pan. That’s made induction ranges and cooktops the fastest in our cooking appliance tests. Unlike other induction cooktops, this one lets you combine two cooking zones into one large one to accommodate outsized roasting pans, griddles, or a big lobster pot.

You’ll pay about $2,350 for the 30-inch FlexInduction and $3,100 for the 36-inch cooktop. And as with any induction range or cooktop, add in the cost of new cookware if yours isn’t magnetic, which is essential for induction cooking.

—Kimberly Janeway

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How to save when buying a washer and dryer

How to save when buying a washer and dryer

If you had to put a price tag on a new washer and dryer, how high would you go? When Yahoo posted an article from Consumer Reports on impressive laundry pairs for $1,600 or less, readers made hundreds of comments—some said that was way too much money to pay for these two workhorses. A matching pair should last about a decade before an expensive part blows, according to several appliance manufacturers, but even so you have to pay now, wash later. Here are some ways to save money when shopping for laundry appliances.

Hunt online for deals. Look for rebates and special offers from manufacturers and retailers. Check for Energy Star washer rebates; we found one for $75. Not bad. Some manufacturers sell overstocked and discontinued washers and dryers through their outlet sites. On the Whirlpool outlet website, which sells Whirlpool, Maytag, and Amana appliances, we found a top-loader, the Whirpool WTW4900AW, for $390. It’s usually around $600 and while it didn’t make our top picks list, it was impressive at cleaning and gentle on fabrics, has a large capacity, and normal wash time on the heavy soil setting was 55 minutes. But like many models in this price range, it’s relatively noisy. This washer doesn’t have a center-post agitator and uses a lot less water than a regular top-loader, but was just so-so at extracting water and that affects drying time.
 
We also saw the Maytag MEDX500XW electric dryer for $419, a savings of about $130. It didn’t make our top picks list but was excellent at drying and has a large capacity, although it wasn’t as convenient to use as some and relatively noisy. Of course, you might not care about the noise if your washer and dryer are in the basement. Before choosing a laundry applaince, check our washer and dryer Ratings or to see how these outlet models did in our tests. They’re only a bargain if they do their job.

Practice your negotiating. When we surveyed 2,000 American adults about their haggling habits, we found that successful appliance negotiators saved $200 on average. Savvy negotiators know that politeness, friendliness, and a smile are harder to resist than tough talk. Here are some of the tips they shared in "13 ways to get to yes." And keep in mind that delivery and installation costs can add up, so ask about both before haggling and consider hiring a pro you know to install the appliance.

Consider these top-loaders. First, the good news. You can find a large capacity high-efficiency top-loader that uses a lot less water than a conventional top-loader yet is impressive at cleaning and costs $600 or less. We found five washers from Maytag, Kenmore and Whirlpool that fit the bill, but all five are relatively noisy. Here are the details.

Check out these dryers. The Whirlpool Cabrio WED5800BW is $700 and a CR Best Buy. It was superb at drying, has a large capacity, and is relatively quiet. We expect a similar model, the $600 Whirlpool Cabrio WED5500BW, to perform similarly, although it may differ in features. The $600 Maytag MEDE200X[W] didn’t make our top picks but was impressive in all our tests and is relatively quiet. Gas dryers cost anywhere from $80 to $150 more. When shopping for a dryer while trying to save money, pass on a thermostat model and choose a dryer with a moisture sensor. It will do a better job detecting when your laundry is dry and stop the machine. That’s easier on fabrics and saves money.

Impressive pairs for $1,600 or less. Now about those matching pairs. In our report "Top-rated matching washers and dryers," we found four sets that were impressive in our tests and range in price from $1,400 to $1,600. And yes, some are relatively noisy. For a quieter couple, you’ll have to pay so take the opportunity to try out your haggling skills.

—Kimberly Janeway

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Thermador range brings the grilling inside

Thermador range brings the grilling inside

More outdoor gas grills include side burners and other features that help bring your kitchen out to your yard or deck. Thermador’s Grand and Pro Harmony pro-style ranges bring barbecuing inside with an optional built-in grill, complete with drip pan and lava rocks. The hybrid unit was on display at Design and Construction Week in Las Vegas.

Two independently controlled electric heating elements let you grill veggies at low temperatures on one side while searing steaks on high on the other.

According to Thermador, this is one grill that delivers the smoky flavor people love without the flare ups, since the grates completely cover the heating elements to keep grease from dripping onto them. And unlike the grates on your outdoor grill, these are dishwasher safe, according to the company.

The Grand and Pro Harmony pro-style ranges include a spectrum of models in 36- and 48-inch widths priced from roughly $6,000 to $16,000. You can also get this grill/cooktop combo in a Thermador range top that’s built into a kitchen counter. Is the luxury of cooking and grilling in your kitchen worth that price? We hope to find out for ourselves by testing the Thermador in our kitchen range tests.

—Kimberly Janeway

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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