Appliance Design · Best · Budget-wise · Energy Efficiency

New blog series: Things I Want

I’ll be moving into my new house this week and — more importantly — I’ll be inheriting another’s appliance choices.

The kitchen, as pictured in the listing.

Right now, that consists of:

One by one (or two), I’ll replace each of the appliance, either to improve efficiency and performance or because one simply konks out. And in the case of the fridge, that could be sooner rather than later…

Appliances don’t come cheap, and though I get a discount on them, they’re still an investment. So I’ll have to decide where to spend my money and where to save.

Because it’s dominating my thoughts the last few days, I’m going to channel my forthcoming appliance purchases into a series of blog posts called “Things I Want.” I’ll write them based on what I’d pick if I were going shopping today.

My criteria considers performance, features, aesthetics, durability, efficiency, price and warranty — not equally, however. And they all must be sold at Warners’ Stellian, obviously. But there’s really nothing I’d want that we don’t sell.

I’ll split it into two categories,  one aspirational and the other more achievable. I’m trying to think of what to call each category, and I keep thinking I’m ripping “Desired/Acquired” from something. But until I find out for sure…

Look for the first “Things I Want” post Monday.

Budget-wise · Energy Efficiency · Sustainability · Vintage Appliance

Get paid to have your second fridge hauled away

How much are you paying for your pop fridge?

When I closed on my house last week, I asked the former homeowners question that wrinkled their noses.

“How old was that fridge in your basement?”

They looked confused but told me, “We probably shouldn’t be using anyway, I guess. It was such a pain to move. I don’t know…1960s, I think.”

My jaw DROPPED.

My energy stat knowledge doesn’t go back farther than ’70s models, which cost about $278 per year to run. So a fridge from the ’60s must cost at least $300 to run. That’s some pretty expensive beer they’re cooling.

I think many people don’t unplug their ancient second fridge because they don’t know how to get rid of it.

And certainly most homeowners don’t know that many utility companies pay them money to come pick it up!

Xcel Energy is among the local utility companies with a refrigerator recycling program that offers $35 to pick up a working second refrigerator. Some also run this program for freezers. Of course, you must be a customer of the utility to participate.

Some utilities, like Minnesota Power, up the ante to $50 to get you to give up that beer fridge. Even if you use the money towards a new refrigerator (if you use Rochester Public Utilities, you can get up to $75 for replacing and recycling a refrigerator), your energy usage on the new unit will likely be significantly reduced.

Here’s a complete list of refrigerator bounty programs from the Office of Energy Security.

Appliance Design · Design · Energy Efficiency · Sustainability

Are stainless steel appliances an environmental no-no?

Stainless steel has become the standard finish for many when replacing kitchen appliances.

The growing popularity of commercial ranges like Viking and Wolf ranges introduced stainless steel to the kitchen.

And soon homeowners wanted to coordinate the clean, contemporary look with refrigerators, dishwashers and microwaves.

But environmental concerns wisely also influence purchasing decisions today.

The Star Tribune’s Fixit columnist, Karen Youso, posed the question of whether stainless steel appliances should worry eco-conscious consumers.

Her answer, happily, is no:

Stainless steel can be — and is — recycled. (According to the International Stainless Steel Forum, new stainless-steel products are made from about 60 percent recycled stainless.) Its alternative, enameled steel, also is recyclable, so stainless steel isn’t significantly better or worse for the environment.

But materials aren’t all that important when trying to determine how earth-friendly home appliances are. What matters most is energy efficiency, said Lise Laurin, founder of EarthShift, a Vermont company that works with corporations and institutions on sustainability.

Of course, we recycle replaced appliances for free on most purchases, so you can feel comfortable about upgrading to stainless steel. Just make them Energy Star appliances.

Cleaning · Dishwashers · Energy Efficiency · FAQ

The bad habit that can waste 20 gallons of water

You might not wash your dishes before you wash your dishes, but even rinsing is completely unnecessary.

Energy Star, a joint program by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, cautions people to scrape, not rinse. Pre-rinsing dishes can waste up to 20 gallons of water.

Energy Star dishwashers and today’s detergents are designed to do the cleaning so you don’t have to pre-rinse.

And if your dirty dishes are going to sit overnight, use your dishwasher’s rinse feature. It uses a fraction of the water needed to hand rinse.

Speaking of a using a fraction of the water, a dishwasher built before 1994 wastes about 8 gallons of water per cycle compared to owning a new Energy Star-qualified model. So if you replace one of these old dishwashers with an Energy Star dishwasher, you’re saving enough water each week to wash two loads of laundry in an Energy Star qualified clothes washer.

So be lazy: scrape, don’t rinse!

Best · Cleaning · Dishwashers · Energy Efficiency

Bosch dishwasher is best-selling model

I stress to customers the importance of selecting a product based on individual personal needs, rather than simply following Consumer Reports or a friend’s suggestion.

These sources can help validate a decision, but ultimately, your lifestyle is not your friend’s lifestyle — and I’m sure it’s certainly not Consumer Report’s lifestyle.

Saying that, I think it’s interesting to know what we sell the most of in each category. And in dishwashers, it’s the Bosch Evolution 300 series (models SHE43P02UC white or SHE43P05UC stainless steel).

It makes sense for the value. This European dishwasher is packed with features for $600 (stainless costs $100 more):

  • Energy Star qualified
  • Engineered to be super quiet (52 dBa)
  • 14-place setting capacity, with adjustable upper rack for taller pots, etc.
  • 4 wash cycles, including 30-minute Quick Wash
  • OptiDry for spotless drying
  • NSF Certified – Eliminates 99.9% of Bacteria

Of course there are a ton more features, but I’m only highlighting the ones I found most interesting.

And some features require more explanation, mostly because they’re branded (note the ™) with names that don’t really explain what they do, like AquaStop™.

So, for those keeping score at home, AquaStop™ detects leaks in the solid molded base of the dishwasher, shuts down operation and automatically pumps out water before contact with floors. Some won’t understand why this is important. And the rest of you had to replace an entire kitchen’s worth of hardwood floors and cabinetry due to leaking. Trust me: it’s important.

The Flow-Through Heater™ warms water (up to 161 degrees) more efficiently by having it flow through a heating chamber. Other manufacturers use conventional heating elements where water falls randomly onto a coil, warming it inefficiently. This is bad.

And, for the smart feature with the stupid name win: EcoSense™. Standard dishwashers constantly bring fresh water into the dishwasher, which could be completely unnecessary — the water might not be that dirty. So Bosch, being the energy efficient thinker it is, put a sensor in that checks to see how clean or dirty the water is and decides whether a fresh water refill  is necessary and will customize the selected cycle to the individual load of dishes.

Again, this might not be the dishwasher for you, but there are a ton of different Bosch dishwashers so perhaps you might find that works best for you.

Appliance Design

Pode olhar I na sua geladeira?

OK, so I couldn’t actually say this phrase in Portuguese, but I sure asked to look at plenty of European’s refrigerators — in English.

I spent the last couple weeks in Portugal visiting a friend (we also traveled to France and Italy), and along the way I invaded the privacy of every kitchen appliance I came across; Rita’s friends wondered why I was so interested in their dishwashers. Why wouldn’t I be?

My apologies for the lack of photos, but I don’t own a camera and decided snapping cell phone pictures of near strangers’ kitchens could wear out my welcome.

So here’s what I learned about Europe, through the lens of appliance blogger.

“Dryers are for emergencies”

That’s what my friend Rita said when showing me the Bosch laundry pair installed under the counter in the kitchen of her house, which would be considered a condo in the states. Nearly all the clothes I washed during my trip were hung on the balcony to dry and later ironed — even the towels! All over Lisbon, clothes hung from lines strung out windows and across balconies. It was quite the sight.

A picture from Flickr of the conventional clothes-drying technique in Lisbon.

In my world of Midwest blizzards and crumpled clothing, irons are for emergencies and a steam Electrolux dryer a lifesaver.

Food must be fresh

Rita’s mother went to the market nearly every day for produce, bread, fish and queijo fresco (“fresh cheese”). The 24-inch wide refrigerator gave little space to bottom freezer compartment, which contained frozen vegetables and soups used — again — “only for emergencies.”

Queijo fresco, or fresh cheese, is simply delicious.

At least in the houses I visited, going to the market often was part of the culture. (Then again, so was double parking on busy metropolitan streets.) But without a built-in icemaker (one Siemens brand refrigerator had smart vertical ice cube trays built-in to the front of the freezer drawers) or water dispenser, there’s more room in the refrigerator for eggs. The Portuguese cook with A LOT of eggs, I learned. My favorite use of egg yolks? Pastel de nata.

I often feel like I eat more out of my freezer than my fridge. I love frozen veggies and meats for stir-fry that don’t have to be prepared within days of a grocery shopping trip. Plus, I grew up in a house freezer jams, soups and casseroles. Most of my fruit sits on the counter.

Cooking fits in a small footprint

“Standard” American cooktops and ranges are 30 inches wide. Proud owners of pro-style cooking products, however, enjoy a cooking space up to 60 inches (yes, that’s 5 feet).

Most of the cooktops and ranges I saw were a slim 24 inches, or “apartment-sized” in Warners’ Stellian store speak. Still, I enjoyed multiple-course dinners that — had I not already given the kitchen a good up-and-down — I would’ve never guessed was prepared in such relatively cramped surfaces.

I regret now not asking whether a whole turkey could fit in the oven, easily the benchmark for cooking capacity concerns here in America. Then again, being blond-haired and blue-eyed got me enough strange looks in Portugal.

I do have a devoted love to the kind of appliances I grew up with — the kind my grandpa and dad and aunts and uncles sold. But I can appreciate the way that Europeans do things differently, sometimes even better, maybe.

But I’d rather not give up my dryer.