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The Best of AHAM’s Air Conditioning Advice

Did you hear that noise? It was summer knocking at the door. After a winter that had most of the U.S. dealing with record-breaking cold spells, I am ready to welcome the summer warmth.
And, it’s not too early to think about pulling out the portable or room air conditioner to help cope with the summer heat when temperatures go from warm to hot.

Maximizing your air conditioner’s cooling potential is not just a matter of flipping a switch. Proper use and care matters for your AC just as it does for all of your appliances. How you use and maintain your air conditioner can affect your energy use and determine whether your AC is ready to go when you need it most.

Even something as simple as where you place your portable air conditioner can make a big difference. We have compiled the best of AHAM’s air conditioning tips to help you get the most out of your air conditioner this summer:

Buying an AC

Once you’ve chosen between a portable air conditioner and a room air conditioner, buying an air conditioner comes down to three major factors: size, capacity and features. Measure the room where the AC will be used. The packaging of many AC units will include a chart of appropriate room sizes, but you can also do the calculation yourself. More power is not necessarily better. You may end up using more energy than you need. That also goes for too small of a unit, as it will have to work harder to cool the space and may not be able to reach the desired temperature for the room. Use this calculator from ENERGY STAR® to find out how much power you need.

AC operating tips

Hot weather can make you cranky and lead you to make bad decisions. One of those is immediately turning your air conditioner to the highest level. This is tempting, but inefficient. Pick a comfortable temperature and set your air conditioner there. Save energy by setting it to a higher temperature if you won’t be in the room for a while. Pull your curtains or shades to block out the sun to make it easier for your portable air conditioner to cool off the room, and make sure your room air conditioner is not in direct sunlight. Consider turning the AC down at night when temperatures outside tend to drop.

If you are using a portable air conditioning unit, keep the exhaust hose as straight as possible. Any kinks can reduce the unit’s efficiency.

AC care tips

Your air conditioner’s use and care manual will include instructions for how often you should clean or replace the unit’s filter. The coils and vents of both window and portable units need to be cleaned periodically. A plastic scrub brush can be used to remove dirt from a room air conditioner. For portable air conditioners, the use and care manual may have specific suggestions, but they may include using a mixture of water and vinegar or other mildly acidic solution to clean a portable air conditioner coil. Finally, break out your vacuum brush attachment to pull out any dirt not picked up during the initial cleaning.

FUR-ther into safety: How to keep your pets safe around appliances

To some members of your household, a dryer looks like a good place for a hideout or a nap. They might think the cord from your mixer is a good toy, and the dishwasher or laundry detergent a good target for their teeth or claws.

Of course, we are talking about your pets. Just about everything that could put your pets at risk can be prevented with a few extra precautions. Many of the steps you should take to keep your pets safe are good safety practices even if you don’t share your home with a dog, cat or other furry companion.

We spoke with Dr. Lori Bierbrier, medical director of the ASPCA’s Community Medicine Department, for her advice on how to keep pets safe around appliances.

Keep laundry appliance doors shut, and do a quick safety check: Pets could climb inside a washer or dryer if the door is left open. Keep the doors on your laundry appliances shut, and check inside before you use them, Bierbrier says.

Secure your detergents: Bierbrier recommends storing your laundry detergents out of pets’ reach, such as in a cupboard. “If that is not possible, the product should be stored in a bite-proof container,” Bierbrier says. “This is especially true of detergent pods, which contain highly concentrated detergent and can be easily bitten into.” That goes for both laundry and dishwasher detergents.

Put the cords out of reach: Keep the cords of your portable appliances out of the reach of pets. If a pet chews on or bites through a cord, they could be burned or electrocuted, Bierbrier says.

Look for heaters with covered elements: To reduce the risk of burns to your pets, look for a portable heater with an enclosed element, Bierbrier says. “As well, look for a space heater that has safety features like automatic turn-off for overheating or if it is tipped over.”

Keep a safe kitchen: Pets should be kept away from hot stoves and ovens, Bierbrier says. “The main risk is for pets to get accidentally burned by touching a previously heated element.” When you’re not cooking, make sure you store any foods that are toxic to pets, like chocolate and onions, where your pet can’t reach them. “If the pet is particularly crafty, owners may consider using locks to keep them out of cupboards,” Bierbrier says.

Vacuum with care: Pets bring companionship, but also additional vacuuming needs. Consider keeping your pet in another room while vacuuming if the noise startles them, Bierbrier says. “If that is not possible, positive reinforcement with treats and distractions may be useful.”

Tips to improve and maximize air cleaner performance

Millions of people around the world rely on room air cleaners (sometimes referred to as air purifiers) to improve indoor air quality and reduce the presence of allergens. They are a valuable tool that can help ease your allergy symptoms and keep homes cleaner.

Like most appliances, how you operate and care for your air cleaner will affect its performance. Take these steps to ensure that your air cleaner continues to operate at a high level:

Change the filter regularly: Your air cleaner’s use and care manual will recommend how often you should change your air cleaner’s filter. Keep in mind that these recommendations are based on the manufacturer’s testing. How often you should change the filter also depends on how much you’re using the air cleaner and the level of pollutants in the air. If you have your windows open frequently, for example, you may need to change the filter more often. Check your filter regularly. If the filter is changing color or if you notice that a drop in the level of air coming out of the air cleaner, it’s probably time for a new filter.

No filter? Some air cleaners don’t require filters, relying instead on an electrostatic precipitator (ESP), which charges particles and attracts them to a plate. Clean those regularly. Check your use and care manual for specific cleaning instructions.

Clean the outside: Some manufacturers recommend using a vacuum to remove dust from the outside of the air cleaner. Vacuum or gently clean the dust from the outside of the air cleaner when you notice a buildup.

Take care of the rest of the room: Air cleaners are only part of the equation if you are seeking cleaner indoor air. Do a thorough cleaning of the area and vacuum regularly to remove particles so they are not kicked back into the air you breathe.

Change your furnace filter: If you change your furnace filter regularly, you might not have to change the filter in your air cleaner as often. However, a furnace filter is not a substitute for an air cleaner because it is designed to trap large particles. In addition, it is common for particles to miss the furnace filter and end up inside the home.

Give your air cleaner room to breathe: It might be more convenient to place an air cleaner against a wall and in a corner, but that sort of placement will restrict airflow and reduce performance. Move it toward the center of the room and operate it in an area free of obstructions. The more air that goes through the air cleaner, the more pollutants it will remove.

Shopping for an air cleaner? Here’s how to make the right choice

If you are shopping for an air cleaner, you will likely come across models that use different types of technologies to clear the air. More important than the method the air cleaner uses is whether the air cleaner is appropriate for the size room in which it will be used. Look for the AHAM Verifide® mark on the air cleaner packaging. The mark means the air cleaner has been independently tested for its ability to remove tobacco smoke, pollen and dust. The suggested room size for the air cleaner will be noted prominently on the label.

Tell us your top concerns with your indoor air quality.  We’d like to hear from you.

Color accents, more ovens and sleek finishes: Designers talk 2018 appliance trends

If you’re redesigning your kitchen, take time to think through what you’re looking for and the styles and finishes that appeal most to you. Your decisions will impact your living space for years to come.

Though trends come and go, it’s likely they’ll have an influence on your choices in appliance style and finish. And since you’re going to live with your kitchen and its appliances for several years, it helps to look down the line to think about not just what’s hot now, but what elements of your kitchen design and appliances have worked well for you, and what you’ll be happy with in the long term.

Those planning a redesign or remodel of a kitchen or those likely to purchase new appliances this year will want to read this. We spoke with three designers to get their predictions on the kitchen appliance trends that will dominate in 2018. Here’s what they had to say.

Alana Busse, Alana Busse Design, Simi Valley, California

Variety in finishes: Want to add some color to your kitchen? While stainless steel appliances remain popular, the days of having white, black or stainless as your only choices are in the past. “Now’s really an exciting time, because you’re seeing all these colors, Busse says. “Now, we’re seeing some new stuff. We’re seeing black stainless, and orange and red colors in ranges. Gold and blue are really big this year. Everyone wants their cabinets plain, and the appliances are kind of the bling, the showpiece. Nobody walks in and says ‘nice cabinets.’ They say ‘That range is amazing.’”

Wine chillers: People who are remodeling tend to enjoy their wine, but some more than others. Busse estimates about 70 percent of her clients who are remodeling their kitchens install some sort of wine refrigerator, often an under-cabinet model. “It’s normally about 24 inches wide, 24 inches deep,” Busse says. “It has the dual zones.” The client’s love of wine plays into the size of their wine chiller. Those that have the space and know their wine might install a full-sized wine chiller that’s about the same size as a regular refrigerator, Busse says.

Under-counter ice: Just like their wine, remodelers are also looking to keep their other drinks cold by having ice ready to go. They’re looking for under-cabinet ice makers and showing a preference for bar ice, Busse says. “Or, they’ll want pellet ice,” she says. “Some really like that if they’re going to do frozen drinks.”

Flat fridges: Homeowners are showing a preference for integrated refrigerators, Busse says. “When they’re closed, they’re really flat and in line with the cabinetry,” she says. “We see people buying stainless or paneling the refrigerator.” If a client goes for a black stainless refrigerator, they tend to get all their appliances in black stainless.

Steam ovens: Multiple ovens are generally part of a remodel plan, and steam ovens are popular requestes. “Everyone wants a steam oven,” Busse says. “Every client swears their food tastes better than ever before, from making meat and vegetables to reheating pizza.” Two ovens plus a microwave/convection oven are a regular part of remodeling plans. “If we can fit it, sometimes even a warming drawer.”

Loretta Willis, Loretta’s Interior Design, Atlanta

A personal touch: Willis encourages clients to add a design element that personalizes their kitchen, and that could be an appliance. “Featuring an appliance is a good way to personalize the kitchen,” she says. “That’s your color, you’re proud of it. If it’s offered in an appliance, go for it. A good designer can work that into the space.”

More burners, more ovens: Consumers want to be ready for any kind of cooking or entertaining situation, and they’re designing their kitchens with that in mind, Willis says. “Buy the largest cooktop your space can accommodate,” Willis says. “Five to six burners is ideal.” Second ovens are also popular, regardless of whether the homeowner is a serious cook. “Even if it’s not an everyday need for the homeowner, it’s a great resale feature,” Willis says. Induction is also gaining popularity as consumers look to shorten the time they spend cooking.

Commercial goes residential: Recent trends have residential kitchens incorporating elements that used to be the domain of commercial kitchens, Willis says. “Basically, you need two ovens. If you entertain, you want a warming drawer and at least two ovens. Maybe one can be a combination microwave/convection steam unit. Your stove top might not just be a cooktop, it could also be a grill. Many homeowners are also incorporating coffee stations.

Cool cooling: Homeowners are looking for additional cooling appliances beyond the traditional refrigerator and freezer. Kitchens, Willis says, are being designed in “zones.” “If you have kids, they might have their own zone—a pull-out refrigerator for water, soft drinks, or yogurt. I think you’ll need an entertainment zone, where you’ll have space for the wine chiller and beverages. It could be a second area for the overflow that maybe your refrigerator can’t accommodate.

Easy access to portables: Do you have a portable appliance that you can’t live without? Homeowners are building in coffee stations and keeping other portable appliances in mind during the design process, Willis says. “I love the look of a kitchen zone that’s just for a breakfast bar with built-in coffee appliances,” she says. “Then, I’m seeing the appliances you don’t use as often—the heavy mixers, the food processors—can actually be stored in the lower cabinet with a lift, a spring-loaded action on the shelving to bring it to counter height. “

Technology: Expect charging stations to become a regular feature of new kitchens. And while consumers are interested in smart technology, it will also require them to incorporate new habits to take advantage of the new features.

Toni Sabatino, Toni Sabatino Style, New York

Jewel tones, black stainless, and matte black: “The design industry will follow the fashion industry and we’ll see more jewel tones,” Sabatino says. “Ranges, in particular, you’ll see some statement colors emerging. Over the past year, we’ve seen things like turquoise. Color in a range is definitely going to happen.” Expect to see more black and black stainless in other appliances. “Stainless has been the go-to for sort of an authentic restaurant vibe,” Sabatino says. “Black stainless seems to offer practicality from a fingerprint standpoint, while playing off the black matte trend.” Color will also show up in other appliances. “I see more copper and brass warm tones for statement range hoods,” Sabatino says. “I find that either the cooking appliances make an impactful statement or not. They’re either understated or standouts.”

Garden City, NY: January 23, 2018— A kitchen redesign by Toni Sabatino Style. © Audrey C. Tiernan

Kitchens gaining steam: Multiple ovens will become standard in kitchens, and steam ovens are here to stay. Steam ovens tend to be popular with health-conscious consumers, Sabatino says. “A steam oven has that sous vide quality. When you reheat something, it doesn’t feel like a leftover. It gives a renewed freshness.”

Modularity throughout the kitchen: We’ll see more modularity in refrigeration and perhaps in cooking, Sabatino says. That means column refrigeration, undercounter refrigeration, and refrigerators with convertible sections that can switch between freezers, fresh food storage and wine. “We’re allowing options because more people are opting for fresh food as opposed to canned, frozen or boxed.”

Connectivity: Sabatino sees usefulness in connected appliances that can send signals and update appliances. Adoption may increase as new generations seek to remodel their homes. “I think that as the consumers who have grown up with connectivity become a larger part of the homebuying market, that segment is bound to increase.”

Portable storage: People want easy access to their portable appliances, but don’t necessarily want them in full view all the time, Sabatino says. “One of my favorite solutions is the pocket-door tall cabinet, where you have power and the doors aren’t impeding use. You see more sliding or slotting doors in the urban environments.”

Watch for These Retail Trends in 2018 and Beyond

In case you haven’t heard, retail is changing. You have probably heard the stories of classic brands closing stores and shoppers migrating to online sales. But it might surprise you to hear that construction spending on retail establishments has actually increased—up by more than 10% in 2016, and that store openings are also on the rise.

In fact, 9 of the top 10 leading online retailers also have brick-and-mortar locations. So while the evolution is undeniable, it hasn’t done away with the time-honored tradition of heading out on a weekend afternoon, family in tow, to shop for new appliances.

What will retail look like this year? The challenge for appliance retailers is to make themselves stand out, says Melissa Williams, director of global retail services and business strategy for UL. You might notice some changes as big box retailers, who typically sell many of the same appliances, seek to compete among themselves and online retailers in areas beyond just price.

If you watch closely during your shopping trips, you might notice signs of these three trends in retail in 2018 and beyond:

Appliance “training”: With the emergence of connected and smart features, appliances are also evolving. As retailers offer appliances that incorporate the new features, they’re also going to have to show some customers how to incorporate the features into their routine. “I could see stores having training modules in how to use all this new technology,” Williams says. That might mean a “connected home” section within the store, she says, showing how features like voice-controlled appliances work. “Right now, most users don’t even know how to use that technology. You’ll see more education on connected technologies in retail stores.

Private labeling: As retail brands look to compete with each other on more than just price, we could see more of them launch private-label brands. That could spread to appliances. “Now, you aren’t in a price war,” Williams says. “The consumer will have more choice and not be forced into the cheapest price. Retailers don’t want to sell the same refrigerator anymore. They want a differentiator. It’s a huge opportunity for manufacturers.”

More interest in product roots: Both Millennials and Generation Z believe in the importance of good corporate citizenship, Williams says. This means they’ll look at products beyond typical considerations like price and brand, Williams says. “Customers—Millennials and Generation Z—are very interested in seeing the full scale of the products,” she says. “They want to know where it was made, in what facility, how it will ship.” Customers are showing a stronger interest in political and societal issues, and they will expect retailers and brands to offer information about where, how and with what materials a product was made. They are likely to pass on purchases that don’t align with their values. Both customers and retailers are also going to want more information about the true cost of manufacturing a product, Williams says.

CES 2018 Preview: Six questions on home appliance innovations

CES always provides its share of flashy headlines and jaw-dropping media clips. Appliance manufacturers, including many AHAM members, will be displaying their appliance lines and looking to stand out with the latest innovations, features and designs.

So what will be the top appliance themes at CES 2018? There are too many innovations to list here, but it’s safe to say lifestyle, connectivity and convenience will be in the spotlight. And we expect to find many ways to answer these six questions:

Will voice control continue to grow? Voice control was indisputably the hot appliance feature at CES 2017, with appliances incorporating Amazon Alexa and other tools to allow users to adjust oven temperatures, washing cycles and access other features. We could get a better idea of the role voice control will play in appliances as the technology develops and consumers incorporate it into more aspects of their lives.

Will we see more connectivity in personal care appliances? In addition to simplifying tasks, connected and smart features can help consumers keep a closer eye on their health. Connected personal care products, like toothbrushes that monitor how well you’re cleaning, are one path for that. We’ll be on the lookout for more health-related features as we comb through the appliances on display at CES 2018.

What other roles will cooking appliances take on? Several newer appliance models are incorporating easy access to recipes into their features, with some even automatically adjusting their temperature based on a recipe or a scan of a frozen meal. Other features are sure to emerge as manufacturers look to take more of the time and labor out of cooking.

What’s next for connected refrigerators? As a regular “meeting place” inside the home for many families, refrigerators have become the host for many new connected features for both entertainment and household tasks like preparing grocery lists and recommending recipes based on what’s inside. It will be exciting to see how their role evolves as manufacturers incorporate more elements of connectivity.

What design elements will stand out? While CES is all about technology, many manufacturers also take the opportunity to show off their newest designs, like black stainless and smudge-free finishes. Will any new design or colors take the stage at CES 2018?

What’s the future of floor care? While robotic vacuums have been around for a number of years, manufacturers continue to innovate with features like mapping, voice control, fall prevention and advanced navigation. We’ll see what other floor care innovations, robotic and otherwise, are underfoot at CES 2018.

AHAM will be at CES 2018 to report on the latest innovations in major, portable and floor care appliances. Follow us on Twitter @AHAM_voice for live updates.

AHAM’s Top 5 Posts of 2017

Before we jump into 2018, let’s take a moment to revisit our most-read posts from 2017. We covered a wide range of topics, from chef-approved ways to grill indoors, to keeping your home safe after a hurricane. That variety is evident in our top posts of the year.

We are grateful to our readers – thank you for taking the time to click, read and share our content last year! Without further ado, here are your favorite pieces from 2017.

Is your water filter counterfeit? Keep your family safe – learn to spot the signs of counterfeit water filters.

Safety, security, warranty: Why it’s important to have your appliances repaired by authorized providers In the long run, authorized repairs just make sense for you and your appliances.

Kitchen redesigns: Appliances, Cabinets and Space Designer advice on how to balance function and style.

The Facts on PACs and RACs: Should you choose a portable or room air conditioner? AHAM helps you decide what type of air conditioner is best for your home.

5 questions to ask before buying a used appliance These key questions will make you an informed buyer.

Central Vacuums: Built-in floor care

When you think of vacuuming, you may think of pulling your vacuum out of a closet or dragging it up the stairs from the basement.  What if you only had to grab the hose and plug it into an inlet to begin this dusty and daunting task?

Millions of homeowners in the U.S. and Canada rely on their central vacuums to take care of dirt and dust. Central vacuums are built into the home, with the collection unit often placed in the basement, garage or attic. Owners plug the hose into inlets spaced throughout the home and vacuum just as they would with any other vacuum. Multiple attachments and power heads are available.  In some homes, a special kick plate can be installed in areas where crumbs, or dust pile up — such as kitchens — so you can sweep dirt into the opening for it to be sucked into the central collection unit.

If you’re the type of person who likes to keep your floor cleaning power ready to go at the flip of a switch, a central vacuum may be the way to go. We spoke with Natalie Fraser, sales manager with Vacumaid, and Sarah Busch, marketing manager for H-P Products, both AHAM members, to get the story on the benefits of central vacuums and what you need to know if you’re thinking about making the switch from portable to central floor care.

What’s different

Venting: Many central vacuum systems are vented to the outside of your home, meaning there’s a greater chance the dirt, dust and allergens that you vacuum will be completely removed from your immediate living space. The small particles that might make it past the canister are vented outside. While not all systems are vented outside, most manufacturers recommend external venting.

More power: Central vacuums tend to have three to five times more cleaning power than portable vacuums.

Volume: With collection bins that hold 7-9 gallons, central vacuums have a larger capacity than many other types of vacuums.

Ready access: Central vacuums include a number of attachments to allow you to quickly vacuum. Instead of retrieving your vacuum from the closet, you can just flip a switch. Like portable vacuums, central vacuums come with a number of attachments, including retractable hoses, dusting brushes, crevice tools and hardwood floor brushes. Standard hoses are 30 feet, with options for longer hoses up to 50 feet to allow you to reach everywhere dust settles.

Your options

There are several types of central vacuums available. Some models may have central bags, which need to be changed periodically, depending on how often you vacuum. There are also bagless models, for which you’ll have to empty the canister as needed, and cyclonic filter models. In addition, some central vacuums convert to a wet-dry system, which can save the day if your basement floods or your hot water heater bursts. Central vacuums are sized according to the square footage of the home. Ask a retailer what’s best for you.

Installation

Obviously, it’s easiest to install a central vacuum while a home is being built. But they can also be installed in existing homes, provided the walls can be accessed. The process includes placement of the unit and the installation of inlets and piping. The job can usually be done in a day or less.

You probably won’t place an inlet in every room, so think about placing them in or near high-traffic areas in the home or places you’ll vacuum more often than others, like dining rooms, kitchens or living rooms.

AHAM’s Holiday Cooking Roundup

Tis the season! If you are hosting for the holidays, you are probably right in the middle of menu-planning and making grocery lists. Is there more you can do to prepare for feeding the whole family? AHAM has advice from the experts in cooking for large groups – chefs! We have rounded up our best chef advice to make this year’s holiday cooking a breeze:

Buying a toaster or toaster oven? Here’s what to consider

Whether it’s an oven, juicer or sous vide immersion cooker (they’re great for eggs), many appliances play a part in creating the perfect breakfast. But no appliance is more synonymous with breakfast than a toaster. If you are shopping for a toaster or toaster oven, you are going to find yourself faced with countless choices. They’ll range from simple “pop-up” models that do nothing but toast and cost under $20, to toaster ovens rife with features that may cost several hundred dollars.

We take toast very seriously. We understand that breakfast, which likely includes toast, can set the tone for the day, and we want to help you choose the toaster that helps get you to the right place. That’s our focus in our latest installment of our series on breakfast. (Did you miss the first two? We covered nontraditional takes on eggs and toast.) As with most appliances, it helps to spend some time thinking about how you’ll use the toaster. For help, we talked to experts at AHAM member KitchenAid for the lowdown on today’s toaster. They offered these suggestions on what to consider before you buy a toaster or toaster oven.

Capacity: How much bread do you toast in a typical morning? Do you have a large family that tends to line up waiting for the toaster? The demand for your toaster will tell you how many slices you need your toaster to handle at once. Most toasters will offer anywhere from two to four toast slots, though you may find a few models offering six. Toaster ovens will also advertise their toast capacity based on the number of slices it can hold at once. They may also describe capacity by using other foods they’re capable of handling, like pizza or meats.

Appearance: Unlike some of your other small appliances, a toaster is likely to live in full view on your countertop and become part of your decor. Make sure you choose a color and style that you like.

Bagel setting: Who doesn’t love a good bagel? Many toasters are built to handle the popular breakfast bread, with wide slots and a bagel setting. When you set your toaster for a bagel, power to the outer elements is reduced so the heat is focused on the bread side of the bagel.

Accessories: Do you need a bun warmer or sandwich rack? Some toasters come with attachments that rest a few inches above the toast slots.

Lift and descent: Some toasters allow you to use the lever to lift the toast a bit higher for easy removal. Other models offer “automatic descent,” a sensor-enabled feature that brings the bread into the toaster after you place it in the slot.

Cooking functions: Toaster ovens offer cooking functions beyond toasting, but the number of functions will likely vary by model. Typical functions you might come across are bake, toast, broil, warm, reheat. Choose your settings carefully if you’re partial to cooking or reheating meals in a toaster oven.

Hungry yet? Read the first two installments of our series on breakfast:

Cook a “shell” of a breakfast with these alternatives to chicken eggs

Toast isn’t just toast: Creative takes on a breakfast standby