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Trends, Technology, Transformation: Designers discuss kitchen redesign possibilities

Is it time to remodel your kitchen? If you are ready to make that significant investment of both time and money, you should think about the project as more than just choosing and installing new countertops, cabinets and appliances. You are not just remodeling. You are reshaping your kitchen into a space that reflects and is equipped for the way you cook, clean and interact with family and friends.

If you look at it from that perspective, envisioning the kitchen you need to accommodate your cooking, cleaning and social habits may seem challenging. An interior designer can help you sort through all of these questions, present you with options, introduce you to new options and trends, and guide you through the remodeling process.

We recently spoke with two designers — Molly Switzer of Molly N. Switzer Designs, LLC,  and Richard Landon of Richard Landon Design — for their take on the changing kitchen design, how you can make the best choices during the design process, and how you can get the most out of the relationship when you’re working with a designer.

Do your research

The appliances you have your heart set on in the beginning of the remodeling process may not be the best choice for your kitchen or lifestyle. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and do your homework. That could mean checking out what your family and friends have done, watching appliance demonstrations by retailers or manufacturers, or watching online videos. “A lot of consumers are doing research,” Switzer says. “They’re paying attention to their friends and family who are doing remodels. You can get a lot of feedback from them.” Switzer educates her clients on the options at the beginning of the process, but says it’s more valuable to visit a showroom and try the appliances. “That’s where everything gets solidified,” she says.

Research also includes really thinking about how you use the kitchen. Landon has observed a phenomenon he refers to it as ‘A-cubed syndrome,’ which means his clients have adapted, adjusted and accommodated certain aspects of their kitchen for so long, that they have accepted those things as normal. What you are used to may not be what is best for you, and it’s important to be aware of options, he says.

“You want to point them ahead, counter the A-cubed syndrome, and feed them YouTube videos about these on-point appliances,” he says. “I would say a good half of my clients are now switching to the 24-inch wide induction cooktop. My neighbor decided, after watching a demonstration, to go induction.” He encourages clients who are not familiar with steam cooking to go online and watch demonstration videos of steam ovens in action. “Every time they do that, they come to me and say they’re going to do steam. Virtually 100% of my clients are using steam.”

You should also consider how you clean your appliances. “When you have a gas cooktop, you understand that there are elements you have to clean. Some companies have come up with the technology to make the elements dishwasher safe, but most make you hand-wash those pieces. Do you want to take the time to make sure it’s clean or do you want to put it in the dishwasher?” Also consider whether you prefer a self-cleaning oven over one you have to clean manually, Switzer says.

Don’t forget to have a plan for your cleaning appliances, like your vacuum. Switzer says that central vacuums are becoming easier to install during a remodel. “It’s one of those things that, as a designer, you should bring up, especially if you see clients that have multiple stories or who don’t have a good place to store their vacuum.”

Space it out

During a redesign, both available space and how that space is used will play into your choice of appliances, as well as where they are installed.

For instance, is your kitchen just a place to cook, or does it double as a meeting place? For many of Landon’s clients, the kitchen is the new “living room” where everyone gathers. If the kitchen is your social space, design it to accommodate a gathering. “When people come to visit, they hang out in the kitchen with you if it’s possible,” Landon says. “Put in an island, because that is the new dining room table. Increasingly, I’m doing kitchens where you can sit 6-8 people around the island. They don’t have a dining room table at all.”

Socializing shouldn’t stop when the cooking starts, but historically, kitchens have often been designed with the range and other cooking appliances up against a wall, meaning the cook has his or her back to the others in the kitchen. Moving the cooktop to the island will allow cooks to socialize while they sauté. This is another example of moving away from the traditional, Landon says.

“A lot of it does come down to how they use their space and envision their space,” Switzer says. “As a designer, I ask them questions about how they use their kitchen and what appliances they use. How many burners do they use at a time? Are their two people cooking? Should we talk about enlarging the space?”

How you use appliances matters

How you use appliances, not just what the appliances do, should also factor into your decisions during the remodeling process. Kitchen designs aren’t limited to a single range, refrigerator and dishwasher, and appliances are being incorporated around more specific uses of the space. “As you get into larger kitchen spaces, if you entertain a lot, having two dishwashers can be awesome,” Switzer says. “People who like to make cocktails might have a beverage center—all of their coffee, their bourbons, cocktail mixes, wine. I try to put an 18-inch dishwasher in that area.”

Like beverage stations, zoned food storage is also catching on. “I’m seeing more and more people who have no ‘big box’ refrigerator,” Landon says. “Everything is zoned refrigeration. Consider the impact of distributed refrigeration, plus freezer units. The ability to distribute refrigeration and configure it to suit your lifestyle is often what consumers aren’t considering.”

Don’t forget to discuss incorporating your portable appliances into your remodel. “We make sure there’s a home for them,” Switzer says. “If you have to use your stand mixer and have a small space, there are cabinet lifters — a base cabinet with a hydraulic spring action piece. There are coffee centers where you can just hide [your coffeemaker] away.”

The portables you use regularly are one of the factors you should consider when determining your counter depth, Landon says. “As houses shrink, counter space is becoming a huge deal,” he says.

Kitchens are changing

Landon sees changes in the works for kitchens, driven by technology and a desire for personalized food. He encourages clients to think about the future when planning their remodel with a designer.

“I want people to realize that the world is rapidly changing in response to technology,” Landon says. “It has very much affected the way we approach food.” He noted that for the first time, teenagers report spending more on food than they do on clothing. “In parts of the country where there is a higher density and cost of square footage, this is going to drive you into a different way of thinking about a kitchen.” Changes in eating habits, like the rise of rapid ordering and customized meals, can drive the decisions you make about your appliances. Connected features that seem novel now, like refrigerators that order food automatically and cooking appliances that guide you through the cooking process could soon become normal parts of the kitchen, he says.

“All the ways we think about kitchens were set by ‘Leave it to Beaver,’” Landon says. “How you use the kitchen and the kind of appliance structure you need are radically changing.” 

Before you start, plan

If you are going to work with a designer, involve them early in the process. “You should have the designer involved before the process begins, because if the process is started, we’re trying to play catch-up the whole time,” Switzer says. “All the planning should happen before the redesign starts. It’s a big investment, and we need to make educated decisions about the process.”

So, if you are planning a kitchen redesign, don’t be constrained by your current concept of a kitchen. Look beyond your decisions on the physical features and work with your designer to create a space that fits your lifestyle now and into the future, as food, cooking and appliances continue to evolve.

On the Carpet: Style, Personalization and Care

There was a time when choosing carpet for your home meant picking out an unassuming, neutral tone like white, beige or gray and laying it throughout the house. Today, consumers often venture beyond the safe choices of the past and look to their carpet as an opportunity to make a statement.

“Regardless of the fiber, they want a look that is personalized,” says Teresa Tran, director of soft surface portfolio management, residential, for carpet and flooring manufacturer Shaw, Inc. And, Tran says, that’s not necessarily about whether you prefer loop pile, cut-pile Berber, or another common carpet style. While no one type of carpet stands out as a trend, Tran says, Shaw has found that consumers are looking for a full range of colors to choose from and carpet that is durable, easy to clean, and stays looking like new.

“We’re seeing a big trend in patterns, small-scale solid or something that is very bold,” Tran says. With less focus on uniform carpeting throughout the home, Tran says, homeowners are more willing to go with a bolder pattern in high-traffic areas like the bedroom and family room. That might mean a traditional pin dot, diamond, or geometric pattern with some variation, Tran says.

The preference for personalization has led carpet manufacturers to change their approach as well, Tran says. “It used to be that we would develop products on capacity, fiber types,” she says. “Today, we’re doing it differently, trying to understand what the consumer needs. The way carpet is manufactured today, I don’t think a consumer has to go for a specific style. It’s okay to take chances in patterns and visual.”

With hard surfaces trending, many consumers are also opting to put rugs in as a way to personalize their space. Most types of carpet can be customized into rugs, Tran says.

If the look of the carpet reflects your personality, the type of carpet construction and fiber you select should be based on lifestyle, foot traffic, how much you use the room and for what purpose. If you have pets or children, for example, you probably want a carpet that is stain resistant and durable. The carpet manufacturer and retailer will likely have some suggestions based on your needs. Take a look at this primer from the Carpet and Rug Institute:

  • Cut pile: Known for durability, good for high-traffic areas
  • Textured plush: Good for busy households, hides vacuum and foot marks well
  • Saxony: Ideal for interior rooms.
  • Frieze: Curly texture that minimizes footprints and vacuum marks
  • Plush: Dense and luxurious. Better for low-traffic, formal areas of the home
  • Loop pile: Loops at uniform height, common with Berber styles
  • Cut-loop pile: Combines cut and looped yarns for a varied texture, adept at hiding soil and stains

Whether you prefer a bold color, busy pattern or understated neutral tone, all carpets and rugs need regular and proper vacuuming. The style of carpet you choose will affect the way you vacuum.

A common misconception is that all carpets and all vacuum cleaners are the same, says Rob Green, senior design engineer with Dyson. Check the use and care manual or manufacturer’s recommendations for your model vacuum to see whether it is an appropriate choice for cleaning your carpet.

Here are some other factors to consider when vacuuming your carpet that will help keep it looking like the day it was installed:

Style of carpet matters more than materials: “The material the carpet fibers are made from does not affect the vacuuming techniques as much as the construction of the carpet,” Green says. Tuft and weave are important to consider when vacuuming. “The depth of the pile and length of each tuft, the construction of the backing, and the bonding between the piles and the backing should drive vacuuming technique more than material.” This means a cut pile, deep/long, twisted tuft may be more susceptible to fuzzing or fraying if it is cleaned with a rotating brush bar than a short, looped pile, regardless of the material. Consult the carpet’s use and care manual for specific recommendations.

Choose the right height: Generally, deeper carpets and longer piles require greater penetration from the vacuum’s bristles for better cleaning, Green says. However, he adds, it is important to know the recommended cleaning of the flooring to ensure the carpet is suitable for cleaning with and will not be damaged by a rotating brush bar.

Is a robot doing the work? Robotic vacuums have seen countless innovations and improvements in the more than two decades since they first hit the market. However, Green says, they still call for a different approach than conventional vacuums. Robots may be less adept at cleaning certain surfaces. “The deeper and thicker a carpet, the more resistance it will give the robot, potentially making it harder for the robot to move,” Green says. “Also, consider that the robot is working on an algorithm and will not detect delicate surfaces such as rugs that might now be suitable for cleaning with a rotating brush bar.”

Need for speed: Consider the type of carpet when you’re choosing your speed setting. When you are vacuuming thick or deep pile carpets, or carpets with rubber backing, a lack of airflow could cause the vacuum to limpet down, Green says. “At this point, it may be desirable to reduce the suction power to allow ease of use,” he says. “This will come at the cost of cleaning performance.”

What type of carpet do you prefer? Tell us in the comment section!

Age, Store, Serve: Wine refrigerators will help you pour the perfect summer glass

Ah, summer. The sound of waves crashing as you relax at your favorite vacation spot. Late-afternoon breezes chasing away the heat of the day. Beads of condensation forming on the glass of perfectly chilled, crisp white wine as you lift it to your lips, ready to let the cares of the day drift away.

Whether you go for that crisp white, a sweet rose or a fruit-laced red, temperature matters when it comes to wine. If you have aspirations of becoming a wine scholar or just want to show your wine- sophisticate friends that you know your stuff, too, it helps to know a little bit about the proper temperature at which to store and serve wine. The wine refrigerator is the appliance that will get you there.

Wine refrigerators, also known as wine chillers or wine coolers, have become standard features of high-end kitchen renovations. Unlike regular refrigerators, which store food and drinks below 40 degrees, wine refrigerators are designed to maintain temperatures ideal for wine, whether it is being stored, aged or served. They offer protection from wine’s biggest enemies: heat, lack of humidity, temperature variation, vibrations, ultraviolet light and odors. In short, wine refrigerators are your best option for storing wine this side of a royal palace cellar.

If you think you are ready to up your wine storage and serving game, there are a number of factors to consider. While wine refrigerators aren’t any more difficult to operate than a regular refrigerator, the details of wine storage matter, especially if you’re storing wine for the long haul. I spoke with Marshall Tilden III, vice president of sales at Wine Enthusiast, which sells an array of wine refrigerator models and publishes the popular Wine Enthusiast magazine, for some guidance on what wine drinkers need to think about before they make the jump from wine rack to wine refrigerator.

As with many appliances, you should start with size. Look at how much space you have available, particularly if you opt for a built-in wine refrigerator. Many built-in models mimic the size of other major kitchen appliances, like dishwashers or refrigerators. But, if you don’t have room for or don’t want a built-in model, there are many portable models available, with a range of capacities. When making your choice, consider how many bottles you currently store, and think bigger. Wine is a hobby that tends to grow like the boldness of the flavor in a perfectly aged cabernet.

“We always stress to customers to get a unit that can hold about 25-50 percent more than your current collection,” Tilden says. Once you get into the world of collecting wine, it grows quickly. It’s best to buy bigger than you need, unless you’re constrained by space.” Fortunately, you have options ranging from small units that store a few bottles to models that can hold hundreds of bottles. Wine refrigerators are available in finishes consistent with popular appliance looks, like stainless and black stainless, and are often integrated into the kitchen near refrigerators.

Along with capacity, your wine refrigerator should be able to accommodate the size and shape of the bottles of your preferred brands. “Wine bottles can come in all shapes, sizes and forms,” Tilden says. “Some models have adjustable shelves or luxury spacing, so if your collection has bigger bottles, [the wine refrigerator] has the capacity or you can adjust the shelves.” 

The next factor you should consider is how you will be using the refrigerator. Whether you’re serving, storing or aging, temperature matters. It can affect wine flavor and aroma. “White wine should be served anywhere from 44-50 degrees, whereas red wine should be served somewhere between 59 and 65 degrees,” Tilden says. “The lighter the wine, the colder you serve it.”

If you are aging wine, it must be kept around 55 degrees. “Only a fraction of the wines in the world are meant to age, evolve and improve,” Tilden says. But if you are going to put the time and effort into aging wines, you will want to keep conditions as close to perfect as possible. “If it’s too cold, it will slow the aging,” Tilden says. “If it’s too warm, the aging will speed up. If you don’t have the right temperature to age it, you might miss the optimal drinking stage.”

Single-zone wine refrigerators generally keep wine at 55 degrees, which is ideal for storing and aging, Tilden says. However, if you are storing, aging and serving, consider a dual-zone model, which allows you to keep zones of the wine refrigerator at different temperatures. That way, you can move a bottle into another zone when you’re getting ready to serve it. Where you keep your wine refrigerator can also affect the temperature inside, so make sure the one you choose can handle the ambient temperature. This is especially important if you are keeping the refrigerator someplace warmer, like in a garage.

Humidity also affects wine, and higher-end units may include humidity controls, Tilden says. This is important for longer-term aging. “If the cork dries out, air gets in, and the wine oxidizes,” Circulating fans help move the air and moisture, and some include spaces for lava stones to absorb moisture.

Aging wines are sensitive to motion, and certain models also include features that minimize vibration.

Wine can be an investment, and it’s a good idea to think about security as well. “The majority of units that hold over 36 bottles or so come with locks,” Tilden says.

Ready to relax? I hope you thought ahead—in the time it took to read this article, you could have brought a glass of red up to the perfect serving temperature. Time to pour yourself a glass.

For Father’s Day, Here’s the Buzz on Electric Hair Clippers

It was time for a haircut. But, with Father’s Day approaching, this 42-year-old dad of three decided it was time for an upgrade. After years—a lifetime, really—of $12-$22 trims, I decided to venture into the higher end of hair care with a cut at The Grooming Lounge, a men’s salon with locations in Washington, DC and Northern Virginia that markets itself on providing customers with an extra level of comfort and personal attention. That includes hot towels and head massages.

The real reason I visited The Grooming Lounge was to meet Rich Conant, a 25-year veteran of the hair cutting and styling business, who generously agreed to show me his collection of professional-grade clippers and share some advice on how to handle clippers like a pro.

If you have an electric hair clipper in your home, the odds are good that Dad is using it regularly. AHAM’s Portable Appliance Research found that 56% of households own an electric hair clipper. In 88% of those households, an adult male is the primary user. Clippers are used an average of four times a month.

As Rich worked his magic on my graying, middle-aged hair, I peppered him with questions on the finer points of clippers and technique.

Let’s start with the clippers themselves. Clippers aren’t a one-size-fits-all appliance. You have probably noticed that your barber has an assortment of clipper attachments. If you buy a clipper, it will also come with a variety of attachments, or guards. Those determine how much hair you’re taking off. They’re numbered, generally from 1-8, and the lower the number, the closer the cut. The numbers refer to eighths of an inch. So, a #0 will cut very close to the skin, a #1 will leave 1/8 of an inch, a #2 will leave you with a quarter of an inch, a #3 3/8 of an inch, and so on. If you’re using clippers at home and have recently switched models, Rich cautioned that guards may not be measured exactly the same from model to model. The rule of thumb, if you aren’t sure about the length, is to start longer than you need. You can always take more hair off, but growing it back will take longer.

When changing or attaching the guard, Rich strongly recommends double-checking that it is securely attached. This will prevent it from slipping off during the trim, which could result in a hairstyling disaster—a bald spot. Your barber’s commercial grade clippers likely have a locking mechanism to prevent slippage. If you’re doing the job yourself, make sure the guard you choose is for humans, not dogs. Some clippers come with dog-grooming attachments, which should be clearly labeled.

Rich talked me through the art of hair clipping, pointing out the importance of constant visual assessment, measuring and balancing. A large mirror is your best friend, and a comb will help guide your work and help create a natural transition between the clipped hair and scissor-cut hair. “Use the comb as a guide to keep it even,” Rich says. “As you move the clippers up, move the comb down to meet where you want to cut to.” Use a texturing shear to improve the transition between clipped and cut hair.

When you’re going around the edges, you’ll likely get better results with a trimmer, not a clipper. They look similar, but a trimmer is smaller and is designed to help you get at smaller areas.

“You could use clippers as trimmers, but it’s hard to get around the ears or do detail work,” Rich says.

The clipper or trimmer are valuable tools for keeping sideburns to the preferred length. Whether you prefer a straight-across, no-sideburn look or full-on Elvis sideburns, balance is critical. “Make sure the sideburns are even,” Rich says. “Face the mirror and put your fingers at the bottom of each sideburn.” If your fingers are in line, your sideburns are balanced.

If you have more exotic hair aspirations, like carving lightning bolts, your sweetheart’s initials or a Batman logo into your hair, clippers are the tool that can get you there. However, you’re probably better off leaving the job to a professional. When I raised the issue of elaborate designs with Rich, he mentioned that the road crew of a prominent 1990s alternative metal band had once been regular clients of his in California. He claims a Ferrari design among his clipper art masterpieces. Designs require very short hair and extreme precision. Rich sometimes would outline the design in felt pen before going in with the clippers. “Once you cut with the clippers, it’s permanent,” he says.

Once the clipping is done, it’s time for cleanup. Fortunately, clippers need minimal care and maintenance. AHAM member Wahl recommends using the brush that came with the clippers after every use, oiling them regularly, and not using water to clean them. The use and care manual will offer specific guidance. AHAM’s research found that 72% of clipper owners clean it after every use or “frequently.” Most—78%—use the brush that came with the clippers.

If you’re shopping for an electric hair clipper this Father’s Day, two important factors to consider are size and weight. The majority of clippers—83%—are purchased in a store. Shopping in person will let you test the size and weight, and the packaging will contain information about the specific attachments that are included, as well as other characteristics, like corded vs. cordless. AHAM research found that ease of use and price were the top factors for consumers when buying clippers.

Thanks to Rich’s knowledge and skill, I’m heading into Father’s Day with a sharper-looking head of hair and knowing more about clippers than I ever thought possible. Whether you’re spending the day at the barber, by the lake, in the yard or at the game, happy Father’s Day!

Essential vacuum maintenance tips for high-level floor care

Vacuums are like the magician of home appliances. You pass them over the top of some dirt and—presto—it disappears! There’s nothing magic about it, though. Whether you use a canister, stick, upright, central or robotic vacuum, the cleaning power it provides is the result of precision engineering and many parts working together to help you get the upper hand on dirt, dust and allergens.

Vacuums tend to live in closets or under beds, kept out of sight until we need them. Like many appliances, it is easy to take vacuums for granted until you need them and they don’t work. A few simple steps can help ensure that your vacuum continues to make magic!

Change and clean the filter: Failing to clean or change the filter might be the most common reason for low vacuum performance. It’s also one of the easiest to address. Your vacuum’s use and care manual will offer guidance on specific filter replacement, care and cleaning, but make a habit to check the filters on your vacuum regularly for dirt. If you are cleaning a filter, allow it to dry completely before returning it to the vacuum. Keep in mind that your vacuum may have more than one filter, so make sure you are caring for all of them properly.

Empty the bag and canister: Some models include indicators to signal when it is time to change the bag or empty the canister. If yours doesn’t have an indicator, don’t wait until the bag or canister is overflowing. Change the bag or empty the canister when it’s one-half to two-thirds full.

Clean the brush roll: A functioning brush roll is essential to dislodge dirt and allow it to be picked up by the vacuum. Check it periodically to make sure it hasn’t been wrapped up in hair or blocked by debris, which can put stress on the belt and reduce the vacuum’s performance.

Replace the belt as needed: The belts on vacuums wear over time. As they do, performance diminishes. Plan to have your belt changed every two years. Check your vacuum’s use and care manual for instructions on how to change the belt, or visit an authorized service provider.

A deeper dive into floor care

New puppies are adorable, but they also come with a guaranteed supply of new messes. If you are a proud new puppy owner, you probably already have a good vacuum on hand. That’s good—you’ll need it, regardless of whether your dog sheds seasonally or all year. Since you have added a new pet to your household, it is time to think about bringing in another floor care appliance—the deep cleaner.

You might have memories of tagging along with your mother to the store to pick up a rented deep cleaner in an annual or semi-annual ritual that culminated in a freshly cleaned, new looking carpet that you were banned from walking on for a few hours post-cleaning. Rentals are how most people still handle their carpet cleaning, though businesses and others with heavier carpet-cleaning needs may want to consider purchasing one. They are not just for carpets, either. Some models can be used in your car or on furniture, where stains can also sap some of your home’s shine.

Deep Cleaners vs. Vacuums

You already have a vacuum—maybe even more than one. So why would you need to deep clean your carpets? Vacuums do an effective job of removing loose dirt, dust, debris and allergens, but some dirt and stains are beyond their capabilities. Think stains from a pet, that clumsy neighbor who spills a glass of wine in the center of your brand-new carpet, or that high-traffic area of your home that never quite seems to shine because the dirt is ground in and out of a vacuum’s reach. Deep cleaners can attack all of those.

How often you deep clean will depend on your needs. For some, once a year may be sufficient. You might need to deep clean more frequently if you have pets or a lot of foot traffic in your home. Check with your carpet retailer or manufacturer for specific recommendations on deep cleaning.

Deep Cleaning in Action 

Unlike vacuums, which use suction and sweeping mechanisms to remove dirt, deep cleaners add warm or hot water, plus special cleaning solutions, to get the job done. They use a high-pressure spray or brush to dislodge dirt and break up stains. Different models might offer variable flow rates and multiple attachments for carpets or other surfaces.

It’s important to use a cleaning solution that is made specifically for use in a deep cleaner. The deep cleaner’s use and care manual will offer recommendations for the type and amount of cleaner to use. Follow the manual’s recommendations for use. During the cleaning, you likely will have to move more slowly than you would when vacuuming. Make sure the front edge is touching the ground and that the carpet is making contact with the unit’s brushes. Wait for the carpet to dry before setting foot on it again.

Now you are ready for that new puppy or kitten! However, you may want to leave your clumsy neighbor off the guest list next time.

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.

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.