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You’re getting warmer: How to choose the right air conditioner

Weather experts are suggesting that much of the U.S. could see higher-than-average temperatures this summer. It’s easy to forget what a heat wave feels like until it happens. However, you’re already behind the cooling curve if you wait until temperatures approach triple digits to shop for an air conditioner. Plan now, before portable and room air conditioners fly off the shelves and you’re left overheated and longing for autumn’s cool relief.

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You’ll find many models and brands on the shelves of appliance retailers. Choosing the right one involves more than just looking at price and power.

You’ll need to know a bit about the area you’re trying to cool. This is important. Buy too strong of a unit for the room size and you’ll use more power than you need. Take home a unit that doesn’t have enough capacity, and you may end up sweating (and, perhaps, swearing) while you use too much energy as your unit runs continuously but never quite cools the room.

Are you in the market for a portable air conditioner or room air conditioner? After you learn some of the differences, it’s time to get to work to figure out how much cooling capacity you’ll need your new air conditioner to deliver:

Check your measurements: Your first step is to figure out how much cooling power you need by determining the square footage of your room. Measure your window as well and take the measurements with you when you shop. Both portable and room air conditioners need to be connected to a window, and it’s important to make sure it will fit before you bring your new AC unit home. Finally, if you’re buying a portable air conditioner, it will take up floor space. Consider whether the physical size of the unit is appropriate for the room.

Choose your capacity: Air conditioner capacity is measured in BTU (British thermal units). Check the unit labeling as you shop. You’ll likely see a chart with BTU and the appropriate room size for cooling. Choose a size appropriate for the room or rooms you’ll be cooling.  If you are placing the unit in a kitchen, sunny room, or room with high ceilings, you may need to size up.  Some manufacturers may also have capacity information available on its website.

Speaking of capacity: If you’ve purchased a portable air conditioner before, you might notice that this year’s capacities seem lower than you remember. The difference is due to a new test procedure developed by the Department of Energy. The procedure takes different factors into account and generates a lower number to indicate capacity. However, the actual capacity has not changed—the difference is simply due to the different test procedure.

Frigid features: Smart technology is being incorporated into portable air conditioners. Some units can be turned on or off via smartphone or tablet, so you can come home to a cooler space on a hot summer day. Others offer a “follow-me” function that measures the temperature both at the location of the unit and of the remote control. If you’re sitting across the room from the unit and holding the remote control, the unit will take the temperature in the remote into account and adjust its output based on both temperatures. Other features you might find are programmable timers and alerts that tell you when the AC filter needs to be changed.

What’s your plan for staying cool this summer?

Expert tips on refrigerator organization

You know the routine: Open the refrigerator, put the item wherever you can find enough space, then quickly close the door. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It’s how many people organizetheir refrigerator. While that may work just fine for some, it’s also a recipe for scattered meal planning and potentially wasted food. And the cost of food waste adds up, with a recent estimate by the American Chemistry Council putting it at $640 per year, per household.

Organizing your fridge can make sure more of your food ends up in your belly instead of in the trash. It also means less wasted money on food you aren’t eating. We reached out to Becky Rapinchuk, the cleaning and organization guru known on the Web as Clean Mama, for her tips on organizing the fridge.

The most common mistake people make in refrigerator organization is putting food where it fits instead of a space that makes sense, Rapinchuk says. She recommends putting food that’s already opened in the front of the refrigerator to make sure you’re using the oldest food first.

You have a number of options for storing food in the refrigerator, but clearly label what you’re putting there. Rapinchuk prefers glass containers for leftovers and labels them (using freezer or washi tape and permanent marker) with the date they were put into the refrigerator or freezer.

Rapinchuk, who’s a mom of three, makes a weekly meal plan and shops on the same day every week (Friday is her preferred day.) Shop according to what you have planned, and prepare what you can in advance. Before she leaves for the grocery store, Rapinchuk straightens up the refrigerator and wipes down the shelves. The refrigerator gets a thorough cleaning once a quarter.

There are other benefits to organizing your refrigerator. If you make it easy to find the food you’re looking for, you’ll be less likely to get frustrated and order takeout instead.

How do you keep your refrigerator organized? Share your tips in the comments!

Rise of the Robots: Robotic Vacuums Now a Floor Care Fixture

Traditional vacuum cleaner with a hose, nozzle and brush versus a modern circular automated low profile unit, high angle view on a shaggy white carpet
Do robots live among your appliances? There’s a growing chance at least one type does. Sales of robotic vacuums and cleaning robots are expected to grow from $981 million in 2013 to $2.6 billion by 2020. And the innovations keep coming. New features like cameras, voice controls and improved navigation have taken robotic vacuums from a novelty to a fixture in floor care.

So what does one need to know before turning over vacuuming duties to a robotic partner? Robots have come a long way in floor care, but they’re still widely considered a supplement to, not a replacement for traditional vacuums. They can’t yet climb stairs, but they can sometimes reach areas that are hard to get to with traditional vacuums, like deep beneath furniture. They’ll take longer to clean a room—about 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the robot and the size of the room—but they can also do it on their own, whether or not you’re there to supervise.

Red robotic vacuum cleaner and smartphone. Smart appliances concept. 3D rendering image.
The hundreds of robotic vacuum models on the market offer different features. They use different methods to find their way around a room, using laser, cameras or infrared sensors. They may have different work capacities or perform better on certain surfaces. Some models use lithium ion batteries, others use nickel metal batteries.

Are you ready to welcome a robot into your home? Follow these tips to create a more hospitable habitat for your new cleaning companion:

Break down barriers: Take a look around the area you’re going to vacuum, and remove any potential obstacles. Even a sock or something smaller on the ground can interrupt cleaning, particularly if the robot tries to vacuum it. Remove any items that could get stuck in your robot’s rollers and cause an error.

Remove the cords: Just as you would with traditional vacuums, make sure the area being cleaned is free of plugs and power cords that the robot may try to vacuum.

Keep it confined: A robotic vacuum goes where you allow it to go. Close doors that might lead it to another area that does not need to be vacuumed, or use the technology features to keep it within a certain range.

Welcome it home: Many robotic vacuums will automatically make their way back to their charging station when their power starts to drop. Put the charging station in an area that’s easy for the robot to access.

Keep the robot clean: Keep your robot’s sensors and other navigation tools free of debris, as it can interfere with navigation. Empty the robot’s dustbin after every use. Make sure filters are clean and replace as necessary.

The next robotic revolution

Robots are slowly making their way beyond vacuuming into areas like mopping and air purification. Automation is becoming part of appliances, with many new models incorporating voice controls and the ability to adapt to our habits. Are there any tasks you would be happy to hand off to a robot? Let us know in the comments!

CES 2017: Speak up!

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Most people are accustomed to interacting with their appliances through the push of a button, turn of a dial of flip of a switch. Soon, that’s likely to change to you simply telling the appliance what you need. You might talk directly to the appliance, but a number of systems at CES 2017 channeled the interaction through robots or an existing tool like Amazon Alexa.

A conversation with an appliance won’t always be one-sided. A robotic vacuum cleaner could politely ask you to move your leg if you’re standing it its way (It can tell that you’re a human.) And the system might remind you when it’s time to re-order groceries or perform another task.

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Some appliances will also have the ability to adapt to your habits. An air conditioner could learn when more cooling power is needed based on how many people tend to gather in a room at a particular time. Your clothes washer might have the capability to add new wash cycles if none of those initially included with the machine no longer fit your lifestyle.

CES 2017 also showed that some refrigerators are becoming serious multi-taskers. Some of the models on display included touch screens to allow you to label food, track expiration dates and order new food when you need it. They’ll also provide entertainment, like music, since families tend to gather in the kitchen. Don’t worry—they’ll still keep your food fresh!

CES 2017: It’s all about lifestyle!

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Day 1 of CES 2017 left the clear impression that connected features are changing appliances at all levels, from the largest major appliances, like refrigerators, down to the smallest personal care appliances, like your electric toothbrush.

From the biggest refrigerator down to the smallest personal care item, connected features in home appliances are allowing the product to take on a greater amount of work associated with their core tasks. Rather than just serving as a tool to help you accomplish a task, they’ll give you the information and guidance you need to increase the quality and accuracy of whatever you’re trying to do, whether you’re preparing a meal or cleaning your teeth.

That means less work for you, but it could also mean a better result. For example, your oven and refrigerator could work together to suggest meals to prepare based on what you already have in the house. But it could also go a step further, like an oven automatically adjusting to the cooking time and temperature necessary for the recipe, becoming a welcome assistant for busy home cooks.

It could mean more accurate microwave cooking, as scanning the packaging of a prepared meal will give your microwave the information it needs to heat up the meal, without any input from you.

It could also mean more effective and accurate oral care through an electric toothbrush that, in addition to brushing, maps your mouth, monitors your brushing pressure and shows you via your smartphone if you’re cleaning the right places.

Manufacturers are stressing the impact of connected appliances on consumers’ overall lifestyle, including their potential to save significant amounts of time and remove some of the guesswork from tasks like cooking. Many of the appliances at CES 2017 are being shown as part of larger “smart home” suites to show how they work together and can be incorporated into everyday life.

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Keep following for more updates on the appliance innovations at CES 2017. And follow AHAM on Twitter @AHAM_voice for news straight from the show floor.

Happy National Coffee Day! Here’s what’s brewing in home coffeemakers

AHAM is celebrating National Coffee Day with a look at how people are preparing their beloved morning cup. Even with the nearly ubiquitous sight of early-AM lines stretching out the doors of the one (or more) coffee shops that seem to dot nearly every city block, plenty of consumers are still opting for the more cost-effective option of preparing their coffee at home. An AHAM survey of US households showed a high percentage of them own coffeemakers, with 60% opting for automatic drip and 35% owning single-serve, or pod coffeemakers.

So who’s buying what? Drip coffeemakers are most common among those who live in rural areas, with 74% of respondents reporting owning one. That compares to 61% in suburban areas and 52% in urban areas. Automatic drip models are most popular among consumers 55 and older, with 74% reporting owning one compared to 62% of 35-54 year-olds and 43% of those between 18 and 34. The 35-54-year-old consumers reported the highest rate of ownership of single-serve coffee makers with 40%, compared to 37% for those 18 to 34 and 29% of consumers 55 and older.

But “coffee” is not just coffee, and there are plenty of specialized options if you’re looking to caffeinate. The National Coffee Association, in its 2016 National Coffee Drinking Trends, reports a decline in consumption of traditional coffee (not brewed from premium whole bean or ground varieties) and a slight increase from 2015 to this year in consumption of espresso-based drinks. The NCA also reports that consumers are trying newer varieties of coffee like cold brew and flat white.

Looking to move your home coffee brewing beyond the traditional cups? Take a look at Whole Latte Love’s video on how to make a flat white.

Or, try these tips on making cold-brew coffee from Jamie Oliver coffee expert Mike Cooper.

What’s your favorite way to prepare your coffee at home?

It’s the little things: Small appliances add big convenience to tiny houses


Across the country, many people are looking to simplify their lives and lower their housing costs by downsizing their living spaces. Their choice of accommodations ranges from permanent or semi-permanent “tiny houses” or “micro-apartments,” extra-small apartment units in densely populated areas.

But downsizing doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on the appliance conveniences they’ve grown accustomed to.

“A lot of people are concerned about how the house will function,” says Jeremy Weaver, a tiny house dweller and co-owner of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Wind River Tiny Homes. “Appliances are an integral part of how people interact with their houses, arguably the most intense way. I tell them we can get the same functionality, though it will be a lot smaller.”

With Wind River’s models usually topping out around 350 square feet (though they have built larger homes in the 400-800 square foot range), space, as you might imagine, is precious. Appliances that won’t get a lot of use are usually left out. But tiny spaces have many of the same conveniences as their full-sized counterparts, just on a smaller scale. How much use an appliance will get is the major factor in whether it will be included.

“In a tiny house, if someone doesn’t use an oven, they probably won’t have an oven,” Weaver said. “If you want a full-sized fridge, it means you won’t have a pantry or you’ll have hardly any counter space. There really isn’t space for something you don’t use. People who don’t cook a lot typically don’t use ovens—they’ll use a cooktop or a microwave.” Many of the Wind River homes have been fitted with four-burner, 20-inch ranges, Weaver said. In his tiny house, which includes four burners and an oven, he’s able to fit four full-sized pots and pans on top and 2-3 cookie sheets in the oven.

Every inch matters in a tiny house, and some may opt for a two-burner portable induction cooktop that can hang on the wall when it isn’t being used, Weaver said. Appliances in tiny homes often are powered by propane. Mobile tiny homes can also be set up to plug in like RVs.

For laundry, combination washer-dryers are the way to go in a small space. They’re common in Europe and Asia, where small-space living is more widespread, Weaver said. “About 60 to 70 percent of the houses we’ve done have them.” More options from manufacturers have become available over the past few years, he said.

Small appliances were already being manufactured for boats and RVs. Wind River recently installed a dishwasher for the first time in a tiny home and used a model made for an RV, a drawer-style under-counter model.

No “nukes”: How to use your microwave oven for real cooking

Using microwave oven
Microwave ovens are in about 90 percent of American households. They’re great time savers and are regularly used to warm up leftovers, heat that morning cup of tea or defrost the evening’s main course. That’s their role in many homes. Their cooking capabilities, however, go well beyond reheating and defrosting. And if you take the time to learn, they’ll take your cooking to new levels of convenience.

We recently chatted with microwave cooking expert Jennipher Marshall-Jenkinson, chair of the United Kingdom-based Microwave Technologies Association and author of Microwave Magic: The Heart of 21st Century Cooking, to pick her brain on a microwave’s role in producing a home-cooked meal. Just as with using a range or oven, there’s a method to microwave cooking, she said. The trouble is that many simply focus on cooking time, not technique.

“The most important thing about basic cooking in the microwave is understanding what you’re doing,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “You have to understand and think about the cooking technique behind it. You don’t cook everything in the microwave oven. You don’t make roast potatoes or put a crispy edge on your chicken. But anything with its own moisture cooks perfectly. It’s the perfect environment for saving time, energy and nutrients. In minutes, you can have a proper meal.”

So how does one progress beyond popcorn, break free of frozen meals and harness the real cooking power of a microwave? Marshall-Jenkinson has some advice:

Get to know your oven: Microwave cooking is a skill, and it’s going to take time and practice to perfect. Marshall-Jenkinson recommends starting with vegetables to set benchmarks for how long it takes to cook certain portions. She’s also a big fan of microwaving all types of sauces. “If you follow the instructions, those are guaranteed to be successful.” In addition, all microwaves aren’t created equal. They vary in size and wattage, both of which have impact cooking times. Knowing your wattage will help you get a sense of your oven’s capabilities.

Watch your turns: Many microwaves have turntables to rotate food and help it cook more evenly. If yours doesn’t, you’ll likely have to manually turn the dish at 90-degree angles and stir the food during cooking.

Put a lid on it: Microwaves cook foods in their own moisture, and a lid or cover will help it retain that moisture to improve cooking. “If it’s allowed to evaporate, you won’t end up with cooked food whatsoever,” Marshall-Jenkinson said.

Make use of different power settings: Many microwave users simply default to full power for everything they cook. That’s a bad move and can result in poor quality cooking. Find out what’s best for the dish you’re preparing. “I would never cook a cake or baked sponge pudding on full power,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “I would cook that on a medium-power setting. That means the heat developed within the dish as it’s cooking has a chance to even out before you put another burst of energy in there.” Remember, you’re cooking, not just heating. “You can make a great casserole by bringing it to a boil on high and reducing the power to 10 percent and cooking at 10 percent for an hour and a half.”

Be adventuresome: Don’t be afraid to experiment with your microwave. Search out recipes and cooking techniques. “It’s there to make your life easier. Use it instead of just heating up a cup of coffee in it.”

Now that you know the basics, what should be your first microwave-prepared meal? “Any dish that is cooked for your family or makes your life easier,” Marshall-Jenkinson suggest. She’s a fan of the microwave’s ability to quickly produce baked treats. “I’m a cake lover myself,” she said. “A lovely sponge cake is going to take 3-4 minutes in comparison to 25 minutes.”

Ready to give microwave cooking a shot? This recipe for microwave mac and cheese cups (with a gluten-free option included) from MOMables will help you prepare a quick, tasty meal for the kids:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup pasta, uncooked

1/2 cup + 1/8 cup water

1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons milk

Instructions

  1. Add pasta and water into large soup bowl or mug
  2. For regular noodles: Microwave for 6 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  3. For gluten-free noodles (corn-based pasta), microwave for 5 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  4. After the microwaving is complete, add in the cheese. Stir.
  5. Microwave again for 25 seconds.
  6. Add the milk, stir and serve.

What’s your favorite microwave recipe?

Easy ways you can prevent cooking fires

There are more than 100 million ranges and cooktops in use in the U.S. today, and most are operated safely and without incident. When fires do occur, they’re usually preventable through a few simple steps. AHAM has partnered with UL, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, and the National Safety Council to develop its Recipe for Safer Cooking. These preventive measures will help you greatly reduce the chances that a cooking fire will occur in your home:

  • Stay in the kitchen when you’re cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires.
  • Wear short or close-fitting sleeves when you cook. Loose-fitting clothing can catch fire.
  • Keep an eye on children in the kitchen. When they’re old enough to cook, teach them how to do it safely.
  • Keep your cooking areas clean. Food and grease build-up can increase the risk of fire.
  • Keep curtains, towels, pot holders and other fabrics away from hot surfaces.
  • Store solvents and flammable cleaners away from heat sources. Never keep gasoline in the house.
  • Turn pan handles inward to prevent food spills that can result in serious burns.

Unfortunately, fires sometimes happen even when preventive measures are taken. Memorize these steps so you and your family are ready if a fire happens:

  • Immediately call your local fire department. Have the department’s emergency number on hand, as calling 911 will instead direct you to a central emergency services center. That means the response time could be slightly longer.
  • If a grease fire breaks out, put a lid on the pot to smother the flames, then turn off the heat and leave the lid in place while the pan cools.
  • Use baking soda to extinguish cooking fires.
  • If a fire starts inside the oven or broiler, keep the door closed and turn off the heat to smother the fire.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to use it. Contact your local fire department for training.
  • Keep a working smoke detector in your home and test it every month.

AHAM and appliance manufacturers are attacking the problem of unattended cooking fires through the technical advances to cut down on the potential for fires, and through consumer awareness initiatives like the Recipe for Safer Cooking. Visit AHAM’s store to order copies of the Recipe for Safer Cooking and other fire-prevention information.

Are you looking for more ways to make your kitchen safer? Take this kitchen appliance safety advice from John Drengenberg, also known as “Mr. Safety.”

AHAM shipment research: What’s hot in major appliances

While we can’t tell you which appliances are the coolest among your neighbors, AHAM is the leading authority for major appliance shipping trends. That means we CAN tell you what styles and features you might see when you go shopping for new appliances. Here are a few of the trends we’re seeing in cooking, refrigerator/freezers, dishwashers and laundry:

Induction cooking is catching on: Consumers, perhaps attracted by its potential to deliver shorter heating times and more precise temperature control, continue to show interest in induction cooking. Last year, 16% of electric surface units shipped included at least one induction cooking unit, up from 8% in 2010. So far, the percentage is holding steady, as 15% of electric surface units shipped between January and July of 2016 had at least one induction unit.

Taking a shine to stainless steel: Seventy-six percent of bottom-mount refrigerators shipped in 2015 had a stainless steel finish. That number has been growing steadily since 2009, when just 44% of units shipped were stainless steel. The trend can also be seen in dishwashers, of which more than half shipped last year—57%—had a stainless steel finish, a trend that has been on an upward climb since 2007. AHAM’s shipping numbers also show growth in stainless steel being used as a tub material in dishwashers. Forty-four percent of units shipped in 2015 had a stainless steel tub, a number that has remained steady through the first six months of 2016.

Bottom-mount stays cool: Bottom-mount refrigerators, which have the freezer on the bottom, continue to gain popularity. Total shipments of bottom-mount models doubled between 2009 and 2015, while 2015 shipments of side-by-side models are similar to their 2015 numbers. AHAM’s shipping numbers also suggest that consumers want more doors in their refrigerators. Last year, 17% of bottom-mount refrigerators had four or more doors. That percentage has grown from 11% in 2012, when AHAM started tracking the shipments of four-door models.

Laundry on top: Top-load washers as a percentage of units shipped have been growing steadily since 2009. Top-load washers made up 76% of units shipped in 2015, up from 62% six years earlier. More consumers continue to be drawn to units without agitators. Fifty-two percent of units shipped between January and July of 2016 had no agitator, up from 47 percent last year.