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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!

How to avoid appliance returns this holiday season

Boxes with gifts.

Holiday shopping. Visiting relatives. Social events. The end-of-year work rush. With everything else going on during the weeks-long holiday sprint, you don’t need to add “return a gift” to your to-do list.

While most customers find what they’re looking for, returns are an inevitable part of holiday shopping. When they happen, there’s usually a reason. AHAM worked with Bellomy Research to pinpoint the reasons behind portable (small kitchen, personal care, garment care, air treatment) and floor care appliance returns. Keeping those reasons in mind could help you avoid the hassle of a return so you can focus on what’s important during the holidays. Here are the most common reasons consumers gave for returning portable and floor care appliances:

It was the wrong appliance for the job: Aside from mechanical, electrical or functional defects, unmet expectations about performance are by far the top reason portable and floor care appliances are returned. Ask a sales representative to demonstrate how the product works, or try it yourself. Is it easy to set up? That’s important. Many who make returns say they may have kept the appliance if it had been easier to set up.

It didn’t fit: Many returns are made because the appliance is too small. Ask your retailer if you can remove it from the box to make sure it’s the expected size.

It didn’t match: Returns are commonly attributed to second thoughts about the size, color or model of the appliance. Research the purchase in advance to get a full sense of the variations that are available.

It was an unwanted gift: Some who returned appliances did so because the appliance wasn’t something they liked or wanted.

What you can do: Research is the key to avoiding returns. These tips will help you choose the right appliances, whether you’re buying them for yourself or as gifts:

  1. Go “hands on”: Many retailers will demonstrate how the product works and let you see it in action before you buy. This can eliminate confusion about issues such as size, performance, and quality.
  2. Read and watch online reviews: There are limitless resources online for consumers to learn about a product, and potential features that affect decision-making. Videos are both abundant and valuable because they allow you to see the actual product being used. (Here’s how to get the most out of product reviews.)
  3. Research the product through the manufacturer’s website and owner’s manual: Appliance makers strive to be clear about the features and benefits their products offer. Whether online or on paper, they provide extensive resources that allow the consumer to understand what they are buying.
  4. Contact the manufacturer directly: This is perhaps the most important tip, but many shoppers don’t realize it’s an option. Only 40 percent of people surveyed said they had spoken with the product’s manufacturer before returning an item. Most manufacturers have resources to answer your questions and resolve almost any issues before a return becomes necessary.

We hope this advice helps you have a happy, healthy, return-free holiday season!

Kitchen Appliance Secrets: Pro chefs share top year-round and holiday tips

Busy chefs at work in the restaurant kitchen

Combine the right appliances with some culinary knowledge, and you have the tools to take your meals from ordinary to memorable. And now that we’re into the biggest cooking season of the year, it’s time to step up your kitchen game. AHAM is here to help. We interviewed two seasoned professional chefs about how appliances help them get the job done in the kitchen. Here’s what they had to say about their favorite appliances, their advice to aspiring home chefs, cooking at the holidays and how they apply their pro cooking techniques at home.

Lance Nitahara
Lecturing Instructor, Culinary Institute of America.
Former winner of the Food Network’s “Chopped” and contestant on “The Iron Chef”; Certified Pastry Culinarian, Certified Hospitality Educator

Chef and instructor Lance Nitahara
Credit: Phil Mansfield, Culinary Institute of America

Appliances for Cooking Success
Stand mixer: A traditionalist may prefer knead by hand, but a mixer will help you get the same results. The mixer is also your ally for mashed side dishes.It’s hard to replace mixing doughs by hand, but I rarely do it anymore,” Nitahara said. “If I’m doing a pasta dough, I’ll put it in a mixer with a dough hook. It comes out more consistent. I’ll do it by hand if I have to, but I don’t have to if my stand mixer is right there.”

Food processor with attachments: Another time-saving must for the aspiring chef. It’s worth your time to read your operator’s manual and find out if you’re getting the most use out of your attachments. “The regular food processor with attachments for grating and mixing are essential,” Nitahara said. “If I have to grate a ton of cheese, I’m not going to do it by hand. After being in an industrial kitchen, there are certain things I won’t do by hand. I know the time investment. It won’t change the quality and it’s the same amount of cleanup.”

Oven and range: The heat distribution in your oven will affect how your dishes turn out. “Whether you’re going with gas, electric or propane, look for a stove that has a good convection fan,” Nitahara said. “You’re not paying that much more for it. It cooks so much more evenly. If I’m doing baked items—pastry or dough, or things that have to be browned on top like potatoes au gratin—the convection current of air evenly distributes the heat across the item. Because of the convection, you have a more even transfer of heat and you’re getting a faster cook time.” Don’t forget about ventilation. “You’ll need a good ventilation system if you’re doing a lot of meats and high-heat cooking. It’s absolutely important if you’re doing a lot of searing.”

Cook like a pro
Top skill for the budding chef:
Organization and knife skills. “One of the running problems most people in the U.S. have is space. If you aren’t organized, it’s going to be dreadful to prep or cook for a large number of people. The next would be knife skills. You need to learn how to cut things without cutting your hand off. Now, with technology and appliances, a lot of things get done for you.”

Holiday cooking: The holidays are about spending quality time with friends and family. But you’ll miss out on that if you’re stuck in the kitchen. That’s why you should do as much prep as you can in advance. And forget about all the tricks you may have heard to know when a turkey is done cooking, and invest in a digital meat thermometer. “Never use that plastic pop-up, and forget about time per pound,” Nitahara said. “Take the temperature of the turkey. It should be a minimum 165 in the thickest part of the breast. Make sure it’s thawed out. If you have a 25-pound turkey, you need to bring it into the fridge six days in advance.”

John Dion
Associate professor, culinary arts, Johnson & Wales University; Independent and collaborative foodservice and educational consultant

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Appliances for cooking success
Digital thermometer: Thinking of frying your turkey this Thanksgiving? You’ll want to have a good digital thermometer on hand. “I like them for their exactness,” Dion said. “They’re easy to read.” A fryer thermometer will help you keep the oil right around the 300 degrees necessary for a low, slow fry, Dion said.

Immersion blender: “I love my immersion blender,” Dion said. “It’s multi-purpose for your smoothies and fruit dishes, even making your own mayonnaise, aiolis and vinaigrettes.”

Oven: Dion is also a proponent of convection as a tool for more precise cooking. “You definitely have to have convection now,” he said. “It’s great to see more convection ovens coming out. Ideally, it’s best if the fan is variable and you can adjust the speed.” However, if you have spices to toast, save them for a conventional oven where they won’t be blown around by the fan.

Range: More burners can be a blessing on a busy day in the kitchen. “In my last house, I had a 36-inch, six-burner range, which was wonderful.” If you can, consider adding an induction cooktop to your center island. “What I like about induction cooking is there’s no flame, so you’re keeping the surface area cool,” Dion said. “It’s going to be more efficient than gas, and I can be precise. If I want to melt chocolate, I can set it at 78-79 degrees. It’s more about the precision temperature than anything else.” Of course, if you use induction cooking, you’ll need cookware made from cast iron or another magnetic material. Don’t skimp, Dion advises. “I have restaurant quality pots and pans,” he said. “You’ll get better heat distribution. The cheaper ones get too hot and the handles start to smoke up.”

Refrigerator: Organization is an indispensable skill for cooking success, and your refrigerator can help you stay on track. “I look for height, plenty of adaptable shelf space, and compartments,” Dion said. “I’m partial to double doors so you’re not opening the whole thing at once.”

Cook like a pro
How to choose appliances: Look for quality and durability. “In homes, you don’t beat them up like you do in a restaurant, but they should be able to take a beating,” Dion said. “Look for good craftsmanship. Pay a little more and get a better quality product.”

Top skill for the budding chef: Knife skills and staying on schedule. “You have to know how to cut,” Dion said. “We don’t teach speed, but we teach to work like you don’t have enough time.

Holiday cooking: Don’t think of a holiday meal as a one-day cooking project. It isn’t something you should expect to knock out in a few hours, so start in advance. “Prep, prep, prep,” Dion said. “Start a couple of days ahead of time.” Cut the vegetables you can in advance and prepare the dining area. “Know how long it takes something to cook,” Dion said. “If you put your turkey in the oven two hours before your guests show up, you’re not having turkey.”

Looking for fall allergy relief? Your humidifier or dehumidifier could help!

Late October usually brings beautiful autumn colors and more comfortable autumn temperatures. Unfortunately, sniffles, sneezes and colds are often close behind.

“It’s a trifecta this time of year,” said David Stukus, M.D., a pediatric allergy and asthma specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and associate professor of pediatrics at the Ohio State

University College of Medicine. “The most common cause is circulating viral infections as kids go back to school,” Stukus says. “The other would be changes in the weather pattern, which can cause worsening symptoms that are often preexisting. We have ragweed and mold spores, especially on rainy days and when the leaves collect in the fall.”

Things might not be much better indoors for those with dust mite or other environmental allergies. As temperatures drop and the windows are closed, those allergy symptoms can get worse.

Depending on the symptoms and cause, the course of treatment might include use of a humidifier or dehumidifier. Here’s how each could help:

Humidifier: “For people with chronic nasal congestion or postnasal drip, we’ll often recommend running a humidifier in the bedroom at night,” Stukus says. Only use water in the dehumidifier, he says. “We never recommend putting any kind of medicine, herbal treatment or essential oils inside a humidifier,” Stukus says. “Diffusing medicine through these products can cause irritation of the skin, nose and lungs.” The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends only using distilled or demineralized water in humidifiers, as the minerals in tap water can increase bacteria growth and produce a dust that makes symptoms worse. Use the humidifier in the room in which you spend the most time. Typically, that means the bedroom. Clean the humidifier regularly to avoid mold and mildew development, which can make symptoms worse.

Dehumidifier: Those who have allergies to dust mites will want to aim for a less humidity, as the microscopic mites tend to thrive in a humid environment. A dehumidifier can help. “If they have high humidity levels in their home or obvious mold growth, that would be a good indication to get a dehumidifier,” Stukus says. AAAAI suggests keeping the humidity level in your home between 30 and 45 percent.

There’s no single course of treatment for allergies, so it’s essential to see a physician who can conduct the proper examination and testing to find out what’s causing the symptoms. Don’t try to self-diagnose. “[Diagnosis is] complicated and highly individualized,” Stukus says. “You really need to know what’s going on with that person to provide the best course of treatment.”

Looking for a way to remove some of the pollen and allergens from the indoor air? Room air cleaners certified through AHAM’s certification program have been certified and verified by an independent laboratory, assuring consumers that the product will perform according to the manufacturer’s product claims for suggested room size and the reduction of three common household particulates: tobacco smoke, dust and pollen, commonly referred to as the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR).

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.

Designing your laundry room? Here’s how to choose your appliances

simple laundry room with tile floor and appliances.
Laundry rooms are often multipurpose rooms that are used for storage and pet care in addition to washing and drying. But they’re typically designed around appliances, and appliances are what you should consider first during a laundry room design or remodel.

“Appliances are always the starting point, whether you’re designing the laundry room, a kitchen or outdoor cooking area,” says Charleston, S.C.-based designer Margaret Donaldson of Margaret Donaldson Interiors. “I always ask clients to determine which appliances they want first, because the cabinetry has to be built around that.”

Obviously, the most important appliances in a laundry area are the washer and dryer, but some thought should also be given to other laundry-care appliances, like garment steamers and iron. The design might include a fold-down ironing board or cabinet for a steamer. Here’s what else you should think about during the design phase:

  • Top-load or front-load? Both front- and top-load washers have their merits, though Donaldson says many of her clients are choosing top-load appliances. That fits with AHAM’s factory shipment data, which shows that top-load washers made up 76% of units shipped in 2015 and have been growing as a percentage of shipments since 2009. “The reason the front-loader came out was you could have a continuous counter going across,” Donaldson said. Sometimes, the choice comes down to the ease of loading and unloading. “Some people say they don’t want to bend down. The age of the person matters. Where are you in your lives? Designing for ease of access is a consideration for many who choose to pursue a universal design concept during a remodel. If extra counter space is important and you don’t mind bending over to load and unload your laundry, consider front-load models.
  • Agitator or not? You’ll also need to think about whether you want an agitator with your new washer. More of Donaldson’s clients are choosing to go without. Washers without agitators are also growing as a percentage of units shipped. Fifty-two percent of units shipped between January and July of 2016 had no agitator, up from 47 percent last year.
  • Colors: “What’s really hot right now is a platinum color,” Donaldson says. “I’m seeing it as a go-to color, either platinum or white.” Looking for something a little flashier? Some are going for red, though choosing a more exotic color could limit your options, Donaldson says. “Only certain brands offer fun colors like that.”
  • After washing and drying: Think about where you’ll store your other laundry-care appliances. Will you need to work in a cabinet for your steamer? Should you build the ironing board into the design? “A lot of people steam their clothing instead of ironing,” Donaldson says. “If they’re steaming, the steamers are usually on wheels. It doesn’t usually go into a cabinet, because you’re lifting up and down. You need to have a space in your laundry room that it rolls into, or a closet you can roll it in and out of. Typically, it’s a tall cabinet in the laundry room, not a closet. A closet is more expensive.” Other cleaning supplies, like vacuums, are often stored in a laundry room cabinet, Donaldson says.
  • Soaked: If your design didn’t include a laundry sink, you may want to consider a model with a sink already built in.

Designers: What trends are you seeing in laundry room spaces?  How has this space changed over the past 10 years? Tell us about your laundry redesign experiences!

How do manufacturers measure your oven’s baking ability? It’s a piece of cake.

 

Homemade cake "Red Velvet" decorated with cream.

Your oven’s baking ability has already been tested long before it makes it to your kitchen. Appliance manufacturers put ranges and ovens through a rigorous series of tests to make sure they’re capable of churning out a steady stream of treats for you and your family.

AHAM’s ER-1 standard for household electric ranges offers a specific recipe that manufacturers use to test their baking/browning performance.
• 1 cup (185 g) hydrogenated vegetable oil shortening
• 2 teaspoons (10 cc) vanilla extract
• 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
• 4 eggs (192 g) (Note: Mix 4 eggs, but use only 192 g)
• 1 ½ cups (352 cc) whole milk
• 4 ½ cups (425 g) sifted soft wheat cake flour
• 4 ½ teaspoons (16 g) double-acting baking powder
• 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt

After providing a detailed mixing process, AHAM’s standard instructs testers to place four, 22 gauge aluminum 8 inch (200 mm) round cake pans, 7 5/8 inches (190 mm) in diameter (bottom) by 1 1/2 inches (40 mm) deep, each containing 0.8 lb. (363 g) of cake batter, in an oven which has been pre‐heated to 375 degrees. The cake pans’ surfaces should not be discolored to affect performance.

After 25 to 30 minutes of baking and 10 minutes of standing, and cooling to room temperature on a cake rack, the cake is judged not on the taste, but on the consistency of color across on the top and bottom of the cake.

A consistent and effective baking performance has a major impact on how your foods taste and look. Uniform heat distribution, which is measured as part of the standard, plays a critical role in your baking success.

While AHAM’s recipe may not result in the fanciest, or tastiest cake, it provides product testers with consistency in the testing process. And consistency, as any baker knows, can make or break a recipe.

5 Reasons for Returning Appliances and How You Can Do Better Research Before You Buy

Consumer-Durables

With the holiday season upon us, shoppers are doing their research and looking to take advantage of deals on home appliances. Across the board, from floor care to personal care, retailers and manufacturers are planning to deliver you innovative and energy efficient products this holiday season.

And while the majority of consumers who buy appliances get what they’re looking for, some will return them, even if they’re working.  AHAM, along with Bellomy Research, recently conducted an extensive study on why consumers return small appliances that are in good working condition. Here are the top five reasons:

  • Appliance did not perform the way the customer expected
  • The appliance was smaller than the customer expected
  • Appliance was a gift the recipient did not like or want
  • Second thoughts about the color, style or model
  • The customer found another model they liked better

Overall, though, there was one underlying theme behind why consumers return products: they did not have a clear understanding of what they were purchasing before the purchase.

So what can shoppers to do avoid post-holiday returns? While AHAM’s research suggested improvements manufacturers and retailers could make to reduce return rates, it’s up to the customer to do their own homework—and they know it. Our study found that “some customers also feel they should have completed more research before purchasing, or wished for an easier set-up process.??

Then what can you, as the consumer, do? Here are AHAM’s tips:

  1. Go “hands on”: Product demonstrations are commonplace at many retailers now, allowing you to visualize and use the product before purchasing. This can eliminate confusion about issues such as size, performance, and quality.
  2. Read and watch online reviews: There are limitless resources online for consumers to learn about a product, and potential features that affect decision-making. Videos are both abundant and valuable because they allow you to see the actual product being used.
  3. Research the product through the manufacturer’s website and owner’s manual: Appliance makers strive to be clear about the features and benefits their products offer. Whether online or on paper, they provide extensive resources that allow the everyday consumer to understand what they are buying before a purchase decision is made.
  4. Contact the manufacturer directly: This is perhaps the most important tip, but many shoppers don’t realize it’s an option. Only 40 percent of people surveyed said they had spoken with the product’s manufacturer before returning an item. Most manufacturers have resources to answer your questions and resolve almost any issues before a return becomes necessary.

Do you have any tips you feel should be added to this list? Please share them with us in the comments.

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