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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Miele 10 year warranty on laundry appliances in Canada

After blogging about the poor warranties offered by high end manufacturers (like Dacor, Viking, DCS), I was pleased to see at least one company take the bait. Miele in Canada is now offering an unprecedented 10 year warranty on laundry appliances.

Aside from this being a limited time promotion (on now until December 31st, 2008, reading the fine print turned up this gem:             
Limit of one claim per household, address person or organization.
Does this mean if my washing machine breaks more than once in 10 years, they won't fix it??

Miele.ca: Promotions & Contests

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Samsung WF337 (WF337AAG) Washing Machine Review


Followers of this and my other Geek Network blogs are familiar with my focus on resource efficiency when it comes to making purchase decisions. Part of this is figuring when it becomes worthwhile to upgrade our energy and water hogs.

In our municipality we receive 2 water tax bills based on metered consumption. Our last bill showed that we consumed water for a family of 6 when we are only 3 in the house (gulp! guilt trip...). Also our nationalized electric company (Hydro Quebec) has been steadily increasing rates as it becomes more lucrative to export our capacity surplus than to sell it domestically at a discount.

This had us looking at what is probably the biggest water and energy consumer in the house: the washing machine. We have 10 year old Kitchenaid top loader that is built like a tank and still works like a charm, but realized that it consumed a huge amount of water and power when compared with the new high efficiency (HE) front loaders. Basically this represented a double whammy of savings: less water cost, less electricity cost for both the machine and the hot water it uses.

But HE machines are rather expensive for the higher-rated machines, so this does represent a significant investment, therefore well worth taking the time to figure out which is the best performing machine.

A quick trawl of the net and other reviews showed a marked preference for the LG Tromm, but we nixed that machine due to the lack of a factory service presence in Montreal. We were not impressed with stories of parts unavailability and spotty service. The domestic brands also did not fare very well in my research either. Plenty of reports on the 'net of rusting tubs, mangled clothing, leaks, mildew problems and motor/transmission problems had us steer clear from Frigidaire, Whirlpool, Maytag and Kenmore. GE was basically out of the picture at the time we did our research (but have some interesting 2nd generation models just coming on the market) and we had a hard time trying to get information on Bosch and Miele from the local retail outlets that carried these brands.

Since we have had a very positive experience with our Samsung range we decided to take a long look at their washers. We decided with very little hesitation on the Samsung Silvercare WF337AAG in Stratus Gray (which we felt would not date the machine as much as red or blue, the "harvest gold" and "avocado green" of this age). What sold us on the machine in addition to the silver ion sanitization was the direct drive motor (no transmission to break), ultra high-speed spin cycle at 1300 RPM, a vibration reduction system that really works, and incredibly low water consumption rated at about 4 litres per load.

We ended up buying at Sears Home, as they were having their national rollout promotion on Samsung in June (2008), and we took advantage of a price match. We were quite impressed at how well informed our sales rep was about Samsung appliances, a result of Samsung's regional training that seemed quite effective.

Installing and setting up was quite easy. The biggest difficulty was removing the shipping bolts (not obvious with the provided instructions) and then levelling the machine (which we learned is very important for front loaders). A nice touch was the machine came with all of the water and drain connections and a wrench for the bolts and levelling feet.

Our jaws dropped when we used the machine for the first time. the machine is utterly silent! Since our laundry closet is on the main floor, with the doors closed you can't even tell its running! You can barely hear the water sloshing around, and there is virtually NO motor noise.

The vibration reduction is hard to describe. The machine begins the spin cycle, then it shakes a little, then stops, then starts again. It does this a couple of times until it figures out its optimum balance, then off it goes, slowly at first, before kicking it in full speed. It has this precision mechanical whine not unlike a Porsche turbo or other high performance car.

Clothes come out virtually dry, which means significantly lower drying times. A full load of towels took about 38 minutes to dry completely. We haven't tried a heavily soiled load yet, but so far a tiny amount of HE soap gets a full load clean. The other thing we noticed was the very low amount of dryer lint, which we attribute to the gentle way in which the washer handles clothes. We expect that our clothes will last longer with this machine.

We have used the SilverCare cycle a couple of times, but without a microscope I would be hard pressed to tell the difference. There does seem to be some controversy over the effectiveness of the Silver Ion process, and it is important to know that not all bacteria and fungii (or dust mites, I imagine) are killed by silver ions. I consider this a partial solution, but an energy-saving one as it will sanitize in cold or warm water (without steam).

Of course it remains to be seen how reliable and durable this machine will be. We did take a 5 year service contract from Sears with annual visits, which we will likely renew depending on other people's experiences with their machines. My expectation is a 10 year service life, at which point energy, water and detergent savings will have more than paid back the premium purchase price.

After using this machine for a few months, we have no complaints. Given a second chance we would most likely go out and buy the same machine again.

This review is an edited version of a review originally posted on epinions.com.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Great blog: World of Washers

While I was researching information on appliances on Digg, I stumbled upon a pretty interesting blog that talks ONLY about washers. I found a great article discussing the advantages and disadvantages of front load vs. top load washers. We just made the switch to front load machines, the (so far so good) Samsung WF337AAL washer DV337 dryer. (Check out my reviews on epinions here and here).

We made the decision to go with front load machines based largely on environmental concerns for water and energy conservation, and I had thought that top loaders were dinosaurs. Well I quickly found out that not everyone is as happy as I am with their front load machines!

I still believe front loaders are the way to go, and I feel terrible for people who were sold a bill of goods. But this is exactly the reason why we need to put pressure on manufacturers to build better machines and to own up to past mistakes with websites and blogs. There are good machines out there that more than pay back their additional acquisition costs.

The environment is too important to just give up and go back to water and energy hogs. Especially when this is really a design and engineering problem that some manufacturers have managed to solve.

Check out the World of Washers, especially if you are thinking of buying front loading machines.

Link.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Samsung DMR77 (DMR77LHS) Dishwasher review



Yes, we have been gambling on Samsung. But the apparent value of their appliances, combined with an impressive commitment to sales knowledge and service (at least in the Montreal area) have made the offer quite compelling. We felt that this machine was similar in quality to the best, (which in my opinion is Miele) that cost $1000 more, but actually had better performance features.

We are also aware of the mistakes that Samsung made with their first generation of dishwashers, manufactured by Maytag (Whirlpool) and the number of people who were disappointed in the reliability of these machines. Because we hesitated before buying the relatively unknown (to north America) Blomberg due mainly to a lack of information, I can certainly see how difficult it must be to come into a very competitive market where a psychological price barrier and consumer knowledgability might mean a compromise.

To start off, the DMR77 is not built by Maytag. Our unit was built in China, and I speculate that it is most likely built by Haier to Samsung specs and with Samsung electronics. Haier is considered a low-end price point brand here in Montreal, but they do manufacture "higher end" dishwashers in this price range, and available elsewhere. This is not a judgment on the quality of Haier, but it is hard to believe that a dishwasher that costs only $250 brand new can be any good (but it might be).

The apparent build quality of this dishwasher is impressive. First of all, there are no stray bits hanging off the sides, back or bottom of the machine, as plastic shrouds cover virtually everything underneath a very thin sound deadening layer. Connections for the inlet hose and drain are overbuilt. The tub is of very high quality stainless, and it appears that considerable effort has been made to maximize interior space. The door is of very heavy and rigid construction and closes like a german car door, which gives an impression of solidity and precision.

From a design perspective, the machine looks like a hybrid between a european and north American dishwasher. For example, this machine uses condenser drying, but also has a food grinder and an adjustable two-tier top rack very similar in design to a Maytag. The trade-off by having a grinder is that the machine is a bit louder (3 db more than the quietest Bosch or Asko).

I prefer this design to the Asko, which has a fixed stainless tube that routes water to the top rack, effectively making it non-adjustable not to mention a (slight) loss of interior space.

Installation, as with most dishwashers was fairly easy. However this machine is really at the limit for size, and I ended up having to drill new holes for water and drain in order to get the machine to fit properly under the counter. After the first trial installation, and finding it not that much quieter than the outgoing Kenmore, I decided it was probably a good idea to replace the previous plastic inlet hose with a new braided stainless one and also to cover up a few gaps with weatherstrip and add some sound deadening on the hard ceramic floor.

Once installed (the 3rd time) and properly leveled, we can safely say that the machine is pretty damn quiet! The machine is rated at 49 dB, which as I mentioned is not the quietest, and subjectively it does not appear to be that much quieter than our old Kenmore when next to the machine while it is running. However when out of the kitchen, it is not possible to tell it is running at all. With the Kenmore we would often find ourselves turning up the television in the living room, even though subjectively it seemed quiet. Having said that, if you must have the quietest machine, you might want one without a grinder as this seems to be source of a lot of noise.


We are still not completely used to loading the machine, but are quite impressed at its capacity. We use a 12 place setting service for everyday use, and run out of dishes before the machine is full. This means that there is plenty of room for coffee cups, assorted plastic containers and other cooking utensils. Samsung also thoughtully provides adjustability for most of the rack tines, and it is even possible to remove completely the two lower rack inserts. There are also a myriad of little clips to hold things down like spatulas and other items that might blow around during a wash cycle. To give an idea of the size of the tub, a 16 quart stock pot fits easily on the lower rack without interfering with the sprayer (with the upper rack in the high position). For this we give the versatility of the machine high marks.

Running the machine is very straightforward. As with our range, the dishwasher uses a "hidden" flat static touch panel, and there are no protruding buttons or mechanical switches. The lack of tactile feedback is compensated by musical beeps whenever a function is selected.

It has taken a bit of time to figure out optimal cycles to use. This machine has 6 cycles (Normal, Heavy, Delicate, Rinse, Quick and Smart Auto) with 3 options (Sanitize, Half Load and Delay Start). With our old Kenmore we found that the Quick or Econo cycle worked fine when we rinsed the dishes and it was relatively quick at 38 minutes, but Quick on the Samsung takes 1 hour, and the dishes came out wet! A look in the manual explained that the Quick cycle was the same as the normal but skips the dry cycle. Half load is limited to the upper rack, but it is not obvious how to arrange both plates, glasses cups and cutlery on the upper rack. We were also amazed at punching in Smart Auto and seeing 3 hours (!) showing up on the display! (This is a maximum, fortunately). For now Smart Auto, with its soil sensor, appears to work.

Because we are trying to save water, we are trying to break old habits and not rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. I will now use the 10 minute rinse cycle after meals as it should take less water. However the dishwasher does tend to get smelly after leaving dirty dishes for more than a couple of days, so we may have to rethink the half load strategy and use the machine more frequently. This may not be a problem so much during the winter months.

This machine would have been disappointing if it didn't get the dishes clean, and it does an admirable job. We found that we do have to be careful about placement to make sure that surfaces come into contact with the spray arms as some residue can remain if we place things on top of the upper rack shelves. We have even tried lasagna baked on pyrex using the heavy cycle on the lower rack, and it removed everything. It is even good enough to get rid of stuck on bread dough from my Bosch mixer bowl, which I no longer have to hand wash. The glass test came out perfect, with no spots, film or apparent etching (using a rinse aid is essential).

What is really impressive about this machine is that it uses virtually NO soap. The manual says to use 15 gr (a tablespoon!) for a normal or smart wash, and an extra 10 gr (2 tsp) for the prewash in the heavy cycle. Because we calculated total cost of ownership, the soap cost more than offset the cost of additional water and slightly more electrictiy that this machine uses (when compared to a higher-end Bosch or Asko). This is no small consideration if you have hard or moderately hard water like we do. What I found interesting is the machine cleans without ANY soap...I found this out when a cutting board blocked the soap door from opening! I suspect that using soap is not really for its detergent properties but for sanitization. Yes the machine cleans that well.

Drying performance is good, but not as good as a heat and fan assisted machine and it does take longer. However this is the price of energy efficiency, eh? I think fan assist on this machine is a fair compromise to machines that don't have them (e.g. most European machines).

Positives
  • Large capacity
  • Uses extremely little soap
  • Effective grinder/filtration (no filter to clean)
  • Versatile loading
  • Build quality
  • Dual displays
  • Effective soil sensor (Smart Auto)
Negatives
  • Might be difficult to install in tight spaces
  • Quick cycle dishes come out wet (useless)
  • No indicator light for end of cycle ("End" warning turns off after 5 minutes)
  • Not the quietest, nor the most efficient (but a realistic compromise)
Samsung offers a compelling dishwasher on its second try, and it would appear to be the best of both worlds. What remains now is to see if the machine is reliable or durable, as there is no data for this model. We did take a 5 year service contract, which I believe would be prudent if you consider buying this machine.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Calculating Dishwasher operating cost

I was asked how I calculated and compared dishwasher operating cost. Aside from acquisition cost, there is the electrical consumption of the dishwasher itself, how much water it uses, the cost of heating the water, and the cost of detergent and additives.

Read on for the nitty-gritty and the tools that I used.

One of the variables in using a dishwasher is how often you use it. Typically our machine runs twice or three times a week. For us the Energuide rating, which is based on 215 cycles per year seems about right. This is fairly easy to adjust for your own use by dividing the Energuide rating by the number of cycles to get the per-cycle consumption, then multiplying by the number of times you use the machine annually.

For example, our Samsung DMR77LHS is rated at 315 KwH per year, which works out to 1.46 KwH per cycle. If we used the machine daily, that would work out to 534 KwH. So based on our KwH rate of $0.0827 (including tax) the annual electricity cost is $26.

Next is water consumption. This information is a little more difficult to make sure it is accurate. For example, the Energy Star Appliance Directory on NRCAN's site lists water consumption per "normal" cycle, but this is often a different number when you look at manufacturer data. For example, the Bosch SHX36L is rated at 10.9L of hot water consumption in the Energy Star directory, but the Bosch user manual says anywhere from 9-22L. Also if you don't use the normal cycle (we always used the Energy Saver cycle with the Kenmore) this number can be misleading. In my case it was worth it to compare water consumption on the "Quick" cycle (which was 20 L for the Samsung and 13L for the Bosch). This number is not so easy to find as some manufactures (like Blomberg) don't supply this data or don't have a Quick cycle.

Since our water is metered, it was fairly easy to calculate 20L (per cycle) x 215 (annual cycles) x $0.001 (avg. cost per litre) for $4.30 per year.

Now that we know our electricity cost and water consumption, we can calculate the hot water cost. I found this nifty calculator to figure out the annual hot water cost as follows:

I converted annual litres to U.S. gallons and divided by 365 to get "daily gallons" (4300L / 3.67 = 1172 gallons, then 1172 / 365 = 3.2 gallons per day). The calculator gives $21 per year hot water cost for our Samsung, based on an electric water heater at $0.0827 KwH.

Detergent can make a huge difference in annual operating costs. For example our Samsung takes only 15g of detergent for a normal load vs. 25g for the Bosch and 35g for the Asko. Based on a 3kg box of Electrasol powder at $10, (including tax, which works out to $0.003 per gram) we are looking at $9.65 a year for the Samsung vs. $16 for the Bosch and $22 for the Asko. And don't forget the rinse aid (we go through a 600ml bottle per year, for a cost of $5)

So to add all this up we have:

$26 (electricity) + $4.30 (water) + $21 (hot water) + $14.65 (soap and additive) for an annual cost of $65.95. The Bosch and Asko came in marginally lower, with their higher detergent consumption canceling out their slightly better energy and water consumption.

The big difference, and the justification comes from comparing operating cost of our 6 year old Kenmore:

30L water per cycle, 800 KwH annually and 60g of detergent means an annual cost of $157. Our $1000 Samsung dishwasher will basically pay for itself in energy savings in a bit less than 9 years (given 3-5% annual increase in consumables), which is a bit more than 1/2 of its expected life.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Deciding which dishwasher

Samsung DMR77LHS

We got it down to Asko, Bosch, Blomberg and Samsung. From a performance perspective it looks like Bosch is the winner as it has the lowest energy rating, uses very little water, uses very little soap and has a very low repair incidence.

But we went with the Samsung DMR77LHS. How did we decide?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dishwashers: Which one?

Our 6 year old Kenmore dishwasher is pretty well on its last legs. All kinds of bits are breaking off, it no longer cleans dishes well, and er, it STINKS (despite repeated cleaning). It is also an energy and water hog.

We have been generally displeased with Sears and the Whirlpool garbage that they sell under the Kenmore brand, as they are plainly not reliable nor durable. To compare, our previous DW was a 14 year old Maytag that we sold with our previous house, and as far as we know is still used on a daily basis. It was really loud, but it worked, and was clearly durable (I had to replace a few parts along the way, like door springs, but this was easy enough to do myself).

So we are beginning to evaluate dishwashers based on reliability and performance, mainly water and electricity consumption. Initial research on the net shows that in terms of performance, the favorites seem to be Asko, Miele, Bosch and Kitchenaid. Also Blomberg was rated very highly recently by the Quebec consumer watchdog in their Protegez-vous magazine.

We are looking specifically for a stainless steel front and hidden controls. We don't need an excessive number of cycles (just 3 is fine, we typically only use 1), so this will keep the cost down.

Kitchenaid is definitely out. While the machines seem tough and overbuilt, my experience with a stand mixer that broke its transmission the first time I made a relatively small quantity of bread dough left me rather indifferent. I no longer believe that any Hobart parts are left in these dishwashers. They are probably just Whirlpool junk made to look robust.

I was also a bit concerned about Asko, with reports of high parts costs but generally excellent reliability and performance, along the lines of Miele. I am concerned, though about reports like this one.

What I did find interesting was that Viking dishwashers are rebranded Asko machines. By the same token, Thermador uses Bosch machines (and are virtually identical).

After checking out the Natural Resources Canada energy-star website, we discovered quite a difference in hot water consumption between brands. Generally Bosch and Asko had the lowest, with a practical range of 9-11 litres per load. I was surprised that Miele and Blomberg use about double the water, with 19-22 litres per load. This is important performance criteria for us, as our water consumption is metered, and it is a goal of ours to reduce our water consumption significantly this year.

I have had pretty good experience with my Bosch Universal kitchen machine (mixer), which is what I imported to replace the Kitchenaid stand mixer. So, it looks like Bosch is winning out, at the moment. After the Blomberg, it is the least expensive, too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gizmodo: New Electrolux Inspiro Oven

From Gizmodo:
Elecrolux's Inspiro oven launches this week, using technology that could be the future of cooking. Using a heat management technique rather like auto focus on a camera, the Inspiro's sensors first analyze what is to be cooked before calculating the temperature and time needed. The company's CEO, Hans Stråberg, likens it to the way cameras now automatically set aperture, exposure time and focus, depending on the light and what's in the frame.

This sounds suspiciously like the Panasonic Genius microwave ovens from the 1980's. These ovens had a humidity sensor that determined cooking times based on how long it took to trip the sensor. This worked quite well for some things, like cooking vegetables. However people tend not to use these things after a while, as they are hit-or-miss.

And like everything else, our knowledge and cooking techniques evolve over time, whereas these helpful intelligences are generally frozen in time and don't evolve along with us. There are also many ways to bake and not just one "perfect" way...I can think of 4 or 5 different baking techniques I use for bread, all with different times and temperatures, steam/no steam, baking stone, convection or no convection...

Just the same, there seems to be a renewed market interest in the mundane kitchen range, and it is very interesting to see how manufacturers are interpreting their market research.

Link.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The New Samsung Range Installed (with photos)

The new baby in place

The new range in place.

Samsung Rangetop and Controls

You can barely make out the size of the burner on the right. 12" is HUGE.

Samsung Oven

Just to get a sense of how big a 5.7 cu. ft. oven is. That's a 2 lb sourdough loaf proofing...

Comparing oven rack size Samsung vs. Kenmore

The smaller rack in front was from the old Kenmore/Frigidaire. One of the biggest disappointments with the Kenmore was that you could not put two standard cookie sheets on a rack, due to the intrusion of the fan in the back of the oven.

First Loaf from New Oven

First results out of the oven. A nearly perfect sourdough miche!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It came down to the knobs

Finally got to look at the LG range. Right away I did not like the idea of electronic controls for the rangetop burners. While this may be adequate, call me old-fashioned for thinking that traditional knobs represent a better interface.

This actually reminds me when cars started having electronic (or vacuum) controls for heating/air conditioning and dash instruments in the 1980s and how this progressively went back to straightforward dials. I believe this is a matter of understanding the relationship between a state to its range of possible values, and a dial with a pointer is much faster to read (or set). A burner set to 5 is harder to understand than medium.

The Brault & Martineau liquidation center in Brossard had a floor demo Samsung FTQ386LWX (FTQ386LWUX in the US) for $1299 including a 5 year service contract and delivery. This unit is very similar to the LG but much simpler controls with analog stovetop knobs. I was really impressed with the design, with true 3 fan convection (the oven elements are not used) and a HUGE 5.7 cu. ft. oven capacity and a warming drawer. Also the burners are the same ribbon type found in the Dacor and Viking (and other high-end appliances) and come up to full power in about 5 seconds.

So we get it on Thursday!

More on appliance warranties

Thanks to a very helpful sales rep at JC Perreault I found out why GE Profile is $200-$300 more expensive for what looks like the same range as the standard GE models -- Its the warranty on the Ceran cooktop. The basic GE appliance warranty only covers 1 year on the ceramic cooktop, whereby the Profile covers it for 5 years.

Comparing different appliances I thought all ceramic cooktops were covered for 5 years, so I guess I was wrong. More points in favor of the LG, with a 2 year base and 5 year warranty on the cooktop.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Warranties of high end "architect" vs. low-end appliances

When we moved into the house in Brossard, we fully intended to put in a "dream kitchen" with high-end appliances with dual ovens and a gas (or induction) cooktop. Since the range crapped out we thought again about doing this, so I started pricing high end equipment from Dacor, DCS (my preference), Wolf, Thermador and Viking. The better-half's cousin has a huge Viking in her house in Connecticut and having used it, I can attest to its quality.

But the pricing...ouch! the best deal on a DCS 30" dual fuel was $4500, with Dacor and Viking even more expensive. Even "mid-high-end" Bosch was hovering around $2,200 as with the mainstream brands like KItchenAid Architect or GE Profile.

So aside from looking like it belongs in a commercial kitchen, what justifies double and triple the price for a high-end appliance? Certainly not the warranty.... All of the high-end brands offer a meager 1 year standard (except Wolf, which is 2 years). And 3rd party service contracts offered by the dealer are typically more expensive the higher the selling price the final cost of a high-end appliance is pretty steep indeed. And they don't seem to be any more reliable than the mainstream brands. So more points to the LG range with its standard 2 year warranty.

When I bought my high-end audio equipment at least I could justify spending $2200 for my Bryston B-60 amplifier because it came with a 20 year warranty.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fed up with crappy appliances

Our 6 year old Kenmore range (model no. C970-657081 manufactured by Frigidaire) broke yet again over the weekend. Two columns of the touchpad for the oven, including the "Start" button, stopped taking any input, rendering the oven completely useless. (Only the 1, 4, 7, and Cancel buttons work). The rough estimate from Sears service was $261.99 for a new control module and $275.99 for a new touchpad (!) and $120-180 for the service tech labor.

A quick check on-line showed that I am not alone with this problem. Check out this thread on fixitnow.com.This was the 3rd problem we have had with the stove. The first was a defective drawer and the second was the oven thermostat, both fixed on the Sears service contract. Needless to say my opinion of Frigidaire and Kenmore products are pretty bad, not to mention the prohibitive parts prices. Our last stove, a Hotpoint (made by Camco in Montreal), never had any problems for about 18 years....

So we are shopping for a new range. As I am baking a lot of bread, oven size and convection quality are really important. From what I dug up on the 'net, GE, LG and Samsung seem to get high ratings for performance and reliability. I don't really like the all-electronic controls of the LG, so I'm leaning towards the Samsung FTQ386LWX.