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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).

  • Large capacity
  • Uses extremely little soap
  • Effective grinder/filtration (no filter to clean)
  • Versatile loading
  • Build quality
  • Dual displays
  • Effective soil sensor (Smart Auto)
  • 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?