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Appliance Stores (From CHECKBOOK, Fall 2012/Winter 2013)
 
Go to Updated Ratings of 57 Bay Area Appliance Stores

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Appliance Stores

Unlike most other big-ticket transactions, a lot can go wrong with appliance purchases. Many local stores, particularly the big chains, were rated quite low for the advice provided by their salespeople. And according to the ratings we get from local consumers, the problems persist, with frequent delivery delays and improper and sloppy installation work. Fortunately, several area retailers do well by their customers the vast majority of the time. 

You don’t have to pay more to get good service. High-rated stores were just as likely to quote low prices as their low-rated competitors. And don’t assume you’ll get low prices by buying from the big chains or even online: We often found lower prices elsewhere. 

Although we don’t find as much store-to-store price variation for appliances as in most other service fields, considerable savings are possible. For example, the highest price we were quoted by local retailers for a Samsung RF4287HARS refrigerator in stainless steel was $3,287; the lowest price was $2,349—a tidy savings of $938. For an Electrolux EIMGD55IIW gas clothes dryer in white, the range was $967 to $1,460, a difference of $493. To see the range of prices you can expect when shopping around, see this table.

And shop around you should. It is easy to obtain price quotes from salespersons at appliance stores, although to get the best prices you should call or email and at least mention that you’re shopping prices at several stores. To make sure you get the best possible price, initiate a competitive bidding process. Don’t assume sale prices are good prices. 

When comparing prices, take into account fees for delivery, hauling away old appliances, and installation. If you know your install will be complicated or unusual, hire a top-rated plumber for the job. 

Pay by credit card. If you have a problem, you can protest the charge with your card issuer. 

Skip the extended warranties pushed by most stores. These offers are great deals for the stores that sell them, but awful deals for the customers who buy them. 

Our article on appliance repair discusses why you might want to repair rather than replace an old appliance, even if a guide that relies on average lifespan data suggests otherwise. Aside from practical cost-benefit considerations, there are other important reasons for hanging on to old gadgets: Finding the right appliance, buying it, and getting it delivered and installed without hassles can be a time-consuming, aggravating experience. Too many appliance stores too often fall down on the job, as evidenced by the ratings and comments we receive from their customers. Some examples: 

  • “Purchased $7,000 worth of Electrolux appliances for my new kitchen. Every single appliance has failed or was delivered damaged. The manufacturer wants me to talk to...the owner, but the staff will not let me.” 
  • “Hard to find someone to answer questions—when we did find someone, all they could do was read the brochure to us—they knew less than we did.” 
  • “I honestly can’t believe this company is still in business... I have, in three appliance purchases, never yet once had them deliver without a problem: fridge door on the wrong side, failed to show for delivery or call, refused to honor warranty.” 
  • “Installed clothes-washer hose incorrectly and left the machine running. Water was everywhere and they were long gone.” 
  • “Horrible delivery service. Wrecked two appliances and damaged our house.” 
  • “They gave a nice runaround for months, then went bankrupt and, of course, never delivered. The experience was a nightmare.” 

Fortunately, some area stores almost always serve their customers well, dispensing excellent advice on product selection, providing seamless delivery and installation services, standing behind their products, and making things right when things go wrong. And you don’t necessarily have to pay more to get this kind of treatment. 

The article that follows will guide you to good sources of buying advice, identify stores that will handle the delivery and installation without putting you on spin cycle, and provide strategies for getting the best price. 

Deciding What You Want 

We won’t offer advice on appliance brands and models and their almost endless array of features. A few excellent sources provide that type of buying advice. 

Consumer Reports regularly evaluates appliances on a range of quality issues, including reliability, and offers sage advice on the pros and cons of configuration, options, and features. 

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program (www.energystar.gov) provides lists and energy-usage data on certified appliances (our discussion of choosing appliances based on energy-cost savings is here). 

Salespeople can also be fantastic sources of buying advice—but only at stores that employ knowledgeable, helpful staff. Unfortunately, as our Ratings Tables report, this is an aspect of service for which many stores—particularly big chains—rated low on our surveys of consumers. (Our surveys of area consumers—who are primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers—and other research methods are described here.) At the time of our last full, published report, Costco was rated “superior” for “advice” by only 19 percent of its surveyed customers; Fry’s Electronics by only 26 percent; Home Depot by 34 percent; Best Buy by 35 percent; Sears by 45 percent; Orchard Supply by 47 percent; and Lowe’s by 48 percent. But several local stores whose personnel offer fantastic buying advice: these stores were rated “superior” for advice by at least 80 percent of their surveyed customers.

Finding a Reliable Store 

Finding a store that provides helpful advice is only half the battle. You also want a store that makes sure the entire transaction, from selection to delivery and install, is seamless. 

Unlike buying most other big-ticket items, a lot can go wrong with appliance purchases. If your fancy new camera doesn’t work, you can just take it back and get a replacement. But you can’t easily tote your new defective refrigerator back to the store, and most consumers need help with delivery and installation. Unfortunately, the comments we receive from surveyed appliance-buying customers indicate that the most serious problems with appliance purchases occur on the delivery and installation side. Delivery crews too often damage floors and doorways, and workers too often cause water damage and even floods by improperly installing dishwashers and clothes washers. Screw-ups in the installation of gas appliances are common and nerve-wracking. 

Fortunately, some area stores do have competent installers. And aside from relying on a store’s employees—or, more commonly, its subcontractors—for installation, you have other options for getting the work done. 

If you need to buy appliances as part of a remodeling job, your contractor can (and probably should) arrange for delivery and perform the installation work. If your contractor is responsible for these tasks, you can hold accountable a single company for making sure appliances arrive on time, get delivered without damaging your home, fit the allotted space, are installed correctly, and work properly. This arrangement lets you and your contractor focus on getting the best price (see below), rather than worrying about what kind of service the store will provide. 

Another option is to do the installation work yourself. While some stores fold installation costs into their listed appliance prices or into their delivery fees, most charge extra for it. And even stores that charge a single package price normally offer a discount if they don’t do the install. If you’re thinking about going it alone, be aware that for some types of appliances there’s very little to do: After you’ve wrestled in a several-hundred-pound refrigerator, it’s easy to plug it in and connect the icemaker water-supply line. But installing a dishwasher can be fairly complicated, even if you’re reasonably handy. And although it requires no great technical skill to hook up a gas line to a replacement appliance, you can create a big-time hazard if you don’t do it right. 

Most consumers do opt to pay appliance stores to take care of delivery and installation. If you go this route, make sure you understand exactly what they will and won’t do. Some stores won’t touch gas lines; others also won’t hook up water supply or discharge lines, meaning you’ll have to hire a plumber to perform those tasks. 

If you aren’t relying on a remodeling contractor to handle your appliance purchase and install, we believe you’re better off finding a store that employs reliable installers and have it do the installation, rather than separately hiring a plumber to do the job. That way, you get to deal with a single company responsible for providing the appliance, delivering it, installing it, and hauling away your old unit. You save time (you won’t have to wait around for a store to deliver and then again for a plumber to show up), and if something goes wrong, you won’t have to referee a store-plumber dispute over who screwed up. 

The ratings reported on our Ratings Tables for our survey questions on promptness, reliability, and overall quality will help you identify stores that deliver on time and make things right if there’s a problem. 

Getting the Lowest Price 

You want sound buying advice, careful and prompt delivery, and a trouble-free install—but you don’t want to pay a steep price for them. Fortunately, you don’t have to. We find that high-rated stores often quote prices as low as, or lower than, the prices of their low-rated competitors. 

To compare prices, our researchers, without revealing their affiliation with CHECKBOOK, called area retailers for price quotes for 25 appliance models. (Our shoppers obtained prices from store websites, where possible.) We used these prices to calculate the price index scores reported on our Ratings Tables. These scores show how each retailer’s prices compare to the average price for all surveyed companies. The scores are adjusted so that the average price index score is $100. Prices for a retailer with a score of $105, then, were five percent higher than the average; prices for a retailer with a score of $97 were three percent lower than the average. 

Note that we included stores’ quoted fees to deliver and install each appliance we shopped, to haul away an old appliance, and for any needed parts or installation kits. If a store told our shoppers it does not provide installation services for the type of appliance we shopped, we added our estimate of the average price charged by reasonably priced local plumbers to do the work. 

Table 1—Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Stores for Appliances

Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Stores for Appliances1 Low price at local stores (including chains)Average price at local stores (including chains)High price at local stores (including chains)Lowest price found using Google’s shopping botPrices quoted by chains
Best BuyHome DepotLowe’sOrchard SupplySears
Electrolux EIFLS55IIW clothes washer in white$899$1,019$1,284$1,029$1,230 $899$979$979
Electrolux EIMGD55IIW gas clothes dryer in white$967$1,134$1,460$1,129$1,460 $967$1,099$1,134
Frigidaire FFEF3019MB electric range in black$617$706$914$688$630 $719  
Frigidaire FFHS2622MB refrigerator in black$899$1,037$1,179$897$987 $899  
Frigidaire FGBD2445NB dishwasher in black$409$609$714$560$550 $579$633$622
GE GFSS6KKYSS refrigerator in stainless steel$1,788$2,019$2,387$1,667$2,137$1,899$2,299 $2,387
GE GLD5808VBB dishwasher in black$548$651$728$579$670$548$579$728$672
GE GSHF6NGBBB refrigerator in black$1,149$1,328$1,525$1,120 $1,284$1,259$1,379 
GE JB850DTBB electric range in black$1,090$1,238$1,413$1,108$1,260$1,196$1,169$1,413$1,401
GE JGB810SETSS gas range in stainless steel$1,123$1,285$1,527$1,159$1,527$1,123$1,319$1,315$1,44
GE PDWT280VSS dishwasher in stainless steel$874$991$1,149$903$1,120$923 $1,062$1,122
LG DLGX5171W gas clothes dryer in white$986$1,107$1,184$1,119$1,184  $1,035 
LG LDF6920ST dishwasher in stainless steel$751$909$1,020$820$1,020$751 $918$930
LG LFX31925ST refrigerator in stainless steel$2,600$2,883$3,237$2,438$3,237$2,600 $2,960$2,960
LG LRG3095ST gas range in stainless steel$1,355$1,488$1,677$1,398$1,677$1,394 $1,505$1,615
Maytag MGD6000XW gas clothes dryer in white$998$1,185$1,335$1,129 $1,148$1,187$1,162$1,335
Maytag MHW6000XW clothes washer in white$971$1,093$1,224$1,104 $1,008$971$1,100$1,100
Samsung DMT800RHS dishwasher in stainless steel$824$950$1,072$864$1,070 $1,029$970$1,072
Samsung FX710BGS gas range in stainless steel$1,290$1,466$1,677$1,281$1,677 $1,519$1,505$1,595
Samsung RF4287HARS refrigerator in stainless steel$2,349$2,874$3,287$2,103$3,237 $3,199$3,280$3,287
Whirlpool ED5LHAXWB refrigerator in black$949$1,141$1,379$988$1,167 $1,079  
Whirlpool GGE388LXB electric range in black$999$1,159$1,367$1,108$1,215 $1,124$1,238$1,351
Whirlpool WDT710PAYB dishwasher in black$570$641$728$574$670 $579$728$672
Whirlpool WFW94HEXW clothes washer in white$989$1,097$1,224$1,020$1,020 $989$1,100$1,180
Whirlpool WGD94HEXW gas clothes dryer in white$998$1,171$1,335$1,140$1,271 $1,187$1,162$1,335
1 Some prices rounded to the nearest whole dollar. Refrigerator prices include icemakers. All prices include delivery, haul-away of old appliance, installation, and required parts for installation. If a store told our shoppers it does not provide installation services for the type of appliance we shopped, we added our estimate of the average price charged by reasonably priced local plumbers to do the work. See article text for additional details on how our shoppers collected these prices.

The table above lists the lowest and highest prices quoted by local stores for each appliance model (again, including costs for delivery, haul-away, and installation) and the prices of the largest chains. We also list the lowest price we could find using Google’s shopping bot (plus estimated charges for installation). 

Here is a rundown of what we found: 

Although there is relatively little price competition for appliances, shopping around is still worth your time. 

The price index scores reported on our Ratings Tables range from $92 to $109, which indicates far less variation among stores’ average prices than we find for other types of local service providers we cover. 

But, the table above reveals, when looking at price differences for individual models, considerable savings are available. For example, the highest price we were quoted by local retailers for a Samsung RF4287HARS refrigerator in stainless steel was $3,287; the lowest price was $2,349—a tidy savings of $938. For a Whirlpool GGE388LXB electric range in black, prices ranged from $999 to $1,367, a difference of $368. And for an Electrolux EIMGD55IIW gas clothes dryer in white, the range was $967 to $1,460, a difference of $493. 

Because it is easy to obtain price quotes from salespersons at appliance stores and company websites, most consumers will find it worth their time to make four or five phone calls to save several hundred dollars. And if you are replacing all the appliances in your kitchen, it’s well worth the time to shop around. 

You don’t have to pay more for superior service. 

Begin your shopping with stores that receive high scores in our surveys of area consumers. For each appliance model we priced, we received at least one low price quote from top-rated stores. In fact, stores that rate high on service were as likely to quote low prices as were stores that rate low for service. 

Google’s shopping bot usually found low prices, but it didn’t always find the best deals. Don’t assume online retailers always are less expensive than local stores. 

The price index scores shown on the table below show how the prices for the appliance models we shopped (plus delivery fees and our estimate of installation costs) at five online-only retailers compare to average prices quoted by local retailers. 

Table 2—Price Index Scores for a Sample of Online-Only Vendors

Price Index Scores for a Sample of Online-Only Vendors1Price index score
Abe’s of Maine$102
Abt$106
Best price found using Google Shopping$91
Best price found using PriceGrabber$95
USAppliance$97
1See text for description of our price index score and research methods. Price index scores shown are relative to average prices found at local stores. When calculating prices for online stores, we included delivery costs, parts needed for installation, and our estimate of the average price charged by reasonably priced local plumbers to do the installation work.

Google’s shopping bot, with a price index score of $91, consistently provided low prices. PriceGrabber’s and USAppliance’s prices were slightly below average. But the two other online-only retailers we shopped—Abe’s of Maine and Abt—had higher-than-average prices. (When shopping Google and PriceGrabber, we recorded the lowest price quoted by sellers that had received at least 100 ratings and achieved overall scores of at least four out of five stars.) 

Although the price index score for Google is the among the lowest of all the retailers we checked, when shopping prices for individual models, we usually found better deals—sometimes much better deals—at local retailers. 

Even if you don’t want to buy online, make sure you’re paying a low price by checking the prices at local stores against prices from sellers listed with Google. However, don’t bother checking prices at Amazon.com. Our shoppers attempted to use Amazon to shop for appliances, but gave up in frustration after sifting through page after page of separate listings for the same appliance models. 

If you’re considering an online appliance purchase, see “Pitfalls of Buying Appliances Online” below for additional advice. 

The big chains don’t necessarily offer the lowest prices. 

Among local stores and chains, Home Depot’s price index score ($92) is the lowest—but just barely. Three independent retailers—Davies Appliance, Friedmans Appliance, and Standards of Excellence—achieved price index scores of $93. Lowe’s prices ($97 price index score) were just slightly lower than average. Orchard Supply ($103), Best Buy ($107), and Sears ($108) all quoted higher-than-average prices. 

Call or email stores to get price quotes. 

A bad-for-consumers policy of appliance manufacturers (and manufacturers of many other big-ticket items) is the use of “minimum advertised prices,” or MAP. Designed to boost profits for large retailers by squelching price competition, these policies require retailers to advertise product prices at or above preset minimums. Because of MAP, you won’t obtain the best prices on most major brands of appliances from sales circulars and websites. 

But MAP policies don’t apply to prices quoted to customers in person, over the phone, or via email, and stores—particularly independent stores—often quote appliance prices less than MAP if they know that’s what it takes to close a deal. 

When calling or emailing stores, mention that you’re contacting multiple stores for price quotes. The best strategy is to initiate a competitive bidding process. 

The only way to get the lowest possible price is to make salespersons offer their best prices up front. And that happens only if they know you will buy elsewhere for a better price. At independent stores, our shoppers found that informing sales staff that they were getting price quotes from multiple stores often spurred discounts on the price of the appliance, waivers of delivery and installation fees, or both. Getting big chains to be flexible took considerably more effort, but when our shoppers waited and waited and waited on hold to speak with appliance department sales managers they sometimes secured better deals. 

Our view is that the best approach is to solicit competitive bids. To do this, call four or five of the retailers listed on our Ratings Tables (you may as well start with ones high-rated for quality) and ask to speak to someone with authority to provide discounted pricing. Give that person the makes and model numbers of the appliances you want, explain that you are calling multiple companies to solicit bids, make it clear that you will call each store only once to get its best price—and will buy from the store that offers the best deal. 

Don’t be shy about using this method. Be polite, businesslike, and let stores know that you get competitive bids whenever you make major purchases. Most salespeople are accustomed to providing competitive bids; it’s the way many contractors make purchases. 

As we stress below, if you need delivery and installation services, make sure you nail down stores’ prices for that work along with their prices for the appliances. 

If the store with the lowest bid isn’t the one you prefer, because of convenience or service quality, call the store you prefer and ask it to match the low price. 

Don’t assume sale prices are low prices. 

Appliance stores are notorious for hiking prices prior to a planned sale, steeply discounting the inflated prices during the sale, and afterward lowering the inflated “regular” prices back to pre-sale levels. The lesson? Don’t assume a sale price is a great price until you’ve compared it to prices at other stores. 

When comparing prices, take into account fees for delivery, haul-away, and installation. 

Some stores include fees for delivery, hauling away old appliances, and installation in the price of the appliance; some charge a flat fee for delivery and installation; and some charge separate fees for each service. Some retailers charge a lot extra for these services, quickly turning a seemingly good deal into a not-so-good deal. 

To avoid add-on-fee surprises, ask for separate prices for each of the services you need. That way you’ll know whether it might cost less to have a plumber do the work. And mention if you don’t need delivery or installation, so the store can adjust its prices accordingly. 

Consider what the store will and won’t do when installing appliances. 

Some appliance stores have employees (or, more commonly, subcontractors) who can perform any type of appliance installation, but some companies won’t install dishwashers, and many won’t connect appliances to gas lines. Some delivery personnel won’t do anything but move appliances into place and plug them in. 

If you buy from a store that doesn’t provide full installation services, and you aren’t comfortable with doing it yourself or with the help of a friend, you’ll have to hire a plumber or appliance repair service. Most reasonably priced plumbers charge around $100 to $150 to hook up clothes washers or gas stoves, and $125 to $175 to install dishwashers. When comparing appliance prices, be sure to take these expenses into account. 

Many consumers prefer to deal with stores that offer complete installation services, and with good reason. Our view is that it’s better to have a single vendor responsible for making sure the appliance arrives in good condition and is properly installed. If something goes wrong, this arrangement eliminates disputes between store and plumber over who is at fault. 

If you know your install will be difficult or unusual, hire a trusted plumber to do the work. 

Some installations are complicated. To replace dishwashers, countertops may have to be removed. If you’re replacing an electric appliance with a gas model, or vice-versa, gas lines must be run or removed. If you are replacing very old appliances, you may need to install new pipe and connections. In such cases, hire a plumber to handle the job. 

Ask about installation kits. 

Extra parts must be purchased to install many appliances. When shopping for the appliance, ask stores for their prices for any additional parts needed for installation (often called “installation kits”). Note that our shoppers often found it difficult to obtain accurate price information for installation kits from major chain stores, especially when shopping online. 

If a contractor is handling your appliance purchases, make sure you are getting a good deal. 

When pricing remodeling jobs, general contractors usually work out an appliance budget with their customers, and then use that budget to select models to purchase and install. We have no problem with this type of arrangement, but check prices yourself to make sure you can’t do significantly better. If you do find opportunities for significant savings, ask the contractor to buy from the low-priced retailer—and adjust your contract price accordingly. 

If your contractor purchases appliances for you, keep in mind that some stores offer contractor discounts, which some contractors simply pocket. That’s fine—contractors are entitled to compensation for arranging these purchases—as long as that’s the arrangement you’ve made with the contractor. 

Pitfalls of Buying Appliances Online 

As discussed above, buying appliances online doesn’t always produce significant savings, particularly when you factor in installation costs. Along with a possible lack of a price advantage, buying appliances online presents several other disadvantages: 

  • Longer delivery times. Even though it might take several days for local stores to order and deliver appliances, many can deliver faster than online vendors. 
  • Rejecting defective products might be more difficult when dealing with out-of-town Web-based retailers. Delivery personnel for online stores likely aren’t trained to spot problems, and probably won’t be able to seek a remedy directly from the retailer. If you don’t discover a problem until after you’ve accepted delivery, it might be difficult to arrange for pickup of the defective product and delivery of a replacement. Worse, if you don’t discover a problem until you’ve hired someone to install the appliance, you’ll have to pay the plumber a second time to come out to install the replacement unit. 
  • Similarly, if an independent freight carrier has delivered the shipment and an item arrives damaged, you won’t know whether the carrier caused the damage or if it happened before the carrier received the item. If neither the store nor the delivery company accepts responsibility, you’ll have to try to force one or the other to make amends. 
  • If, in a worst-case scenario, you must go to court, you’ll probably have to file the lawsuit in—and possibly travel to—the location of the Web-based store. 

If despite these disadvantages you buy online, here are a few suggestions— 

  • Check appliances for visible damage before you accept delivery. If you spot a problem, reject delivery and contact the seller to demand a refund or replacement. 
  • Pay by credit card. If there is a problem, you can dispute the transaction with your credit card issuer. 
  • Check retailers’ online reviews. Although we have concerns over the reliability of the ratings posted for online stores on Google and other comparison-pricing websites, with this much money at stake some information is better than none. Limit candidates to sellers that have received overwhelmingly positive reviews from at least 100 customers. 
  • As when buying from local stores, make sure you ask about, and order, any extra parts or installation kits you’ll need. 

Please, Please Don’t Buy an Extended Warranty 

If you’re a regular CHECKBOOK reader, you already know where we stand on extended warranties (also referred to as “protection plans”). 

The key point we make again and again is that extended warranties are insurance policies. But unlike auto, homeowners, health, or life insurance, they insure against relatively small losses—potential repair or replacement costs—and pay out in claims only a small portion of what they take in. Most new appliances are very reliable, and those that do break down are likely to do so right away, while still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. 

Extended warranties are a good deal for the stores that sell them and the companies that administer them and pay the claims—but a bad deal for you. On average, more than half the price of extended warranties goes to the retailers that sell them, much of the rest stays with the companies that back and administer them, and less than 20 cents of every dollar taken in actually gets paid out in claims. 

Since stores make so little on the sales of appliances themselves, it’s hardly surprising that appliance buyers almost have to fight their way out of the store to avoid buying an extended warranty. Many retailers that sell them count on the sales of extended warranties for most—or even all—of their profits. 

If you are still thinking about buying an extended warranty, shop around. You don’t have to purchase an extended warranty at the time you buy the appliance, nor do you have to buy it from the store that sold you the appliance. And keep in mind that many credit cards double the length of manufacturers’ warranties when you charge the purchase. 

Avoiding Common Problems 

No matter where you buy your appliance, the following tips will help you avoid the most common appliance-buying pitfalls: 

  • Get all terms in writing. You should receive an invoice or contract that lists the store’s name, address, and phone number; salesperson’s name; your name and address; appliance brand and model numbers; price for each appliance; prices for delivery, hauling away old appliances, and installation, including a detailed description of what work the store’s installers will do; deposit paid; terms for refunds and exchanges; and expected delivery date. 
  • Avoid leaving a large deposit. It’s reasonable for a store to require a small upfront deposit as compensation in case you cancel the order. But putting up a large deposit deprives you of a lot of leverage for making sure all goes as planned. 
  • Pay by credit card. If you have a problem, you can protest the charge with your credit card issuer. 
  • Measure. Twice. Don’t wait until your new appliances show up to find that they won’t fit through any of your doors, up a stairwell, or in the allotted space. 
  • Check right away for visible defects. Reject delivery of appliances that arrive with scratches, dents, and other damage. If the problem is limited to cosmetic damage and you need a working appliance while you wait for a defect-free replacement, call the store manager and ask if you can keep the damaged unit while you wait for a replacement. If a replacement model is to be provided, get the terms of the arrangement in writing—including expected delivery date—before the store’s installers leave. 
  • After installation, check that appliances work. Before the installers leave, make sure burners burn, the oven bakes and broils, the fridge cools, the icemaker makes ice, the washer washes, and the dryer dries. Check carefully for water leaks. If anything is amiss, demand a replacement or remedy. If you notice a problem after the store’s installers leave, inform the store as soon as possible, and push them to provide a replacement unit, rather than the hassle of seeking repairs under the manufacturer’s warranty.  
  • Check that washing machines are level. It’s a detail some delivery personnel don’t bother to do well. An improperly leveled clothes washer can have a shorter operating life and, worse, cause a flood if the unit pulls too far away from water supply or drainage hoses. The best way to check is to throw in a blanket or a few towels to create a slightly unbalanced load, start the washer and let it fill about halfway with water to get the load wet, and then switch it to its spin cycle. If it does a two-step across the floor, it needs to be re-leveled. 
  • Check gas appliances for leaks. Ask store installers to show you how they test for leaks, and then watch them do it. Even if you don’t know how to check to make sure the work is done right, the installers won’t know you don’t know. 
  • Confirm that anti-tipping devices for ovens are installed. This precaution is especially important if you have small children. 
  • Replace flimsy hoses with more reliable options. The rubber water-supply hoses that typically come with clothes washers and dishwashers can fail. Replace them with stainless steel hoses—either when the appliance is installed or the next time you need repairs or plumbing work. It’s an easy job you can do yourself. Also, if your refrigerator’s icemaker uses a rubber or plastic water-supply line, replace it with a copper variety. 
  • Read the instruction manual. You never know, you might learn something useful. 
  • Be sure to use proper cleaning equipment and supplies. You don’t want to ruin your new stainless steel finish, create an inferno by improperly using oven cleaner, or scratch the surface of your supposedly unscratchable range. 

Considering Energy Efficiency 

The question is no longer “Is your refrigerator running?” but rather, “How much energy is it using?” 

Old appliances, particularly refrigerators and freezers, suck so much power off the grid that one state, New Jersey, actually offers residents $50 apiece to trade in their old refrigerators and freezers. Many utility companies periodically offer rebates to customers who purchase Energy Star-certified appliances. For a short time in 2010, as part of a federal plan, California offered similar rebates to consumers who replaced older, inefficient appliances with new models that met Energy Star standards. But the funds allocated for the rebate program were quickly exhausted. 

From a pragmatic, money-saving perspective, the expense of exchanging old appliances for new ones often is not covered by the energy savings you get. If you replace an old, inefficient clothes washer with an Energy Star-certified model, you might save $40 to $50 per year in energy and water savings—which means a new model that cost $750 would have to be used a long time for the utility bill savings to cover its cost. Energy Star-certified dishwashers tend to cost only about $10 to $20 a year less for energy and water than non-certified models. But if your current refrigerator was manufactured more than 15 years ago, investing in a new model makes sense. According to Energy Star estimates, here are the annual energy savings from upgrading a top-freezer-model refrigerator to a new certified unit: 

  • Made before 1980.......$277 
  • Made 1980—1989.......$200 
  • Made 1990—1992.......$135 
  • Made 1993—2000.......$69 
  • Made 2001—2008.......$20 

If your existing appliance needs repairs, on the other hand, determine the cost of replacement minus expected energy savings versus the cost of the repair. Calculations on the Energy Star website (www.energystar.gov) let you compare annual operating costs of efficient and inefficient appliances according to how much you use them, how long you expect the new unit to last, etc. 

Of course, some consumers might want to switch to energy-efficient appliances in order to minimize the amount of energy their homes use and their contribution to pollution. 

The following tips from Energy Star will minimize electricity usage, regardless of your refrigerator’s age: 

  • Set the temperature of your refrigerator at 35°F and freezer at 0°F. 
  • If possible, situate your refrigerator in a cool place, away from your oven, dishwasher, and sunlight.
  • To allow air circulation, leave a two- or three-inch space between the back of your refrigerator and the wall.
  • Make sure to maintain an airtight seal when you close refrigerator and freezer doors. When seals wear out, replace them. 

Considering Costco? 

Unfortunately, because none of the appliances Costco sells are sold at other local stores, we weren’t able to compare its prices. But we single it out because our experience is that Costco’s prices tend to be among the lowest for items it does carry. 

If you’re thinking about buying appliances from Costco, keep a few important points in mind: 

  • Selection is very limited. When we checked, Costco was selling only 18 refrigerator models, seven dishwasher models, and five ranges, while other retailers offer many more models on display and hundreds of choices via special order. And some of the models available at Costco were made by manufacturers you might not recognize. 
  • Costco’s sales staff might not be able to help you make decisions. Its surveyed customers gave it poor marks for advice. 


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