Appliance shopping – do they think we’re idiots?

In the last few weeks we’ve been talking to cabinetmakers about the potential design of our new kitchen, and it has made us realise that we need to sort out whatever appliances we are going to have so that they fit in with what the cabinetmaker does.

A lot of our appliances are fairly old (10 years or more), and when we bought them we didn’t really know (or care for that matter) much about energy efficiency. Despite coming off this pretty low base of environmental awareness, we’ve become much more interested in ensuring that what we have is energy efficient, both for the sake of the environment but also to reduce utility bills into the future.

As I always do whenever I need to buy something new, I tried to put together a plan…

What do we need?

The starting point was to identify what we actually needed in terms of both appliances and the style of each appliance.

It was pretty straightforward to put together a list of the appliances that we would need, with these being:

  1. Refrigerator (this was an old 2-star rated Westinghouse 660L unit, which was probably more like a 1-star because the rating system has been changed since then)
  2. Cooker (our current house has a built-in oven and cooktop that we installed in our 2010 renovations, so we can’t exactly take it with us)
  3. Rangehood (this is also built in to our current house, so we can’t rip it out, plus it’s a different style than what we need for our new kitchen)
  4. Dishwasher (our current dishwasher came with the house, and looks like it’s about 20 years old. As well as being white rather than stainless steel, I’m sure that its energy and water ratings are rubbish)
  5. Washer (I recall purchasing this Whirlpool monstrosity when I first moved out of home, simply because it was the biggest one that you could get, and as a 19 year old I went through a phase of thinking that the biggest appliance must be the best appliance. I’m pretty sure that the unit’s truck-like design has been around since ~1970, but we are now looking for a front-load washer for increased efficiency and also so that we can put it under a bench top in our new laundry).

As you can see, none of the current appliances will be moving to the new home, so I’m actually going to leave all of them in the house for the new owners when we sell it. Yes, it will cost us more to buy new appliances, but we will get a look that will be in keeping with the style of the new house, and the energy savings will certainly outweigh the costs over the life of the units.

Armed with this list of what I needed, I then turned to my old friend the internet to do some research for each one.

Cooker and rangehood

When we renovated our current kitchen we had the option of purchasing fancy appliances, but we decided that fancy brands like Smeg and Miele would just look out of place in our current house, which isn’t flashy by any stretch of the imagination. This meant that we just turned to what are sometimes referred to as “builder’s brands” of appliances, which are functional and good value, but don’t carry fancy brand names.

This is our new Technika cooker - it has clean lines and all the features that we are chasing, plus the brand name isn't really in your face at all either. For $1,100 I think it's a bargain actually.

This is what our brand new Technika cooker looks like out of its box – it has clean lines and all the features that we are chasing, plus the brand name isn’t really in your face at all either. For $1,121 I think it’s a bargain actually.

A friend of mine works for a business that supplies these sorts of appliances, and he sold us a package of oven, cooktop and rangehood from a brand called Technika. I’d seen their products previously in my mother-in-law’s house and they looked clean and sleek and seemed to work just fine, so that was what we bought. Those appliances have given us six years of trouble-free cooking, and in that time not one person has asked or commented on the brand of the appliances. The brand name is very unobtrusive (you need to really look for it to even notice), and all of this has meant that I really don’t care about getting a brand for cooking appliances. Thankfully my wife is of the same opinion, so I went hunting for Technika appliances again.

Our new kitchen is going to be sort of a provincial style setup, and we will therefore have a free-standing cooker (rather than one built into the bench), and a built-in “undermount” rangehood. I was fortunate enough to find a brand new Technika cooker (still in its original box) on eBay and managed to get it for $1,121, which was a significant discount from the $2,299 retail price.

I haven’t been able to find a cheap rangehood from them online though, probably because it’s not exactly a huge cost at an RRP of $349, so I’d say that I will just have to buy one from my mate for about $300. Still, that will leave me with a cooking package for $1,421, which is a whole lot cheaper than the $4-$5k that my parents shelled out for their new Miele appliances.

This has really made me wonder though why people fork out for these big name brands when no one else will ever even notice. I didn’t know that Mum and Dad had Miele appliances until they told me, and it was a bit like they needed to point it out as they were proud of it (or needed to justify the money that they spent).

Refrigerators

There seem to be so many different options for fridges nowadays, but I did a bit of research and found out some basic things that many people seem to overlook when shopping for fridges:

  1. The most energy efficient design of fridges is actually the single-door, bottom mount freezer option. Don’t ask me why this is, it just is. The next most efficient is top-mounted freezer single-door option followed by the side-by-side fridge freezer. Then when you start adding ice/water dispensers and get into “french door” freezers with drawers the energy efficiency seems to plummet.
  2. The cheapest fridges are actually the single-door units, which are also the most energy-efficient, but they really only make them up to a certain size that may not work for a growing family.
  3. Our current fridge/freezer is 660L which seems to be about the right size for our family of four, especially if I want to put a couple of six-packs of some beer in there. It also gets quite tight at Christmas time when we have visitors, so I probably wouldn’t want to go any smaller.
  4. Ice/water dispensers take up a huge amount of room in fridges, use a lot of energy and also add significantly to the price, but we don’t think that we would actually use them. We just have a jug of water in the fridge so that we have access to cold water, and almost never use ice in our drinks.

Given all of the above, I narrowed my criteria down to a side-by-side fridge/freezer around 660L in size, with a stainless steel front and a good energy rating. And we didn’t want an ice/water dispenser.

LG's GS-B679PL: It looks good, it's comparatively cheap, quite energy-efficient, and the brand is OK as well. What's not to like?

LG’s GS-B679PL: It looks good, it’s comparatively cheap, quite energy-efficient, and the brand is OK as well. What’s not to like?

I tried researching this on the internet, but it was hard to compare energy ratings (and also annualised kWh of energy consumption, which was often more meaningful), so I actually went down to the local Harvey Norman store to see them all at once. It took me almost no time to work out that there was a stand out unit for price and energy-efficiency, and this was the LG 679L side-by-side fridge/freezer GS-B679PL. It has an RRP of $1,699, and despite its “so so” 3 star energy rating, it actually only uses 559kWh of energy per year. This was better than many four star models of a similar capacity, and since it’s also cheaper than other models with a similar standard of brand (and presumably quality), I really don’t understand how manufacturers and retailers price these products.

It seems to me as if people just become blinded by other factors (e.g. they want a certain design/brand) and can’t see the forest for the trees, but there really are products there (and not just fridges) that don’t make any sense at all in terms of pricing, features and energy consumption. Someone must be buying them though (hopefully no one from PF our community) otherwise why would they keep making them? It really does make me wonder though, do they think we’re idiots?

Anyway, I haven’t actually bought this appliance yet, but I’m just going to keep looking for a good price on one. I’m not averse to buying one second-hand as long as it’s in good condition, but I doubt that there will be any second-hand, so I’ll probably end up buying a brand new one. Bing Lee (an Australian department store) had 20% off on their eBay store recently, but due to some enormous technical glitches with their system (I can’t be bothered explaining it right now, it will just make me annoyed again) the deal expired and I couldn’t get the fridge. This would have meant getting it for a 20% discount on their $1,599 standard price (i.e. $1,280) but I’ll just have to keep looking for now.

Dishwasher

This is the DeLonghi dishwasher that I found on gumtree.com.au for only $350 in excellent condition. If I can find one that's a bit easier to get to then I'll buy it for sure.

This is the DeLonghi dishwasher that I found on gumtree.com.au for only $350 in excellent condition. If I can find one that’s a bit easier to get to then I’ll buy it for sure.

As was the case with the fridges, it took no time at all to work out which dishwasher was actually the best combination of brand, features, price, energy-efficiency and water-consumption.

The DeLonghi DEDW645S has a 3.5 star energy rating, 4.5 star WELS water-efficiency rating, stainless steel finish, all of the electronic programs and crap that you could possibly want, and it retails for only $699. This compared very favourably to the competition, which didn’t really have any better features and often no better efficiency, but had RRPs of up to $4,299. Seriously, what moron spends $4,299 on a dishwasher?!

Once I’d decided that this was the one that I wanted I went looking for the best price, and actually found one on gumtree.com.au in very good used condition (less than a year old) for $350 negotiable. I’m probably not going to buy that one though since it’s too annoying to get to it, but I’m sure another one will come up  at some stage that’s a bit closer to home.

 

Washer

Tyrion Lanister - I reckon he'd fit into my old washing machine.

Tyrion Lanister – I reckon he’d fit into my old washing machine.

As I indicated earlier on, our old-school washer was the top-loader design that was the size of a truck, with a wash capacity so large that you could probably put Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lanister rom Game of Thrones) in there. Not only was this overkill in terms of size, but it was also incredibly crap in terms of energy and water efficiency – it makes me wonder what the hell I was thinking when I bought it. Admittedly it’s been very reliable, but it looks like the design is so low-tech that it really was designed when washing machines were invented. Maybe that’s part of its charm – there aren’t any features that could possibly break!

Anyway, we’d decided that we’d get a front-load washer for two main reasons – one because they use a lot less water, and two because they fit under a benchtop. Our current laundry is quite short on bench space, and if we can get a bench to go over the top of where the washer will be in the new house then it means that we’ll have that much more bench space to use. Our laundry isn’t going to be huge (by Australian standards), so any space saving design elements that we can use will be even more important.

I had a look at the website for The Good Guys (another Australian electrical/appliance retailer) and their website kindly allowed me to filter by energy ratings. Once you do that you can then filter by price, and the answer then seems fairly obvious, but I sometimes wonder how they manage to sell the more expensive appliances when people can use this filter. Perhaps I’m just an anomaly, but I’d think that these filters must be killing the sales of top-end appliances because the comparison of price and features is all there in front of you.

This is the washer that I think I'll go with. It's not very exciting to look at, but washing clothes isn't exciting either!

This is the washer that I think I’ll go with. It’s not very exciting to look at, but washing clothes isn’t exciting either!

Anyway, I was starting to think that I would go with a product that was a mix of features, brand and price, and had chosen the Samsung 7.5kg front-loader (WW75J4213IW) with an RRP of $619, but reviews from other sites make me wonder if it’s a dud design. I hadn’t really associated Samsung with washing machines previously, so perhaps they haven’t been making them for long, which might explain why their designs aren’t that great. Anyway, I’m now thinking that I’ll go with something like the Simpson SWF14843 8kg unit with an RRP of $699. It has a 4.5 star WELS water rating, 3.5 star energy rating and 8 wash programs (I doubt I’d use anything but the one wash program, but maybe my wife will know what the other 7 are for?).

My research into washing machines makes me wonder whether these items are more likely to break down, as there seemed to be plenty of horror stories with that Samsung model and a few others that I looked at. I’m therefore less inclined to buy one second hand than say a dishwasher for example. Perhaps there’s a lesson here about what you should and shouldn’t buy second-hand?

I haven’t actually bought this washer yet, but have started looking around for one that’s on sale somewhere. We have all of the big electrical stores in our city so I can probably play them off against eachother to get the best deal, otherwise I might be able to find one on gumtree.com.au that’s still in its original packaging?

What have I learned?

So what have I learned from all of this time spent researching boring household appliances? Well, in the same way that tradesmen can charge a huge range of prices for effectively the same thing, department stores charge a huge range of prices for what are essentially the same products.

Sometimes their attempts to differentiate their products are so pathetic that a ten year old could see through them, even to the point where one brand will have two models that don’t really have any useful difference in features and the exact same appearance, but the price is hugely different. None of it makes any sense, but perhaps it’s not supposed to make sense?  If they’re assuming we’re idiots (and let’s face it, lots of people are) then perhaps it makes sense after all? For anyone that isn’t an idiot though, basic internet research must be saving them a fortune on this stuff and slowly killing places like Harvey Norman. It must suck to be in that game.

Have you bought any electrical good or appliances lately? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience

IA.

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