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International Builders' Show



Daylight saving time gets a new start

Two years ago, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, extending daylight saving time (DST) by 4 weeks in the United States. DST will now begin on the second Sunday of March (March 11, 2007) and end the first Sunday of November (Nov. 4, 2007). Use the calculator here to find DST start and end dates through 2099.

The extended DST is intended to reduce energy usage over the 34 weeks it will be in effect. In 2001, Linda Lawson, the acting deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy, reported that a 1975 U.S. Department of Transportation study concluded that DST might result in "electricity savings of 1 percent in March and April, equivalent to roughly a hundred thousand barrels of oil daily over the two months." However, she also said, "There have been dramatic changes in lifestyle and commerce since we completed our studies that raise serious questions about extrapolating conclusions from our studies into today's world."

Congress can revert to the previous DST if the reduction in energy use proves insignificant.

 

Changes to Daylight Saving Time

 Throughout most of the United States, daylight saving time (DST) in 2007 will start at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 11. The clocks are springing forward one hour three weeks earlier than usual because of a policy change mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. DST will also last one week longer in the fall, ending Sunday, Nov. 4. (For more information on the extended DST, see "Daylight saving time gets a new start.")

As annoying as it might be to arrive an hour late for a kid’s birthday party, golf tee time, or other activity because you forgot to reset your clocks, other problems being caused by the extended DST could be far more harmful.

Unless you apply certain updates, your computer might be off by an hour for three weeks this spring, causing inaccuracy in other programs. Scheduled meetings, for example, might pop up at the wrong time, and transactions might receive incorrect time stamps.

Attempting to head off such issues, Microsoft and Apple are offering free patches to update computer systems as well as tips to ease confusion when you communicate with others whose computers haven’t been updated. The Calendaring and Scheduling Consortium, a nonprofit group focused on the interoperable exchange of calendaring and scheduling information among dissimilar programs, platforms, and technologies, offers a list of DST updates for various computer systems at its Web site.

Unfortunately, patches won’t assuage all networking woes. You will need to manually update computers running a Windows operating system older than XP and Apple computers running an operating system before 10.3 even though they used to change to and from DST automatically. The same goes for some other networked electronics and appliances.

But there is a bright side to this change—you get an added hour of daylight for three weeks. The start of DST is also a great time to tackle household chores. When you're resetting your watches and clocks (don't forget the one in your car), use this annual event as a cue to do the tasks below. They'll enhance safety for you and your family year-round and save you some money on your utility bills, too.

Replace batteries in all smoke and carbon-monoxide alarms. Always use fresh batteries. And follow manufacturer's instructions to ensure that these essential devices are working properly. Also, replace any smoke alarm that's 10 or more years old and any CO alarm 5 or more years old with a new model. You'll find the manufacture date on the alarm. See our report on carbon-monoxide alarms and our exclusive interactive on smoke alarms for more information. (The CO report and Ratings are available to subscribers).

Reset clocks on appliances and electronics. Some newer appliances and electronics are equipped with a microchip that automatically resets clock displays at the beginning and end of DST; check the owner's manual to determine which of yours do. You'll need to reset those that don't have a chip. To facilitate the process, make a list of all devices that you need to reset manually: clocks, TVs, DVDs players/VCRs, fax machines, cameras, and thermostats. (It's especially important to reprogram your thermostat so that the heat in your home doesn't switch on earlier than you intend.) Reset everything on the list in one session so that no appliance or electronic is forgotten. You might need to turn some of these clocks back one hour on April 1. That’s when DST would have started before it was extended, and your gear might spring ahead one hour on that date.

Inspect vehicle lights. Inspect the entire lighting system in your car to ensure that all lights are working properly. Clean headlights and make sure they are correctly aligned according to the owner's manual.

Update your family disaster plan. To respond properly to a natural disaster or other cataclysmic event, you need to have a plan in place and the necessary supplies on hand, and be prepared to act. See our free emergency guide to preparing for any storm or disaster.

Plan accordingly when traveling. Some areas of the United States and some of its territories do not observe DST, including Hawaii, most of Arizona, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. And in Europe, DST runs from the last Sunday in March through the last Sunday in October.

Check storage areas for hazardous materials. Properly dispose of any materials that are outdated, no longer used, or in poor condition. Make sure those you keep are out of the reach of kids or pets.

Program thermostats for savings. Shave up to 20 percent off your heating (and cooling) costs by lowering (and raising) your home thermostat 5° F at night and 10° F during the day if no one is home. Most electronic setback thermostats let you program different schedules for each day. Many automatically switch from heating to cooling, and some tell you when it's time to change your furnace or air-conditioner filters.

You can also lop 50 percent off your utility bill by replacing the bulbs in just 25 percent of your most frequently used fixtures with compact fluorescents (CFLs). Some CFLs offer softer color and ballasts designed to eliminate humming. Also consider replacing torchère lamps with halogen bulbs--they use 60 to 80 percent more energy than fixtures fitted with CFLs. Install motion or light sensors on outdoor lighting so that fixtures turn on only when needed.

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Daylight saving time gets a new start
Two years ago, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, extending daylight saving time (DST) by 4 weeks in the United States. DST will now begin on the second Sunday of March (March 11, 2007) and end the first Sunday of November (Nov. 4, 2007). Use the calculator here to find DST start and end dates through 2099.

The extended DST is intended to reduce energy usage over the 34 weeks it will be in effect. In 2001, Linda Lawson, the acting deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy, reported that a 1975 U.S. Department of Transportation study concluded that DST might result in "electricity savings of 1 percent in March and April, equivalent to roughly a hundred thousand barrels of oil daily over the two months." However, she also said, "There have been dramatic changes in lifestyle and commerce since we completed our studies that raise serious questions about extrapolating conclusions from our studies into today's world."

Congress can revert to the previous DST if the reduction in energy use proves insignificant.

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February 28, 2007
Faster Mowing for Harried Homeowners
 More lawn mower and tractor manufacturers are debuting products that promise to speed cutting grass, leaving you more time time to paint the living room, install a new toilet or kitchen floor, and do other long-delayed chores.

The latest case in point is Cub Cadet’s screaming-yellow i1046 lawn tractor (shown). Unlike most front-engine, rear-drive tractors, this one has rear-wheel steering and front wheels that steer all the way to the horizontal position so that it can scoot around palm trees, posts, and other narrow yard obstacles in one pass. That puts this new tractor directly against rear-engine, zero-turn-radius machines, a rapidly growing category of tight-turning mowers that are migrating from pro landscapers to homeowners as prices drop from $4,000 to $5,000 to less than $3,000 for some models.

The major difference: The i1046 steers with a simple, intuitive wheel like those on other lawn tractors instead of the twin tillers that control both steering and ground speed on zero-turn machines. While John Deere’s now-discontinued Spin Steer tractor offered a similar design, this one combines those perks with 46-inch mowing.

But this model’s performance proved less inspiring during weeks of mowing, mulching, and bagging over our test turf in Fort Myers, Fla. Then there’s its $3,400 price tag. While our results are still being checked and rechecked before we publish them in our upcoming mower and tractor report in the May 2007 issue of Consumer Reports (on sale in April), we can safely say that you’ll spend roughly the same or less for two new zero-turn mowers and get better mowing, albeit with tillers for steering.

Want easy steering-wheel control with turning that’s nearly as tight? The John Deere X304 lawn tractor ($3,500) costs about the same and mows, mulches, and bags with aplomb.

You’ll see our first-ever comparisons of mowers, tractors, and zero-turn-radius machines together in the May 2007 issue. Our 10-page special yard-and-garden report also includes advice on how to deal with the most common lawn problems, along with what many of you are doing right. Meanwhile, check out our free advice on choosing the right mower, tractor, or zero-turn-radius machine and  maintaining the mower or tractor you already own.—Bob Markovich

Technorati Tags: Cub Cadet, John Deere, lawn mower, lawnmower, tractor

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February 22, 2007
Tankless water heater recall
If you are among the increasing number of people using a tankless water heater at your home, check your model to ensure you’re not facing a potential carbon-monoxide problem.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on February 20, 2007, announced a recall of 42,200 Power Vent 199,900-Btu-per-hour tankless water heaters because of the risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning. The CPSC says you should stop using your unit immediately. The water heaters ($800 to $1,300) were sold between May 2004 and December 2006 under the Paloma, Rheem, Rheem-Ruud, and Richmond brand names.

Pieces inside the water heater can move around during transport, causing an air-filter door switch to malfunction, according to the CPSC. If the switch fails and the door cannot close properly, dust and lint can accumulate and lead to a CO-poisoning hazard. As of the recall date, no injuries had been reported.

For more information and to find the model number of recalled units, contact Rheem at 866-369-4786 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET on weekends) or go to www.tankless-recall.com. The company will repair your water heater at no charge.—Mitch Lipka

Essential information: Read  “Protect yourself against carbon-monoxide poisoning” for expert tips on avoiding CO poisoning. Also see our report on CO detectors and our exclusive interactive on smoke detectors. (Both are available to subscribers.)

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February 16, 2007
The ever-expanding American home
It’s not only American consumers who are growing in size. The average single-family home has “supersized” 48 percent, going from 1,660 square feet to 2,459 square feet in 2006, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president for research for the National Association of Home Builders, who gave a presentation on February 8 at the International Builders’ Show. By 2015, says Ahluwalia, the average home will have gone on a bit of diet and will total 2,330 square feet.

As the average home has swelled in size, so too has the number of bedrooms. In 1987, 12 percent of single-family homes had three or more bathrooms. By 2005, that figure had more than doubled, with 26 percent equipped with three or more baths. The number of bedrooms has increased as well, with 39 percent of single-family homes having four or more bedrooms, up from 23 percent in 1987.—Cyndi Schoenbrun, Senior Research Analyst

Technorati Tags: NAHB, National Association of Home Builders

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“Green” is the hot color in building
Whether you label it “green,” “environmentally friendly,” or “eco-friendly,” one of the hottest trends in home remodeling and building is the use of energy-efficient, sustainable, and nontoxic products and construction methods. More builders are willing to use these products because green and energy-efficient products are increasingly affordable and available from more manufacturers and in a wider variety.

According to a recent survey of its builder members by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), there was a 20 percent increase in the number of builders “dedicated to green building issues” from 2005 to 2006. Of these builders:
• 85 percent specifying low-energy windows.
• 65 percent are recommending insulated exterior doors.
• 65 percent are advocating increased insulation.
• 75 percent are recommending alternatives to traditional framing materials and/or techniques.
• 65 percent already incorporate recycled or recyclable materials.
As part of their efforts to enhance the “green home,” these pros also installed Energy Star appliances, low-flow water fixtures, and the highest-level heating and cooling systems their clients can afford.

It’s worth noting that consumers don’t seem as eager to go green. Only 30 percent of homeowners are prepared to pay more for green products in the home, according to Gopal Ahaluwalia, the NAHB’s staff vice president for research, who gave a presentation at the International Builders’ Show. These include tankless water heaters, dual-flush toilets, low-VOC paints, alternative-wood flooring such as bamboo, and eco-friendly carpets. Twenty-five percent of home dwellers are concerned about the environment but not as willing to pay, and 35 percent are not concerned about the environment and will not pay for green products.—Cyndi Schoenbrun, Senior Research Analyst

Essential information: Visit GreenerChoices.org for the latest news on environmental issues and expert advice on ways to save energy and money every day.

Technorati Tags: Green, NAHB, National Association of Home Builders, eco-friendly, green building

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February 15, 2007
An uplifting appliance
The Gaggenau Lift Oven is a doorless wall oven. See how this unusual appliance performs in this video report by Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy editor of the Consumer Reports Home and Yard franchise, from the International Builders’ Show in Orlando.

Technorati Tags: Gaggenau, Gaggenau Wall Oven, appliances, ovens

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February 14, 2007
IBS wrap-up: The never-ending show
Know what I did after spending three exhausting days schlepping from one booth to another under the glaring fluorescent lights at the International Builders’ Show? No, I didn’t head to Disney World or lounge by the pool in sunny Orlando. I returned to the Orange County Convention Center to spend the better part of the day at the show with my husband, who had escaped the frigid New York City temperatures to join me. Consider us crazy—or ideally suited to each other.

When I mentioned that spouses of press attendants could attend the show, my husband jumped at the chance to check out the toilets, showers, faucets,  appliances, windows, doors, and tools. And then more tools. Did I mention that my husband loves tools and construction equipment? The large trucks, drilling, hammering, and construction noises emanating from the exhibition booths reeled him in. Hours later, when he’d finally had his fill and I’d finished my work for Consumer Reports, we left the cavernous convention center. “Wow! This show is huge—my feet ache,” he exclaimed.

I thought to myself, Now he knows how I feel.—Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman

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Hitachi’s bits are important parts
 As we previously reported about the new cordless drills from DeWalt and Makita, manufacturers have emphasized smaller—yet still powerful—devices in their 2007 releases.

Another small but certainly not minor part of any drill/driver is the bit you use. A high-quality bit can save you time and, perhaps more important, prevent you from damaging the surface you’re working on, say a granite countertop or porcelain soap dish you’re installing as part of a kitchen or bath remodel. Hitachi poin ts to a diamond-sintered ridge at the tip of the bits as the major timesaving factor. The manufacturer claims that you can drill a hole through stone in only seconds compared with minutes for a typical carbide bit.

At the International Builders’ Show last week, we tried out Hitachi’s new Diamond-Grit Drill Bits on a marble surface. While a tryout at a trade show is hardly a test at our labs in Yonkers, N.Y., we managed to get through the marble surface in about 20 seconds without a lot of elbow grease. At about $13 to $16 each, these bits aren’t inexpensive. But, says the manufacturer, each diamond bit will last for 20 to 30 holes versus just two or three for carbide bits. The bits are available at Lowe’s and independent hardware stores.

Another promising entry from Hitachi, a top-scoring brand in our past tests of cordless drill/drivers, is its new 14.4-volt DS14DL HXP lithium-ion cordless drill/driver (low $200s). It weighs 4.6 pounds with the battery and includes a “save” mode that keeps drilling speeds within the 0- to 200-rpm range for better control and longer run time (maximum speed is 1,500 rpm). There’s also an adjustable belt hook that doubles as a light for dark corners.—Bob Markovich

Essential information: Our buying advice will help you make the right decision when you’re in the market for a drill. And The drill on using a cordless drill will help you avoid common mishaps like gouges and scratches.

Technorati Tags: DeWalt, Hitachi, Makita, bits, cordless tools, drills

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February 13, 2007
A way to prevent home break-ins?
It turns out that the urban legends you might have read about "lock bumping" and "bump keys" are not myths at all. Just check out this primer on bump keys at Google Video.

One product we covered at the International Builders' Show last week, Kwikset's Smartscan dead-bolt door lock, might hold some promise as a way to prevent would-be burglars from getting access to your home. Also check out our video, shot on location at the IBS, of this innovative home product.—Steven H. Saltzman

Technorati Tags: IBS, Kwikset, Smartscan, key bump, lock, lock bumping

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February 12, 2007
IBS wrap-up: Industry trends
 Karin Weisburgh, a senior research analyst for Consumer Reports who has logged many miles during her past International Builders’ Show expeditions, shares here overall impressions of the 2007 installment of the event:
• As my colleague Michael DiLauro reported, competitors continue to spy on one another. At a meeting I had with Electrolux, the marketing folks mentioned that the company had six bouncers in its booth at the 2006 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show & Conference (K/BIS). The company will not be attending this year's K/BIS in May because it doesn’t want competitors to get a sneak peak at its major appliance launch scheduled for fall. I also heard that Whirlpool will not be exhibiting on the floor at K/BIS.
• The trend in appliances is all about the look. A new Kenmore fridge will have a mirrored finish, and stainless-steel and sleek lines prevailed. For refrigerators overall, the talk was focused more on handles and doors than on inner workings.
• Appliances have yet to go on a diet. Even Miele, known for its slimmer, Euro-sized washers and dryers, is introducing a beefed-up washer and dryer. Drawer appliances are a definite niche market, but as one dishwasher buyer remarked, a good number of drawer models are being sold as second dishwashers.
• Energy savings are inherent in many products, but consumers aren't willing to sacrifice on capacity or looks.
• The crowds were smaller this time around, and overall the show felt more relaxed.—Karin Weisburgh

Technorati Tags: International Builders’ Show, K/BIS, Kenmore, Kitchen/Bath Industry Show & Conference, Miele

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Makita finds good things in smaller packages
 Cordless drill-drivers remain a big part of most homeowners’ tool arsenals because they combine fast drilling for big, involved projects (decks, closet systems) with enough torque for most tasks. Expect to see more 14.4-volt drills instead of the high-voltage behemoths that were all the rage in recent years as manufacturers woo active DIYers who want ample power in a smaller, lighter package.

Makita, a major player at the upper end of the cordless-tool market, is releasing three new lithium-ion cordless tools in the weeks ahead, including two of the smallest 14.4- and 18-volt cordless drill-drivers we’ve seen. The 18-volt BDF452 compact drill-driver ($199, shown) weighs in at only 3½ pounds compared with almost 5 pounds for its 18-volt NiCad model.

Makita is also coming out with a 7.2-volt cordless impact driver ($99) that’s the smallest and lowest-voltage impact model we’ve encountered. Essentially an articulating, multiposition screwdriver, it weighs less than 2 pounds and belts out 3,200 hammer blows per minute for loosening power.—Bob Markovich

Essential information: Our buying advice will help you make the right decision when you’re in the market for a drill. And The drill on using a cordless drill will help you avoid common mishaps like gouges and scratches.  

Technorati Tags: 14-4 volt, 18-volt, Cordless tools, Makita, drill-drivers, impact driver

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February 11, 2007
Low-VOC paints still lagging
Low-VOC paints are supposed to be better for the environment, but they’re not necessarily best for your walls . . . yet. “You’re still paying more for less product,” says Randy Schuetz, general manager at Valspar, a large paint maker that supplies to Lowe’s. “[Low-VOC finishes] are still not as easy to apply and they aren’t as durable, but they cost more than regular paint,” he explains. Schuetz believes the chemistry of low-VOCs will progress in the next couple of years and the prices will drop as more companies offer the products and their sales increase. Consumer Reports will continue to test these paints and report on their performance.—Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman

Essential information: For expert advice on choosing an interior paint, read our buying guide.

Technorati Tags: VOCs, Valspar, low-VOC, paint

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February 09, 2007
This DIY flooring gets a grip
 Allure vinyl flooring comes in planks instead of the typical sheets or tiles. But what distinguishes it is the “grip strip”: You lay down the planks and align the strips—no adhesive required. Once the planks are down, you have up to 20 minutes to pull them apart and fix any gaps. What’s more, you can lay the flooring directly on top of an existing hard surface, according to the folks at Home Depot, exclusive marketer of Allure. The cherry, hickory, and oak finishes are reasonably convincing, though it’s unlikely you’ll mistake them for the real thing. The flooring (an inexpensive $1.69 per square foot) should be in all Home Depot locations by the end of April.—Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman

Technorati Tags: Home Depot, flooring, vinyl flooring

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Hard-wiring made easy
 Installing lighting fixtures or wall-mounting a flat-panel TV without unsightly exposed wiring usually is a job best left to an electrician. FlatWire, however, is designed to allow homeowners to get a pro-look job on their own. The manufacturer makes several different products, including versions for low-voltage electrical wiring and lighting and a range of audio/video applications. (A 110-volt version is due out next year.) Once you've covered the thin-profile wire with drywall tape and joint compound and then painted it, for example, the FlatWire is nearly invisible. You can order directly from the manufacturer. By later this year, it might be available at retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s.—Ed Perratore

Technorati Tags: FlatWire, HDTV, Romex, Southwire, wiring

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Spencer’s gift to consumers: the microwave oven
 Sometimes there’s nothing like a provocative bit of trivia to get a reporter’s attention at a trade show. Amana, now owned by Whirlpool but once a subsidiary of the Raytheon Company, introduced the first countertop microwave oven, called the Radarange (shown), in 1967. Since then, Americans have benefited from some incredible “nuked” time savings—an estimated 1 trillion minutes, according to Michael Hunter, a brand director with Amana.

The event that would result in the creation of the Radarange occurred in the 1940s, when Raytheon engineer Percy L. Spencer, standing near a magnetron, realized a chocolate bar in his pocket had begun to melt. A biography relates Spencer’s next move: He called for some popcorn kernels to see what would happen. (They popped.) The rest, as they say, is history.—Ed Perratore

Technorati Tags: Amana, Microwave, Raytheon, magnetron, microwave ovens

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Latest DeWalt cordless tools aim to do more with less
 For years, the bigger-is-better mantra reigned when it came to battery-powered tools. But now it looks like the major cordless brands are in downsizing mode, as batteries are getting smaller and more efficient.

DeWalt’s tools are getting smaller by relying on lithium-ion batteries instead of the usual nickel-cadmium variety. As our tests of cordless drills have shown, lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries tend to deliver much more run time per charge than nickel-cadmium (NiCad) cells while weighing significantly less. Li-Ions do tend to cost more, however.

Another plus: Li-Ion cells are also greener, since they don’t include toxic cadmium and won’t pose the same threat to the environment if they are not properly disposed of.

DeWalt plans to offer a 28-volt drill-driver that runs far longer and more powerfully than its 18-volt XRP NiCad drill, yet it weighs roughly a pound less. It will be equipped with a hammer-drill feature. Other svelter heavyweights include a 28-volt impact wrench that weighs less than 5 pounds (about the same as many 18-volt NiCads), a jigsaw with a flip-lock that lets you change blades without tools, and a 6½-inch circular saw that weighs 1/3 pound less than the 18-volt NiCad version and about a pound less than the company’s 36-volt circular saw.

DeWalt is also touting the nano-phosphate chemistry inside its Li-Ion cells. Denser-yet-lighter are the claims for these latest batteries. We’ll have a chance to put those claims to the test in our upcoming reports on cordless drills and other cordless tools.—Bob Markovich

Technorati Tags: DeWalt, Li-Ion, NiCad, cordless tools, drill-drivers, drills

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Thrones of the bathroom
The Kohler C3 Series toilet seats can take ordinary commodes to new heights. See how these innovative bathroom fixtures work in this video report from Bob Markovich, editor of the Consumer Reports Home and Yard franchise, who’s on location at the International Builders’ Show in Orlando.

Technorati Tags: C3 toilet seat, International Builders' Show, Kohler, toilet

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Kitchen help for the harried homeowner
 A tricked-out hybrid of a range and a microwave oven, the TurboChef 30-inch Double Wall Speedcook Oven uses commercial technology “never before available for residential use” to cook fresh food up to 15 times faster than conventional ovens, claims the manufacturer.

TurboChef does it with “Airspeed Technology,” which blows air from both the top and bottom of the oven cavity. The manufacturer says the oven can prepare food up to 15 times faster than conventional ovens. A 12-pound turkey, for instance, is fully cooked in 42 minutes (typical time is along the lines of 3 hours).

The TurboChef features a color LCD interface with more than 400 food profiles to determine cook times and temperatures. You can also customize the retro appearance of the oven with one of seven colors and finishes (see photo).

This convenience and style don’t come cheap: The double oven (with a standard convection oven on bottom) costs about $8,000. A single-oven version is around $6,000. TurboChef ovens are available at independent retailers and distributors.—Helen Popkin

Essential information: Our buying advice will give you an idea of the different types of wall ovens and the benefits and drawback of electric, gas, and newer induction cooktops. Features that count tells you which options are worth the money and about how much they’ll add to the cost of that wall oven or cooktop.

Technorati Tags: TurboChef, kitchen, microwaves, ovens, ranges

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Windows with a better view
 From what I’ve seen at the International Builders’ show, much of the innovation in windows has to do with screens. Two major players, Andersen and Pella, are offering screens that, they claim, improve your view of the outdoors. Andersen’s TruScene screens, made of microfine steel mesh, and Pella’s Vivid View screens, composed of an ultrafine material, are designed to let in more light and fresh air and keep pests out.

Andersen has also unveiled the high-performance Low-E4 glass (shown). A titanium-dioxide coating on the exterior glass is activated by sunlight and is supposed to spot 99 percent less than regular glass. We’ll report on how well the glass works in our October 2007 report on windows.

Finally, low-e glass and gas fills have become the industry standard for energy efficiency, according to several major window manufacturers.—Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman

Technorati Tags: Andersen, Low E4, Pella, TruScene, Vivid View, windows

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The latest housing and design trends
“My theory is that houses are just warehouses for stuff,” says architect Victor Mirontscuk. “As you get older, you want to shed stuff so that you’re free to do more things.” But that doesn’t mean people are skimping on finishes or products, according to Mirontscuk, architect Barry Glanz, and designer Kathy Browning. All three were judges of the Best of American Living Awards, a contest that drew more than 550 homes. At a press conference at the International Builders’ Show, the trio spoke about emerging design and housing trends:
•    “Jewel box,” or smaller, homes with a higher level of finishes.
•    A resurgence of contemporary design indoors and outdoors. Simple, clean lines, lots of glass, and a strong use of color are some of the characteristics of the latest contemporary homes.
•    Increased “vertical” living, as builders construct apartment buildings for the increasing numbers of baby boomers moving to cities nationwide.
•    Outdoor rooms, a trend that started in California and Florida being adopted across the country.—Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman

Technorati Tags: Design trends, building, housing

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A compact sander that acts big
Porter-Cable's Compact Belt Sander 371K has pro-level power but is light and easy to handle, making it ideal for serious DIYers. Bob Markovich, editor of the Consumer Reports Home and Yard franchise, tries out this new tool at the International Builders’ Show in Orlando.


Technorati Tags: International Builders' Show, Porter-Cable, belt sander, sander, tools

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Kohler unveils lower-flow toilet
 While the federal consumption standard for residential-use toilets remains at 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf), the EPA’s new WaterSense specification calls for less than 1.3 gpf. What’s more, California—where, it seems, many environmental efforts are born—might make the WaterSense voluntary specification mandatory for toilets.

In a move to address these developments, Kohler has released the Archer Comfort Height two-piece toilet ($308 to $400). What’s interesting about this 1.6-gpf fixture is that with a simple adjustment of a rod on the flush valve, its flow rate drops to 1.28 gpf.

Kohler eliminated the traditional flapper on the gravity-fed toilet and replaced it with a tower whose casing lifts to let water enter the drain from all directions, thereby decreasing consumption to 1.28 gpf.—Ed Perratore

Essential information: Standard toilets have also undergone a makeover as low-flush technology and styling have improved. Our installtion tips will help the job go smoothly, whether you’re hiring a pro or doing the job yourself. If you’re remodeling your entire bathroom, read our information on toilets,  whirlpool tubs, bathroom design, and bathroom sinks.

Technorati Tags: Kohler; toilets; low-flow toilets; EPA, WaterSense; bathroom

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Disposing of disposer noise
 “Grind more. Hear less.” That’s the tagline for InSinkErator’s Evolution Series garbage disposers (Excel model shown). With the kitchen serving as a primary gathering area in the home, the advertising promise of quieter disposers is welcome—the grating noise these appliances generate is tolerable only because they are so darn handy.

Anyone who has a typical disposer knows that kanoodling over a simmering stew with your loved one or bonding with your children while enjoying hot cocoa and just-baked cookies is a little hard if you can’t hear yourself think. Manufacturers started the decibel-depleting trend about five years ago, quieting rumbling dishwashers and buzzing refrigerators. And now it’s the time to tame the fiercest kitchen-conversation adversary: the garbage disposer.

The Evolution Series disposers reduces noise by 40 to 60 percent (depending on which model you choose). What’s more, the MultiGrind feature is touted to eliminate another common garbage-disposer weakness: poor grinding ability. Whether you’re dealing with coffee grounds or chicken bones, everything is “virtually liquefied to safely flow into your sewage system or septic tank” without jams, claims InSinkErator.

Evolution disposers are available at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and plumbing suppliers. Models range from about $160 to $300.—Helen Popkin

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February 08, 2007
Throw away your front-door keys
The Kwikset SmartScan door lock eliminates the key and allows access to your home with a swipe of your finger. Bob Markovich, editor of the Consumer Reports Home and Yard franchise, tries out the new entry system at the International Builders’ Show in Orlando.

 

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