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    LED Lights That Play Music Too

    GE recently announced it would stop making CFLs this year and focus on LED lights. That’s because these bulbs are evolving into consumer electronic products, offering much more than light. Consumer Reports tested eight LEDs with built-in speakers. The claims are inviting—“Light it loud” and “Turn it on. Turn it up.”  We just had to take a look, and listen.
     
    We bought the LED lights online and paid $26 to $200 per bulb. Engineers from our lightbulb lab tested each LED for brightness, energy use, whether it cast warm or cool light (color temperature), and its color rendering index or CRI. That tells you how well a bulb accurately reveals the colors of objects and skin tones.
     
    Then one of our sound engineers worked with three trained listening panelists to compare the sound quality of the Bluetooth speaker in the LED lights to the same high-quality reference audio system that we use for all home audio testing. The speaker in the LEDs were also compared to one of the lower scoring small portable Bluetooth speakers in our tests.

    The Sound Quality

    The idea is appealing, and the apps, for the models that had them, were easy to use and it was easy to connect them to Bluetooth audio sources. These LEDs used only 4 to 10 watts of energy, Unfortunately, they weren’t great as either light sources or speakers.
     
    The speakers in all eight LEDs had poor sound quality that was tinny and about what you would expect from an intercom. They’re best suited for close listening but can achieve adequate volume in a small to medium-sized room. Some online user reviews mention installing these LEDs in bathrooms, which are not known for their great acoustics.

    The Light Quality

    Propel, $26
    This bulb seems more like a BR30 in shape and speaker location. It’s a bit dimmer than a 40-watt incandescent, the cool light appears directional, similar to a spotlight. No app was provided with the LED. Remote control allows you to adjust volume and dimming.
     
    Flux, $30
    Casting a bluish white light, the Flux is a bit dimmer than a typical 40-watt incandescent. The bulb is meant for a table lamp, but the light is directional and very little of it is projected down toward the tabletop—most of the light goes up. The LED cannot be dimmed and there’s no app to control the light or speaker. But you can use your smart device to control volume.
     
    MagicLight, $40
    This bulb produces multiple colors but it’s significantly dimmer than a typical 40-watt incandescent. Light is directional, the light color is very cool, and poor at accurately showing the colors of objects. An app lets you dim the bulb and adjust volume.
     
    Playbulb, $44
    Significantly dimmer than a typical 40-watt incandescent, Playbulb gives off cool, directional light, so it’s not ideal for a table lamp needed for task lighting. The app controls dimming and volume, and there are programmable timer settings for wake-up, night, sleep, and energy saver.

    Sengled Pulse Solo, $55
    A little brighter than a 40-watt incandescent, the warm light cast appears very directional, almost like a spotlight. Bulb works in a table lamp or gooseneck lamp. An app lets you control dimming and volume.
     
    Awox StriimLight, $69
    More like a nightlight or mood light, this bulb isn’t bright enough for illuminating tasks. It fits in a typical table lamp and is dimmable. An app offers you control of volume and light color, which can react to music by changing colors or brightness.
     
    Sengled Pulse, $146
    Sold as a set of two BR30 LEDs, the LEDs give off warm directional light similar to a flood light. The light is a bit dimmer than a typical 65-watt incandescent BR30 bulb, the kind used in recessed cans and track lighting. The app controls dimming and speaker loudness.
     
    Sony LED Bulb Speakers, $200
    Dimmer than a typical 40-watt incandescent, the Sony casts a warm but somewhat directional light. Use the app to control dimming. A remote control lets you dim the light and adjust volume.
     
    Lightbulbs that light up a room
    For lightbulbs that simply keep you out of the dark, see our full Ratings of LEDs and CFLs. Any questions? Email me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Maximize Small Ovens for the Big Game

    Super Bowl parties are all about finger food. You don’t want to be huddling in the kitchen while your team is making its move on the field. The challenge for the host is how to put out a steady stream of appetizers without missing the key plays, great commercials, or the halftime show. Oven occupied? Then this is the time to draft your small ovens like your microwave or toaster oven. Consumer Reports made a scouting report and here’s what we found.

    Microwaves
    More and more microwaves on the market today have a convection mode that can be used to brown and crisp food. In our tests, one of the microwaves with a convection function, the GE Profile PVM1790SR[SS], $600, did a good job baking biscuits, which is how we test that function.

    Another midsized countertop model, the LG LCSP1110[ST], $230, features a pizza oven in a drawer-like oven beneath the microwave cavity, although it can't be used at the same time as the microwave. Still it has preset buttons not only for pizza but other baked goods such as appetizers. It scored very good overall as a microwave and baked biscuits to satisfaction.

    Toaster ovens
    A large toaster oven can also serve as a second small oven. Use one to heat appetizers or to warm up pie for dessert. Several of the toaster ovens in our tests have convection heating, which manufacturers claim is faster and cooks more evenly. At least one model, the Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G110P, $110, has speedy infrared heating.

    Three of the five toaster ovens on our recommended list come from Breville and range in price from $180 to $270. Two of the small ovens, the Breville Smart Oven Pro BOV845BSS, $270, and the Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL, $250, have convection ovens that make them more versatile. All of our top models have cooking options that help when you’re making something more complicated than toast.

    When you have to punt
    If you have a double oven, then your game strategy is set because you can cook different dishes at different temperatures. Also consider using a pizza stone to heat pizza and other appetizers. Because they retain heat, you can turn out trays of food one after another.

    Similar to a toaster oven but capable of higher heat, the Black & Decker 5-Minute Pizza Oven was able to cook a crowded tray of appetizers in our tests. It also made great pizza. Enjoy the game.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The Buzz on Death Wish Coffee

    If you don’t already know about Death Wish Coffee, you probably will after watching the Super Bowl today. The winner of a contest sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks, this small company scored a 30-second commercial during the third quarter of the big game between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos.

    People who don’t feel quite human until they’ve had their morning java will likely perk up when they hear the ad’s tag line: Death Wish Coffee. Fiercely caffeinated.

    But this brew may be too much for some people to handle. The company bills its coffee as the “world’s strongest,” and credits the blend of beans and the roasting process it uses for the coffee's caffeine content, which is 59 milligrams per fluid ounce. A typical cup of coffee has 12 to 16 milligrams of caffeine per fluid ounce.

    The consensus from the latest studies is that moderate amounts of caffeine don’t raise the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, or other ills. But the key word here is moderation.

    According to the recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines, 400 milligrams of caffeine a day can be part of a healthy diet for most adults. That’s two to four eight-ounce cups of most coffees. The Food and Drug Administration says 600 milligrams a day is too much. An eight-ounce cup of Death Wish has 472 milligrams. And for many people a “cup” of coffee ranges from 12 to 20 ounces. (The table below lists the caffeine content of different products per fluid ounce and per serving size.)

    Should you try it?

    “People should be aware of the effects of getting too much caffeine. It varies from individual to individual, but consuming more than your normal amount could make you feel nervous, anxious, irritable, or jittery, and may cause excessive urine production or irregular heartbeat,” says caffeine researcher Maggie Sweeney, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow at the behavioral pharmacology research unit in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “That could be the case even for people used to caffeine. And for those who have anxiety or insomnia, it could worsen their symptoms.”

    Neal Benowitz, M.D., professor of medicine at University of California San Francisco, notes that there’s a difference between getting 400 milligrams of caffeine a day and consuming that amount or more in one sitting. “With drugs that affect mood or behavior such as caffeine, the faster the rise in the drug level in the body, the more intense the response. Consuming that much caffeine or more in a single dose may produce an intense effect. That’s concerning for someone who isn’t a regular coffee drinker, and even someone who is will get a big jolt."

    Death Wish did not respond to our request for an interview.

    Death Wish also uses “strongest” to refer to the coffee’s flavor, which the company describes as “strong,” “intense,” and “never bitter.” To find out how accurate that is, 10 staffers from our food lab did a small tasting.

    We ordered Death Wish ground coffee ($19.99 per pound, plus shipping) from the company’s website and brewed the coffee according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Without knowing which brand of coffee they were sipping, the staffers did two rounds of tasting of Death Wish.

    “Overall our tasters found Death Wish to be strong and bold, but somewhat bitter,” says Amy Keating, R.D., a Consumer Reports’ dietitian who led the tasting. “It’s fairly similar to some of the other dark roast coffees we’ve tasted in our previous tests.”

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The Fees That Raise Your Electric Bill Even When You Use Less Energy

    You’ve done all the right things: Ditched your old appliances for energy-efficient ones. Installed a programmable thermostat. Switched from incandescent lightbulbs to CFLs or LEDs. Added insulation and sealed cracks around your windows and doors. And odds are that your local utility even encouraged you to make your home more energy efficient. But behind the scenes, their lobbyists are manipulating the system so that you don’t reap the full savings of the energy-efficiency measures you’ve taken. And it’s likely to get worse, according to “Caught in a Fix: The Problem with Fixed Charges for Electricity,” a report commissioned by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

    What’s happening? Some utilities have increased electric rates across the board. But a bill uptick could also be due to a utility trick called higher “fixed charges.” Stay with us here. This is a bit wonky, but important. There are two parts to your electric bill. The charge for the electricity you use, kilowatts per hour, and a mandatory “fixed charge” that every consumer has to pay before the meter even starts running. These per-customer fixed charges have historically ranged from $5 to $10 a month. But many utilities are trying to double or triple the minimum charge, which penalizes consumers who use less energy and reduces their ability to control and lower their bills by using less energy.

    Recent Proposals Regarding Fixed Charges

    Utilities Have a Jekyll/Hyde Relationship With Efficiency

    Many states mandate efficiency targets for utilities, which is a good thing. Lower energy demand means consumers don’t have to pay for as many new power plants or transmission lines and it can lower pollution-related health costs. While utilities have efficiency targets and are rewarded when you use less energy (that’s what’s behind the barrage of customer flyers for efficiency audits and upgrades), some utilities are warning that greater efficiency and the growing use of solar energy will set off a “death spiral” scenario where utilities will see lower revenues and profits. The logic goes that when customers use less energy and have lower bills, utilities see their revenue and profits go down; when utility revenues and profits go down, they will have to charge customers even more, causing more customers to migrate to rooftop solar and further decrease utility revenue.  

    No surprise, the “solution” to this doomsday scenario proposed by many utilities is to increase the mandatory fixed charge. But, as our report found, this doesn’t even solve the purported problem, and there are viable alternatives to raising fixed charges that address the revenue concerns of utilities.

    How Mandatory Fixed Fees Hurt Electricity Customers

    How fees affect your bill. With fixed fees for electricity, homes using less power can be hit with steeper bill increases. This example models the impact of increasing fixed fees from $9 to $25 per month, with a corresponding decrease in the charge per kilowatt-hour (kWh) used.

    Highlights of the 'Caught in a Fix' Report

    • Low‐usage customers are hit the hardest. Customers who use less energy than average will experience the greatest percentage jump in their electric bills when the fixed charge is raised. There are many reasons a customer might have low energy usage: they may be located in apartments or dense housing units that require less energy; they may have small families or live alone; they may have energy‐efficient appliances or solar panels; or they may simply be conscientious about saving energy.

    • Fixed charges disproportionately impact low‐income customers. In nearly every state, low‐income customers consume less electricity than other residential customers, on average. Because fixed charges tend to increase bills for low‐usage customers while decreasing them for high‐use customers, fixed charges raise bills most for those who can least afford the increase.

    • Reduced incentives for energy efficiency can raise costs for all consumers. Increasing the flat charge portion of the bill instead of the variable portion of the bill means that a consumer's efforts to save energy may not translate into a lower electric bill, which reduces the incentive to invest in energy efficiency or distributed generation, in which power is generated at the point of consumption rather than from a central location. With less incentive to save, customers may increase their energy consumption, and states would then have to spend more to achieve the same levels of energy efficiency and clean energy. Where electricity demand rises, utilities will need to invest in new power plants, power lines, and substations, thereby raising electricity costs for all customers.

    Helping You Save Money When You Save Energy

    The good news is that some states have recently rejected utility proposals to increase mandatory fixed charges, which is encouraging, but there are still many pending proposals. Consumers Union is delivering petitions from consumers urging their utility commissioners to reject higher fixed charges. You can sign a petition on the Consumers Union website. If you think that your utility may be raising fixed charges, make your voice heard by calling or writing to your utility commissioners. In the meantime, most consumers can still save money when they save energy.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The Latest in Low-Maintenance Living

    Creating a beautiful home is always goal number one among remodelers. But making the place more functional is a close second. These days, the home that works the best is the one that requires the least amount of upkeep. That’s especially true among millennials, who are looking for move-in ready properties that promote “stress-free living.”

    Manufacturers are taking note with a slew of products and materials that lower maintenance without sacrificing style. Here are seven tips from Consumer Reports’ latest tests and surveys that will help you drive the low-maintenance living trend home.

    Interior Features That Count

    Choose a countertop that resists stains
    Natural stone, including marble and granite, makes for a beautiful countertop, but staining is an issue unless you regularly apply a protective sealant. A more low-maintenance option is quartz, an engineered material made from stone chips, resins, and pigments, that stood up stains in our tough countertop tests, as well as scratches, cuts, and high heat.

    Go for the least fussy finishes
    Stainless steel has dominated appliances for decades. The only knock against the material is that it can be prone to smudges and fingerprints. That’s creating a lot of interest in black stainless steel, which has a darker, matte finish than traditional stainless, and fends off smudges and prints. In a recent survey by Houzz, the home design website, nearly two thirds of respondents said they would consider black stainless steel.

    As for kitchen fixtures, our tests have found that faucets with a physical vapor deposition, or PVD, finish are best at resisting scratches; the protective coating comes in nickel, copper, pewter, bronze, gold, and polished brass. Undermount sinks provide easier cleanup, with stainless steel offering the best protection against stains, scratches, and impact from sharp objects.

    Trade in the carpet for hard flooring
    For all its softness underfoot, wall-to-wall carpet requires regular vacuuming, not to mention constant fretting over spilled wine and other would-be stains. That’s driving more interest in low-maintenance hardwood flooring. Budget permitting, it’s worth paying more for solid wood flooring with a factory finish. Besides adding extra protection, factory finishes are typically covered by a manufacturer’s warranty, though you’ll still want to put felt pads under heavy furniture to prevent scratching.


    Home Buying and Selling Advice


    Upkeep You Can't Ignore

    Maintain the mechanical systems
    Your home’s heating, cooling, and ventilation equipment is the engine that keeps things running. When replacing this equipment, use our survey data to find the most reliable manufacturer. For example, we have found American Standard and Trane to be among the least repair-prone manufacturer of gas furnaces.

    Installing central air conditioning is another upgrade that’s become more popular, since it eliminates the need to install and remove window AC units during the year. Finding a trustworthy contractor to install and service the system is essential. We recommend using a technician who is certified by a trade organization, such as North American Technician Excellence or HVAC Excellence.

    Don’t skimp on exterior coatings
    Our tests find wide variation in the performance of paints and stains that cover wood surfaces on a home’s exterior, including siding, fences, and decks. As a general rule, the economy grades of exterior paints don't weather as well as top-of-the-line products from the same brand. When it comes to stains, solid formulas typically hold up the longest, while clear stains provide the least protection. Semitransparent wood treatments are a good compromise if you want to see some of the wood grain but don’t want to have to refinish every year.

    Maintain the roof
    There’s a reason prospective buyers always ask about the condition of the roof. It’s the first line of defense against water damage, ice dams, pest infestations, and other potential disasters. Be on the lookout for cracked, curled, or missing shingles, which are signs that the roof is near the end of its life. The flashing around chimneys, skylights, and roof valleys is another common failure point, so periodically have that area inspected.

    Keep the plumbing lines flowing
    Clogs and leaks can be enormously costly, and a good home inspector will be sure to spot them when you go to sell your home. A few simple precautions can really pay off. For example, using a toilet paper that scored well in our disintegration test will be easier on plumbing lines, especially in older homes. Similarly, some of the models in our toilet Ratings had trouble resisting drainline clogs in our simulated solid waste removal test.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Whirlpool Settles Dishwasher Fire Lawsuit With Offer of Rebates and Repairs

    It took six years but Steve Chambers finally got justice for a dishwasher fire that destroyed his KitchenAid model. When Whirlpool, which made the dishwasher, refused to investigate or to refund the cost of his ruined appliance, Chambers, of Frederick, Md., became the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the company. This year Whirlpool agreed to a settlement that could benefit hundreds, if not thousands, of owners of KitchenAid, Whirlpool, and Kenmore dishwashers.  

    According to plaintiffs in the litigation, the electronic control boards of certain Whirlpool, KitchenAid, and Kenmore dishwashers manufactured between October 2000 and January 2006 overheated, ignited, or emitted smoke, sparks, or fumes—and stopped working. They further charged that the defendants breached warranties, were negligent, and violated various state consumer-protection statutes.

    As part of the dishwasher fire settlement, the defendants deny that the dishwashers in question have any defect or pose any unreasonable safety or fire hazard. They also deny having violated any law or engaged in any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, any current or former owner of one of the dishwashers listed in the settlement website can receive a cash rebate from Whirlpool of 10 to 30 percent, depending on circumstances, when purchasing a new KitchenAid, Kenmore, or Whirlpool dishwasher.

    To find our whether a dishwasher you own or owned qualifies, you’ll need to match your model and serial number to the list included in the settlement website’s Court Documents section. Any overheating problem must occur no later than February 4, 2018, and a prospective claimant has 120 days from the date the dishwasher fire or related problem occurred to report it to the settlement administrator.

    Appliance fires are not uncommon, as we detailed in our 2012 report, “Appliance Fires Pose a Safety Concern,” which included mention of Steve Chambers and other homeowners who experienced dishwasher and other appliance fires.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Why Chronic Insomnia and Other Sleep Problems Get Ignored

    Up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder such as chronic insomnia—and this condition and others can bring persistent difficulty sleeping and subsequent trouble functioning during the day. More than 40 million don’t get properly diagnosed or treated, according to research published in the journal Sleep Medicine.

    Some people may be unaware of sleep interruptions, and often, “patients don’t bring their sleep to the attention of doctors because they don’t think it’s ‘medical’ or think they should tough it out,” says Matt T. Bianchi, M.D., Ph.D., director of the sleep division at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

    Past surveys have shown that medical schools have formally devoted, on average, less than 2 hours to sleep medicine, and doctors might not routinely discuss sleep problems at office visits. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that only 25 percent of primary care providers asked new patients about insomnia or other sleep issues, although many had signs of problems. Doctors might also find it hard to pinpoint which of the 60 sleep disorders is the culprit because symptoms may be unclear, and other illnesses and habits may affect rest.

    If you often have trouble falling or staying asleep, or can’t function normally, your primary care provider can help rule out illnesses that can affect sleep, such as depression and overactive thyroid, and might be able to zero in on the cause of your sleep problem. If not, a board-certified sleep specialist can conduct a detailed evaluation. Here we cover how three common sleep disorders are evaluated.



    Read our special report on why Americans can't sleep, which includes information on how to fall asleep the natural way, details on the problem with sleeping pills, and much more.
     


    Chronic Insomnia

    Affecting about 10 to 15 percent of adults, chronic insomnia is defined as trouble falling or staying asleep at least three times per week for three months or longer (Typical insomnia occurs less often or for a shorter period of time). If you are experiencing these sleep problems, your doctor will ask about symptoms and their effects—whether, for example, your partner says that you snore. He will also ask lifestyle questions and try to identify whether habits such as heavy caffeine or alcohol consumption, use of electronic devices close to bedtime, or medications could be contributing.

    If your doctor can’t get to the root of your insomnia, see a sleep medicine physician. This specialist might have you keep a sleep, exercise, and food and alcohol diary, and might order actigraphy testing, which helps track your sleep schedule with a wristwatchlike device. If the sleep medicine physician suspects another sleep-disrupting problem, he can order an overnight sleep lab polysomnogram. Here, as you sleep, electrodes record your brain waves, heartbeat, breathing, eye movements and blood oxygen levels. Sensors measure chest movement and the strength and duration of your breaths.

    Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, characterized by numerous brief pauses in breathing during sleep, can cause significant daytime sleepiness. Sufferers may also fall asleep at inappropriate times.

    An estimated 25 million Americans have OSA, with 12 million to 18 million undiagnosed. And research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that OSA may often be misdiagnosed as depression.

    To properly diagnose OSA, you’ll need a sleep lab polysomnogram or an overnight home sleep apnea test, where electrodes record breathing and heart rate, blood ­oxygen levels, and chest movements but usually not brain waves. This may not detect mild apnea and is prone to false negatives, so if results are negative but your doctor strongly suspects apnea, you’ll need a polysomnogram.

    Restless Legs Syndrome

    Restless legs syndrome, or RLS, which affects about 10 percent of American adults, causes leg sensations such as burning, a creepy-crawly feeling, throbbing, and an uncontrollable urge to move your lower limbs. That can make it hard to fall asleep and can wake you up.

    Doctors might mistake RLS for conditions such as anxiety, arthritis, back injury, and poor circulation. It can also mimic diabetic neuropathy. In one study, 81 percent of people with RLS reported symptoms to their doctor, but just 6 percent received proper diagnoses.

    You don’t need a polysomnogram to diagnose RLS unless your doctor can’t pinpoint which sleep disorder you have. A symptom history and exam should be enough, says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

     

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Slide-in and Built-in Appliances Give Your Kitchen a Sleek Look

    Slide-in and built-in appliances are hot in kitchen design—these models sleekly integrate into their surroundings. Consumer Reports just tested the Sharp SM-D3070AS built-in microwave drawer (shown above) and the Kenmore Pro 34913 slide-in gas cooktop (shown below), which join our growing list of tested slide-in ranges boasting stylish design. Here’s what we found.

    Sharp SM-D3070AS Microwave

    The 30-inch-wide Sharp SM-D3070AS microwave drawer ($1,100) can be installed under a countertop with a cabinet below, including in an island or peninsula, removing it from sight lines. You can also place it below a wall oven. The stainless finish and the concealed control panel add to its sleek look, and the drawer glides in and out with a push of a button or a gentle tug. 

    Beyond form, there’s function. This 1,000-watt microwave, which has a sensor to help determine when food is done, was mediocre at defrosting a pound of frozen ground beef and even worse at evenly heating a bowl of mashed potatoes. It wasn’t that fast at heating, either. However, it is relatively quiet and easy to use.

    By the numbers
    There’s no turntable, so usable capacity is 1.1 cubic feet, bigger than most of the over-the-range microwaves we tested, and it fits a 9x15-inch baking dish. Warranty is one year on parts and labor, but five years on the magnetron tube (which creates heat).


    Kenmore Pro 34913 Cooktop

    At 36 inches wide, the Kenmore Pro 34913 slide-in gas cooktop ($2,400) is the first slide-in cooktop we’ve tested. The frame and front are stainless, with beefy knobs up front. Continuous grates make it easy to slide a pot from one burner to another. There are six burners and a ceramic glass cooktop, which adds a modern touch. A griddle pan is part of the deal.

    This Kenmore Pro model did deliver fast heat when we used the highest-powered burner, but unlike most gas cooktops we tested, it scored a poor in in our simmering tests. The temperature of the highest-powered burner, when set to low, was too high and couldn’t simmer a pot of tomato sauce. Instead, it boiled the sauce. 

    By the numbers
    There are six burners—three high-power, two medium-power, and one low-power. Warranty is one year for parts and labor. Note that this gas cooktop cannot be installed over an oven.


    Samsung NX58H9500WS Range

    Slide-in ranges create a built-in look, but easily slide in between surrounding cabinets. The knobs are up front and there’s no back panel. Our tests found that the 30-inch wide Samsung NX58H9500WS gas slide-in range ($2,250) was the best of the gas single-oven slide-in ranges. It delivered fast cooktop heat, superb simmering, and impressive baking, broiling, and self-cleaning. The oven is large and has convection and a temperature probe. It’s big on style, has a stainless finish, and a warming drawer.

    Click the Features & Specs tab on our range Ratings to find out whether a model is a slide-in type. Many slide-ins are among the priciest ranges in our tests. We'll be testing more slide-in models soon.

    By the numbers
    There are five burners, including two high power, two medium power, and one low power. There are seven oven-rack positions. Warranty is one year for parts and labor.

    More choices
    See our microwave, range and cooktop Ratings for more choices. We test gas and electric ranges and cooktops, including smoothtops, coil tops, and induction models.

    Any questions? Send them to kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Top-Freezer Refrigerators Are Still the Sensible Choice

    Top-freezer refrigerators don’t show up in many design magazines and they're not front-and-center on showroom floors, like the flashier French-doors. What the best top-freezers do offer is solid temperature control, superb energy efficiency, and a compact design, for thousands less than you’ll spend on more stylish configurations. That’s what Consumer Reports tests routinely find.

    Although there was one top-freezer in our latest batch that might look the part in a glossy magazine. The question is: can it match the high design with peak performance? We’ve got the details here.         

    GE raises the bar for value
    At $540, the GE GTE15CTHRWW top-freezer is the least expensive on our recommended list. Then again it’s also the smallest, offering just 11.6 cubic feet of usable capacity, or about half as much storage as the roomiest French-door refrigerators. The GE is also short on convenience features—no adjustable shelves, no ice dispenser, no touchpad controls. But for apartment-dwellers or that first-time single homeowner, it’s definitely worth a look.

    Summit hits new high for style
    Based in the Bronx borough of New York City, Summit Appliances has built a name around major appliances in hard-to-find footprints, so its fresh take on the top-freezer makes sense. The Summit Ingenious Series FF1935PLIM, $1,500, stands 73 inches tall, which is a good foot taller than many top-freezers. It also looks like no other top-freezer we’ve tested, thanks to its exterior digital control panel and a drop-down door that lets you grab snacks and drinks without reaching into the main chamber. The platinum finish and curved door design are also unique. 

    Performance with the Summit was less impressive. Temperature control was only average and the refrigerator was also noisier than the best top-freezers in our Ratings. As for storage, its 17.1 cubic feet of usable capacity is a lot for a top freezer, but you can find roomier models in the category that are several inches shorter.                            

    LG still tops the category      
    For the time being, three top-freezers share the top score in our top-freezer Ratings, and two of them come from LG (the third is a GE). The LG LTCS20220S, $950, combines solid temperature control with outstanding energy efficiency and quietness; features include spillproof shelves and touchpad controls. Paying a bit more for the LG LTCS24223S, $1,080, gets you similar features and performance plus an additional two cubic feet of usable storage.

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    When is a mattress sale not a mattress sale?

    Not all mattress sellers run sales, but those that do seem to make up for the rest. During holiday weekends in particular, huge markups often let retailers lower prices by 50 percent or more. But even at other times of the year, department stores and some specialty mattress sellers invariably put something on sale. But don't take a salesperson’s word at face value as you may end up paying top dollar for a mattress that you could have gotten cheaper.

    Here’s why: No matter what time of the year, the intention is to get you into the store. Salespeople on the floor typically work by commission, so if you pay half-price for the exact model advertised, that’s half the commission, too. So you’ll typically be steered toward “better” mattresses said to be firmer, more comfortable, recommended by the most customers, and whatever else it may take to sway you. And it doesn’t end there. Other upsells—think mattress covers, comforters, or the foundation—bring the price of the overall package higher still.

    And even if you insist on a particular low-priced mattress that you saw online or in a circular, the $300 sample might not be anything you’d really want to take home. The salespeople know this, and if you spend the 10 to 15 minutes that we recommend to lie on the mattress before making a decision, you’ll know it, too. Which is part of the game.

    Consumer Reports' mattress Ratings give you a sound basis for selecting among the dozens of innerspring, memory foam, and adjustable air mattresses we’ve tested.  The safest strategy for getting a great mattress at a price that won’t keep you awake nights: Over a period of weeks or even a few months, monitor the full selling-price range of the mattress you’re considering at the retailer you want to patronize. And once you’re ready to buy, insist on that mattress alone—and at the lowest price you’ve seen the store advertise it.

    Chances are, you’ll get resistance, perhaps even a flat-out refusal. The salesperson, after all, is counting on you to want to settle the deal and walk out with a delivery scheduled, done with the onerous process for the next decade. But even if you desperately want the whole thing over, say thanks anyway and head for the door. You won’t make it. And once you shake hands on the deal, at the price you wanted, resist the upsells.

    Not all stores routinely put mattresses on sale. Bob’s Discount Furniture and The Original Mattress Factory are among sellers that set one price for their mattresses and seldom, if ever, discount them. Others, such as Sleep Number, run sales only a few times a year. But that leaves myriad other sellers that play price games every day.

    Top mattresses from our tests

    Our mattress Ratings score beds on support, durability, and other criteria, with top-ranked models such as the innerspring Sealy Posturepedic Hybrid Elite Kelburn, $1,350; the Novaform 14-inch Serafina Pearl Gel, $800 at Costco; and the adjustable-air Sleep Number i8 bed, $3,000. We also feature survey-based Ratings of mattress brands and stores to gauge shopper satisfaction. Be sure to check out our mattress buying guide before venturing out to the store.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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    Best Presidents Day Appliance Sales

    Presidents Day weekend is one of the best times of year to find sales on major appliances. Consumer Reports combed the websites of Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Sears and found some great discounts on some of our top-rated appliances including kitchen and cleaning appliances. Depending on the store, you’ll find discounts of 25 to 40 percent and most stores are throwing in free delivery as well.

    Below are top picks from our tests and the sale prices at each of the four stores. All the prices are taken from the retailers’ websites. If a retailer isn’t listed under a particular product, that means it doesn’t carry that model, the item isn’t on sale, or the final sale price is only revealed at the online checkout. In the case of Kenmore, which is a Sears brand, only the price at that store is listed.

    Refrigerators

    Top top-freezer refrigerator: LG LTCS20220S
    Best Buy: $900 from $1,050
    Home Depot: $900 from $1,050
    Lowe’s: $898 from $1,050
    Sears: $898 from $1,050

    Top bottom-freezer refrigerator: Kenmore Elite 79043
    Sears: $1,260 from $2,100

    Top 3-door French-door refrigerator: Samsung RF28HDEDPWW
    Best Buy: $2,195 from $3,200
    Home Depot: $2,195 from $3,000
    Lowe’s: $2,879 from $3,199

    Top 4-door French-door refrigerator: Samsung Chef Collection RF34H9960S4
    Best Buy: $5,400 from $6,000
    Home Depot: $4,994 from $5,549
    Lowe’s: $4,998 from $5,999

    Top side-by-side refrigerator: Samsung RS25H5121SR
    Home Depot: $1,596 from $1,774

    Top standalone freezer: Kenmore Elite 27002
    Sears: $780 from $1,120


    Cooking Appliances

    Top countertop microwave: Panasonic Inverter NN-H965BF
    Best Buy: $153 from $170

    Top over-the-range microwave: GE Profile PVM9215SFSS
    Best Buy: $495 from $550
    Home Depot:  $495 from $550
    Lowe’s: $495 from $550
    Sears: $495 from $550

    Top electric range: Kenmore 95052
    Sears: $1,000 from $1,500

    Top induction range: Kenmore 95073
    Sears: $1,700 from $2,000

    Top gas range: Samsung NX58F5700WS
    Best Buy: $1,200 from $1,700
    Home Depot: $1,198 from $1,700
    Lowe’s: $1,200 from $1,700

    Top pro-style range: KitchenAid KDRS407VSS
    Best Buy: $4,140 from $4,600
    Home Depot: $4,140 from $4,600
    Lowe’s: $4,140 from $4,600
    Sears: $4,417 from $4,600

    Top electric cooktop: KitchenAid KECC604BBL
    Best Buy: $765 from $950
    Home Depot: $854 from $950
    Lowe’s:  $764 from $950
    Sears: $850 from $950

    Top induction cooktop: GE Cafe CHP9530
    Best Buy: $1,780 from $2,000
    Home Depot: $1,800 from $2,000
    Lowe’s: $1,800 from $2,000
    Sears: $1,800 from $2,000

    Top gas cooktop: Whirlpool WCG97US0DS
    Best Buy: $810 from $1,000
    Home Depot: $808 from $1,000
    Lowe’s: $809 from $1,000
    Sears: $808 from $1,000

    Top wall oven: Whirlpool WOS92EC0AH
    Best Buy: $1,485 from $1,650
    Home Depot: $1,484 from $1,650
    Lowe’s: $1,484 from $1,650
    Sears: $1,484 from $1,650


    Laundry and Cleaning

    Top dishwasher: KitchenAid KDTM354DSS
    Home Depot: $809 from $1,100
    Lowe’s: $989 from $1,100
    Sears: $809 from $1,100

    Top front-loader washer: Samsung WF56H9110CW
    Home Depot: $1,439 from $1,600

    Top HE top-loader washer: Samsung WA52J8700AP
    Best Buy: $850 from $1,200
    Home Depot: $849 from $1,200
    Lowe’s: $849 from $1,200

    Top electric dryer: Samsung DV56H9100EG
    Best Buy: $1,230 from $1,700
    Home Depot: $1,299 from $1,700
    Lowe’s: $1,299 from $1,700

    Top canister vacuum: Kenmore Elite 21814
    Sears: $420 from $600

    Top upright vacuum: Kenmore Elite 31150
    Sears: $262 from $350

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    Mattress Recycling Is Easier Than You Think

    Because one old mattress can occupy 40 cubic feet or more in a landfill, mattresses are an obvious candidate for recycling. And although 80 percent of the components can be recycled, not everyone makes the effort. That’s one reason Rhode Island has become the third state to require that mattresses be recycled joining California and Connecticut. And at least 20 other states have mattress recycling facilities.

    Rhode Island launches its approved recycling plan on May 1. It’s operated by Bye Bye Mattress, which was established by the Mattress Recycling Council. In the three states where recycling is mandatory, mattress retailers are adding a $10 recycling fee to the price of every mattress sold.

    At least 20 million mattresses and box springs are discarded each year. In addition to being better for the environment, recycling an old mattress makes good business sense. There are plenty of materials to glean from a dismantled mattress, a process that’s typically done by hand. Steel from the springs can be melted down and used in many products. Foam is often processed into carpet padding. Wood from box springs can be made into wood chips for mulch. And fiber is reprocessed for a number of uses, such as filters for industrial equipment.

    Even if you don’t live in a state that requires mattress recycling, check the Bye Bye Mattress database to find the recycling center closest to you. 

    That’s for when you get rid of an mattress, but you certainly don't want to unknowingly buy one. Be aware that some smaller, lesser-known stores could be selling used mattresses. To avoid ending up with someone else's old mattress, always look for the label “All New Material” on the tag. And if a mattress is delivered to you without that tag, don’t accept it.

    Need a New Mattress?

    Among top picks from Consumer Reports' Ratings of dozens of mattresses are the innerspring Sealy Posturepedic Hybrid Elite Kelburn, $1,350, which had impressive support for side sleepers, and the bargain-priced Denver Mattress Doctor's Choice, $500, which had fine back support as well. For a foam bed, both side and back sleepers should appreciate the Novaform 14" Serafina Pearl Gel, $800 at Costco. And consider the $800 Sleep Number c2 Bed if you’d like an adjustable-air mattress. See our mattress buying guide if you haven’t shopped for a mattress in several years.

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    The Fees That Raise Your Electric Bill Even When You Use Less Energy

    You’ve done all the right things: Ditched your old appliances for energy-efficient ones. Installed a programmable thermostat. Switched from incandescent lightbulbs to CFLs or LEDs. Added insulation and sealed cracks around your windows and doors. And odds are that your local utility even encouraged you to make your home more energy efficient. But behind the scenes, their lobbyists are manipulating the system so that you don’t reap the full savings of the energy-efficiency measures you’ve taken. And it’s likely to get worse, according to “Caught in a Fix: The Problem with Fixed Charges for Electricity,” a report commissioned by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

    What’s happening? Some utilities have increased electric rates across the board. But a bill uptick could also be due to a utility trick called higher “fixed charges.” Stay with us here. This is a bit wonky, but important. There are two parts to your electric bill. The charge for the electricity you use, kilowatts per hour, and a mandatory “fixed charge” that every consumer has to pay before the meter even starts running. These per-customer fixed charges have historically ranged from $5 to $10 a month. But many utilities are trying to double or triple the minimum charge, which penalizes consumers who use less energy and reduces their ability to control and lower their bills by using less energy.

    Recent Proposals Regarding Fixed Charges

    Utilities Have a Jekyll/Hyde Relationship With Efficiency

    Many states mandate efficiency targets for utilities, which is a good thing. Lower energy demand means consumers don’t have to pay for as many new power plants or transmission lines and it can lower pollution-related health costs. While utilities have efficiency targets and are rewarded when you use less energy (that’s what’s behind the barrage of customer flyers for efficiency audits and upgrades), some utilities are warning that greater efficiency and the growing use of solar energy will set off a “death spiral” scenario where utilities will see lower revenues and profits. The logic goes that when customers use less energy and have lower bills, utilities see their revenue and profits go down; when utility revenues and profits go down, they will have to charge customers even more, causing more customers to migrate to rooftop solar and further decrease utility revenue.  

    No surprise, the “solution” to this doomsday scenario proposed by many utilities is to increase the mandatory fixed charge. But, as our report found, this doesn’t even solve the purported problem, and there are viable alternatives to raising fixed charges that address the revenue concerns of utilities.

    How Mandatory Fixed Fees Hurt Electricity Customers

    How fees affect your bill. With fixed fees for electricity, homes using less power can be hit with steeper bill increases. This example models the impact of increasing fixed fees from $9 to $25 per month, with a corresponding decrease in the charge per kilowatt-hour (kWh) used.

    Highlights of the 'Caught in a Fix' Report

    • Low‐usage customers are hit the hardest. Customers who use less energy than average will experience the greatest percentage jump in their electric bills when the fixed charge is raised. There are many reasons a customer might have low energy usage: they may be located in apartments or dense housing units that require less energy; they may have small families or live alone; they may have energy‐efficient appliances or solar panels; or they may simply be conscientious about saving energy.

    • Fixed charges disproportionately impact low‐income customers. In nearly every state, low‐income customers consume less electricity than other residential customers, on average. Because fixed charges tend to increase bills for low‐usage customers while decreasing them for high‐use customers, fixed charges raise bills most for those who can least afford the increase.

    • Reduced incentives for energy efficiency can raise costs for all consumers. Increasing the flat charge portion of the bill instead of the variable portion of the bill means that a consumer's efforts to save energy may not translate into a lower electric bill, which reduces the incentive to invest in energy efficiency or distributed generation, in which power is generated at the point of consumption rather than from a central location. With less incentive to save, customers may increase their energy consumption, and states would then have to spend more to achieve the same levels of energy efficiency and clean energy. Where electricity demand rises, utilities will need to invest in new power plants, power lines, and substations, thereby raising electricity costs for all customers.

    Helping You Save Money When You Save Energy

    The good news is that some states have recently rejected utility proposals to increase mandatory fixed charges, which is encouraging, but there are still many pending proposals. Consumers Union is delivering petitions from consumers urging their utility commissioners to reject higher fixed charges. You can sign a petition on the Consumers Union website. If you think that your utility may be raising fixed charges, make your voice heard by calling or writing to your utility commissioners. In the meantime, most consumers can still save money when they save energy.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The Latest in Low-Maintenance Living

    Creating a beautiful home is always goal number one among remodelers. But making the place more functional is a close second. These days, the home that works the best is the one that requires the least amount of upkeep. That’s especially true among millennials, who are looking for move-in ready properties that promote “stress-free living.”

    Manufacturers are taking note with a slew of products and materials that lower maintenance without sacrificing style. Here are seven tips from Consumer Reports’ latest tests and surveys that will help you drive the low-maintenance living trend home.

    Interior Features That Count

    Choose a countertop that resists stains
    Natural stone, including marble and granite, makes for a beautiful countertop, but staining is an issue unless you regularly apply a protective sealant. A more low-maintenance option is quartz, an engineered material made from stone chips, resins, and pigments, that stood up stains in our tough countertop tests, as well as scratches, cuts, and high heat.

    Go for the least fussy finishes
    Stainless steel has dominated appliances for decades. The only knock against the material is that it can be prone to smudges and fingerprints. That’s creating a lot of interest in black stainless steel, which has a darker, matte finish than traditional stainless, and fends off smudges and prints. In a recent survey by Houzz, the home design website, nearly two thirds of respondents said they would consider black stainless steel.

    As for kitchen fixtures, our tests have found that faucets with a physical vapor deposition, or PVD, finish are best at resisting scratches; the protective coating comes in nickel, copper, pewter, bronze, gold, and polished brass. Undermount sinks provide easier cleanup, with stainless steel offering the best protection against stains, scratches, and impact from sharp objects.

    Trade in the carpet for hard flooring
    For all its softness underfoot, wall-to-wall carpet requires regular vacuuming, not to mention constant fretting over spilled wine and other would-be stains. That’s driving more interest in low-maintenance hardwood flooring. Budget permitting, it’s worth paying more for solid wood flooring with a factory finish. Besides adding extra protection, factory finishes are typically covered by a manufacturer’s warranty, though you’ll still want to put felt pads under heavy furniture to prevent scratching.


    Home Buying and Selling Advice


    Upkeep You Can't Ignore

    Maintain the mechanical systems
    Your home’s heating, cooling, and ventilation equipment is the engine that keeps things running. When replacing this equipment, use our survey data to find the most reliable manufacturer. For example, we have found American Standard and Trane to be among the least repair-prone manufacturer of gas furnaces.

    Installing central air conditioning is another upgrade that’s become more popular, since it eliminates the need to install and remove window AC units during the year. Finding a trustworthy contractor to install and service the system is essential. We recommend using a technician who is certified by a trade organization, such as North American Technician Excellence or HVAC Excellence.

    Don’t skimp on exterior coatings
    Our tests find wide variation in the performance of paints and stains that cover wood surfaces on a home’s exterior, including siding, fences, and decks. As a general rule, the economy grades of exterior paints don't weather as well as top-of-the-line products from the same brand. When it comes to stains, solid formulas typically hold up the longest, while clear stains provide the least protection. Semitransparent wood treatments are a good compromise if you want to see some of the wood grain but don’t want to have to refinish every year.

    Maintain the roof
    There’s a reason prospective buyers always ask about the condition of the roof. It’s the first line of defense against water damage, ice dams, pest infestations, and other potential disasters. Be on the lookout for cracked, curled, or missing shingles, which are signs that the roof is near the end of its life. The flashing around chimneys, skylights, and roof valleys is another common failure point, so periodically have that area inspected.

    Keep the plumbing lines flowing
    Clogs and leaks can be enormously costly, and a good home inspector will be sure to spot them when you go to sell your home. A few simple precautions can really pay off. For example, using a toilet paper that scored well in our disintegration test will be easier on plumbing lines, especially in older homes. Similarly, some of the models in our toilet Ratings had trouble resisting drainline clogs in our simulated solid waste removal test.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Whirlpool Settles Dishwasher Fire Lawsuit With Offer of Rebates and Repairs

    It took six years but Steve Chambers finally got justice for a dishwasher fire that destroyed his KitchenAid model. When Whirlpool, which made the dishwasher, refused to investigate or to refund the cost of his ruined appliance, Chambers, of Frederick, Md., became the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the company. This year Whirlpool agreed to a settlement that could benefit hundreds, if not thousands, of owners of KitchenAid, Whirlpool, and Kenmore dishwashers.  

    According to plaintiffs in the litigation, the electronic control boards of certain Whirlpool, KitchenAid, and Kenmore dishwashers manufactured between October 2000 and January 2006 overheated, ignited, or emitted smoke, sparks, or fumes—and stopped working. They further charged that the defendants breached warranties, were negligent, and violated various state consumer-protection statutes.

    As part of the dishwasher fire settlement, the defendants deny that the dishwashers in question have any defect or pose any unreasonable safety or fire hazard. They also deny having violated any law or engaged in any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, any current or former owner of one of the dishwashers listed in the settlement website can receive a cash rebate from Whirlpool of 10 to 30 percent, depending on circumstances, when purchasing a new KitchenAid, Kenmore, or Whirlpool dishwasher.

    To find our whether a dishwasher you own or owned qualifies, you’ll need to match your model and serial number to the list included in the settlement website’s Court Documents section. Any overheating problem must occur no later than February 4, 2018, and a prospective claimant has 120 days from the date the dishwasher fire or related problem occurred to report it to the settlement administrator.

    Appliance fires are not uncommon, as we detailed in our 2012 report, “Appliance Fires Pose a Safety Concern,” which included mention of Steve Chambers and other homeowners who experienced dishwasher and other appliance fires.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Why Chronic Insomnia and Other Sleep Problems Get Ignored

    Up to 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder such as chronic insomnia—and this condition and others can bring persistent difficulty sleeping and subsequent trouble functioning during the day. More than 40 million don’t get properly diagnosed or treated, according to research published in the journal Sleep Medicine.

    Some people may be unaware of sleep interruptions, and often, “patients don’t bring their sleep to the attention of doctors because they don’t think it’s ‘medical’ or think they should tough it out,” says Matt T. Bianchi, M.D., Ph.D., director of the sleep division at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

    Past surveys have shown that medical schools have formally devoted, on average, less than 2 hours to sleep medicine, and doctors might not routinely discuss sleep problems at office visits. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that only 25 percent of primary care providers asked new patients about insomnia or other sleep issues, although many had signs of problems. Doctors might also find it hard to pinpoint which of the 60 sleep disorders is the culprit because symptoms may be unclear, and other illnesses and habits may affect rest.

    If you often have trouble falling or staying asleep, or can’t function normally, your primary care provider can help rule out illnesses that can affect sleep, such as depression and overactive thyroid, and might be able to zero in on the cause of your sleep problem. If not, a board-certified sleep specialist can conduct a detailed evaluation. Here we cover how three common sleep disorders are evaluated.



    Read our special report on why Americans can't sleep, which includes information on how to fall asleep the natural way, details on the problem with sleeping pills, and much more.
     


    Chronic Insomnia

    Affecting about 10 to 15 percent of adults, chronic insomnia is defined as trouble falling or staying asleep at least three times per week for three months or longer (Typical insomnia occurs less often or for a shorter period of time). If you are experiencing these sleep problems, your doctor will ask about symptoms and their effects—whether, for example, your partner says that you snore. He will also ask lifestyle questions and try to identify whether habits such as heavy caffeine or alcohol consumption, use of electronic devices close to bedtime, or medications could be contributing.

    If your doctor can’t get to the root of your insomnia, see a sleep medicine physician. This specialist might have you keep a sleep, exercise, and food and alcohol diary, and might order actigraphy testing, which helps track your sleep schedule with a wristwatchlike device. If the sleep medicine physician suspects another sleep-disrupting problem, he can order an overnight sleep lab polysomnogram. Here, as you sleep, electrodes record your brain waves, heartbeat, breathing, eye movements and blood oxygen levels. Sensors measure chest movement and the strength and duration of your breaths.

    Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, characterized by numerous brief pauses in breathing during sleep, can cause significant daytime sleepiness. Sufferers may also fall asleep at inappropriate times.

    An estimated 25 million Americans have OSA, with 12 million to 18 million undiagnosed. And research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that OSA may often be misdiagnosed as depression.

    To properly diagnose OSA, you’ll need a sleep lab polysomnogram or an overnight home sleep apnea test, where electrodes record breathing and heart rate, blood ­oxygen levels, and chest movements but usually not brain waves. This may not detect mild apnea and is prone to false negatives, so if results are negative but your doctor strongly suspects apnea, you’ll need a polysomnogram.

    Restless Legs Syndrome

    Restless legs syndrome, or RLS, which affects about 10 percent of American adults, causes leg sensations such as burning, a creepy-crawly feeling, throbbing, and an uncontrollable urge to move your lower limbs. That can make it hard to fall asleep and can wake you up.

    Doctors might mistake RLS for conditions such as anxiety, arthritis, back injury, and poor circulation. It can also mimic diabetic neuropathy. In one study, 81 percent of people with RLS reported symptoms to their doctor, but just 6 percent received proper diagnoses.

    You don’t need a polysomnogram to diagnose RLS unless your doctor can’t pinpoint which sleep disorder you have. A symptom history and exam should be enough, says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

     

     

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    Slide-in and Built-in Appliances Give Your Kitchen a Sleek Look

    Slide-in and built-in appliances are hot in kitchen design—these models sleekly integrate into their surroundings. Consumer Reports just tested the Sharp SM-D3070AS built-in microwave drawer (shown above) and the Kenmore Pro 34913 slide-in gas cooktop (shown below), which join our growing list of tested slide-in ranges boasting stylish design. Here’s what we found.

    Sharp SM-D3070AS Microwave

    The 30-inch-wide Sharp SM-D3070AS microwave drawer ($1,100) can be installed under a countertop with a cabinet below, including in an island or peninsula, removing it from sight lines. You can also place it below a wall oven. The stainless finish and the concealed control panel add to its sleek look, and the drawer glides in and out with a push of a button or a gentle tug. 

    Beyond form, there’s function. This 1,000-watt microwave, which has a sensor to help determine when food is done, was mediocre at defrosting a pound of frozen ground beef and even worse at evenly heating a bowl of mashed potatoes. It wasn’t that fast at heating, either. However, it is relatively quiet and easy to use.

    By the numbers
    There’s no turntable, so usable capacity is 1.1 cubic feet, bigger than most of the over-the-range microwaves we tested, and it fits a 9x15-inch baking dish. Warranty is one year on parts and labor, but five years on the magnetron tube (which creates heat).


    Kenmore Pro 34913 Cooktop

    At 36 inches wide, the Kenmore Pro 34913 slide-in gas cooktop ($2,400) is the first slide-in cooktop we’ve tested. The frame and front are stainless, with beefy knobs up front. Continuous grates make it easy to slide a pot from one burner to another. There are six burners and a ceramic glass cooktop, which adds a modern touch. A griddle pan is part of the deal.

    This Kenmore Pro model did deliver fast heat when we used the highest-powered burner, but unlike most gas cooktops we tested, it scored a poor in in our simmering tests. The temperature of the highest-powered burner, when set to low, was too high and couldn’t simmer a pot of tomato sauce. Instead, it boiled the sauce. 

    By the numbers
    There are six burners—three high-power, two medium-power, and one low-power. Warranty is one year for parts and labor. Note that this gas cooktop cannot be installed over an oven.


    Samsung NX58H9500WS Range

    Slide-in ranges create a built-in look, but easily slide in between surrounding cabinets. The knobs are up front and there’s no back panel. Our tests found that the 30-inch wide Samsung NX58H9500WS gas slide-in range ($2,250) was the best of the gas single-oven slide-in ranges. It delivered fast cooktop heat, superb simmering, and impressive baking, broiling, and self-cleaning. The oven is large and has convection and a temperature probe. It’s big on style, has a stainless finish, and a warming drawer.

    Click the Features & Specs tab on our range Ratings to find out whether a model is a slide-in type. Many slide-ins are among the priciest ranges in our tests. We'll be testing more slide-in models soon.

    By the numbers
    There are five burners, including two high power, two medium power, and one low power. There are seven oven-rack positions. Warranty is one year for parts and labor.

    More choices
    See our microwave, range and cooktop Ratings for more choices. We test gas and electric ranges and cooktops, including smoothtops, coil tops, and induction models.

    Any questions? Send them to kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Top-Freezer Refrigerators Are Still the Sensible Choice

    Top-freezer refrigerators don’t show up in many design magazines and they're not front-and-center on showroom floors, like the flashier French-doors. What the best top-freezers do offer is solid temperature control, superb energy efficiency, and a compact design, for thousands less than you’ll spend on more stylish configurations. That’s what Consumer Reports tests routinely find.

    Although there was one top-freezer in our latest batch that might look the part in a glossy magazine. The question is: can it match the high design with peak performance? We’ve got the details here.         

    GE raises the bar for value
    At $540, the GE GTE15CTHRWW top-freezer is the least expensive on our recommended list. Then again it’s also the smallest, offering just 11.6 cubic feet of usable capacity, or about half as much storage as the roomiest French-door refrigerators. The GE is also short on convenience features—no adjustable shelves, no ice dispenser, no touchpad controls. But for apartment-dwellers or that first-time single homeowner, it’s definitely worth a look.

    Summit hits new high for style
    Based in the Bronx borough of New York City, Summit Appliances has built a name around major appliances in hard-to-find footprints, so its fresh take on the top-freezer makes sense. The Summit Ingenious Series FF1935PLIM, $1,500, stands 73 inches tall, which is a good foot taller than many top-freezers. It also looks like no other top-freezer we’ve tested, thanks to its exterior digital control panel and a drop-down door that lets you grab snacks and drinks without reaching into the main chamber. The platinum finish and curved door design are also unique. 

    Performance with the Summit was less impressive. Temperature control was only average and the refrigerator was also noisier than the best top-freezers in our Ratings. As for storage, its 17.1 cubic feet of usable capacity is a lot for a top freezer, but you can find roomier models in the category that are several inches shorter.                            

    LG still tops the category      
    For the time being, three top-freezers share the top score in our top-freezer Ratings, and two of them come from LG (the third is a GE). The LG LTCS20220S, $950, combines solid temperature control with outstanding energy efficiency and quietness; features include spillproof shelves and touchpad controls. Paying a bit more for the LG LTCS24223S, $1,080, gets you similar features and performance plus an additional two cubic feet of usable storage.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best Presidents Day Appliance Sales

    Presidents Day weekend is one of the best times of year to find sales on major appliances. Consumer Reports combed the websites of Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Sears and found some great discounts on some of our top-rated appliances including kitchen and cleaning appliances. Depending on the store, you’ll find discounts of 25 to 40 percent and most stores are throwing in free delivery as well.

    Below are top picks from our tests and the sale prices at each of the four stores. All the prices are taken from the retailers’ websites. If a retailer isn’t listed under a particular product, that means it doesn’t carry that model, the item isn’t on sale, or the final sale price is only revealed at the online checkout. In the case of Kenmore, which is a Sears brand, only the price at that store is listed.

    Refrigerators

    Top top-freezer refrigerator: LG LTCS20220S
    Best Buy: $900 from $1,050
    Home Depot: $900 from $1,050
    Lowe’s: $898 from $1,050
    Sears: $898 from $1,050

    Top bottom-freezer refrigerator: Kenmore Elite 79043
    Sears: $1,260 from $2,100

    Top 3-door French-door refrigerator: Samsung RF28HDEDPWW
    Best Buy: $2,195 from $3,200
    Home Depot: $2,195 from $3,000
    Lowe’s: $2,879 from $3,199

    Top 4-door French-door refrigerator: Samsung Chef Collection RF34H9960S4
    Best Buy: $5,400 from $6,000
    Home Depot: $4,994 from $5,549
    Lowe’s: $4,998 from $5,999

    Top side-by-side refrigerator: Samsung RS25H5121SR
    Home Depot: $1,596 from $1,774

    Top standalone freezer: Kenmore Elite 27002
    Sears: $780 from $1,120


    Cooking Appliances

    Top countertop microwave: Panasonic Inverter NN-H965BF
    Best Buy: $153 from $170

    Top over-the-range microwave: GE Profile PVM9215SFSS
    Best Buy: $495 from $550
    Home Depot:  $495 from $550
    Lowe’s: $495 from $550
    Sears: $495 from $550

    Top electric range: Kenmore 95052
    Sears: $1,000 from $1,500

    Top induction range: Kenmore 95073
    Sears: $1,700 from $2,000

    Top gas range: Samsung NX58F5700WS
    Best Buy: $1,200 from $1,700
    Home Depot: $1,198 from $1,700
    Lowe’s: $1,200 from $1,700

    Top pro-style range: KitchenAid KDRS407VSS
    Best Buy: $4,140 from $4,600
    Home Depot: $4,140 from $4,600
    Lowe’s: $4,140 from $4,600
    Sears: $4,417 from $4,600

    Top electric cooktop: KitchenAid KECC604BBL
    Best Buy: $765 from $950
    Home Depot: $854 from $950
    Lowe’s:  $764 from $950
    Sears: $850 from $950

    Top induction cooktop: GE Cafe CHP9530
    Best Buy: $1,780 from $2,000
    Home Depot: $1,800 from $2,000
    Lowe’s: $1,800 from $2,000
    Sears: $1,800 from $2,000

    Top gas cooktop: Whirlpool WCG97US0DS
    Best Buy: $810 from $1,000
    Home Depot: $808 from $1,000
    Lowe’s: $809 from $1,000
    Sears: $808 from $1,000

    Top wall oven: Whirlpool WOS92EC0AH
    Best Buy: $1,485 from $1,650
    Home Depot: $1,484 from $1,650
    Lowe’s: $1,484 from $1,650
    Sears: $1,484 from $1,650


    Laundry and Cleaning

    Top dishwasher: KitchenAid KDTM354DSS
    Home Depot: $809 from $1,100
    Lowe’s: $989 from $1,100
    Sears: $809 from $1,100

    Top front-loader washer: Samsung WF56H9110CW
    Home Depot: $1,439 from $1,600

    Top HE top-loader washer: Samsung WA52J8700AP
    Best Buy: $850 from $1,200
    Home Depot: $849 from $1,200
    Lowe’s: $849 from $1,200

    Top electric dryer: Samsung DV56H9100EG
    Best Buy: $1,230 from $1,700
    Home Depot: $1,299 from $1,700
    Lowe’s: $1,299 from $1,700

    Top canister vacuum: Kenmore Elite 21814
    Sears: $420 from $600

    Top upright vacuum: Kenmore Elite 31150
    Sears: $262 from $350

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Mattress Recycling Is Easier Than You Think

    Because one old mattress can occupy 40 cubic feet or more in a landfill, mattresses are an obvious candidate for recycling. And although 80 percent of the components can be recycled, not everyone makes the effort. That’s one reason Rhode Island has become the third state to require that mattresses be recycled joining California and Connecticut. And at least 20 other states have mattress recycling facilities.

    Rhode Island launches its approved recycling plan on May 1. It’s operated by Bye Bye Mattress, which was established by the Mattress Recycling Council. In the three states where recycling is mandatory, mattress retailers are adding a $10 recycling fee to the price of every mattress sold.

    At least 20 million mattresses and box springs are discarded each year. In addition to being better for the environment, recycling an old mattress makes good business sense. There are plenty of materials to glean from a dismantled mattress, a process that’s typically done by hand. Steel from the springs can be melted down and used in many products. Foam is often processed into carpet padding. Wood from box springs can be made into wood chips for mulch. And fiber is reprocessed for a number of uses, such as filters for industrial equipment.

    Even if you don’t live in a state that requires mattress recycling, check the Bye Bye Mattress database to find the recycling center closest to you. 

    That’s for when you get rid of an mattress, but you certainly don't want to unknowingly buy one. Be aware that some smaller, lesser-known stores could be selling used mattresses. To avoid ending up with someone else's old mattress, always look for the label “All New Material” on the tag. And if a mattress is delivered to you without that tag, don’t accept it.

    Need a New Mattress?

    Among top picks from Consumer Reports' Ratings of dozens of mattresses are the innerspring Sealy Posturepedic Hybrid Elite Kelburn, $1,350, which had impressive support for side sleepers, and the bargain-priced Denver Mattress Doctor's Choice, $500, which had fine back support as well. For a foam bed, both side and back sleepers should appreciate the Novaform 14" Serafina Pearl Gel, $800 at Costco. And consider the $800 Sleep Number c2 Bed if you’d like an adjustable-air mattress. See our mattress buying guide if you haven’t shopped for a mattress in several years.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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