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    Kitchen updates that stand the test of time

    Design trends come and go, but your kitchen needs to look great for years to come. So how do you give it an update that’s not just timely, but timeless? By incorporating style with staying power. Happily, some of the best new designs we’re seeing in luxury kitchens today are not just super-stylish, but super-livable for the long run. Here’s how to bring the best trends home.

    Colorful appliances

    Move over, stainless; we’re seeing a lot more colorful appliance finishes. The latest design shows, including the Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York, were ablaze with dishwashers, ranges, range hoods, and refrigerators in vibrant hues from high-end manufacturers. Bertazzoni, based in Italy, says that 10 percent of its appliances are sold in bold colors, including an eye-popping orange. Big Chill, based in Colorado, offers more than 200 bright and cheery colors on its retro-style appliances. And Miele recently unveiled models in a subtle shade called Truffle Brown.
    Get the look. If you’re thinking of going with a boldly hued appliance, keep the surrounding areas—cabinets and counters—quiet and neutral. Or, stick to small appliances to add colorful energy.

    Full appliance Ratings and recommendations

    Simplified designs

    “The pot-filler faucet is dead,” declared architect Erica Broberg, during a New York Times hosted seminar Kitchens & Baths Transformed. Though the statement got some gasps and pushback from some of the pros in the crowd, we’re clearly seeing a simplification of design elements in the kitchen. This is evident in the exceedingly clean lines on many new appliances, including some that accept integrated cabinet panels, making them disappear completely.

    Beverage centers

    For people who entertain a lot, creating a designated spot where guests can hang out and help themselves to coffee, cocktails, and more is catching on. Beverage centers are extremely popular, often reflecting the lifestyle of the homeowners, says Sharon Olsen, a certified kitchen designer in Portland, Ore. The set-up can be anything from a simple coffee station to the works—liquor cabinet, undercounter wine chiller, icemaker, bar sink, dishwasher, built-in coffeemaker or espresso machine, and cabinets or drawers for mugs, glasses, and other related supplies.
    Get the look. If you have enough kitchen real-estate, consider including a built-in coffeemaker or an undercounter wine chiller in your appliance plans. Place them for easy accessibility; ideally, outside of the main cooking area, so guests won’t get underfoot.

    Full coffeemaker Ratings and recommendations

    Gray matters

    All-white kitchens have been the rage in recent years. They’re still popular, but more designers are shaking things up by using grays and beiges (or “greige,” a combo of the two), according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s 2014 Kitchen & Bath Style Report. These “new neutrals” look crisp and classic on their own and blend well with many other colors and materials, including stainless steel.
    Get the look. One of the easiest ways to give your kitchen a cool and modern vibe is to paint the walls, backsplash, or cabinets a neutral shade of gray. But you have to do it right, or gray can end up creating a chilly, industrial look—especially if you have pro-style appliances. One way to warm things up is to pair gray with wood tones or energetic accent colors such as red, orange, or yellow. And be sure to choose a semi-gloss paint, which is the perfect finish for a kitchen because it’s easy to clean.

    Full interior paint Ratings and recommendations

    —Adapted from The Best for Your Kitchen + Home

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The best and worst appliance repair services

    When your washing machine breaks and dirty laundry piles up, you have to hope that the manufacturer or retailer quickly fixes the problem. But one glimpse at Consumer Reports’ user reviews tells you otherwise: “Poor customer service and unwillingness to fix what is not a minor problem, but a major defect, speaks volumes." "Customer service is horribly bad, no service at all." "Worst consumer service ever. I’m so done!” were some of the comments from our readers. So who has the best support and service when it comes to getting an appliance fixed? The worst?

    The user reviews of any washer we’ve tested represent a tiny portion of the number sold. But when it’s your washing machine that’s broken, it’s a big deal. It was for Lewis Fevola when his LG high-efficiency top-loader repeatedly took four hours to finish a load and he tried to get the washer fixed. Mr. Fevola ranted on Twitter and emailed LG’s CEO. Then he wrote to us. Result: Problem solved.

    Appliances do break and terrific customer service is the solution. We surveyed subscribers about their experiences with more than 21,000 appliances. The appliances serviced were overwhelmingly ones that were bought by readers and not appliances that had been left behind by a previous owner. Washing machines and refrigerators accounted for about half of all those serviced. The survey was done in spring 2012 and subscribers told us about appliances serviced over a year or more before.

    Best and worst appliance repair services

    “Subscribers who called an independent repair shop expressed higher satisfaction with their experiences than those who called other types of repair services, such as the ones provided by manufacturers or retail chains,” says Karen Jaffe, a manager in Consumer Reports’ survey research.

    That said, most manufacturers and retailers got average scores for actually solving the problem. Lowe’s, Sears, Kenmore, GE, and Samsung were among the better appliance services and got average scores for resolving issues. But LG was below average and Frigidaire, Maytag, and Whirlpool seemed to have even more trouble getting problems fixed.

    Reaching a reliable appliance repair service is just one factor to consider when buying a new appliance. There's also the matter of brand reliability, something we take into account when making selections for our lists of recommended models. (You can find the reliability information on our Ratings charts.) Take washing machines, for example. LG front-loaders are less repair-prone than Frigidaire and GE but then the LG repair service left something to be desired.

    Of course, the most important thing to consider is performance. In our washing machine tests, our top-scoring front-loader is the Samsung WF56H9110CW, $1,600. Samsung is one of the least repair-prone front-loader brands and Samsung was middle of the pack in our appliance repair service survey. Our top-rated HE top-loader is the LG WT5680HVA, $1,200. We don't have reliablity data on LG top-loaders and LG was lackluster on the repair survey. So if you buy an LG washer and it breaks, consider calling your local repair shop first.

    Kimberly Janeway 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 12/27/14--04:59: Best refrigerators of 2014
  • Best refrigerators of 2014

    It was a busy year in Consumer Reports' refrigerators lab, with more than 100 units passing through our temperature-controlled chambers. In the process, our testers packed the refrigerators with 35,000 10-ounce boxes of frozen spinach to find the years' top models. We also measured every square inch of usable capacity and checked for energy consumption. Some refrigerators stood out for superb performance, others for their innovative features, exceptional value, or record-high storage. While a total of 22 models made our coveted recommended refrigerator list, we pulled out the best of the best for this end-of-year roundup. 

    Capacity champ. Manufacturers continue to one-up each other in the capacity department by designing bigger and bigger refrigerators. As 2014 comes to a close, Samsung leads the pack with its Samsung Chef Collection RF34H9960S4, $5,400, whose 23.4 cubic feet of usable capacity is the most we've ever measured. The four-door fridge has a unique configuration, with with an upper fresh-food section behind traditional French-doors and two side-by-side bottom freezer compartments, one of which can convert to an additional refrigerator chamber. And its through-the-door ice and water dispenser can serve up sparkling water.

    Streamlined design. At the opposite end of the extreme, our testers also found a lot of compact refrigerators that make great fits for smaller kitchens. That includes a pair of cabinet-depth models with superb peformance: the Samsung RF23HSESBSR, $3,330, a four-door unit with a pullout middle drawer and the side-by-side Samsung RS22HDHPNSR, $2,400.

    If you want a compact French-door model, look no further than the 33-inch-wide Kenmore Elite 71313, $1,600, which combines exceptional temperature control and energy efficiency, plus it’s one of the quietest models we tested. Though it misses our recommended list, the $1,800 LG LFC22770ST is among our highest-scoring 30-inch-wide French-door bottom-freezers, with superb temperature control and quietness.

    Smartest storage. Door-in-door compartments hit their stride in 2014. Among our favorites is the Samsung RH29H8000SR ShowCase side-by-side, $2,500, whose entire fresh-food section features the innovative two-door design, allowing you to access beverages, condiments, and other everyday items without reaching into the main chamber. We also like the LG LSC22991ST, $2,700. At first glance, the cabinet-depth models looks like a four-door bottom-freezer, but the upper-right quadrant of the fridge is actually a door-in-door compartment that opens with the press of a button; to open the entire fresh-food section, you pull on the horizontal handle.

    Best domestic. If you want to buy an outstanding American-made refrigerator, look no further than the $2,600 GE Profile PWE23KMDES French-door bottom-freezer, which is manufactured in GE's new factory in Louisville, KY. The cabinet-depth fridge is tied for the highest overall score, thanks to its superb temperature control and energy efficiency. It's also available in GE's exclusive slate finish, a matte, fingerprint-resistant alternative to stainless steel, which it also comes in.

    Bottom-mount bargains. Some of the best bargains of the year came in the conventional bottom-freezer category. The Kenmore 69313, $950, is the only bottom-freezer on our picks list that sells for less than $1,000; not only that, the 30-inch-wide unit boasts superb temperature control, efficiency, and quietness. Spending more for the Kenmore Elite 79043, $1,510 gets you even better performance in a 33-inch-wide refrigerator.

    Top of the tops. In the market for a traditional top-freezer? Among models tested this year that are still on the market, the $800 Haier HT21TS45SW earned impressive marks, including very good temperature control and excellent efficiency. If you're looking to spend even less, consider the Haier HT21TS77SP, $700, and the Haier HT18TS77SP, $600, both of which also made our recommended list.  

    —Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)

    Refrigerator highlights of 2014

    The most—and least—reliable refrigerator brands

    Best refrigerators for people who love to entertain

    The hidden cost of refrigerator water dispensers

    Best refrigerators for big families

    The perfect freezer for ice cream lovers

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Consumer Reports’ best dishwashers of 2014

    By this point in the year, with holiday entertaining behind you, you’re either thrilled with your dishwasher’s ability to keep up with you or ready to disconnect it and wheel it to the curb in the hope it will take the hint. Still, you don’t want to start washing by hand again. Here are some of the best from Consumer Reports' dishwasher tests, in a variety of price ranges:

    $1,000 or more

    Our top-Rated dishwasher, the KitchenAid KDTM354DSS, $1,200, delivered stellar washing and drying and has a self-cleaning, ultrafine filter that breaks food particles down without the noisy grinding of the usual self-cleaning filters. The product overall runs pretty quietly. If you need extra flexibility for fitting odd-sized items, you can adjust the upper rack and tines. One caveat: There’s no time-remaining display to say how long until it's finished. In our tests, a normal cycle took 125 minutes and used only about 4 gallons of water.

    $800 to $1,000

    Top-notch washing, drying, and quiet operation are chief strengths of the Bosch 500 Series SHP65T55UC, $900. Besides an adjustable rack and tines, it has a third rack you can use for large utensils, a grater, and other low-height items you find hard to fit elsewhere. This model also lacks cycle-time display, but it projects a red dot onto the floor while the machine is running.

    $600 to $800

    The Bosch Ascenta SHX3AR7[5]UC, $730 delivers top-notch washing performance, including very good drying, for a very competitive price. It also has an adjustable upper rack and tines. To keep the noise down, there’s a manual-clean filter. On the minus side, this model doesn't display remaining cycle time.

    $400 to $600

    Top-notch washing, drying, and efficiency come at a bargain price with the $450 Kenmore 13202, so long as you're okay with a little more noise and a plodding cycle time. You get a soil sensor, no guarantee with a low-cost dishwasher, and a time-remaining display. Flexibility options include delayed start, ample flatware slots, and an adjustable upper rack and tines. Controls are all visible, the tub is plastic, and you'll need to clean the filter manually, which you might prefer over the noise of a self-cleaning filter. A normal cycle took 155 minutes and used about 5 gallons of water in our tests.

    $400 and less

    The well-priced GE GDF510PGD, $350, similar to the tested GE GDF520PSD[SS], $500, did very well, though you can get even better overall performance for the same money or a little more—and a faster normal cycle than 2 ½ hours. It was impressive in our wash test, which uses a full load of very dirty items, and was energy-efficient. It did especially well at drying plastic items and was fairly quiet, too. A normal cycle used about 5 gallons of water in our tests.

    Whichever you choose, you don’t want to arrive at the store unprepared—particularly if it’s been years since you bought a dishwasher. Take a look at our dishwasher buying guide before plunging into our Ratings of 190 models.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

    2014 dishwasher highlights

    Best dishwashers for after the holiday feast

    Don't listen to dishwasher noise claims

    Don't waste time and money prerinsing your dishes

    How to remove white haze from your good dishes

    The quietest dishwashers and kitchen appliances

    You're probably loading your dishwasher wrong

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Viewpoint: Improving the marketplace for consumers

    Did You know that forms you sign when you or a relative enter a medical facility could signal your consent to take whatever drug is prescribed—even antipsychotics that could harm your health or be used to control behavior?

     

    It’s a nightmare that Marian Hollingsworth experienced firsthand. Her father, admitted to a California hospital for back pain, had a sudden mental decline that only worsened when he was transferred to a nursing home. Physical complications followed; he died less than two months later.

     

    Only after closely studying her father’s records did Hollingsworth learn that upon admission he had been prescribed the antipsychotics Risperdal and Haldol—along with opioids and tranquilizers—and that many of his symptoms seemed to be complications of those drugs.

     

    One signature, obtained days after admission, was all that the hospital—and later, the nursing home—needed to dispense the drugs and to add others. Outraged, Hollingsworth filed several complaints with her state health department and contacted the media. The result: A new state policy requiring nursing homes to verify informed consent for antipsychotic drugs used for patients who are being transferred from a hospital.

     

    Now Hollingsworth has joined Consumer Reports’ nationwide Safe Patient Project. Learn how to protect yourself and those you care for at SafePatientProject.org.

     

    Know a consumer hero? Fill us in on the advocacy champions you admire most. Write to us at heroeswatchdogs@cr.consumer.org.

    Safeguard thrill-seekers

    Recreational off-highway vehicles look like golf carts on steroids; they can reach speeds greater than 30 miles per hour. They’re meant for fun, but in the past decade accidents have killed 335 people—and injured 506 more. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently proposed new safety standards for the vehicles and has asked the public to weigh in. Go to regulations.gov and enter docket number CPSC-2009-0087.

    Report deceptive cell-phone deals

    Late last year, the Federal Trade Commission alleged that AT&T misled millions of smart-phone customers, charging them for unlimited data while slowing its speed by as much as 90 percent. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, thinks that the company hasn’t been transparent about that practice, called “throttling,” which pushes consumers into more expensive plans. If you think that your provider has turned down your data speed, you can report it at ftc.gov.

    Avoid mortgage missteps

    Reverse mortgages may be the wrong choice for some seniors, but you’d never know it from the ads used to sell them. Get the facts on these and other products that can separate you or a loved one from money or property by going to ConsumersUnion.org.

    This article also appeared in the February 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Putting an end to an endless washing machine cycle

    Wednesday is wash day at the home of Joya and Lewis Fevola on Staten Island in New York. Usually they do six large loads. But when their new LG high-efficiency (HE) top-loader took four hours to complete one cycle, wash-day Wednesday became Thursday’s nightmare.

    Fed up, Lewis contacted the customer-service department about the appliance (model WT1101CW) they bought about seven months earlier for $629. It was “consistently out of balance,” he recalled. “It completely filled the tub with water numerous times to rebalance the load.”

    The company sent a technician to level the machine, but the problem persisted. Told that he would be charged for the next service call, Lewis did what any savvy consumer would do: He ranted on Twitter and sent an e-mail to LG’s CEO, but to no avail. Then he wrote to us.

    Consumer Reports tested this LG washer in 2013 and found that it was very good overall, including cleaning, and that the loads didn’t become unbalanced. But of the 81 user reviews posted on ConsumerReports.org as of November 2014, 33 cited imbalance issues.

    Check our buying guides for washing machines and dryers.

    We contacted LG for an explanation and spoke with John Taylor, vice president of communications. “LG has sold hundreds of thousands of these washers in the U.S.,” he said. “The service repair rate for an imbalanced load is less than 1/10 of a percent.”

    HE top-loaders spin faster than washers with agitators to extract more water and cut down on drying time; that can result in load imbalance. Taylor told us that LG updated software on its HE top-loaders made as of December 2013 to better identify that potential problem. Rather than going into spin, the machine flashes an alert to tell owners to rebalance the load.

    The next day, LG sent a tech to the Fevolas’ home for a software update, but Lewis says that the problem wasn’t fixed. So another tech installed a new circuit board and rotor, at no charge. “Amazing!” Lewis said weeks later. “It hasn’t become unbalanced once.”

    What does that mean for you?

    If your HE top-loader, agitator top-loader, or front-loader has imbalance problems, check the manual for proper loading and machine leveling. (Taylor suggests washing similar items together in LG HE top-loaders, such as towels in one load and sheets in another, distributing evenly.) If problems continue, contact customer service. A software update for LG machines might be the answer—and it’s covered by the warranty. “Units outside the warranty period are handled on a case-by-case basis,” Taylor said, adding that the same applies for parts and labor.

    This article also appeared in the February 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

     

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    The best tile for floors, counters, and backsplashes

    Walking into a tile showroom can be as overwhelming as it is inspiring. The displays are spectacular, but there are so many options, at so many price points. Before you run to the home center for a box of plain white subway tile—and miss out on the chance to make a bold impact in your kitchen—use Consumer Reports’ tile primer to get the lowdown on this durable, beautiful material. To help you shop, we’ve asked an expert panel of tile manufacturers, retailers, and installers for their best tips on the pros and cons of the most common types of tile.

    Ceramic

    Price: $2 to $7 per square foot
    What is it? A mix of clay, minerals, and water, ceramic tiles are fired at high temperatures. Glazed styles are then treated with a liquid glass coating and fired again, creating a hard, stain- and scratch-resistant surface. Unglazed tiles are sometimes referred to as “quarry” tiles.
    Best for: Ceramic tile is typically affordable, durable, easy to install and comes in a nearly endless array of colors and designs.
    But: Colors can vary from lot to lot and ceramic is not ideal for high impact areas. Handmade or “art” tiles can be extremely pricey.

    Porcelain

    Price: $3 to $7 per square foot
    What is it? Porcelain tile is a type of ceramic tile that is fired at a higher temperature than standard ceramic, making it denser and less porous.
    Best for: Use stain- and impact-resistant porcelain tiles on floors, walls, backsplashes. It’s easy to clean and comes in a wide variety of styles.
    But: It requires a special setting material designed to adhere non-porous materials—DIYers often buy the wrong one. Check with the manufacturer to be sure you’re using the recommended adhesive.

    Glass

    Price: $7 to $30 and more per square foot
    What is it? Thin pieces of glass sold individually or as a mosaic, sometimes with other types of tile, on a mesh backing.
    Best for: Colorful, reflective, easy-to-clean glass tile is best for walls and backsplashes. Some glass tile is rated for use on floors. The wide range of colors gives glass tile great “wow” factor.
    But: It can be expensive and difficult to install. Because the tiles are transparent, the adhesive is visible through the tile. Unless you’re highly skilled, getting professional-looking results is difficult for a DIYer.

    Cement

    Price: $9 to $17 per square foot
    What is it? Handmade of natural materials, cement tiles—also known as encaustic or Cuban tiles in the U.S.—typically boast bold patterns.
    Best for: Resilient and beautiful, cement tiles are appropriate for floors, backsplashes and walls.
    But: They’re pricey and not as common as other tiles, so your installer may not be used to working with them. Also, cement tiles are prone to etching by acid or harsh detergents and must be sealed on installation and resealed periodically.

    Stone

    Price: $6 to $15 per square foot
    What is it? Pieces of natural stone—granite, slate, travertine, marble, onyx, sandstone, to name a few—cut into thin, regular pieces, stone tile has a rich, one-of-a-kind look.
    Best for: Use stone on walls, backsplashes, or floors. Get the look of a granite countertop for less by using granite tiles instead of a slab.
    But: Most stone tile can be damaged by exposure to water, pigment, or acid, so be prepared for extra maintenance. Seal on installation and reseal every 10 years.

    Best flooring and countertops

    Consumer Reports tests both tile flooring and tile countertops. In our flooring tests, only vinyl scored better. The top tile performer is SnapStone Beige 11-001-02-01, $8.00 a square foot. It was aces at withstanding foot traffic and resisting stains, scratches, and fading. However it was only so-so at resisting dents.

    In our kitchen countertop tests, ceramic and porcelain tile fell behind winners quartz and granite but at $5.00 a square foot was by far the most budget friendly. It was only so-so at resisting stains but was a champ at standing up to heat and slicing and chopping.

    —Adapted from Consumer Reports' Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    New Whirlpool washer simplifies setting cycles

    While LG and Samsung battle it out for the washers with the largest capacity, Whirlpool is challenging its overseas competition on another front: Ease of use. The company is also one of several we’ve seen at CES 2015 to integrate products with the Nest thermostat, for better or worse.

    Typical washing machines have you select options such as desired cycle, load size, soil level, wash/rinse temperatures, and more. The Whirlpool Cabrio WTW8700EC top-load washer, expected to sell for about $1,300, groups its wash settings into two simple considerations on its touchscreen display: What to Wash and How to Wash. From there, claims the manufacturer, sensors determine the needs of the load and adjust water temperature, levels, and more. A matching dryer, the electric Whirlpool Cabrio WED8700EC and gas Whirlpool Cabrio WGD8700EC, both about $1,300 each, will also be available.

    The washer’s Nest thermostat integration, however, comes on a number of new Whirlpool washers, including the already available Whirlpool Duet WFL98HEBU front-load washer and its matching electric dryer, the Whirlpool Duet WEL98HEBU, $1,500 each. With all three washers, the Nest device signals to the washer that nobody is home. The washer subsequently can tumble finished clothes in fresh air, perhaps drying small loads. Until the Nest says you’re back home, the dryer can tumble clothes after a cycle is over to keep them from getting wrinkled.

    If you participate in Nest Rush Hour Rewards, you can also have your Nest thermostat set the appliances to run only when energy rates or demand—as determined by your local utility—are lowest. Of course, most of us want our clothes clean when we need them. Having your Nest delay a washer or dryer cycle’s cycle until late in the evening might not be welcome in a busy household with lots of dirty laundry.

    As with many new washers, Whirlpool’s accompanying app lets you download new cycles as needed. And should you need service, a diagnostic tool helps you resolve the issue—without a service call if possible.

    The Whirlpool Cabrio WTW8700EC is expected to be available in April; we’ve already tested the front-load Whirlpool Duet WFL98HEBU and its matching Whirlpool Duet WEL98HEBU dryer. If  you're replacing your washer and dryer now, see the results of our tests of the best matching washers and dryers, and check out our free buying guides for washers and dryers. Then check our Ratings of 135 top- and front-load washers and more than 275 dryers.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 01/16/15--14:49: Reader tip
  • Reader tip

    More than 140 Consumer Reports experts work overtime, analyzing everything from health clinics to hair dye, but we rely on you to share the surprising strategies that make your life a little easier. Send your top time- or sanity-saving tips to readertip@cr.consumer.org. If we choose yours to publish in the magazine, you'll win $100. (Get all the details below.)

    Here are some of our favorites.

    De-stink your sink

    Just dump lemon or any other citrus peels into the garbage disposal and pulse it a few times. You’ll scar the peels, releasing the fragrant citrus oil. Don’t overdo the pulsing so that the peels can sit overnight to counteract the stinky smell. Once the citrus aroma is gone, just run the disposal until the peels are completely shredded and flushed.—Jerry Tambayong, Sherman Oaks, CA

    Our experts add: Remember that the source of those odors is residual food or hardened grease that wasn’t thoroughly flushed away. Be sure that you’re operating the disposal regularly, then flushing it with hot water. We suggest that before you try Jerry’s remedy, you contact the disposal manufacturer for recommendations.

    Only you can prevent dryer fires

    According to the National Fire Protection Agency, the leading cause of home clothes-dryer fires is a failure to clean the machine. I take a used dryer sheet to wipe out the filter. Static cling quickly clears the filter of all lint.—Jerry Dworkin, Irvine, CA

    Our experts add: Regular filter cleaning is a great start. You should also make sure that you’re properly clearing lint from inside, beneath, and around the dryer and that your appliance has the right kind of vent. Learn more about protecting your home from a dryer fire.

    Shine your stove like your SUV

    ‘Instead of using oily polishes on my stainless-steel appliances, I clean and apply car wax once a month. It provides a clear barrier that holds its shine, and spills need just a quick wipe with a clean cloth.'—Nick Crosby, Branchburg, NJ

    The airport lifesaver

    A three-outlet, 6- or 12-foot extension cord, and an outlet multiplier have saved me in a number of crowded airports. They don’t take up much space in a carry-on, enable you to share with other travelers—not to mention to sit farther away from the socket—and come in handy at less up-to-date motels.—Mike Stockman, Swampscott, MA

    Use to cook, and clean

    I use olive oil to polish my stainless steel.— Amy James, via Facebook     

    Multitasking scrubbers

    I use bread tabs (not the wire ties) to scrape off baked-on stuff on my pots, pans, or cookie sheets . . . makes it easier to clean them.—Mildred Sparks Douglass, via Facebook 

    I use the plastic net bags that onions come in as pot scrubbers.—Mary Lou Hazlewood, via Facebook 

    By submitting material for publication, you grant Consumers Union of United States Inc. and its affiliates, partners and licensees unlimited use of the material and your name and address, and the right to modify, reproduce and distribute the material in any format or medium. We may contact you via phone, e-mail or regular mail regarding your submission. If we select your submission for print, you will receive $100.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    What's in a 'clinically tested' claim?

    Q. What do the terms “clinically tested” and “clinically proven” really mean?—Dave Boswell, Arnold, MD

    A. The Federal Trade Commission doesn’t have a specific legal definition for either term. And the agency doesn’t generally screen advertisements before the public sees them, so advertisers don’t have to prove beforehand that the claims they make are truthful. (One exception: prescription drugs, which the Food and Drug Administration approves before they’re marketed to consumers.) The FTC’s standard is that companies should back up their claims with “competent and reliable scientific evidence,” which can vary from one case to another depending on the assertions made.

    For related information about prescription drugs, check Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs.

    Send your questions to ConsumerReports.org/askourexperts.

    This article also appeared in the February 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    An app that gets rid of monsters under the bed

    Paying $1,000 for a child's mattress may seem a bit much but Sleep Number claims that its new SleepIQ Kids bed will grow with your child, making it worth the expense. Just like Sleep Number adult mattresses, you can adjust the bed’s firmness to your preference. The mattress also tilts up for reading and, better yet, a light shines under the bed when a child gets up at night. But best of all, the connected app has a “monster detector” so the little darlings can sleep worry-free. Consumer Reports hasn’t tested the SleepIQ Kids but two adult Sleep Number beds are some of the best in our tests.

    Called, “the smart bed for smart kids,” the SleepIQ Kids bed is on display at CES 2015 in Las Vegas. Sleep Number claims that the bed has so many fun features that your kids will look forward to going to bed and develop better sleep habits. That remains to be seen but the SleepIQ Kids bed does have a few features that may help. Using an app, parents can slowly dim the lights or turn them off remotely after the child is asleep. They can also be alerted when the child gets out of bed—and then start the process all over again! In a pinch, you can destroy any (virtual) monsters under the bed with the amusing app.

    Sleep Number beds excel in Consumer Reports’ tests

    Consumer Reports tested two adjustable air Sleep Number mattresses and both were tops in our mattress tests. The Sleep Number i8 bed, $3,000,  edged out its brandmate, the Sleep Number c2 bed, $700, but you may want to save the money and choose the less expensive model. Here's how they compare:

    There’s a lot to like about the Sleep Number i8 bed if you sleep primarily on your back. As with other memory foam, adjustable air beds from this company, you and your partner can adjust the firmness of independent halves of the bed to your preference. Besides its superb back support, the mattress was impressive at supporting you while you’re on your side. The mattress measures 12 inches high—so you won’t need deep-pocket fitted sheets.

    With the Sleep Number c2 bed, you don’t have to pay thousands to get impressive side support and even better back support. You’ll pay $2,300 less without a noticeable difference in support. Trying the bed in the store before buying will tell you if the thinner top foam layer on this mattress is less comfortable. It measures just 8 inches high—so you’ll also get by without deep-pocket fitted sheets.  

    Prefer innerspring or memory foam mattresses?

    Consumer Reports has tested numerous models. Our-top-rated innerspring mattress is the Serta Perfect Day iSeries Applause, $1,075. It’s also a CR Best Buy. Among memory foam models, the Novaform Memory Foam Collection Serafina 14" from Costco is our top pick. And at $650 it’s also a CR Best Buy.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Should you rent or buy a home in retirement?

    Deciding whether to rent or buy a home was never an easy question for my parents. Now age 83 and 84, they always treated homeownership as sacrosanct. Not only was owning their home a symbol of success, but it provided a haven that offered security and comfort. 

    But when my parents recently left the home they owned in New Jersey for 43 years to move near my sister in California, they opted to rent. And after decades of do-it-and-pay-for-it-yourself, they are finding—surprise!—that it’s nice to have someone else handle the landscaping and call in the plumber.

    My husband and I might do the same in retirement. And as I’m learning, though some factors in the decision to rent or buy are the same at any age, others take on more significance in retirement.

    Check out Consumer Reports' advice on smart real estate moves, and find out how to judge Top 10 lists for relocating in retirement.

    A first consideration is how long you expect to live in your new residence. Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you’ll stay in your new digs. Down the road, you might want something smaller or more accommodating to a disability.

    But the shorter the stay, the less financially attractive owning a home in retirement becomes. For one, you’ll have to spread points and other closing costs over less time. If you finance, you’re likely to have little new equity to show because you’ll pay so much in interest in a mortgage’s first years.

    For that reason, if you are retired, you should rent your home if you don’t expect to stay more than three or four years, says Josh Fatoullah, founder and CEO of JR Wealth Advisors in Great Neck, N.Y. “The last thing we would want is where you’ve paid the closing costs and then you’re just not happy,” he says.

    Assuming you can determine the minimum time you’ll stay in a new home, you can then compare the costs of homeownership and renting. Early retiree Darrow Kirkpatrick provides an analysis in his insightful blog Can I Retire Yet?. He took a hypothetical $300,000 home in his Tennessee town and added up its expected maintenance and repair costs, property taxes, and homeowners insurance, then figured in the opportunity cost—what his money could earn in stocks and bonds if it wasn’t tied up in home equity.

    Kirkpatrick’s estimated, effective cost of homeownership over a 10-year period was $834 per month for every $100,000 of a home’s value. In other words, a $300,000 home would generate $834 x 3, or about $2,500 per month in ownership costs. If a retiree could find a comparable property to rent for less than $2,500 per month, he should rent.

    Online mortgage calculators can personalize calculations like that for you. The New York Times’ sophisticated rent-vs.-buy tool is among the better ones I’ve seen.

    The Times’ tool and Kirkpatrick’s calculations also consider the impact of buying a home outright vs. getting a mortgage. If you can stomach holding on to debt late in life, you might benefit from getting a mortgage and investing in stocks, bonds, and other holdings rather than paying for your home outright. The National Association of Realtors says that since 1968 (when it began tracking real-estate inflation) through 2013, single-family home prices have increased 5.3 percent annually on average. In that same period, 10-year Treasury bonds returned an average 7.4 percent annually (neither figure accounts for inflation).

    Of course, future stock, bond, and real-estate markets won’t necessarily act as they have historically. Point is, the opportunity cost could be greater if you tie up money in a home rather than taking out a mortgage.

    I can’t speak of mortgages without mentioning the federal tax deduction on mortgage interest. It’s often held up to justify owning. But it may be worth less if your retirement income puts you in a lower tax bracket than when you were working. (Income from required minimum distributions also can raise you to a higher tax bracket.)

    Other, non-monetary factors may dominate your decision. If your pug requires a backyard lair or you’ll feel lost without a home-improvement project, you’ll want to buy—or find an owner who is OK with Roxy’s ranging or welcomes your tinkering.

    As for my mother, she’s gardening at her rental home, just as she did in her New Jersey yard. This spring she expects to greet blooms of chocolate cosmos, hyacinths, tulips, bluebells, and daffodils. As a tribute to her new locale, she’s adding California poppies.

    They add a homey touch. 

    —Tobie Stanger

    This article also appeared in the January 2015 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    iFit reveals the Internet of healthy things

    Don’t know what to do with all that health and fitness data you get from your fitness tracking device? At CES 2015, we’re seeing that companies are finally realizing that, and they're doing something about it.

    Playing off this year’s CES theme, “The Internet of Things,” iFit showcased the Internet of healthy things at its booth. The company has a line of Internet-connected—and interconnected—products designed to help you live a healthy life, including a bed, a kitchen appliance, a scale, a treadmill desk, a treadmill, and a strength-cardio workout machine.

    Here’s an example of how they work together: The bed will track sleep patterns and sense if you’re too hot or cold, then adjust the mattress temperature to help improve your sleep.

    And if you tossed and turned all night, the bed will send a message to your iFit treadmill, which will recommend a workout that matches your energy level. Look for the products to be available in the fall of 2015.

    —Trisha Calvo

    Check out our reviews and ratings of smart watches, activity trackers, treadmills, and ellipticals.

    For more news

     

    Read all of Consumer Reports' coverage of the International Consumer Electronics Show on our Insider's guide to CES 2015.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Don't buy a beautiful shade of mediocre paint

    Buying interior paint should be easy but walk into any home center or paint store and you’ll see just how confusing the choices can be. Brand lines keep expanding and as the price jumps $5 to $10 a gallon a superlative is tacked on—ultra, premium plus, premium plus ultra. It doesn’t help that all paint cans look alike, but inside those cans? Here’s a look at the best interior paints from Consumer Reports’ latest tests.

    Picking a color is where many people start, but who wants a beautiful shade of mediocre paint? Color-matching systems have improved so that you can get within a percent or two of the color you crave, but keep in mind that sheen varies by brand and affects your perception of color. So choose the color you love then find the best paint for the job.

    Our interior paint Ratings tell you how well a paint hides what’s underneath it and how smooth it goes on. You’ll find out how well the paint resists stains, scrubbing, gloss change, sticking, mildew, and fading. Our tests found that a brand line’s flat, eggshell, and semi-gloss performed similarly overall so we’ve combined the scores to make it easier for you to choose. The interior paint Ratings include 23 brand lines, from Walmart’s Color Place at $17 a gallon to Farrow & Ball, an import from England that’s $105 a gallon.

    Best from our tests

    All of our top picks are self-priming and low in volatile organic compounds or lack VOCs, some of the noxious chemicals that can make paint smell, cause headaches and dizziness, and are linked to smog and respiratory problems. 

    Behr Marquee Interior, $43 per gallon. This top-rated paint from Home Depot was superb at hiding old paint and impressive at resisting stains, but not as smooth as some. The paint withstands scrubbing, but aggressive cleaning will change the sheen.

    Valspar Reserve, $44. Superb at hiding old paint and impressive at resisting stains, but not as smooth as some. This Lowe's paint withstands scrubbing and aggressive cleaning didn't change the sheen.

    Behr Premium Plus Ultra, $34. A Home Depot paint, it was excellent at hiding old paint and left a smooth finish, but wasn't great at resisting stains. The paint withstands scrubbing and aggressive cleaning didn't change the sheen much.

    Clark+Kensington Enamel, $32. Impressive at hiding old paint, it left a smooth finish but wasn't great at resisting stains. The paint withstands scrubbing but aggressive cleaning changes the sheen. You’ll find it at Ace Hardware.

    Benjamin Moore Aura, $54. The most expensive of the top picks, it was excellent at hiding old paint and left a smooth finish, but weren't great at resisting stains. The paint withstands scrubbing but aggressive cleaning causes the paint to lose much of its sheen.

    Valspar Signature, $34. Impressive at hiding old paint, but not as smooth as some and not great at resisting stains. The paint withstands scrubbing but aggressive cleaning causes the paint to lose sheen. It’s sold at Lowe’s.

    Valspar Ultra, $29. This Lowe’s paint was impressive at hiding old paint, but not as smooth as some and it wasn't great at resisting stains. The paint withstands scrubbing but aggressive cleaning causes the paint to lose much of its sheen.

    Behr Premium Plus Enamel, $28. Another Home Depot paint, it was impressive at hiding old paint and left a smooth surface. But wasn’t great at resisting stains. The paint withstands scrubbing and aggressive cleaning didn't change the sheen much.

    Our interior paint Ratings tell you the full story and you might be surprised to see what paint is near the bottom.

    Kimberly Janeway 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to find an LED lightbulb that fits your fixture

    The LED lightbulb display at the home center wasn’t helpful and the clerk who worked in that section was down on LEDs—too much money, he said—and didn’t seem to know a lot about them. Can’t blame him. LEDs, with their semi-conductor chips and electronic circuitry, are a lot more complicated than the lightbulbs we grew up with. But LEDs are really impressive if you buy the right ones, as Consumer Reports discovered in its lightbulb tests.

    LEDs are better than CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs) and use about 80 to 85 percent less energy than the incandescents they replace. They cost a lot more up front, but can trim your electric bill by up to $240 per bulb over their lifetime. You’ll save even more if you live where electricity is expensive, such as California, Hawaii, New York, and New England. Here are five ways that make it a whole lot easier to buy LEDs.

    1. Bring your old bulb with you. Sounds goofy, but it’s a sure way to know that the LED fits your fixture since some LEDs are bigger or heavier than incandescents and CFLs. Replace bulbs that are on the most and use the most energy. Typically they’re the main lighting in the kitchen, dining area, and living room.

    2. Bring our Ratings. We’ve tested dozens of LEDs and the lightbulb Ratings will come in handy as you stare at shelves lined with hundreds of LEDs and can’t find sales help that’s helpful.  

    3. Focus on lumens. They’re stated on the Lighting Facts Label on the back of the LED box and tell you how bright the bulb is. You’ll want at least 800 lumens when replacing a 60-watt incandescent; 1,100 and up for a 75-watt replacement, and  1,600 or more for a 100-watt replacement. And if you’re wondering about watts, they tell you how much energy a bulb uses.

    4. Check light color. Okay, here’s where it starts to feel like work, but it’s not hard once you get used to it. If you like light that’s a warm yellow, similar to an incandescent, then you want an LED that has a color temperature around 2700K. You’ll see “Light Appearance” noted on the Lighting Facts Label. For white light pick a bulb that’s 3000K or so. Bright white light is 3500K to 4100K and bluer white light is 5000K to 6500K. But don’t worry, you’ll see this spelled out on the Lighting Facts Label.

    5. Read the box. You’ll need a dimmable LED if you’re using it with a dimmer. It’s smart to buy one LED and see if it’s compatible with the dimmer you have. Note whether the bulb can be used in an enclosed fixture if that’s what you’re planning on. It matters because when heat builds up inside the fixture it can change the LED’s light color and shorten its life. Our lightbulb Ratings also provide this information.

    Consider these CR Best Buys

    The Great Value 60W Soft White A19 Dimmable LED from Walmart is $10 and replaces a 60-watt incandescent, casting a bright, warm yellow light. So does the Cree 9.5-Watt A19 Warm White Dimmable LED and it’s even better at casting light in all directions. It’s $8.50 and comes with a 10-year warranty. Both work in fully enclosed fixtures. Claimed life is about 23 years when used 3 hours a day.

    The Philips A21 19W 100W Soft White 432195 LED is dimmable and replaces a 100-watt incandescent so it’s even brighter than the 60-watt replacements. The Philips gives off a warm yellow light in all directions. It’s $15 but always look for rebates from your utility. Claimed life is nearly 23 years but you can’t use this LED in fully enclosed fixtures.

    These BR30 LEDs replace 65-to-75 watt incandescents and can be used in recessed and track lights. Claimed life is around 23 years when used 3 hours a day. Walmart’s Great Value 65W BR30 Soft White Dimmable LED is $11 and provides a bright, warm yellow light. Other CR Best Buys include the Utilitech 13-Watt (75W) BR30 Soft White Outdoor Flood from Lowe’s, $12, the Feit Electric BR30 Dimmable LED, $9, and the $11 MaxLite 10-Watt BR30.

    For more choices, including top-performing CFLs, see our full lightbulb Ratings and recommendations.

    Kimberly Janeway

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to keep your countertops in tip-top shape

    Of course you want a countertop that looks good on the day it’s installed. But it should look just as good five years later. Not all countertop surfaces can stand up to the wear and tear of a busy kitchen. To find the toughest, Consumer Reports stained, sliced, scratched, scorched, and nicked 14 materials from leading brands. The best are both durable and beautiful. Here are a few simple steps to keep your counters looking better, longer.

    Pick the right professional. To be sure your contractor’s countertops will stand the test of time, check references from jobs that were completed at least a year or two ago. That’s especially critical for concrete counters, because most are made from scratch, and cracking can be a problem. To guarantee installation according to warranty standards, select a manufacturer-certified installer. Otherwise, the manufacturer might not cover the work if problems arise.

    Seal the surface.
    Stone, concrete, butcher block, and the grout between tiles require sealing and periodic resealing to resist stains. There’s an easy way to test the seal: Put a few drops of water on stone that’s near the sink or another high-use area and let it stand for 15 minutes. If the water doesn’t stay in a bead, it’s time for resealing

    Act fast. Clean stains as they happen, before they have a chance to set—even on supposedly stain-resistant materials. Follow the manufacturer’s or installer’s care instructions; not doing so could void the warranty. Cut only on cutting boards. Taking a little extra time can keep your counters looking good.

    The best counters from Consumer Reports’ tests

    We found little difference among competing brands of each type of countertop material. That’s why we rate materials, not brands.

    Quartz
    Best for: Busy kitchens and bathrooms. It’s stain- and heat-resistant and low maintenance. It doesn’t need sealing and is available in vibrant colors and in styles that look like natural stone.
    But: Edges and corners can chip; rounded edges help. And stone finishes can appear more uniform than natural.
    Price: $40 to $100 per square foot; $2,240 to $5,600 for a typical kitchen.

    Granite
    Best for: A natural stone look. It can with stand heavy use, and polished and matte finishes resist stains when properly sealed. It also resists heat and scratches.
    But: It can chip and needs resealing to protect it from stains. And it can look different from samples, so it’s best to choose it yourself at a stone yard.
    Price: $40 to $100 per square foot; $2,240 to $5,600 for a typical kitchen.

    Recycled glass
    Best for: A contemporary look when it’s made with large shards, or it can resemble solid surfacing when it’s finely ground. It’s resistant to heat, cuts, and scratches.
    But: Chips and stains can be a problem. One brand developed a thin crack during our heat tests.
    Price: $60 to $120 per square foot; $3,360 to $6,720 for a typical kitchen.

    Laminate
    Best for: A wide variety of colors and patterns at a budget-friendly price. It’s excellent at resisting stains and heat damage, and is simple to install.
    But: It’s easily scratched by knives and can’t be repaired. And most laminates have visible seams, though more seamless options are now available.
    Price: $10 to $40 per square foot; $560 to $2,240 for a typical kitchen.

    Tile (ceramic or porcelain)
    Best for: Use near stoves because it’s heat-resistant. It comes in many colors, sizes, and patterns.
    But: It chips. The grout between tiles can stain even when it’s sealed, and it can mildew. Poor installation can increase those problems. Thinner grout lines and darker grout might help somewhat.
    Price: $5 to $30 per square foot; $280 to $1,680 for a typical kitchen.

    —Adapted from The Best for Your Kitchen + Home

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    How to vacuum carpet like a pro

    You may be surprised to learn that vacuum purists advise that you go over a section of carpeting eight times to get it completely clean. But if you vacuum regularly—at least weekly and more often in heavy-traffic areas—you’ll probably find that going over the carpets or rug back and forth from top to bottom and then again from side-to-side will get the job done. Here are some other carpet vacuuming tips from the experts at Consumer Reports.

    Steer clear of small objects. It can be hard to resist sucking up pennies and paperclips. But our repair analysis has found that small objects can clog nozzles and hoses, and they can also damage fans, which could lead to an expensive visit to the repair shop.

    Be creative. Some small, lightweight items, among them pine needles, threads, and pet hair, are difficult to vacuum up. If your vacuum cleaner’s attachments don’t do the job, use a lint roller, or wrap packing tape around your hand with the sticky side out and “blot” up the elusive materials.

    Check the settings. Set the vacuum to the correct level of suction for your carpet. Deep-pile carpeting needs a different setting than a flat-weave rug, for example. Some vacuums adjust automatically.

    Prepare for some heavy lifting. Move your furniture and vacuum beneath it every six months or once per year if possible. More frequently, use special attachments to reach under furniture and to clean along the edges of a carpeted room.

    Take special care with area rugs. To prevent frayed edges, vacuum from the center of the rug out towards the perimeter. You may also be able to machine-wash small rugs, and it's a good idea to occasionally take larger ones outside and beat them with them with a broom. Be careful of the fringe.

    Minimize the mess. The less dirt that enters your home, the less your vacuum will have to pick up. Lay mats at entrances and impose a no-shoe policy to prevent filth from being tracked indoors. Also, dust furniture, blinds, and window sills before you vacuum, so the vacuum will pick up fallen particulates.

    Top 5 uprights for carpets

    Uprights generally provide a wider cleaning swath than canisters and, because of their heavier heads, tend to be better at deep-cleaning carpets—particularly bagged uprights. Here are the top five uprights for carpet cleaning from Consumer Reports’ tests. All five got an excellent score for carpets.
    Miele S 7210 Twist, $475
    Miele S 7260 Cat & Dog, $715
    Eureka Boss Smart Vac 4870, $160
    Miele S 7280 Jazz, $600
    Kirby Sentria II, $1,370

    —Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Why you need grab bars in your bathroom

    You might think the kitchen, with its hot stoves and sharp utensils, would be the most dangerous room in your home, but it’s actually the bathroom. According to a 2011 report from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls­—the No. 1 problem—most often occurred in or around the bathtub, shower, or toilet.

    "We get lots of calls for slips and falls in the bathroom," says Howard Mell, M.D., a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians who works at several hospitals in Cleveland.

    The bathroom is especially hazardous for women, who are at a higher risk than men for falling and getting hurt, perhaps because of lesser body strength and bone mass.

    For those age 65 and older, falls often cause more serious injuries, such as hip fractures. Seniors, according to the report, were also more likely to be injured getting on or off the toilet. Standing after sitting for a long time, especially if you’re dehydrated or taking certain med­ications, can result in a sudden drop in blood pressure that can cause light-­headedness or dizziness.

    But few of us have bathrooms that are equipped with grab bars, a secure safety device that looks like a railing and could prevent falls. Here are other modifications you can make to your bathroom to make it a safer place.

    Find out how to make your home safer as you get older, and how to protect yourself from slips and trips.

    Safety solutions

    • Install grab bars in showers and tubs and next to toilets so you don’t reach for towel bars, sliding glass doors, or other unstable fixtures.
    • Replace slippery bathroom floors with nonslip tiles. Look for a manufacturers slip coefficient of 0.06 or higher.
    • Use nonslip mats inside bathtubs and showers and on floors.
    • Add a shower seat with rubber tips on the bottom if you’re unsteady on your feet.
    • Install a handheld showerhead set on a sliding bar with a 6-foot hose that can be used standing or sitting.
    • Install a “comfort height” toilet, which is about 2 inches tall­er than a standard model and is easier to get off of.
    • Lower your water heater to 120° F to prevent scalding from faucets.

    —Sue Byrne

     

     

     

    This article also appeared in the January 2015 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

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    5 ways to declutter your desk

    Time to wrestle your wires, corral your cables, and master the mess on and around your desk. There are good do-it-yourself options (like bundling up power cords with garbage-bag ties or a roll of Velcro), but these five ways to declutter your desk go further—they make the most of your space and add a little pizazz to your cleanup.

     

    Pivot Power

    At least one or two plugs on your power strip are probably unusable because big adapters cover them up. The flexible Pivot Power ($30 at Quirky.com) creates more space between adapters as needed. Plus, you can bend the Pivot Power to better fit into tight spaces. An app for the $60 Wi-Fi-connected Genius version lets you control two plugs from outside your home so you can perform tasks such as turning on a lamp.

    Cable Box

    This gadget is low tech but useful. Place your power strip into the Cable Box ($30 at bluelounge.com) and feed the wires through a slot on the side. Rubber feet on the bottom prevent slippage, and the box is flat so you can place charging devices on top of it.

    Space Bar

    The multifunctional Space Bar ($99 at containerstore.com) raises your monitor off the desk for more ergonomic viewing and helps declutter your desk by providing storage space for your keyboard. It includes six built-in USB ports—four are for syncing and charging your devices, and two are high-power ports for faster charging. The aluminum device can hold up to a 20-lb. monitor.

    Find your new desktop or laptop computer. And with tax season here, get your financial life in order by visiting our Income Tax Guide.

    Hook and Loop Wraps

    These color-coded cable ties ($2.09 at cabletiesandmore.com) help you identify which device on your desktop each power cord handles. A five-pack—with one wrap each in black, blue, green, red, and yellow—costs $2.09.

    Dotz Cord Identifiers

    Brightly colored Dotz ($7 at OfficeMax.com) are another way to help you easily distinguish one cable from another. Snap a Dotz onto the wire, then add one of the included 24 icon stickers or write the information on one of the stickers. The cord identifiers come in packages of five different-colored Dotz.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    What's trending in kitchen countertops

    If it's been a while since your last kitchen remodel, get ready for a bounty of new countertop materials. Here are the top trends Consumer Reports is seeing at Design & Construction Week in Las Vegas.
     
    Laminate goes lux. Laminate is among the most affordable and durable countertop surfaces in Consumer Reports’ countertop Ratings. But it's not thought of as the most eye-catching. That's starting to change as more designers embrace the utilitarian surface, which some have dubbed "laminate." Design maven Jonathan Adler, for example, has partnered with Formica to create a line of nine colors and patterns, including:

    • Lacquered Linen, inspired by mid-century modern furniture, is available in green, orange, charcoal and crème.
    • Malachite, inspired by precious stones and patterns of the 60s and 70s, comes in crisp blue and subtle charcoal, both with a glossy finish.
    • Greek Key, a timeless motif made modern with bold color and scale, is available in orange, blue and charcoal.

    Quartz comes on strong. This engineered stone, made from a blend of stone chips, resins, and pigments, replaced natural granite at the top of our countertop Ratings a few years back. In that time, manufacturers have been steadily coming out with new patterns for the versatile material, which can emulate the look of granite and marble or be imbued with bold colors. Wilsonart, better known for laminate countertops, is entering the fray with a line of quartz countertops.
     
    Concrete returns with strength. Concrete's reputation as a countertop material is the opposite that of laminate: beautiful, but repair-prone, especially when it comes to staining and chipping. Caeserstone, manufacturer of quartz, answers that dilemma with its new Fresh Concrete, Sleek Concrete, and Raw Concrete colors. They have the look of concrete but with the heat, stain, and abrasion resistance of quartz.

    New surfaces emerge. Dekton is an ultra-compact surface that can be used both indoors and outdoors because it’s resistant to ultraviolet rays. It's now available in five new colors, including marble-like Aura and Kairos. Another new material is Avorio countertops, a sintered compact surface from Neolith.
     
    The experts at Consumer Reports are eager to get these new countertop materials in our labs to see if they stand up to the slicing, dicing, and pounding in our tough countertop tests.

    —Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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