Fans of "Downton Abbey" on PBS are used to the tension between progress and tradition that's played out over the series' four seasons. This week's episode added a technological twist to that theme with the arrival of refrigeration to the noble estate. Mrs. Patmore, the simple-minded head cook, offers up her usual fearful resistance while Lady Grantham maintains her agent-of-change status.
We all know how this one ends—at least where refrigeration is concerned. Maybe more than any home appliance, refrigerators have made life easier and safer for consumers. Point Lady Grantham. But that doesn't mean every appliance innovation should be greeted with open arms. Indeed, channeling your inner Patmore can be prudent when appliance shopping. Here are a few items to be wary of.
Appliances that talk to the utility company. This is one of the claimed benefits of certain smart appliances, which can supposedly be programmed to turn on during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lowest. The catch? You'll only reap the savings if your utility company offers time-of-use pricing, and very few currently do. Check with your company before spending more on an energy-managing smart appliance.
Refrigerators with multimedia screens. More manufacturers are hawking $3,000-plus refrigerators that incorporate high-tech equipment such as TVs, digital-picture or music devices, and family-organizing centers. But our refrigerator tests have found that you can save hundreds, if not thousands, and get better performance by buying such equipment separately.
Steam-enhanced washing machines. More and more washers feature a steam setting that promises to clean better while also sanitizing fabrics. Some of the models in our washing machine Ratings did in fact clean better than the competition, but they did so even without the steam option in use. And they cost a lot more than other top performers.