For those of you who are unfamiliar with this brand and company here's a short summary. It all began in 1936. Formed as an independent, nonprofit organization in 1936. Consumer Reports helps consumers through unbiased product testing and ratings, research, journalism, public education, and advocacy. The company stands proudly behind their findings and their work to ensure that products are safe, effective, reliable, and fairly priced. They insist that manufacturers, retailers, government agencies, and others be clear and honest. They advocate for truth and transparency when information is hidden or unclear and they push companies to quickly address and remedy faults with their products and services. The National Testing and Research Center features a 250,000 square foot building where each year, more than 3000 products are tested in 50 labs. Consumer Reports (CR) also has offices in Washington DC, San Francisco, CA and Austin TX. The CR AutoTest Center is located in East Haddam, CT on 324 acres and includes a vehicle handling circuit, a rock hill, an off road course for SUVs and pick-up trucks, as well as two skid pads.
Consumer Reports helps with critical decision making regarding the products and services that matter most. They realize that today's consumers are bombarded with an onslaught of marketing, advertising, opinions, and options and that’s why for nearly 80 years, they have empowered consumers with the knowledge needed to make better informed decisions regarding the products they will purchase. Consumer Reports goes to battle for you, in both the public and private sectors to ensure that products are safer and market practices are fair.
A couple of weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to experience a behind the scenes tour of this amazing facility in Yonkers, New York. There I witnessed first-hand just how rigorous their tests are, and how dedicated they are to getting the best information out there. No stone is left unturned and in most cases they are much harder on the products than we are in order to get the truest results. They use a combination of old fashioned trial and modern day technology to get you the most informative and detailed results. They test for durability, reliability and price.
Across everything they do, Consumer Reports unites impartial, trustworthy guidance with nearly eight decades of unwavering commitment to helping consumers make informed decisions. They focus solely consumer' needs both now and in the future. Consumer Reports serves as the gold standard for information and advocacy and they serve as the for consumers nationwide. They are quick to point out faults, and shortcomings if need be so that you, the customer can make the best, most informed decisions possible. They also work with manufacturers to help improve products from a reliability, durability, efficiency and safety standpoint.
My tour began with the paint department. I had no idea how extensive this department and the testing was. To say that they are tough on their products is an understatement. In some cases they are tougher than need be, but when it comes to products like paint and deck stain this rigorous testing is necessary. We started up on the roof where several paints and deck stains were exposed to all the elements. We saw which paints chipped, peeled, faded, were not resistant to mildew and which stains seemed to hold up and which didn't make the grade. As you can see in the photo below, numbers and codes are given to each brand so as not to cloud judgement. Indoor paints were subject to the same scrutiny but with different requirements. Will paint hold up to washing? How many coats are actually needed? How durable is the paint in terms of chipping and cracking? How do the high efficiency/low voc paints fare? Is the more expensive paint the best? In addition to old fashioned painting, technology steps in to help with the findings.
Above right. The red piece of plastic is actually a piece of plastic with two brands of the same color paint. As you can see, the top panel and bottom differ substantially after just one coat. Which panel would you pick?
The low voc paints are constantly changing. They are better than they were a few years ago but there is still room for improvement. Consumer's loves Benjamin Moore's aura paints but warn that they are pricy. The other high end paint... the expensive one from the UK? Consumer Reports is not a fan. According to their findings, Behr and Sherman Williams have earned top marks for durability and price. And they told me, that these days, any color can be replicated. All the results can be found on the Consumer Reports website.
From paints to vacuums. I felt as though I had walked into a vacuum repair shop. Only these machines weren't broken. They were brand new. They test uprights and canisters. They test for hardwood, carpet, ease of use, maneuverability, cost, and reliability. Now I am sure you are dying to know how yours fared. Bagless? Not so good especially when it comes to allergens. There was one Dyson model that did well. One. I was surprised. There was one Miele model that did well. Most of the rest were good but not outstanding. Which performed the best? Not the most expensive, but the Kenmore Progressive topped the charts as a best buy for several years standing. These guys have all sorts of tricks too from machines that look like treadmills to computers to old fashioned food and pet hair that gets tossed on the floor. If you want to know if they've tried it, the answer is yes. Here again, as with the paints the more it costs doesn't mean the better the performance, except for one...
And that exception is this machine. Let's call it the Bentley the vacuum... It's called the Kirby and it ain't cheap. But, according to the folks at Consumer's it is worth the investment!
As we walked along the hallways to the different test areas I marveled at all the wonderful old photos that give the company its sense of history.
These guys test everything. And I mean everything. The above photo was taken in 1984. Do you have any idea what it might be? Here's a hint. If it fails, well, there's always Plan B!
Oh to have freshly pressed sheets and linens... And while we're on the subject of sheets and linens... The washers and dryers were next on the stop. When testing the machines they test everything from efficiency, water usage, energy consumption and how gentle they are on fabrics.
Consumer reports spends about $12,000 annually on fabric swatches alone for testing purposes. Machines are also tested for stain removal, color fading and how materials hold up after wash upon wash upon wash. They use one detergent. They have one favorite. It's not the Stain Lifter that's All... it's what the edge of the water is often referred to! Ah, don't worry. I'm not giving away any trade secrets. That's already been published!
If I slip my whites into 8-A do you think they'll notice? Or do you think the boys' sock stench would give it away?
From washing machines to light bulbs... to see how white our whites got, perhaps?
Again, the most simple of approaches combined with the most technological will yield the best and brightest light. Huge strides have been made toward the improvement of LED and CFL bulbs.Some of the newer bulbs are as true to color as natural sunlight while others will cast a slightly blue or yellowish hue. I had the ability to see the differences first-hand. There was one brand, a brand that I had never heard of before, that is sold in some of the larger box store chains, that was as true to color as I have ever seen. Because it was still in testing I will not divulge the brand. It was not, however, one of the two major brands that may come to mind when you think of lighting.
As I live in an charming 1930s cape that does not have central air conditioning, I found our next stop particularly informative. Although marked improvements have been made, window units are always more effective than the standalone models as shown above. Air conditioners are tested for cooling effectiveness, the ability to maintain a temperature setting, energy efficiency and to some degree, noise level. The temperature in the small room above was set to roughly 90 - 100 degrees fahrenheit and the above machine was working at full capacity. I won't say much other than it felt much like my attic in the middle of August!
And then to the generators. The models shown were roughly $1500 in range. I asked about the portables and the folks at Consumer's don't like the portable models - Those are the smaller models in the $250 - $500 range. They worry about safety. Most people who buy these small models use extension cords to connect household items to them. This is extremely unsafe. There are special cable attachments specific to each type and size generator and only these should be used. We looked at two comparable models, a Generac (above right) and a Honda (above right.) Both were on wheels for ease of use and both were roughly $1500, the attachment costs about $500 more. Again, Consumer Reports adamantly advises never to use extension cords, even the heavy duty ones. A generator of this size will power up your entire home save for the heating or air conditioning systems. (Individual heating and cooling units can be attached.) A generator will last as long there is enough of a gas supply. When Hurricane Sandy struck, just a couple of years ago, and parts of the east coast experienced a gas shortage, many generators ran out of steam. The folks at Consumers also suggest running generators for a few hours and giving them a rest for a few. This will cut down on noise and save gas. The Honda model had a plastic covering and was significantly quieter than the generac model. That's also something to take into consideration when shopping for a generator.
Many people do not realize such but generators require a good bit of maintenance. They need to be run at least once a month and need regular oil changes just as your car does. You'll need to have some gas around but gas does have a shelf life. So you don't want to buy too much ahead of time.
We also talked briefly about permanent generators. For about $25,000, this could be a sound investment for your home if you live in an area prone to losing power often and you plan on being in your home a while. These need no maintenance.
We briefly touched upon snow blowers as well and looked at several models and sizes. These machines are tested for their ability to cut through and toss snow and maneuverability. Because testing for these occurs in the spring, so that the results can be released in time for the heavy New England Snows, to simulate the same weight and feel of a heavy snow, they use wet sawdust. It's amazing what these guys come up with! How did the machines fare? You'll have to purchase the issue of CR or subscribe to their digital publications to find out!
My last stop was in the test kitchen area. Next time I pay these guys a visit I will be sure to choose a day when they are actually testing their products. We looked at steam ovens, which according to Consumer's is just not worth it, and ranges that contained both electric and gas, again, not necessary, according to these guys. While gas is prefered there are plenty of great electric models on the market. Great strides are being made on induction ovens, but more work is needed. This model has a simulated flame to help you gauge the heat levels visual. These guys seemed to really liked this feature.
I'd like to thank Ann Burr Tenthoff for reaching out to me and inviting me along and testers Rico DePaz, Dave Trezza, Chris Regan, Emilio Gonzales, John Banta and Peter Sawchuck for their knowledge and their time.