If you’ve been shopping for major appliances, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of poor selection and repeated delays. “AHAM has been very involved with a coalition of associations who have worked together since the supply chain issues started,” comments Jill Notini, vice president for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, adding, “It’s not only the appliance industry that is facing delays, but since the pandemic has highlighted the importance of appliances in our daily lives, we have been seeking help from all angles to help get new appliances into homes faster.”
This would likely be a welcome relief to Molly McCabe, a kitchen designer and general contractor based on Bainbridge Island in the Seattle area. Design and remodeling professionals like her have been coping with issues like these for more than a year, with no end in sight. At the same time, demand is surging and clients, having been stuck at home for so long, are more interested in their health, wellness and home environment than ever before.
“Through the pandemic, appliances have become absolutely essential to our health and well-being,” Notini observes. “They help us prepare nourishing meals, save money by keeping food fresher for longer periods of time and keep us safe by offering features that sanitize clothing and dishes.”
McCabe reports increased interest in steam ovens and sous vide capability, both able to help in preparing those nutritious meals, as well as more requests for induction cooktops and ranges. “It’s a means of preserving indoor air quality compared to gas,” she explains. Clients are also drawn to the family-friendly benefit of induction not having an open flame that could burn small children or other vulnerable family members.
“Some cooking appliances offer new features, such as sous vide, air frying and steaming,” comments Notini. “Each of these has benefits of drawing out flavors, requiring less salt, fat or oil when cooking, and preserving healthful nutrients,” she observes.
Many of the exhibitors at the 2022 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show were offering multi-feature ovens with a combination of cooking technologies, including the new air sous vide, air frying, convection, slow cooking, etc., and connectivity features like peering in on food and turning off the heat from your phone or tablet.
Wellness-Enhancing Kitchen Ventilation
McCabe is also seeing heightened interest from clients in improved cooking ventilation, she says. Indoor air quality awareness has definitely been heightened as a result of Covid and related pollution concerns.
One of the recent trends spotlighted at KBIS and the International Builders’ Show is connected ventilation technology that ‘reads’ the cooktop to optimize performance. Each expo introduces new offerings with this feature. Broan-NuTone debuted a brand-agnostic smart hood at IBS last February that will work with cooktops from any manufacturer.
McCabe also sees interest in enhanced refrigeration, a trend abundantly seen at KBIS. This is not a new phenomenon, but higher food prices are increasing the importance of keeping your food – especially health-enhancing produce – fresh longer. “Refrigeration that uses dual compressors and/or technology to preserve the life of perishable contents” is high on McCabe’s client priorities.
With people entertaining at home more, particularly outdoors to take advantage of warmer weather, longer daylight hours and reduced Covid exposure risk, outdoor and home bar refrigeration have also been trending. New models are offering cleaner craft ice, in-drawer wine preservation and flexible drawers that convert from freezing to wine chilling to standard refrigeration in the same space.
Appliances for cleaning dishes and clothing have also become more wellness-centric. “The sanitization cycle has been rediscovered during the pandemic,” Notini declares. “Many owners had these features on their products and rarely, if ever, used them. But, when disinfecting and sanitizing became part of everyday life, people engaged the sanitization cycles in their clothes and dishwashers.”
Fabric refreshers and refreshing features in washer-dryer sets are also gaining popular appeal. They can remove allergens in clothing, bedding, towels, stuffed animals and other common household items. “Laundering centers have emerged as new innovations to add wellness benefits,” Notini comments.
In dishwashers, third racks have become ubiquitous, a benefit to those with heavier cleaning loads from more at-home cooking and eating. Stainless interiors, easier to keep clean, are also becoming commonplace.
More Americans than ever are living with some form of physical limitation. That includes a significant percentage of our growing senior population, as well as others with vision, hearing, energy, immunity and mobility challenges. Those health conditions often demand accommodations at home. Appliance manufacturers, kitchen designers and occupational therapists are all stepping up to address their needs.
“Large appliance design that incorporates considerations for usability by a wide range of age and ability levels is a win-win for the consumer and the manufacturer,” says Debra Young, a Philadelphia-area occupational therapist specializing in inclusive design, and a certified specialist in environmental modifications.
Appliance manufacturers appear to agree (as they too watch demographic trends), with new offerings providing more reachable controls on washer-dryer pairs, side-opening ovens, dishwasher drawers, smart technology and more accessibility-sensitive alerts.
Redundancy in alerts is helpful, she says. “Whether a person is busy doing something else or has forgotten about the laundry or cooking, alarms and notifications are both helpful and safe. Ranges and cooktops that provide a visual cue to alert that the surface is still hot after cooking provides a visual and cognitive safeguard.”
“The integration of LED lighting into the interior of appliances, including now the dishwasher, is helpful to all users and particularly for persons who may need more light due to age-related vision changes,” explains Young. “Some manufacturers have taken it one step further to allow for in-door viewing to see the contents of your fridge without having to open the door,” she adds.
The occupational therapist sees many new technology offerings that help users of different abilities. “Large appliances are starting to offer voice control functionality within the appliance as well as through smart home hubs such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. When paired with smart appliances, you can set oven timing and temperature, set the temperature for your fridge, make grocery lists, or open the fridge door hands-free,” Young notes.
She is also seeing more connected features that make cooking, shopping and cleaning easier overall. “Being able to complete tasks from your smart device is convenient for everyone. However, these features may make all the difference for some individuals with being independent and safe in the home,” she observes.
McCabe, who also creates kitchens for clients with health and mobility challenges, agrees. “If a kitchen is not only easy to navigate, but also easy to operate, the homeowner is likely to cook ‘more’ and derive better nutrition for a healthy life.”
The designer-contractor would also like to see more wellness-boosting major appliance models in all three categories – cooking, cleaning and refrigeration – be offered at different price points, she says. McCabe’s goal: “Assist consumers in a variety of income brackets achieve health and wellness with the help of their appliances.”
Now if only that delivery truck would show up this week!
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Young, Notini and McCabe will be sharing their appliance insights in an hour-long Clubhouse conversation tomorrow afternoon at 4 pm Eastern/1 pm Pacific. You can join this WELLNESS WEDNESDAY discussion here. If you’re unable to attend, you can catch the recording via Clubhouse Replays or the Gold Notes design blog here the following Wednesday.