Are your appliances exploding your household budget? From 1950 to 2000, U.S. homes more than doubled in size. Appliances grew and multiplied to fill the space. Double ovens, six burner cooktops, industrial-sized refrigerators, and large-capacity washers and dryers showcased prosperity. They also doubled household electricity bills.
If this is too much for your current lifestyle, you're not alone. Lots of us are looking to downsize our homes, our expenses, and our energy consumption. To help with that goal, we've rounded up 10 appliances that meet the needs of one or two people, operate efficiently, and fit in scaled-down living quarters.
10: Stacked and Stackable Washer-dryer
Having a washer and dryer in the home is way more convenient than lugging your clothes to the nearest Laundromat, but the combination can have some downsides, too. Like when the two machines are hulking masses of metal and take up an entire wall.
When real estate is tight, architects build up. You can, too. Stacking your dryer on top of the washer lets you take advantage of unused vertical space. Single-unit stacked washer-dryers range from small capacity to full-sized, Energy Star qualified, front-loading versions that cut down on water and electricity usage.
Stackables are sold as separate units, and you'll probably need a stacking kit to hold them together securely. But just think of what you can put where the dryer used to sit. It's like adding a new closet!
9: Single Drawer Dishwasher
In 2006, the average household size dropped to an historic low of 2.6 people.
One of the splashiest new trends in the kitchen is a dishwasher that acts like a drawer. Around 16 inches (41 centimeters) high, it pulls out of your cabinet just like a deep storage drawer. If it's taking a whole week to fill your traditional dishwasher, a single drawer dishwasher instead could be your solution. With half the space, you'll fill it twice as fast. But don't imagine you'll save half the price. Currently, single drawer dishwashers cost more than twice what mid-range, standard dishwashers cost.
8: Small Refrigerator
Those boxy compact refrigerators are alright for dorm rooms, but if you need a small refrigerator and still want freezer space, they just won't do. Some manufacturers are designing smaller units that don't take up lots of kitchen space. These compact refrigerators look like a hobbit-sized version of a real refrigerator and freezer combination. Separate, frost-free freezers are big enough to hold a few steaks, some frozen vegetables and a tray of ice. Some are even Energy Star qualified, and not many makers of large refrigerators can claim that.
Did you know that cooking in a microwave oven uses two-thirds less energy than cooking the same meal in your oven? In hot weather, microwaves save even more energy, because they don't heat up your house like ovens and stove top cooking do.
Of course, microwaves get the job done in a fraction of the time -- and at a fraction of the size. So, in the interest of green living, don't force yourself to slave over a hot stove every night.
6: Portable Induction Cooktop/Hotplate
Speaking of hot, how about a cooktop that doesn't get hot? Portable one- or two-burner induction cooktops produce instant heat that transfers completely to your cooking pot. The cooking unit stays cool to the touch. And because the heating element is a solid disc -- no exposed, glowing coils -- you can send one to college with your kid.
There's a catch, of course. If a magnet sticks to the bottom of your pot, you can use the induction heat surface. Otherwise, it doesn't work.
5: Compact Printer
A friend landed her first book contract at a conference -- with a brand-new manuscript she printed on the compact printer she'd brought with her.
When business takes you on the road, wouldn't it be comforting not to have to rely on hotel printing? Compact printers start around $30. When not in use, this portable deal-maker folds down to about the size of a shoe box. Most are Energy Star qualified, so if you don't routinely need a copier,scanner and fax combo, they're a space and energy saving option for your home office, too.
4: Miniature Personal Coffeemaker
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Imagine having a personal assistant deliver fresh-brewed coffee to your desk. You can simulate that satisfaction with a miniature personal brewer. Just pop the beverage pod of choice into the machine, press down -- and voila! A personal cup of happiness. You can choose a gourmet blend for one cup, a flavored coffee for the next, and then switch to tea or hot chocolate if you like. Instant gratification is pricey, though. Although it's about the same size as a 4-cup automatic drip coffeemaker, the miniature personal brewer is triple the cost. Ah, but who can put a price on fresh?
3: Compact Wine Cooler
Did your downsizing eliminate your wine cellar? A compact wine cooler may be just what you need. For around $80, you can get a boxy counter top cooler that holds eight bottles. But if you've got 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 centimeters) of floor space and a plug, you can add a freestanding, upright wine cooler that holds 12 to 18 bottles. Glass doors and interior lights let you keep tabs on your collection.
The coolers are also eco-friendly, energy efficient and designed to let your wine age in peace and quiet -- they're Freon- and vibration-free (because there aren't any moving parts). So sit back, relax, and give a toast to good wine and a little more extra space.
2: Portable Air Conditioner
Since you can only be in one room at a time, why cool all of them? A portable air conditioner lets you keep your cool wherever you go. These aren't the old-fashioned units you mount on windows. Sleek and high-tech looking, portable air conditioners have wheels and handles that help you move them from room to room with ease.
They use "eco-friendly" coolant, they automatically drain condensation, and they can operate as a dehumidifier and a fan. A compact version cranks out 8,000 BTUs of cool, enough to temper your kitchen while you cook, and then keep your master bedroom comfortable through the night.
1: Mini Vacuum Cleaner
At some point, you've got to clean. But do you always need that big, bulky vacuum cleaner? A lightweight, rechargeable stick vacuum lets you unplug and go where you need to for small spaces and emergency cleanups. Ball-and-joint construction lets these babies glide into narrow spaces, and a foldaway handle makes it easy to lift the suction up for stairs, blinds or the top of the refrigerator. One version even does double duty: Its cleaning power comes from a pop-out, hand-held vacuum.