Home Improvement

High-tech appliances talk to each other ? And you..

How about a refrigerator that thinks for itself or a washing machine that tells the dryer what to do? 

Manufacturers are building smart appliances that interact with their owners and with each other, connect to smartphones, and call a repairman if something is wrong.

The Samsung RF4289HARS refrigerator goes a few steps farther, say analysts at USA Today. It has a built-in touch-screen that keeps track of the food in it and gives recipes to match the inventory. New refrigerators can run apps and hook up to networks.  

Many of LG's new appliances have a Smart Diagnosis feature, which streamlines the process of repairing the appliance. If something happens, owners can find out what's wrong by calling LG and holding the phone up to a tiny speaker that plays a diagnostic code. For a minor problem, owners get instructions on how to fix it on their own. For a larger problem, repair teams will already know what needs to be fixed when they arrive. 

GE washing machines with CleanSpeak pass information to their companion dryers. They tell how much moisture is in the clothes and how long the drying cycle should last. 

Sales of smart appliances are expected to increase significantly in months and years to come.

Great ways to update your kitchen without breaking the bank

A complete kitchen remodel can cost many thousands of dollars, while simply freshening the kitchen is far less expensive. You will be surprised at the effect a couple of these choices will have. 

* New kitchen faucets at home improvement stores can be a significant improvement. Depending on how fancy you want to go, you'll spend $150 to $500 or a little more. 

Check  www.moen.com and click on Kitchen Faucets 101, or view a selection in person at Lowes or Home Depot

* The ceiling light fixture draws a lot of attention. When selecting one, consider how much light you really need. Some guests like to sit around the table to visit and are more comfortable with softer lighting, but a fixture with bright lighting for reading can be toned down for visiting with a dimer switch.

A chandelier is a decorative choice. Modern styles cost from $160 to more than $500. Check lightingdirect.com/chandelier for ideas.

* To update kitchen cabinets, choose new knobs and handles. Discounted prices are available at www.myknobs.com or choose from local sources. For 20 or 25 knobs, pulls and handles, the cost can add up fast. If your present handles are brass, remove a few at a time and polish with copper cleaner.  

* Thinking about a new floor? Vinyl is an economical choice that can look like ceramic tile, wood or stone and can be installed it over present flooring. 

Sheet vinyl should be laid down by a professional, but you can install adhesive-backed tiles yourself.

There's no need to freshen the whole room at once. By doing one project at a time, you can surprise family and guests every time they visit.