As U.S. families' debt levels fall to a six-year low, many households are poised to start spending again, the Wall Street Journal reports. But growing instability in the Middle East and a jump in raw-material and energy costs are likely to kick consumer prices up a notch. Case in point: Whirlpool and Electrolux have announced April 1 price hikes on appliances, even after recession-related sales declines.
That will make bargain-hunting all the more critical. Here's a quick list of top deals on home and remodeling products, based on Consumer Reports' ongoing tests:
Appliances: The GE JB700DN[WW], $700, electric smoothtop range was excellent or very good at baking, broiling, and self-cleaning, and comes in at roughly half the cost of others with similar performance. The Amana ABB2221WE[W] bottom-freezer refrigerator, $850, had excellent temperature and energy efficiency performance. The Samsung RF266AE[WP] French-door refrigerator, $1500, excelled in the same two categories and was even quieter than the Amana. The Kenmore 2800, $620, and Whirlpool Cabrio WTW5700X[W], $700, topped our best picks for top-loading washing machines.
Flooring: EcoTimber's Woven Honey prefinished solid wood and Bamboo Horizontal Amber (both $5.50 a square foot) topped our Ratings; the EcoTimber Woven Honey is a Best Buy. Plastic laminate, linoleum and vinyl floors mimic the real stuff better than before; we tabbed Pergo Accolade Rustic Oak PJ2627 ($3.25 a square foot) a Best Buy among plastic laminates and recommended Congoleum DuraCeramic Sierra Slate SI-74 Golden Greige ($4.00 a square foot) among vinyl flooring. (See the video above for how we test flooring to simulte years of foot traffic, cleaning, dropped objects, stains and exposure to moisture.)
Countertops: Engineered quartz—a man-made combination of stone, color, and resin that costs between $50 and $100 a square foot—edged out granite in our tests of countertop materials when it came to resisting stains, abrasion, cuts, heat and impacts. And unlike granite, it needn't be resealed. You can also scout home salvage yards for stone or wood countertops that can be refinished or recut to suit your space.
Paint: Finding the best interior paints is as easy as visiting a Home Depot; our tests showed you can't go wrong with several Behr and Glidden formulas sold there. But our Ratings also detail how not all paints can excel in every situation: If you're painting a sunny room, for instance, you may want to opt for different brands. And avoid scrimping on price here—we've found that lower-cost brands sometimes take three to four coats to finish the job.
—Reporting by Gian Trotta