Dollars & Sense columnist John Ewoldt searches the Twin Cities and beyond for bargains and strategies to spare you time, money and hassles.
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Posts about Home Improvement

Carpet, flooring, and kitchen cabinet semi-annual sale through Saturday

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: April 12, 2013 - 11:31 AM


One of the best deals on carpeting, hardwood flooring, laminate, tile, and kitchen cabinets is going on now at local ProSource showrooms. During the sale, buyers get an additional discount of about 10 to 15 percent on many but not all items. Everything except granite and other countertops gets an additional 3% discount during the sale, and manufacturers are offering an extra 3-6% on about half of the carpets.


ProSource owner Ken Nash said that most manufacturers have agreed to hold off on price increases until after the sale. The price hikes, which Nash said were delayed during the recession, will be about 5 percent.


Traditionally, these semi-annual sales at the showrooms in Bloomington, Oakdale and Plymouth are some of the best deals on medium to better quality carpet and flooring, but Nash said that the prices on better kitchen cabinets are also among the lowest in the Twin Cities. ProSource carries the Masterbrand line, including Aristokraft, Omega and Diamond, which are similar to to cabinetry seen at the KitchenCraft showroom, said Nash.

If you're looking for inexpensive flooring and kitchen cabinets, you may be better off waiting for a sale at Home Depot, Menards or Lowe's, but this is a good time to buy on sale, at least through Saturday, April 13.


If you can't make a decision by Saturday, check out the showroom and consider waiting until the next sale in the fall. As always, it's best to shop more than one showroom or retailer for the best price and selection.  


ProSource is open to members only, but area residents can get access by calling Jack Rubenstein Wholesale Company at 952-922-4781. Showroom hours for the sale are Friday until 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  




Shortage of air conditioner coolant is costing us

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: June 29, 2012 - 1:03 PM


Sweating bullets over an aging or broken home air conditioner during our 90 degree spell? It gets worse. Due to coolant shortages, the cost of repairing any central air conditioner older than two years is going up, said Angie Hicks of Angie'

Two years ago new air conditioning units started to use a non ozone-depleting coolant, R410A. The coolant that older units have, R-22, is no longer being produced. Prices for it have doubled in the last year, said Jake Barfield, general manager at Paul Falz HVAC in St. Paul. The price for the first pound is about $70 and $30 for subsequent amount at Paul Falz. For most coolant leak repairs, it's about $200 for the coolant, said Barfield. (It could be worse. Hicks said that some contractors are charging as much as $175 for the first pound.) Most a/c units hold between five and eight pounds.

If your a/c unit is running but not cooling enough to prevent a sweat, it could be low on coolant. About 25 percent of a/c problems are related to coolant, said Barfield. 

If you have a coolant leak, don't assume that you need a new central air unit. If the leak can be repaired, your a/c unit may have more life left in it, With many HVAC contractors stockpiling the old R-22 supplies, they're not in danger of depletion yet. On the other hand, if your unit is 15 years or older and it has a coolant leak, ask about new units. "They're more environmentally friendly and more energy efficient," said Hicks. 

Anyone been recently pressured by a contractor to replace an A/C unit that's only five to 10 years old just because of a leak? Get a send or 3rd opinion if you can wait. Most air conditioning contractors will be backlogged as long as the heat continues.


Mpls. plumber charges $240/hour. "Should I call you Dr. Plumber?"

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: June 13, 2012 - 3:17 PM

Sometimes, even a Deal Spotter forgets to do his due diligence. On Monday, June 4, Angie's List sent a "Big Deal" to its subscribers. For $30, subscribers got a service call for plumbing or air conditioning issues. The Minneapolis company indicated that the $30 fee (normally $100) covered only the travel time to the house and the diagnosis. Labor and materials after the diagnosis would be extra.

When the plumber arrived and did his diagnosis, he said that his hourly fee was $240 and that he expected the job to take about 30 minutes. Although the $240 rate astounded me, I agreed to it since $30 was already invested and the expected repair time was short.  

Word to the wise: Ask any service provider for their hourly labor rate before making an appointment. It might not prevent overcharging, but at least you can estimate the cost if the plumber says the job will take X number of hours.

FYI, most plumbers in the Twin Cities charge about $75 to $130 per hour, according to Twin Cities Consumers Checkbook.

Can you spot fake online reviews? An expert tells how.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: February 1, 2012 - 12:38 PM



If you're searching online for a hotel room, a small appliance or a gift for Valentine's Day, you'd be well-served to read a few customer reviews of the product from people who have already purchased it. In a pinch, I've cut to the quick by looking only at products with 4 1/2 stars or 5 stars.


But the quality of highly-rated products could be overblown by fake reviews, said Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of ConsumerSearch. Desperate online sellers try to differentiate their product from the competition by paying people to write effusive reviews. Some reviewers are paid to do so, but other sites give discounts or refunds to buyers who write a positive review. 

According to a recent article in the New York Times, VIP Deals on Amazon advertised its leather case for a Kindle Fire for $10 plus shipping (list price of $60). But inside the package was a letter inviting the buyer to write a review. In exchange, the buyer would refund the price so the product would be free. 

Until last month when Amazon removed the product from its site, the leather case had received 335 reviews with 310 of them five stars and nearly all others four stars, according to the Times.  



So how can consumers recognize such a scam? Not easily. Only one reviewer hinted at the freebie, writing "I would have done 4 stars instead of 5 without the deal." Fortunately, Frietchen said that some fake reviews are easier to spot.

Here are her tips:


+Look for at least 20 reviews to get a representative sampling of any single product.

+Rearrange the order of the reviews. Generally they are in chronological order. Switch to read them in star order instead.

+Beware of over-the-top gushing about a product.  Adjectives such as "perfect," wonderful" and "superb!!!!!!!!!!!" might make us feel good about a potential purchase, but Frietchen said normal people tend not to use words such as "superb" or a string of exclamation points. When was the last time that you loved a product unconditionally? A  real review will mention a weakness or two. Better to read the middle-of-the-road reviews.

+Watch out for reviews that mention the full name of the product. A  legitimate reviewer might write "I really  liked this coffeemaker. It keeps the coffee hot and doesn't drip." A  fake reviewer might write "The Cuisinart 2347 coffeemaker is the best product I've ever owned." The fake reviewer might repeat the full product name several times like a bad radio commercial.

+Tolerate misspellings but not poor grammar or syntax.. People type quickly, so misspellings are usually  not a sign of a fake review, but putting a verb in the wrong place is a red flag. People from other countries who use English as a second language are often the ones being paid for their reviews.

+ Google a key phrase from a potentially fake review to see if it shows up on other sites. Fake reviews are often posted at multiple sites. Also, check a reviewer's other reviews. Frietchen discovered one reviewer who wrote five reviews, all for DeLonghi products. Turned out the person was a DeLonghi employee who worked in the marketing department. 

Researchers say  that the average person can only detect fake reviews about half the time. Anyone have other tips for rooting out the fakes? Anyone who had never considered that reviews might be fake?  



Finally, an LED 60-watt lightbulb takes a major price dive

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: January 16, 2012 - 12:13 PM



At $15 each, the cost of a Philips LED bulb to replace an ordinary 60-watter is relatively high, compared to an incandescent. But for anyone who’s waiting for the price to come down, the time to buy and try is now. Last year the same A19 bulb cost $40. Then it decreased to $25 last fall. Now the bulb is on sale at Home Depot for $15 through March. The 12.5 watt LED bulb (a 60 watt incandescent equivalent) has received, er, glowing reviews online and from Consumer Reports.  It’s dimmable, has a six year warranty, contains no mercury, and has the soft warm glow of an incandescent. It’s expected to last 22 years (assuming 3 hours usage each day) and use 80 percent less energy than an incandescent. I’ve used one for over a year without any issues.


It’s not a perfect replacement yet. It has a one second delay when first lit, but it reaches maximum brightness immediately. According to the package instructions, it should not be used in enclosed fixtures indoors or outside, photocells or timers. Finally, it’s not much of a looker, so it’s best when hidden by a shade. A 40-watt equivalent is $22  and the new 75-watt equivalent is $40 in Home Depot stores. The bulbs can also be ordered at The 60-watt equivalent is model number 409904 on the site.


So why did Home Depot lower its price? Most likely, it was competition. At the Consumer Electronics Show last week Lighting Science Group announced a similar bulb for slightly less than $15 that’s expected to last even longer. As far as I can tell, it's not available yet. I saw several bulbs from the company online but none that were 60 watt equivalents and priced under $15.


Has anyone else tried to Lighting Science Group bulbs or the Philips?



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