Wednesday, April 5, 2017


One of our criteria for our house design was to plan for solar panels.  That meant having an unobstructed south facing section of roof.  With an attached hangar, there is no shortage of roof.  It also helps that the south facing roof is in the back, so the neighbors are less likely to be bothered.

Although we always planned to install solar at some point, the "when" was not clear.  For one thing, our finances were a bit stretched when we moved in.  The price of solar panels is dropping steadily, which argued in favor of waiting.  When we moved in, Michigan's rules for net metering were unclear with proposals to replace or change net metering under debate in the legislature.  This spring, a few things fell into place.  The legislature passed new legislation that clarified the rules - somewhat.  Projects completed in the next year are expected to be grandfathered under the current net metering rules for ten years.  Although it is still unclear what the rules will be for future projects, it is pretty certain they will be less favorable.  A little research revealed that solar projects could be financed under a program called Michigan Saves.  We decided to pull the trigger.

Our solar array includes 28 SUNIVA panels.  Each is rated at 280 watts, for a total of 7.84 kW.  The system was installed by Homeland Solar.  The installer sized the system based on our electric bills since we moved in last September.  We reduced the size a bit from their estimate because we really do expect to do better on electric usage in the future.  For aesthetic reasons, we decided to go with the all black panels even though they produce slightly less power per panel than the silver panels.

The first step was to set up scaffolding to safely get up on the roof.  Then, the support rails are attached to the roof.

After the rails are in place, panels are installed.

All 28 panels in place.
DC wires run from the panels on the hangar roof, through the hangar attic and the hangar, into the basement.  The Solar Edge 7.6 kW inverter is installed in the utility room.  Although the inverter is a few feet away from the electrical panel, the AC wiring cannot take the direct route.  The utility requires an exterior shut-off switch near the electric meter.  In most homes, the electric meter is close to the electrical panel, but not in ours.  Fortunately, in anticipation of eventually installing a generator, we had the foresight to install a conduit from the utility room to the end of the house with the meter.  The installers were able to pull three sets of wires through the conduit: one from the inverter to the shutoff switch, one from the shutoff switch to the electrical panel, and one for the eventual natural gas standby generator.

In addition to the electric meter (left) and the gas meter (middle), we now have a solar disconnect switch on the end of the house.
The installed cost came out to $2.55 per watt ($1.79 after the 30% tax credit).  Our monthly payments under the Michigan Saves loan will be a little bit more than the expected reduction in our electric bill, so the project is not quite cash flow positive in the first year.  If electric prices go up, we will be ahead.  In ten years, the loan will be paid off, so we will be saving money even if the net metering terms are not as favorable.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Central Vacuum

While our house was under construction, our vacuum cleaner gave up in the midst of cleaning the apartment.  It never did a great job.  Suddenly, it just made a lot of noise and unpleasant smells.  Tired of buying vacuum cleaners that don’t work well and break in a couple years, I went about researching higher quality vacuums.  Having learned a little about indoor air quality, I also wanted one that wouldn’t spew particulates into the room.

I concluded that the best solution would be a central vacuum.  The price tag is many times that of the ones we usually buy at the local store.  There are some high-end portable units that claim to be a big improvement, but the price tag on those is in the same ballpark as a central vacuum.  The manufacturers of both the high end portable units and the central vacuums advertised that their products would do a superior job of cleaning and would last many years.  I found those claims easier to believe for a central vacuum.  One feature that no portable unit could match is exhausting the fine dirt out of the house with no possibility of spewing it back into the indoor air.  Even after I was convinced that a central vacuum would be superior, it took awhile to get comfortable with the idea of spending that much on a vacuum.  Our house was at the ideal stage of construction for installing a central vacuum.  The house was framed but no drywall was installed.  Since that wouldn’t be true for much longer, we decided to pull the trigger.

One feature that we debated was the hide-a-hose system.  With this system, hoses are stored in the tubes so you don’t have to carry a bulky hose from a closet to the room you want to vacuum.  We decided that not having to carry the hose around and coil it back up afterwards didn’t justify the extra cost.

One undeniable drawback of the central vacuum is that it was absolutely useless for cleaning the apartment in the meantime.  Fortunately, my parents had an extra unit sitting around.  Apparently, some people buy new vacuums before the old one fills the home with smoke.

After living with it for a few months, we are happy with the choice.  Mainly, we are thrilled that it does a very good job picking up the pet hair and other stuff from our floors.  Convenience is pretty much a wash compared to a portable.  You still need to get something out of a closet, carry it to the dirty room, and plug it in (although you plug in a hose instead of a cord).

This is the central unit, which is installed in the basement.

This shows the tube to one of the wall ports before drywall installation.
Here is what the wall ports look like after the walls are finished.
Under the laundry room sink, we have a Vroom unit.  This has a relatively short hose coiled up in the unit which can be pulled out quickly for little messes without getting the hose out of the closet.  When we decided to put this unit in the laundry room, we planned to have the cat litter in that room.  We ended up putting the litter box elsewhere and we don't use this unit as often as we anticipated.
In the kitchen, we have a dustpan unit.  When we sweep, the pile of dust is sucked into the central vacuum system.  We have discovered that we rarely sweep with a broom anymore.  Vacuuming is easier.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Home Automation

Enthusiast of “the internet of things” imagine a world in which all or our devices seamlessly communicate with one another, anticipating our wants and needs, and satisfying them with little need for direct commands from us.  The reality is not quite there yet.

I didn’t set out to make our house a “smart home” filled with a bunch of devices communicating with each other.  One device at a time, I find myself sliding in that direction.  Some of my devices communicate with one another, although often not so seamlessly.  Sometimes they do what I want without an explicit command.  I am enjoying playing with the technology.  However, I couldn’t point to enough convenience to justify the effort and expense if I wasn’t enjoying the process.

Let there be controllable light

My first step into home automation came when I was tasked with procuring light bulbs for all of the light fixtures in the house.  I knew we wanted LEDs in most fixtures.  Like most other seemingly simple choices, I decided to complicate it by reading about the differences between various light bulbs.  It turns out that LEDs are not only available in different intensities, but also in different light temperatures.  Some light temperatures provide more soothing ambient light while others are more suitable for task lighting.  Then I read about Hue light bulbs.  These come in three types: white lights that have adjustable brightness, white ambiance lights that have adjustable brightness and temperature, and color lights that have adjustable brightness, temperature, and even color.  I bought these for many of the fixtures.  I also bought the Hue Hub.  The hub communicates with the bulbs through a radio protocol called Zigbee.  The hub also communicates with cell phones via wifi or the Internet.

This is a Hue Dimmer Switch.
It comes with a wall plate that makes it more or less
blend in with Decora wall switches.
However, we prefer just setting it on a countertop.
The On button cycles through pre-defined scenes.
The middle buttons brighten or dim the lights.
The Off button, not surprisingly, turns the lights off.
One feature I like is using the lamp on the night stand to wake me up.  The lights come on, at a low intensity, at a programmed time.  Then, they gradually increase in intensity.  I find it a much more pleasant way to wake up than a buzzing alarm clock.

After setting this all up, we discovered that the lights go back to a default each time they are turned off and then on again at the wall switch.  If the default was not what we wanted, we had to get a phone out and adjust it via the Hue app.  Nobody wants to go through that each time they want to turn a light on.  In order to take advantage of the Hue features, you need to leave the wall switch on and control the lights via Hue.  For some areas of the house, we invested in switches from Hue.  For other areas of the house, we ended up just not taking advantage of the light bulb features.  The light bulbs are grouped into rooms and each switch is associated with a room.  For each room, there are a few predefined scenes with different light temperatures and intensities, such as “Relax”, “Read”, and “Concentrate.”  Defining additional scenes is straight forward.  When you push the On button of the Hue switch, it comes on at the last selected scene.  Pressing the On button additional times cycles through other scenes.

This is a Hue Tap Switch.
It costs twice as much as the Hue Dimmer Switch
and is actually less capable.  Pressing the single
dot turns the lights off.  Pressing any of the three
buttons selects a scene.
My wife ordered an Amazon Echo for the family room/kitchen area.  Her motivation was the ability to stream music.  I discovered that, with a little setup, the Echo provides an alternate way to control the lights.  For example, if I say “Alexa, turn kitchen lights off,” the lights turn off.

The universe of possibilities

Many devices are now designed to be controlled via the internet using a cell phone app.  However, the cell phone app that is specific to the device isn’t the only one that can control it.  A web service called IFTTT (IF This Then That) allows you to control devices based on information from other devices and from outside services.  IFTTT has partnered with many manufacturers so that devices can accept commands to do things from the IFTTT service and can send signals to the IFTTT service to trigger actions.  This allows you to have one device trigger another device to do something.  For example, your garage door being opened can trigger your thermostat to go from away mode to home mode.  There are also a bunch of potential triggers from sources other than your devices, such as The Weather Channel and ESPN.  The possibilities are vast.  The useful possibilities are much less vast.  My first experiment with IFTTT was to make some of my Hue light bulbs turn to red whenever a Detroit Red Wings game started.  I made it work.  After it happened a few times, I turned it off because it was annoying.

In search of utility

I decided I was approaching this wrong.  Instead of going through the millions of ways I could automate things looking for something that would be useful, maybe I should start with something I actually wanted to automate.  I wanted the porch lights to come on near sunset and go off near sunrise.  If our porch lights took Hue bulbs, that would be pretty straight forward to accomplish.  But they don’t take bulbs, they have the LEDs built into the fixture.  They are controlled by three-way wall switches, one near the front door and one near the door to the garage.

This is our Wink Relay.  The little screen lets you do the things you would
normally do through the Wink App without getting out your phone.
It is installed in place of a single or double wall switch.
At least one of the two buttons controls whatever was previously
controlled by the wall switch.  It is also capable of doing some of what
a Wink Hub does, although that is pretty limited.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I didn’t set out to create a “smart home.”  By this time, however, I was interested in this home automation stuff.  I found some replacement switches with built in timers that would probably have been the simplest solution.  That is not what I did.  Unable to find replacement switches that interact directly with IFTTT, I decided to obtain a home automation hub and switches that would communicate with the hub.  The fact that the existing switches were 3-way switches limited my choices.  I decided to go with switches from GE that support 3-way switches.  For a home automation hub, I decided to go with a Wink Relay.  The Wink system supports two different radio protocols that are common for home automation: Zigbee and Z-wave.  The GE switches are available for either protocol.  Since I already had a bunch of Zigbee devices, I selected the Zigbee version.  The Wink Relay replaces one or two wall switches.  There are a number of limitations, though.  It cannot go where you have a gang of three switches.  It also cannot replace any 3-way switches.  The best place I could find was the switch in the master bedroom controlling the light on the balcony.  I installed the Relay and the GE switches and tried to get everything to communicate.

It turns out I had a few misconceptions.  The Wink Relay could not do what I wanted.  I needed a Wink Hub.  Wink had recently released a new hub product, so I ordered one of those.  Next, I learned that, although Wink supports both the Zigbee and Z-wave protocols, it only supports the Z-wave version of the GE switches.  So I ordered one of those and replaced the Zigbee version.

Now, at sunset, IFTTT sends a message to Wink, which then sends a message to my GE switch, which turns the porch light on.  We used to ask “how many people does it take to change a light bulb?”  In home automation, we should ask “how many products and services does it take to turn on a light?”


The Wink Relay has two buttons.  If you use it to replace a single wall switch, one of the buttons can be used for something else.  Since the Hue switch for the nightstand lamps always seems to be on my wife’s side of the bed, I decided to use it to turn off the nightstand lamps.  When you turn off a Hue light using Wink, it takes at least a few seconds to happen and sometimes MUCH longer.  People used to joke about being so tired that they could turn off the light switch and be asleep before it got dark.  In my house, that is literally a realistic possibility.

The Foobot and the Furnace

What other things might be useful to automate?  I have an air quality monitor called a foobot.  Among other things, it detects the level of particulates in the air.  If the level of particulates gets higher than desired, one suitable response is to turn the furnace fan on so the MERV 13 filter can remove particulates.  Could that be automated?

There is a foobot interface for IFTTT, but not for Wink.  My thermostat is an Emerson Sensi which has an interface with Wink but doesn’t have one with IFTTT.  (Wink, IFTTT, and all of the other players in this field are continuously adding new interfaces, so this information may rapidly become obsolete.)  However, there is a Wink interface to IFTTT.  So, having already installed the Wink hub for the porch light issue, I didn’t have to buy anything new.  A little programming set it up.  When the particulate level exceeds a threshold, foobot sends a signal to IFTTT which sends a signal to Wink which sends a signal to the thermostat to turn the fan on.  When the particulate level drops below a lower threshold, foobot sends a signal to IFTTT which sends a signal to Wink which sends a signal to the thermostat to set the fan back to Auto.

One flaw in this setup is that Wink cannot just change the fan setting.  Instead, it also sets the heating/cooling mode and temperature setpoint.  So, these other parameters get hard-coded into the automation.  If we decide to change the setpoint on the thermostat for some other reason, then Wink will set it back to the hard-coded value whenever the rule runs.  I sent a question about this to Wink technical support.  The response was that Wink programmers envisioned people doing all of their thermostat control via Wink.  I don’t want to go that far.  If this technology takes off, there will be battles over which products gets to be in control of what.

Excuse me – your door is open

The main part of the door sensor mounts on the door frame.
A little magnet mounts on the door.
The sensor senses proximity of the magnet
(except when it doesn't for some reason).
The next challenge involved our doors.  Several times since we have lived in the house, we have found that exterior doors have been accidentally left open.  (The real solution turns out to be door knobs that the dog cannot open, but that is a different story.)  Could we use this technology to get a notification when that happens so that we can go close the door?  Toward this end, I purchased a GoControl Home Security Suite that came with three door sensors.  I installed one on each of our exterior doors.  Then I set it up to send me a notification if the door stays open for more than 5 minutes.  I tested it.  It worked.  However, since then, I have gotten about ten false alarms for every time that the door has actually been left open.  Maybe I will eventually discover a way to make it reliable enough to be useful.  In the meantime, this application is a failure.

The security kit also included a motion detector and a siren.  To my wife’s relief, I haven’t hooked up the siren.  I have attempted to use the motion detector to control the kitchen lights.  The lights are programmed to go on when there is motion in the kitchen.  That works most of the time, but with enough delay that you are usually reaching for the switch by the time the lights come on.  The lights are programmed to go off when there has been no motion for 20 minutes.  That works sometimes.

What else can we automate?

There are a lot of other devices that we could add to our home automation system.  Many of our appliances can be connected to the internet and to IFTTT or Wink.  We could replace our door locks with smart locks that use Bluetooth signals to unlock when an authorized person approaches.   At the moment, we have no plans to add any additional devices until we have some clear idea of what useful functionality it will provide.


Before you choose a home automation hub such as Wink or SmartThings, look for explicit statements that the devices you have are supported.  Similarly, after you have chosen a hub, look for explicit statement that any new device you are considering is supported before you buy it.

Don’t count on home automation for anything mission critical.

If you are building new and plan to use Hue or some other type of smart light bulbs, minimize the number of wall switches.  Don’t use 3-way switches.  Whenever possible, use a single switch to control a bunch of lights.  Plan on controlling the lights through switches that work with the automation.

Plan on having lots of hubs.  In the closet where my home automation stuff resides, I have a Wink hub, a Hue hub, a hub for the garage door opener, and a hub for my weather station (which doesn't yet interface with either IFTTT or Wink).  That is in addition to the cable modem, the wifi router, and a backup drive. 

One unintended consequence of my experiments in home automation is that I have much more information about what occupants of the house do.  I have a record of what time various doors were opened and closed.  I have a record of when people walked through the kitchen.  If I chose to look, I could tell what time people turn out their lights at night.  The foobot’s air quality readings sometimes indicate activities that are outside our norms.  I have no desire to spy on my family and they trust me not to use the data against them.  For some families, this level of data gathering may cause issues.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hot Water

In an earlier post, I discussed a number of options to provide space heating and cooling.  One of those options was an integrated system that provided both space heating and hot water.  Having not chosen that system, I needed to select a hot water heater.  This choice has several aspects: what fuel to use, storage tank or tankless, whether or not to circulate the water, and whether to include heat recovery.  The criteria include: initial cost, operating cost, and likelihood of running out of hot water.


The realistic choices are electricity or natural gas.  When natural gas is available, oil or propane offer no advantages.  Electric water heaters tend to be cheaper to install but more expensive to operate.  Since natural gas involves combustion, provisions must be made to supply combustion air and to vent the exhaust. The cheapest type to install is an atmospherically vented model.  These draw combustion air from the room and rely on the temperature of the exhaust gas to draw the exhaust up a chimney.  This type is not compatible with a high degree of air sealing.  In a well-sealed house, the kitchen fan or dryer can lower the pressure in the house enough to reverse the flow in the chimney and draw exhaust into the house.  The next step up the expense scale is a power vented water heater.  An electric motor driven fan propels the exhaust products out of the house.   Inside air is still used for combustion.  The most expensive type is a powered direct vent which draws outside air for combustion and sends the exhaust outside.

Storage or Tankless

Storage type water heaters heat a tank full of water up to a setpoint temperature and keeps it hot.  Some heat is continuously lost from the storage tank.  If too many people take showers in a row, the water heater cannot keep up and will eventually deliver cold water.  The usual solution to that is to increase the size, say from 50 gallons to 80 gallons.  Larger units cost more to install and have higher storage losses.

Tankless water heaters, on the other hand, heat the water as it is drawn.  Tankless water heaters must have larger btu/hr capacities in order to keep up with the maximum water flow rate.  Sometimes, that requires upgraded natural gas or electric service from the utility.  They never run out of hot water no matter how many people shower in a row.  Tankless heaters have been known to have trouble regulating the water temperature when the flow rate is low.


When you turn on the hot water, the water that had been sitting in the pipe comes out.  If it has been there awhile, it is cold.  You have to wait for hot water to start flowing.  One solution to this problem is to circulate the hot water so that the hot water pipe is constantly full of hot water.  Of course, that hot water in the pipes is constantly losing heat, increasing how much the water heater needs to do.  This can be alleviated somewhat by only periodically circulating the water, such as when someone turns a light switch on in a bathroom.

Heat Recovery

Drain water heat recovery (DWHR) systems, such as Power-Pipe or GFX, are heat exchangers that recover some of the heat that is left in the drain water.  They are most effective for showering.  The recovered heat pre-heats the cold water entering the water heater and the cold water feed to a shower.  In addition to reducing energy use, these systems increase the number of showers before a storage type water heater runs cold.  These systems are installed in a vertical drain pipe.

My Decision

After much debate, I decided on a 50 gallon GE Geospring heat pump water heater.  This unit uses an electric heat pump to transfer heat from the interior air into the water.  It operates with a coefficient of performance of about 3, meaning that it only uses one watt of electric power for every three watts of heat that goes into the water.  The other two watts come out of the interior air.  In the winter, that increases the natural gas consumption of the furnace.  In the summer, it reduces the electricity use of the air conditioner.  Although it costs much less to operate than a regular electric water heater, it still costs a little more to operate than a gas water heater at current prices.  My major motivation for this choice was to avoid having another combustion appliance in the house.  Some people have complained that heat pump water pumps are noisy and take too long to recover.  I decided that I was willing to take those risks.

Having finally made this decision, I arrived at the house one day and found the plumbing sub-contractor busily installing a power vented natural gas water heater.  I didn't expect water heater installation for several more weeks.  After a few phone calls, things were straightened out.

I decided against any kind of circulation system.  The only fixtures that are very far from the water heater are in the guest bathroom, which I expect will be rarely used.

Although the drain for the master bathroom is suitable for DWHR, drains from the other two showers are not suitable.  (The shower in the basement does not have a vertical section.  The shower in the guest room is used too infrequently to justify DWHR.)  I am pretty sure that the plumbers had never encountered a DWHR system (they had never seen a heat pump water heater).  I decided that this was not the occasion to make the builders do something else completely new to them.  The drain for the master bedroom is in an accessible location in the utility room, so the option remains open if I decide to take it on as a DIY project at some point.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Shortly after we started construction, Julie and I attended a home show in Novi, MI.  One of the decisions we made there was to install a retractable awning from Marygrove Awnings.  A couple days after we placed the order, they called to schedule installation.  "Sorry," I told them, "you have to wait until we have walls to install it on."  Even after the exterior was almost complete, our builder didn't want it installed too early for fear that it would get damaged during installation of something else.  The awning was finally installed in the middle of October, after we were living in the house.

With 2" of rigid foam on the exterior, I was concerned about having sufficiently firm support.  So, before the siding went on, I decided where each bracket would go and had the framers take out a little section of foam and replace it with solid wood.
The framers, who also did the siding and trim, installed some additional trim in the bracket locations.  (Over the sliding door, there would have been trim there anyway.)  The awning installers needed to get extra long lag bolts that would go through the trim, the siding, the furring strips, the rigid foam, the sheathing, and a proper distance into the studs.
Once five brackets were firmly bolted to the house structure, the crew lifted the awning into place and attached it to the brackets.
The awning plugs into a regular outdoor outlet with a conventional 110V plug.  When the rough electrical was done, we planned for the awning by specifying an outlet in a convenient location.
The finished product in the retracted position.
Given the time of year, we haven't had many opportunities yet to sit on the patio under the awning.  However, we have really enjoyed having it on sunny weekend mornings.  Without the awning, it would be hard to find a spot in the family room that is not in the sun's glare.  We can put the awning out as far as needed to create a comfortable spot to sit and have coffee without impeding our view of any airplanes that come and go.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Landscaping I - Lawn

We didn't get started on landscaping until after construction was complete and we moved in.  We had hopes that our lawn would soon be green like our neighbors' lawns.  Looking at the calendar, it seems more likely that our lawn won't look like the neighbors' until all of them are white.

The soil on our lot is clay.  After the finish grading and stone removal, several truck loads of topsoil were delivered and spread.
We decided to have underground sprinklers installed right away.  Installing the sprinkler system required running a 1" pipe to the outdoors.  It would have been much easier to do that while doing the rough plumbing.  Once the drywall ceiling was installed in the basement, it was much more difficult.  The fact that we extended the patio further than originally planned made it impossible to simply go straight out from the back of the workshop.  Also, since we have two driveways, it was necessary to bore under one of them.  It would have been much easier if we had buried some plastic tubing before doing the concrete driveway.

This shows the landscape contractor pulling the pipes for the irrigation system with a trencher. 
After the irrigation system was installed, the landscape contractor applied hydro-seed.
The hydro-seed was not applied until a couple days before Halloween.  We had an unusually warm November, but that was not enough for the lawn to come in.  As of early December, there is grass if you look close, but that doesn't count as a lawn.  The contractor says that the seed will go dormant during the winter like grass does and will come in strong next spring.

We get a big puddle at the back of the patio every time it rains.  This takes days to dry up.  Hopefully, once we have grass, the grass will absorb it faster.  If not, I need to come up with some other plan.
In the spring, we plan to put in a handful of small bushes and spread wood chips around most of the perimeter of the house.  We are aiming for low maintenance.

Monday, October 24, 2016


We purchased our appliances from Home Depot when they were having a sale, which was several months before they were needed in the house.  We selected them online, which worked great.  There are more choices online than in the store, it is easier to sort out which models have which features, and we found the customer reviews to be very helpful.  We went into the store to place the order, which also worked great.  The salesperson at Home Depot was extremely helpful.  We got a significant discount for buying multiple GE appliances at one time.

Arranging for delivery got complicated.  The builder wanted the dishwasher and microwave delivered early enough for the appropriate subcontractors to install them and wanted the range and fridge delivered at the very end so they wouldn't be in the way and at risk of damage.  Home Depot wanted to deliver all of the appliances at once.  After a little negotiation, the builder agreed to have them all delivered at once.  I took some time off work to be at the house when the delivery came.  The fridge, range, and microwave came off the truck as expected, but the dishwasher somehow got dropped from the order.  So, we had two large appliances in the way and lacked one that we needed to install.  After a few calls and another morning off work a week later, all the appliances were present.

We chose an induction range.  The range creates a magnetic field that induces current in the pan to heat up the pan.  That cuts the electricity use substantially compared to a resistance range, but we would need a century for the utility bill savings to justify the extra cost.  The main justification is that it improves cooking.  It responds to setting changes immediately.  It also cooks fast.  Maybe we will make up the cost by eating out less often.  We had to buy new pots and pans, but Julie didn't consider that a drawback.  The oven can be used as a conventional oven or as a convection oven.  I really appreciate that, unlike our previous oven, when my daughter makes cookies the bottoms don't burn before the rest gets baked.

The induction range
We followed the advice of our kitchen designer and chose a counter-depth refrigerator.  You would think less depth would be cheaper, but the opposite is true.  It costs more to get one that is smaller in that dimension.  It still has plenty of capacity for us and it is nice that it doesn't stick out as far.

The refrigerator has a connector on top that would allow us to connect it to the internet if we buy an extra part.  We haven't done that.  We are waiting for some occasion when we really wish we could check the status remotely.  So far, we haven't figured out why we might want to do that.
The best thing about the new dishwasher is that it does a much better job than our old one of getting the dishes clean, so we don't have to get them almost clean when we put them in.  It runs for about four hours, but that hasn't been a problem.

We bought a new washer and dryer when we moved into the apartment during construction.  We had to move and install those ourselves.