Series in which Sophie Raworth reveals how household products are tested, putting the makers' claims on trial and showing how to get the best value for money.
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Take a look around your home.
Can you be sure that every appliance is safe?
Is everything a company tells you about a product true?
And are you getting the best value for your money?
With the help of the country's top experts,
we're going to see what it takes to test the household products
we use every day.
We'll discover how they're pushed to their limits.
We'll put the makers' claims on trial.
And show you how to make your money go further.
You'll find these products in any ordinary house.
But THIS is no ordinary house.
And no ordinary street.
This is the Watchdog Test House.
Hello. We're deep inside one of Britain's leading science centres.
Here at the Building Research Establishment, some of the products
and materials that we use every day are put to the test
to make sure that they are safe,
environmentally friendly and that they don't fall apart.
Coming up on today's programme:
Safe as houses?
What you need to know if you have one of these locks.
As you can see, it looks like a really secure door,
but what I'm going to demonstrate is a lock-snapping method.
Easy as that!
Beating the burglars,
the industry experts taking on the most determined housebreakers.
These headphones claim to cancel out unwanted background noise.
But how will they cope with this?
Plus, quantum leaps in design, exhaustive testing,
and pressure from Watchdog.
I'll let you know what happens to this story.
How it all led to a safer microwave in your kitchen.
Let's start with the front door.
There are more than 180,000 burglaries across the UK every year,
so it's vital that all doors and locks are tested properly
before they're sold.
The tests are rigorous.
But the criminals are becoming ever-more cunning.
And one of the latest challenges for the security industry
It's fast become a nationwide concern.
A certain type of lock called a Euro cylinder
fitted to millions of UPVC doors and windows up and down the country
that can be broken by burglars in seconds.
A phenomenon known as lock snapping.
Alan Boylan from Leeds was a recent victim.
Got up when the alarm went off.
I assumed that I'd left my lights on and gone to bed leaving them on.
It were only when I actually got to the kitchen window
I realised that my conservatory door was wide open.
As I've opened the inner door to go to the conservatory door
to see why it was left open, handle fell off in my hand
and I found that the lock had been damaged on the door.
It was then that Alan realised intruders had been in his home.
They'd managed to take his laptop, games console
and even his car from the driveway, all without waking him.
That's because the lock snapping technique is quiet, quick
and all-too easy for burglars in the know.
Since the burglary, it's affected my family in a bad way,
especially my wife.
She can't sleep at night now.
I have to come home on my break to make sure everything's all right,
do a full check of the house then go back to work.
I'd advise anyone who's going to buy a house or who's got these
locks on the door to remove them and put high security ones in.
So, what is lock snapping?
Neil Goldup works for Community Action and Support against Crime,
or CASAC, a local charity dedicated to improving home security
in West Yorkshire.
Today, his company is being paid to replace Alan's locks.
This is a broken Euro cylinder,
exactly the same type which would have been fitted to this property.
The burglars have found a technique,
it's very quick, quiet and very easy to get through these,
and these types of lock actually control the mechanism in the door.
Once they bypass this and get access to the locking mechanism,
it's quite easy for them to do.
To show just how vulnerable these locks can be,
we'll put it to the test.
Neil's told us he can get through a locked door in a matter of seconds.
And he's going to prove it.
As you can see, it looks like a really secure door,
but I'm going to demonstrate a lock- snapping method. So, here I go.
We can't show you exactly what Neil's doing, but what we can say
is that it takes him just eight seconds to break through the door.
As easy as that!
OK, so it does involve a certain level of skill and inside knowledge,
but with the issue of lock-snapping becoming a nationwide problem,
it was clear something needed to be done.
So, in 2012, a new design of lock was released onto the market.
Because of all the hard work CASAC have done over the past seven years
around this type of attack with police, and British Standards,
new standards have come out and manufacturers have started to develop
cylinders and products to withstand this type of attack.
So, what is this new lock and how rigorously are some doors
and their locks now tested before they come onto the market?
Later, we head to the British Standards Institution to find out.
And we'll also be telling you what YOU can do
to make sure your home is SAFE.
Now, headphones, noise cancelling headphones.
They promise to improve your entire listening experience.
By actively drowning out external sounds,
leaving you in your own private cocoon.
Nice promise, but how good are they?
Well, Sophie, let's find out.
If they live up to their claim, you'll hear your favourite track...
..and very little else.
Some headphones simply work to block the noise coming in to our ears,
but these headphones here go a step further and make use
of some clever electronic systems to actively cancel that noise out.
Sounds good in theory,
I'm interested to see how they work in practice.
Time to put them to the test.
We're going to look at three sets of headphones
bought from the UK's three top online retailers.
The cheapest we could find, the snappily-named JVC HA-NC80,
A mid range set, the AKG K490 NC at £150.
And top of the range set, the Sennheiser MM550-X
costing a whopping £350.
They all claim to be able to actively cut out background noise,
but how well do they actually do the job?
To find out, we've gathered together some expert ears
to help put them through their paces.
Andrew is a music reviewer for Classic Music magazine.
Yeah, I like the idea of noise cancelling.
In a city like London, there's so much noise around -
the traffic and buses and sirens constantly.
Paul is a second year saxophone student
at the London School of Contemporary Music.
I'm looking for a good set of noise cancelling headphones.
And John is a lecturer in electronic musical composition,
amongst other things.
I teach experimental music and sonic art.
I'm concerned about everyday listening and sound quality a lot.
For headphones, I look for a really good level of noise reduction.
So, let's get started.
We ask the experts to sit in a cafe near a busy street.
So, how do the headphones perform
when forced to compete with the incessant din of traffic?
This is what the road sounds like
without the noise cancelling feature turned on.
HUM OF TRAFFIC
But once it's activated, it sounds like this.
So, our volunteers will try each headphone in turn,
listening to the same track at the same volume on the same device.
It's Rachmaninov Piano concerto number 3 for our classical
music reviewer, Andrew.
Some Kraftwerk for our electronica don.
And a timeless bit of Kool and the Gang for our student.
# Jungle boogie... #
They'll mark each set of headphones out of five for sound quality
and out of five for how well they cancel out the sound of the road.
For each set, a total of 30 points up for grabs.
I thought the JVC headphones were the most disappointing, definitely.
JVCs were the worst for sound cancelling.
By far the worst performer on this part of the test was indeed
the cheapest product, the JVC HA-NC80.
They scored just 11 out of 30.
Perhaps more of a surprise was the headphones in second place,
top of the range Seinnheisers.
Although they did well on noise cancelling ability,
poor performance on sound quality let them down,
giving them a score of 20½ out of 30.
The Seinnheisers have an extremely marked noise cancelling function.
You really know when it's kicked in and when it's switched off.
But for me that has a slightly detrimental effect to the
actual sound of the music.
Which brings us to our winner in this part of the test,
our mid-range product, the AKG.
The AKG were by far the best, the most effective noise reduction.
Overall, a very impressive sound.
At £150, they cost £200 less than the most expensive product in our test.
And yet they scored 13 out of a possible 15 for sound quality
and 12½ out of 15 for noise cancelling.
A grand total of 25½ out of 30.
So, that's part one of the test.
How will they perform when we give them something else to deal with?
Find out later.
It's not often a product comes along that revolutionises the way we live.
The first counter-top microwave was produced in 1967
and, by the mid-'80s, one in four homes had one.
But as demand grew, prices dropped and for some models,
that led to a fall in standards and serious safety issues.
A good thing Watchdog was around to expose them.
Here's Lynn Faulds Wood.
Welcome to Watchdog.
In tonight's programme, all these people have written to us.
'It's microwave popcorn.'
From small problems...
'That's scalding hot and could burn small hands
'that try to take it out of the microwave.'
..to serious health worries.
'Nowhere do the standards tell manufacturers
'they should take a thermometer
'and check that they are actually killing the bugs in their ovens.'
Over the years, the microwave oven has had plenty of reasons
to feature on Watchdog.
But that certainly hasn't put us off buying them.
Today, 95% of us have a microwave oven in our home.
And for people with busy lives they are a great invention.
So, it's amazing to think the ability to cook using microwaves
was a discovery that happened completely by chance.
In 1946, an American engineer, Percy Spencer of Raytheon,
was testing radar technology when he noticed the microwave radiation
coming from the device had melted the chocolate in his pocket.
He'd discovered that low-density microwave energy
could quickly cook food.
The way microwaves cook food is as soon as it touches
something organic such as food,
it will start vibrating the molecules in that food,
they cause friction and then cause heat
and it's that process that cooks the food.
-Hamburgers perfectly done in 15 seconds.
By 1947, the Raytheon company had introduced the world
to the first microwave oven.
Although it did cost thousands of dollars and weigh 340 kilos.
It wasn't until 1967, after 20 years of continued development,
that the company eventually launched the first counter top microwave oven.
And by the 1970s, they could be found on every high street in Britain.
But despite their popularity, people didn't always understand
how these amazing new machines actually worked.
There were people who saw these 'microwaves' as alien waves.
Or if a man stood in front of a microwave oven he'd become sterile,
or if you stood in front of a microwave while it was cooking,
some of the waves would actually come out through the oven door
and cook your own insides.
But they were all myths.
Some companies even tried to cash in on our worries,
selling what Watchdog exposed to be questionable leakage detectors.
We think these are trading on people's fears
because leakage just isn't a problem with modern microwaves.
But along with the myths, there were real dangers.
We've had a number of letters from people whose microwaves
have actually caught fire.
What might not have realised is that lots of bits of the modern
microwave are actually plastic.
But the trouble is, the plastic they're using in many of these
microwaves can be horribly burnt if food in the microwaves catches fire.
To find out how much damage this could cause,
Watchdog put it to the test.
We put a Christmas pudding, typical of the high fat, high sugar foods
that could catch fire if overcooked, into a microwave oven.
And then deliberately set the timer to its highest level. The result?
Well, it was clear to see.
Those are toxic fumes coming into the kitchen
and that's the burning plastic also coming down from the roof.
I don't think there are enough warnings in the instructions
that this can happen.
The industry knows some foods catch fire very easily,
like Christmas puddings and mince pies.
I'll pass our dossier to the Department of Trade's
consumer safety unit and I'll let you know what happens to this story.
A year after that report,
not only were we still getting reports of microwaves fires,
but manufacturers were still refusing to take responsibility for them.
So, we set out to prove it wasn't the fault of our Watchdog viewers and
others using them, but it was actually down to bad product design.
Here's what we think is wrong and what we'd like done about it.
Complaint number one - the timer controls.
MICROWAVE TIMER DINGS
'We bought five of the cheaper microwaves on the market
'and got normal people to try to set the manual timers accurately.
Complaint number two - the instruction books.
Cooking times. The Asaki, for example, doesn't give any at all,
and the others give conflicting times.
Some say, if you're doubling the quantities of a recipe,
double the cooking times. Others say much less than that.
Now, I think specific cooking times are essential.
And you might agree after you've seen complaint number three.
'We, again, showed what could happen if the setting was wrong
'and overcooked some food.'
On this one, not only did the food catch fire,
but the door also blew open, and you can see here the flames
shooting up between the door and the main body of the oven.
'This time, the industry DID take notice.
'And just a month later,
'the programme was beginning to get results.'
Since then, Rumbelows, whose brand name is Asaki,
flew over two senior engineers from their factory in Korea
to visit us to look at our Watchdog tests.
As a result, all new Asaki microwave ovens are to have a thermal cut out,
and they're still looking at the type of plastic they're using.
'A great result. And others soon followed.'
Since the 1980s, the microwave industry has made massive strides,
things like thermal cut outs, better materials, most ovens
have a stainless steel interior, and all the instructions
in the manuals are very clear these days, so they're easy to use.
'So, it just goes to show how, through a series of leaps in design,
'exhaustive testing and a fair amount of viewer pressure
'the microwave has become the product we know and use today.
What do you use to wash your hair? Is it worth spending more
for a salon formulated shampoo,
or will an own brand value product work just as well?
Well, to tell us all about it is hair specialist,
or consultant trichologist, Iain Sallis.
Do you actually need to use a shampoo?
Couldn't you just get away with using some sort of body wash?
Well, I suppose, yes, you could just use a body wash
but, for hair, it is better
if we have more acidic properties to detergents,
what we call shampoos, because it closes the cuticles down,
and it makes our hair nice and shiny.
If you spend more, is it better for your hair?
It's more to do with the ingredients that's in them.
If you take the basic shampoos, they will have the basic detergents,
a foaming agent, preservatives, and perfumes.
Then you go in to the second bracket,
which is the mid-range shampoos and they will have
all the proteins in it, they will have pearlisers
to make it look nice, it'll have nicer perfumes to make it smell nice.
The higher range high street brands and the salons
sort of fall in to that bracket.
But then you go into the super priced £20-£50 shampoos,
which really is more to do with marketing.
The amounts of things that are in there like white truffle oil,
and caviar, anything else that you can think of,
they are in such small amounts, it really doesn't make a difference.
But there are shampoos which are more expensive
because of the specific ingredient for specific treatments to the scalp.
So, is the bottom line, stick with what you know
and go for a mid-range shampoo?
I think if you avoid the really bargain basement ones,
if you can, mid-range shampoos are good,
but after you go up from the £15-£20 mark
those are the type of shampoos that you start paying for the name,
the brand. There is a psychosomatic element to this so people
who pay more expensive shampoos will obviously feel more because
they won't turn round and go, "That was rubbish,"
-if they've paid 50 quid for it.
-The feel good factor.
-Iain Sallis, thank you very much.
Back now to the headphones that claim to block out
the irritating sounds of the outside world that might otherwise
spoil your musical enjoyment.
Earlier, we asked three music buffs to rate the performance and
quality of three different sets of headphones currently on the market.
Their first test took place amid the incessant din of busy traffic.
This time, the headphones have something even louder
to compete with - roadworks.
First, a quick reminder of the products in our test.
The cheapest set of headphones is the JVC HA-NC80.
These cost just £30
and, unsurprisingly, performed the worst in our first test.
I thought the JVC headphones were the most disappointing, definitely.
The sound was just a bit general, quite hazy.
Not much definition, not much clarity to it.
In second place, however,
were the top of the range product, the Sennheiser MM550-X costing £350.
But by far the best performer
when it came to both noise cancelling and sound quality on this test
was in fact the mid-range headphones, the AKG K490 NC at £150.
The AKGs were by far the best, the most effective noise reduction.
Overall, a very impressive sound.
But now it's time to give them something else to deal with.
The dulcet tones of major road works.
Because these headphones are actively cancelling the sound,
it'll be interesting to see how well they do with
a sudden change in the outside sound levels.
For this test we're going to need a workman...
..and some roadwork sounds.
PNEUMATIC DRILL ROARS
We, once again, sit each of our volunteers next to a busy road
and ask them to mark each set of headphones
out of five, for sound quality and how well they cancel out the noise.
Again, a possible 30 points up for grabs.
Already it's looking like our drilling is proving
a much tougher challenge.
The roadworks test was interesting
because there was an extreme difference in the three headphones.
Overall, once more, everyone agreed that the mid-range AKG coped
the best with both noise cancelling and sound quality.
The AKG headphones seemed to do the best job of
separating the drill sound from the music.
Again, the most expensive product did a good job of cutting out
the noise, but it was at the expense of sound quality,
with the cheapest, the JVC,
performing the worst in both categories.
The JVC seemed to take the bass off but you got this pinging drill noise
at the top which was, actually, even worse than
the drill sound in its entirety.
JVC told us that the headphones we tested, the HA-NC80,
are their entry level product,
and they are confident the higher spec products in their range
would perform better against the other headphones featured in Our test.
But none of our three products managed to cut out the drilling sound completely.
So, why did they struggle?
So sound is made up of waves. A simple sound wave might look...
something like this.
What these headphones are trying to do is to cancel that wave
by generating the opposite wave within your ear.
So the opposite wave would look just like this.
And if the headphones get it right, and they generate the opposite wave
to be perfectly opposite to the original one,
then what we end up with is a nice, flat, silent sound level.
When we get a sudden sharp noise, like a roadworks, or similar,
what happens is, instead of this wave form being nice
and predictable and steady, the wave form will be going up
and down very quickly and expanding in and out very quickly.
And that's much, much harder for the headphones to track
and to generate the opposite sound.
But, all in all, it's not a bad attempt
when you consider all that the modern world has to throw at them.
I think they're wonderful pieces of equipment.
It's staggering, in fact, that they can achieve what they do
if used in the right environment,
and, as we've seen, that's particularly good
where there's a nice, constant source of noise.
We return now to home security.
and the problems caused by criminals lock snapping. The good news?
Manufacturers and industry experts
have been working hard to come up with a solution to reduce the risk
and to bring greater security to our homes. We've been taking a look.
The British Standards Institution.
Here, they test doors and locks on behalf of manufacturers
to standards way above those that are required by law.
In fact, they test them
to their own Kitemark standard, something they call PAS 24.
It actually takes two days to carry out the full tests.
So, today Kevin, or Kitemark Kev as he's fondly known, is going
to take us through some of the highlights,
on a door we know already meets the all the requirements.
One of the tests that we have in PAS 24 is the endurance test.
The endurance test simulates somebody coming in
and going out of their front door or back door.
Let me introduce Jeff.
Jeff is our robot.
Jeff does all the testing for us. Jeff does 50,000 cycles.
That's the equivalent of you opening and closing your door
ten times a day for 14 years.
Jeff's on...oh, 49,000 cycles so we should probably leave him to it.
In addition to the endurance test
we also subject the door to an air test, a rain test,
and to a wind gusting test.
We've placed the door into our special weathering test rig
and we're just about to do an air test on the product.
In order to pass this test, the door needs to be able to
withstand 300 pascals, a measure of air pressure,
on the outside without too much leaking through to the inside.
This one's passed with ease. So it's onto the rain test.
We have simulated rain pouring on the outside of the door,
and we're going to slowly increase the pressure in our test rig
to simulate lighter winds, and then we're going to look for leakage.
So far, so good.
The door's already survived some pretty extreme weather conditions.
Meanwhile, Jeff's still doing his thing.
Now it's time for the security tests.
What we're going to do is a number of different tests on the door
to simulate an opportunist burglar attacking the door,
attacking your home.
The tests range from trying to lever the door open, to smashing it
with a battering ram.
All designed to simulate the pressure a burglar might
put on your door when trying to break in.
Most of the tests we've done so far have been based on machines.
The next test is a manual attack test. We're going to attack
the door using another one of our members of the team.
You've met Jeff, now meet Dave.
Dave, you have three minutes, do your best.
Or your worst.
We can't show you exactly what Dave is up to,
safe to say though, he's really going for it.
But the door is up to the challenge.
OK, so this test has now been completed,
and Dave is still on the outside of the door,
so on the outside of the house,
so this door has passed this particular test.
The door is doing well so far.
But, as we saw earlier, there is one way a burglar can get through
some UPVC doors in just eight seconds - lock snapping.
As easy as that.
So after manufacturers developed a new type of lock designed
to withstand this kind of attack, the police asked Kevin and his team
to help devise a new standard in order to test it.
We've written a standard called TS007,
and what you're going to see in a few moments is one of our guys
using those attack methods to demonstrate the product
that meets those requirements actually will keep the burglar out.
Dave, have a go.
And it's clear, this lock is more than up to the job.
There are locks that comply to this new standard currently
on the market, but if you wish to keep your home safe in the meantime,
make sure you put bolts down, if you've got them,
double lock, if you can, and, when leaving the house,
make sure it looks like someone's at home.
Security lights or a timer are a good way to do this.
If you want more information on the safety of products
in your home, you can go to our website:
That's all for today. Thanks for watching.
Series in which Sophie Raworth reveals how household products are tested, putting the makers' claims on trial and showing how to get the best value for money. Lynn Faulds Wood looks at the safety of products in the home and the Watchdog campaigns that have been saving lives for more than 30 years.