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Is your refrigerator running? If it is, it may not keep running for long
May 5, 2014 8:01 PM   Subscribe

The Maytag Man has changed with the times (NYT). Gone is the lonely repair man, and now he is the running refrigerator. The message might well be taken from this 2005 SF Gate article, Disposing with the fix-it guys. In 2011, Consumer Reports posed the question: Repair or replace it? And recently, BBC gave a broad overview of why washing machines are no longer built to last.
posted by filthy light thief (104 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Most of us would readily spend more for an appliance that will last than a cheap one that will break down rapidly.

The thing is, I think, the people willing to make the higher quality product don't have a good way to distinguish that quality above that of the cheap devices. Maybe if we learned to look for longer-term warranties?

From the BBC article: With new technology constantly offering fresh features, many people have got used to the idea of upgrading devices nearly every year.

Except your washing machine doesn't offer upgraded Wi-Fi or greater flash storage, so you're not upgrading, you're just damn replacing. Buying a new device hurts less if you're getting a better product than the old one. Washing machine technology doesn't advance as quickly as computers. So, no, I don't buy this reasoning. I don't see, as the article claims, "As a result, it seems our expectation of the lifespan of household gadgets is also reducing." Fuck that.
posted by JHarris at 8:15 PM on May 5 [18 favorites]


In The Sims I always hated the repair guy/lady and this led to a lot of electrocuting my sims until I decided to just buy them new appliances. Real life turned out to be pretty similar.
posted by quincunx at 8:25 PM on May 5 [8 favorites]


I don't see, as the article claims, "As a result, it seems our expectation of the lifespan of household gadgets is also reducing." Fuck that.

Unfortunately, I think household appliances have become lumped in with household gadgets for many folks.

First it was computers, getting faster and better every year. Cell phones came along and followed the same trend, as well as personal music players. TVs, formerly stalwart fixtures in the home, can be expected to include an ever-increasing array of options, and thus the household appliances are not so far removed from the two-to-five year "upgrade" cycle.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:26 PM on May 5


The thing is, I think, the people willing to make the higher quality product don't have a good way to distinguish that quality above that of the cheap devices. Maybe if we learned to look for longer-term warranties?

After having to junk a two year old appliance because it wasn't repairable, I asked the appliance repair shop which brands were worth repairing before buying the next one. (Answer: Bosch, plus some other ones way out of my price range.) I haven't had to test it yet, but it was the only way I could think of to answer that question.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:27 PM on May 5 [6 favorites]


The thing for me is that this is usually phrased in terms of a problem for people of middle class, who will be irritated to have to replace their fridge more often but not seriously damaged by it. But I, for example, am a renter in a sub-$500 apartment. You know what happens when my fridge breaks? Unless it has broken by now refusing entirely to keep food cold at a safe temperature, I am stuck with the same damn fridge, because my landlord is not going to replace it. I had to buy one of those portable dishwashers because a dishwasher is not included with my apartment, and getting it fixed when it broke proved so financially impractical that I just had to throw the thing away and go without a dishwasher after that point. If you've spent three months' rent on a washer and dryer and they die and aren't fixable, and you're a low-income person, you end up going to the laundromat. Old appliances not being viable to repair also cuts into one of the major avenues to even owning such things for many people, purchasing them used and reconditioned.

Treating appliances as disposable is, for the middle-class and above, a trade-off between features and annoyance. But the lower classes are suddenly getting treated like having fully functional appliances is a luxury that they shouldn't expect to have in life.
posted by Sequence at 8:29 PM on May 5 [69 favorites]


Sweet dreams, consumers of shiny cheap disposable gadgets, sweet dreams.
posted by lalochezia at 8:32 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


After having to junk a two year old appliance because it wasn't repairable, I asked the appliance repair shop which brands were worth repairing before buying the next one. (Answer: Bosch, plus some other ones way out of my price range.)

This, and the various articles, made me think of the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.
The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
Terry Pratchett, illuminating corners of daily reality with weird humor.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:37 PM on May 5 [32 favorites]


Check out the graph of how prices have changed over time in this article. Education and some services are way up, but many consumer goods are way down -- making them not just accessible but also disposable.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:37 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


There is no appliance in my house less than eleven years old, the washer is at least thirty. I've had to fix the dishwasher (low-end Maytag) once and the washing machine once. Seeing the trouble my friends get into with even relatively high-end appliances I am not tempted to change them out. It's unforgivable that one household has had repeated E24 errors on their expensive and otherwise quite good Bosch dishwasher, and when they call Bosch they are told E24 means "call the repairman" instead of "blocked discharge hose". Dishwashers, clothes washing machines, dryers and refrigerators got along for decades without throwing cryptic error messages and anything of the kind that does that is a piece of junk from the get-go. This kind of nonsense goes on and on: people are actively prevented from figuring out what they need to do to fix what they already own as well as receiving less value than before when they buy an appliance.

The number of "features" on appliances mirrors the "features" one finds on new cars. All the "efficiency" equipment: sensors to detect when the clothes are dry enough, thirty wash cycles when you need four, LCD panels (note: if the item you're buying has a LCD it is meant to last six years or less. Buy items with vacuum fluorescent displays: they cost three or four times as much as LCDs but they last decades) and menus to step through are unnecessary.

It's weird that my favorite modern (Sharp) microwave has an electronic system that mimics the old-fashioned mechanical count-down setting: turn the knob and a dial illuminates with the countdown time. It's all electronic but it's as easy as the old school mechanical timer-based gear to understand. Being a Sharp product it is probably just about as bulletproof as anything you can get, but once that electronic system craps out the microwave is not worth fixing.

tl;dr: old man thumps cane
posted by jet_silver at 8:45 PM on May 5 [8 favorites]


I have a soft spot for the new Maytag ads but that's really just because I like seeing Colin Ferguson. I hope he gets a new regular gig on a show soon.
posted by rtha at 8:51 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


That shiny new $2K espresso machine with the LCD display and thumbprint scanner and automatic cappuccino mode has the same guts and will produce the exact same coffee as the $400 5-year-old model, except it's more fragile and expensive to repair because of all the electronics. Sure you could buy the $150 model instead and you'll probably be happy with it, but that'll end in a year and a half when you have to throw it out because the manufacturer never made spare parts available and even if they did it would cost almost as much to fix as to buy a new one.

I don't know the answer. I just try to keep the coffee flowing.
posted by bizwank at 8:56 PM on May 5


I have this idea that the whole "prosumer" segment came into being because people with the ability to afford it, fed up with the shoddy disposability of consumer products, started going out and buying professional models. Not just glitzy goods like cameras but also kitchen appliances.

Instantly, the manufacturers started capitalizing on this lucrative new market by making ersatz pro gear which had the hard enameled finishes and stainless steel and big brutalist knobs of the pro gear, but whose internal workings -- y'know, the parts that actually fail -- were the same old cheap shit, there under the fancy skin where you wouldn't see them.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:00 PM on May 5 [31 favorites]


When I bought a house 3 years ago, it came with relatively high-end appliances (Whirlpool Gold, KitchenAid, etc). After 12 months, and 1 week (exactly), the fridge died. I called Whirlpool. They sent someone out, and diagnosed a controller board failure. They then told me that Whirlpool didn't make parts for this fridge any more. It wasn't even 2 years old, even from the original date of manufacture. I ended up having to fight with Whirlpool to get a replacement of equivalent or better quality (they wanted to give me a crappy fridge that was 10ft3 smaller inside).

Then, after 2 years, the over-stove microwave died. I barely used it, but I decided to have someone out. The magnetron had died. I had it replaced (about $150), even though the repair man, an older (60+) gentleman warned me they weren't built worth anything any more. He did tell me that the over-stove models fail VERY fast because they can't take the heat, especially of a high-BTU stovetop.

So yeah, things suck sometimes. My LG all-in-one washer-dryer (condensing dryer) however, has been bullet-proof. I ended up having to sell it with the house, so I tracked down another identical model even though it was discontinued by the manufacturer. They had some in a warehouse.
posted by petrilli at 9:01 PM on May 5


There is no appliance in my house less than eleven years old, the washer is at least thirty.

The downside of that, though, is efficiency. The appliance itself lasts, but also uses crazy amounts of water and electricity, the equivalent of driving a 1970 VW. You pay one way, or you pay the other.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:02 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


What I really like is how the stuff is made so cheaply, like "hey you're gonna just replace it anyway, why not make it suck" and yet the apparently terrible parts they make are prohibitively expensive to obtain and replace, and labor is prohibitively expensive so you either DIY (which the internet has made easier, sometimes) or pay $160 to have something like a thermocouple replaced in your water heater, and the tech isn't necessarily going to tell you that it's a waste of money because of XYZ impending $300 problem coming right up after that one, even if they know it for a fact based on experience, but again, the good ol' internet comes in, just so long as you have a long-ass stretch of time and will to put up with, that persistent willingness to research and figure out what weird-knock-off brand this really is and weed through the content farms and such...and you time it right so that you aren't screwed by an extended loss, you can get a part in time, drive, ship it, whatever, and yet somehow everything is ridiculously standardized and re-branded so WTF.

It's like my dad complaining about high prices on concessions or something. Economic forces at work, of course. Same goes for printer repair and all manner of things like that that used to cost in the high-hundreds / low thousand range and was worth fixing. In reality many things are worth fixing if the rigged-to-suck and rigged-to-be-expensive-to-fix DifEq isn't min-maxed to discourage self-reliance.
posted by aydeejones at 9:06 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Our three-year-old Whirlpool washer broke down a few weeks ago (bloody F51 error), and I was less than thrilled to find many websites that reported Whirlpool's response was "Yeah, we know, it's because of a faulty control unit, but it's not worth recalling." Bought a new unit, and we're good to go. Until this control unit pops.

I want a Kickstarter for a home appliance suite that has no connectivity, no bells and whistles, none of this extra crap. They'll just be bulletproof. If Maytag wants to make products that will break in three years, to hell with them. I want machines that will last, and I will pay the premium.

You hear me, enginerds? Make me a bulletproof washer.
posted by RakDaddy at 9:06 PM on May 5 [14 favorites]


My last dishwasher was pretty awesome but the logic board in it would fail. Stupid logic board. I'm sure it saved energy and stuff but it was annoying being familiar with laptops and stuff having a high-tech stereotypically expensive part (that happened to cost $160 and was impossible to find like my other example above) take out my entire dishwashing workflow.

The first time it happened, I had it replaced with no desire to deal with it myself or replace the whole thing because it was a pretty super-duper dishwasher, and it lasted a few months before starting again. I knew it was some sort of humidity door-sealing issue at that point but it was never quite worth the trouble of figuring the whole thing out. Instead, just reseating the motherboard made it work for 2 weeks at a time, then 1, then 3 days, etc before it was no longer worth the hassle. I know why the technology is there and it's cool, but man that's annoying, a $160 motherboard...of course made out of $5 in silicon and such but with some intellectual property that certainly justifies the crazy price.
posted by aydeejones at 9:11 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Remember how it was a big joke that if your Lada broke down you'd just leave it on the side of the road and try to get on the list for a new one
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:13 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


Once we catch on to this enough, they'll go to the high-end multifunction model and ratchet up the quality, make a dishwasher cost $5,000, and then you can lease it and pay by the wash with maintenance and dishwasher detergent included, but it's self-dispensed and costs extra for a heavy load and OK that's as far as I'll go now with this one before they get any ideas.
posted by aydeejones at 9:16 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


I popped online tonight just to find out if there's anything to be done for the washer in my rental unit (it's provided "as is," so landlord's not going to repair or replace) that, while mostly functional, twists all my laundry into ropes. And here's this FPP.
posted by asperity at 9:24 PM on May 5


The really clever thing would be to buy clothes of such shoddy materials that they simply fall off of you in scraps if you try to wear them a second time, and which simply dissolve in the laundry and end up in the lint trap. (For this purpose may I suggest shopping at Old Navy?) No washing, no washing machine, no washing machine problems.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:31 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


The oven/stove (Jenn-Air), over-stove microwave (Whirlpool), fridge (Whirlpool) in my house are all the originals from when the house was built in 1985. The dishwasher (Whirlpool) finally rusted out 3 years ago, and was replaced with a top-end Maytag. Lasagna pan goes in, sparkling dish comes out, and you never knew it was running. Washer & dryer (avocado green Kenmore) are much older, but never miss a beat.

I could upgrade some of them to newer, more energy-efficient models, but I haven't because: 1) I'm not convinced that new appliances will last long enough for the efficiency savings to pay for the replacement cost, and 2) I really just hate throwing out stuff that is perfectly good.

I'm a copier guy. We used to keep old analog copiers running for 10, sometimes 15 years, often squeaking out the last few years on aftermarket parts. Since everything switched to digital, the typical replacement cycle has decreased to 5, and now to 3 years on average. First it was the ability to print, then fax, then scan & email. Next, customers wanted a copier with Wi-Fi. Then Bluetooth. Now it has to have AirPrint. And apps to connect to a document storage system. And OCR. And work with Evernote. And drivers for Windows 8.

The copiers being retired are often still serviceable, they've just been replaced because the customer is convinced they need the next model. As a result, we've seen build quality steadily decline. Mostly in the inner workings. Bushings, where there really ought to be sealed bearings. Smaller motors and clutches that often don't even make it through 3 years. Plastic frame assemblies instead of steel. The manufacturers know consumers are replacing their copiers more frequently, so build quality drops along with price.

And it all goes to landfill, because the used models have very little value anymore on the used market. It doesn't have Windows 8 driver support, or AirPrint, or Wi-Fi, or whatever, so the used market all but dries up. In the analog days, we used to sell almost as many refurbished copiers as we did new ones; we had one full-time guy whose sole job was to tear down and refurbish copiers for resale, and he sometimes couldn't keep up with demand. Now it's practically unheard of, and all those otherwise service-worthy copiers and printers go to landfill. They're not worth recycling, because it takes too much effort to strip them down to just the scrappable steel accepted by recycling plants. The wiring is all ultra-fine 28-ga, more insulation than copper. There's some gold on the boards, but even that is sort of going away, as more and more things go the way of SOC instead of discrete components. We used to do board repair in the field, and now it's just a black box part. Manufacturers used to supply complete schematics and diagnostics for all the boards in the machine; now the entire main board costs less than the labor cost for a tech to sit down and spend a few hours scoping it out to find the problem.

The whole terrible cycle is consumer driven, even while they all moan about how the new copier just doesn't seem to last as well as the tank they had back in the old office. There's a reason HP's current build quality is absolute shit; they know full well people would rather spend $200~$400 to replace a crappy printer once every year or so, than pay $1500 for one that will last 15 years. With printers, the shittier they can build it, the sooner you'll have to replace it. Oh, and of course the new one takes different supplies than your old one, so you'll have to buy those too.
posted by xedrik at 9:35 PM on May 5 [30 favorites]


I had to buy one of those portable dishwashers because a dishwasher is not included with my apartment, and getting it fixed when it broke proved so financially impractical that I just had to throw the thing away and go without a dishwasher after that point. If you've spent three months' rent on a washer and dryer and they die and aren't fixable, and you're a low-income person, you end up going to the laundromat.
I'm totally confused by this. I don't have a dishwasher, and haven't since I moved out of my parents house 13 years ago. And I've never spent money on a washing/drying machine, because I've always either had laundromats, or when I was really broke, hand washed in a bucket and hung dry.

I understand your sentiment, and I also wish everything was built to last, but I think this is more of a problem of rampant consumerism than fucking over the poor. I don't even know anyone on my block who's even got a dishwasher.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 9:38 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


If you've spent three months' rent on a washer and dryer

Washer/dryer combos at sears start at $679, not on sale. I want your rent.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:45 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Two words: planned obsolescence.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:46 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


As someone else who doesn't have and can't afford appliances, or a car, I have to say I'm not confused by the desire to have them. At all. Although it's a weird mix of relief that I don't have to deal with all of the maintenance/replacement bullshit and desire to avoid all the drudgery and heavy lifting. But yeah I've done the thing where something breaks and then you just don't have it anymore. It's sad.
posted by bleep at 9:50 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


I don't know how much these "consumer wants" are real and how much they exist in the heads of the large appliance makers. From a rational perspective, nobody actually wants an ice dispenser on a fridge, because it's crazy expensive to operate (it reduces the insulation in the door). You can't really "vote with your money" because everyone has tons of silly gadgets except on the very base model.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:58 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


This thread makes me so sad. crap is everywhere. then if you're ready to put up extra money for something good, you don't get high quality. You get a touch screen with chrome and LED lights that fade on slowly. I guess about all we can count on is stuff responsible for human lives like MRI machines or rock climbing gear.
posted by scose at 10:18 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


You hear me, enginerds? Make me a bulletproof washer.

Speed Queen. They have a home line in addition to their commerical machines.
posted by hwyengr at 10:28 PM on May 5 [16 favorites]


After having to junk a two year old appliance because it wasn't repairable, I asked the appliance repair shop which brands were worth repairing before buying the next one. (Answer: Bosch, plus some other ones way out of my price range.) I haven't had to test it yet, but it was the only way I could think of to answer that question.

Nah, those are shit too. A friend of mine got essentially a new without tags bosch w/d set at his house from a coworker who had just bought a place and was swapping them out for higher capacity ones or something(they're little, apartment sized ones. whatever pretty much the smallest bosch units are).

Despite having basically 0 miles on them, and being in cosmetically impeccable condition they've been a fucking nightmare. The dryer is already completely fucked in a repairable, but $$$ way to fix and had broken several times before and started randomly blowing fuses after like 3 months, and the washer has inexplicably eaten a couple door seals and had some other problems.

Unlike fridges, i wonder how the math would work out on buying a good condition either freshly serviced or lightly used older "inefficient"/water wasting washer dryer set from like the 70s or 80s(or even the 90s maybe?). Would paying like $50 for the set, but paying more in water/electricity or gas save you money over buying a new expensive set that was going to blow up soon? I bet it would take a VERY long time to justify the cost of the new stuff, if you even ever could.

I want a Kickstarter for a home appliance suite that has no connectivity, no bells and whistles, none of this extra crap. They'll just be bulletproof. If Maytag wants to make products that will break in three years, to hell with them. I want machines that will last, and I will pay the premium.

You hear me, enginerds? Make me a bulletproof washer.


These exist. Buy the CHEAPEST "commercial" unit for a small apartment building/rental house. Aformentioned bosch-buying friend had a set of those before his house burned down(ugh). When insurance rebuilt it, he got the fancy ones.

Now he has another set of the commercial ones. They haven't had a SINGLE problem. In fact, he wired the washer up to the 220v socket accidentally and it didn't fry it.

They're plain/"ugly" looking and have nothing like the fancy glass doors and glossy black finishes or screens, etc of the fancy home units. And they cost more than $500 a set... but they're extremely freaking simple, and bullet proof.

The european/non american model stuff that just happens to get imported here but is uncommon is also usually a lot better quality. Condensing washer dryer combos, ductless air conditioners, fancier 24in or otherwise small fridges(especially lg type stuff that isn't an american brand). An exception to this is dyson, which two repairmen have told is awful garbage.

That shiny new $2K espresso machine with the LCD display and thumbprint scanner and automatic cappuccino mode has the same guts and will produce the exact same coffee as the $400 5-year-old model, except it's more fragile and expensive to repair because of all the electronics. Sure you could buy the $150 model instead and you'll probably be happy with it, but that'll end in a year and a half when you have to throw it out because the manufacturer never made spare parts available and even if they did it would cost almost as much to fix as to buy a new one.

Buy a saeco. or even better, buy the starbucks rebranded saeco. It's built like a fucking tank, has no stupid electronics, costs less than $300 generally, and makes excellent coffee with a trick portafilter that builds up extra pressure the way a pressure cooker lid does to get a close to perfect extraction every time. Mine lasted like 15 freaking years on it's first pump(a $10 part! you can put it in yourself with a phillips screwdriver and a needlenose pliers in like 10 minutes!) and i passed it on to another guy for $10... which is as much as i paid for it at a thrift store when i first got it.

The only other good home espresso machine is a la marzocco that is while fairly reliable loud, fiddly, and expensive to fix if it ever fucks up. Every recommendation for a home machine i've ever seen wasn't reasonably priced. That saeco rio vapore(here in starbucks trim, this and this appear to be newer versions i can't vouch for, but they look decent and non-electronicified) just can't be beat on the bang/buck-o-meter and from what i can tell is one of the only home machines that isn't like thousands of dollars that can truly create the proper amount of bars of extraction pressure in a consistent way, and not in just one short peak and piddle afterwards.

then if you're ready to put up extra money for something good, you don't get high quality

The trick is that a lot of the high quality stuff doesn't start out at more money than the crap, but expensive and shiny stuff. The cheapest thinkpad laptop costs several hundred less than even the cheapest macbook, but is comparable in quality and even exceeds it in some ways. The cheapest vornado fan is about $60 at costco(and it's their commercial-grade model too!) and it has a lifetime warranty, and mine has lasted over 10 years of nearly continuous (ab)use and even survived college party/flophouses and being tackled by drunk people and stuff. A dyson fan, or other spendy fancy slim tower fan or whatever can be way over $100 or even $200.

This principle applies in essentially anything with moving parts or that electricity goes through. It can sometimes be hard to divine what brand/s or model series you should be looking at, but it very rarely needs to be or even is the more or most expensive stuff.

And it gets even more confusing when a brand makes a lot of things, like sony(who make superb cameras, decent tvs, and garbage everything else... with).

I wish squaretrade or some company like that would publish the equivalent of their long term laptop reliability report for fucking everything. consumer reports used to be good for that, but ehhh.
posted by emptythought at 10:31 PM on May 5 [29 favorites]


Speed Queen. They have a home line in addition to their commerical machines.

Oh, and also UniMac. According to my coworker who repairs well... everything, those are the best of the best of the best. Not cheap though. They literally make carwashes.

When i was mentioning commercial/rental property targeted stuff i was thinking of the maytag/sears/etc commercial grade stuff.
posted by emptythought at 10:34 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


I am one of those people who obsesses about this topic, looks at the Buy It For Life subreddit, researches methods of shoe manufacture with an eye towards repair, and so forth. I can't just buy an immersion blender, I have to look at which models restaurants use, the duty cycle of the motor, and so on.

The general shoddiness of what is available for purchase and the shifting landscapes of deceptive, astroturfed reviews infuriates me. Washers. Dryers. Vacuums. Not to be wildly jingoistic, but you would think we could manage to maybe employ some otherwise jobless industrial workers in the United States cranking out no-frills, durable, repairable appliances. They come in black, ceramic white, and chrome. They don't talk to your cellphone or tweet when they are done. Their parts are largely interchangeable, but can be sourced right here, and maybe even provide employment for repair ships.

I know this is probably impossible for electronics. We can barely get one brand of televisions (Element) assembled in the USA, much less made.
posted by adipocere at 10:42 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]


One of the huge boons of living in a major city with very old housing stock (limiting the options for getting through front doorways and down basement steps) is that it is a viable thing to run an appliance repair business. And they are awesome.

They will come out and try to repair your major appliance, and if it can't be fixed, they will apply the whole cost of the service call as a credit for a new appliance. If a part for your beat-up 1980-something washing machine is totally out of production, they will cross-reference against all other brands to see if there's another manufacturer's part that will fit. They give seriously legit advice without going for a straight upsell. It's dizzying.
posted by desuetude at 11:05 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


It doesn't have Windows 8 driver support, or AirPrint, or Wi-Fi, or whatever, so the used market all but dries up.

I wouldn't blame the customer for this. There's no reason that the whole printer needs to go in the garbage to add these features, but printer manufactures never gave us any other option. You should be able to slide in a new board with wi-fi or upgraded networking or whatever, and keep the whole motorized printing/paper handling part intact.

That goes especially for something like AirPrint or Windows 8 support. That should be a software update.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:16 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


The last time I got rid of a printer was because of driver support. I had a totally functional HP laser printer that HP decided would never work with anything 64-bit or newer than Windows XP. Thankfully I was able to sell it for $40 or something.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:19 PM on May 5


My Whirlpool washing machine that I bought in 1998 is still going strong. My Whirlpool dryer from 2010 looks a lot nicer, but shuts off in the middle of a load about once a month, which requires shutting off the breaker and waiting half an hour.

This exactly the same shit they pulled with mattresses. Why allow customers to buy your product every 15 years when you can get them to pay every 3 years?
posted by double block and bleed at 11:45 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


I've been (in a very low-key way) fighting this trend. Dehumidifiers may be the worst appliances out there, from a shelf-life perspective. If they last a year, you're generally very lucky.

I have one which starts leaking about every six months (I have two, they run all year out in my shop to try and keep it semi-dry out there). It leaks because the water collection tray gets full of gunk, and the drip tube starts dribbling down the side of the case, rather than dripping into the bucket.

You would think something like a water collection tray, which is going to get gungy as it is constantly wet, would be something you could remove and clean. But, no. On both of my dehumidifiers, the water collection tray is molded into the chassis, an elaborate piece which has everything else attached to it.

It's all plastic, of course, but it has to come apart completely (including the tricky removal of the compressor and radiators, which are attached to each other by rigid, fragile tubes, a sealed system which really is the death of the unit if they're compromised). I think I have about two or three more cleanings of the oldest unit before the plastic--designed to be put together once--will be too fragile to be reassembled.

My next one will be a used commercial unit designed to dry flooded homes. I can run one of those on a timer for a couple of hours, remove as much moisture as my units do in a day, and have it last the rest of my life.
posted by maxwelton at 12:12 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


They should sell expensive machines with sensible guarantees based on actual product use, not just on how many years the purchaser owns the machine, so a single person's washing machine warranty might last four times longer than a person doing laundry for a family. Build a black box into the appliance (or car) to measure how much it's been used, register unusual shocks or use in unapproved conditions, etc., run diagnostics, and send a reading to the manufacturer once a month ("Your washing machine is trying to transmit information to maytag.com...") so they could track usage and let you know if and when you need service. They could also warn you that you'll void your warranty if you keep doing the shit you're doing.
posted by pracowity at 1:21 AM on May 6


Two words: planned obsolescence.

This. When our Bosch dishwasher broke down, it turned out to be a small plastic part that looked like it was designed to fail. The repairman explained that they have three brands at different price levels, but they're all made in the same factory: Siemens, Bosch, and Balay. The more expensive Siemens models have the same part made of metal. The Balay models have multiple cheap parts that they charge you $100 to replace.

He was surprised that our dishwasher broke within the warranty period, since in the Bosch models that part was designed to fail after the warranty expires. Lucky for us that we use the dishwasher a lot.
posted by fuzz at 1:39 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I worked in appliances a few years back and here's some information and advice I learned on the job.

1. In the 90s there were tons of mergers happening amongst appliance companies. As a result, there exist very few top level companies that control ALL of the appliance companies in existence. Your GE washer is related to your RCA washer is related to your Magic Chef washer and so on. As other markets have shown (like the FCC deregulated radio landscape of the 90s?), when you reduce the number of companies in merger feasts like this, quality tends to do one thing: go down. With intimate knowledge of the various brands and models, we watched the quality change before our eyes.

2. I don't know the business term as I didn't attend business school, but there comes a time in business when you saturate the number of potential customers you have. Appliances fall into this realm. Everyone has a house and a fridge and washer and dryer, etc. Yes, there are new machines going into houses. And yes, there are ones that die in the natural life cycle of a product. But there was no way to spike the sales dramatically. Until they figured out that you can make the thing fall apart in less time. There's the additional customers you need to make Wall Street convinced that your business is every increasing. As the old saw goes, it's easier to make money of existing customers than it is to find new ones. The appliance businesses took heed of these modern business "lessons". (detriments to society, I call them).

3. Here's some basic rules of thumb for machine repair:

* dryers are capable of lasting a really long time. They have a motor to spin and an element to heat. And not much more. Both of those major parts can be replaced for years. dryers are almost always worth saving.

* washers are capable of lasting a decent amount of time, but the devil is in the repair details. If the washer's transmission is toast, it's about the same as a bad transmission in your car. Most likely you will ditch the machine and get a new one. Most other washer problems are ones that can be remedied. Typical problems are pump issues (clogs, bad pump, etc)… generally easy inexpensive fix… there are also leaky gaskets and drain issues. Also pretty easy or inexpensive to have fixed. Just watch out for that transmission. Once it's gone, you're done.

* refrigerators - the compressor is the "brains" behind the operation of a refrigerator. It can be replaced, but most likely you'll be shopping for a new fridge if the compressor goes south.

* the less bells and whistles your machine has, the better off you'll be. This isn't bad advice for an automobile either. Electronic whatever tends to break often. No idea why. Electronics should be more robust (and in many applications are) than mechanical parts. Also, mechanical parts tend to be less expensive than electronics. But electronics are easy and inexpensive (for them) to add, so they do. This happens a lot recently with automobiles too I've noticed. There are so so many more electronics and computer controlled everything in autos and refrigerators and washing machines than just ten years ago. Methinks it's cheap and the customer thinks they are getting new "high tech" machines. Woe to those who have "boards" go out.

* I too would like to see a company that makes bare bones machines that are repairable. Hot and cold washing machine and nothing else. (what the hell else do I use anyway?). A fridge that makes things cold and has shelves. Icewater dispensers are nice and all, but they often fail and have all sorts of other problems. A range and/or oven that gets hot and maybe has a timer. I don't need anything else (except maybe self cleaning mode). But looking to cars, I could make the same complaint. It would be AWESOME if they made cars modular. You need to change your alternator? Just plugin this black box. And the auto companies could do it. But it would increase the price of a car, for starters. And then once they sold you the car, you'd never buy another one again. No good for Wall Street, once again.
posted by readyfreddy at 1:48 AM on May 6 [22 favorites]


The Lightbulb Conspiracy is worth watching. I have no idea how rigorous the guy was wrt cartels plotting to screw the rest of us in smoke filled back rooms, but it's a pretty good rundown of the situation we have today with planned obsolescence, e-waste screwing up the world, and why you can't get stuff built like in the old days.
posted by mcrandello at 2:05 AM on May 6


I, for example, am a renter in a sub-$500 apartment.... I had to buy one of those portable dishwashers because a dishwasher is not included with my apartment, and getting it fixed when it broke proved so financially impractical that I just had to throw the thing away and go without a dishwasher after that point.... the lower classes are suddenly getting treated like having fully functional appliances is a luxury that they shouldn't expect to have in life.

Dishwashers are a luxury.
posted by fairmettle at 2:56 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Regarding luxuries and the poor, people are focusing on the dishwasher, but the other part of that post was about washing machines. So, two things:

The savings of doing laundry at home versus at the laundromat is on the order of $1500 over five years (assuming just three loads a week, which is quite low if you are talking about a family). That more than pays for the machines, even without taking into account the time savings, which is significant.

Dishwashers are more borderline. EnergyStar claims you will save $400 in energy and water costs over the lifetime of a rated dishwasher, but they are not exactly reliable. But the consensus seems to be that dishwashers are a bit more efficient than handwashing with typical use. Factor in the cost of the machine and it's a wash or a slight loss. But again, that neglects to take time into account.

A person who can afford to buy a decent washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher will spend less over time, and will save 4-6 hours a week.
posted by Nothing at 3:48 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


Also laundromat washer and dryers can also fuck up your clothes and just be ridiculously expensive in terms of dollars per wash and dry. I have a six year old maytag washer dryer set that has so far behaved itself and costs me a lot less.
posted by emjaybee at 4:39 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


  a home appliance suite that has no connectivity, no bells and whistles, none of this extra crap

Good luck with that. You'll be a small percentage of the market that thinks about what they buy, and buy on anything but price and brand. Brand is particularly insidious; it's not your mum's Maytag, because Maytag Corp isn't anything like the one that built that one you grew up with. And yet people still associate names with quality.
posted by scruss at 4:58 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Our just-out-of-warranty Maytag washer crapped out shortly after we moved into our current place. We were lucky to find a local repair guy who would look at it; he told us that Maytag and the other large companies make it incredibly difficult for independent repair people to find out what the error codes are on the machines. He showed me the service manual for the washer (which is stored behind the bottom front panel, for you other Maytag owners). The error code showing on the display was not even listed on the service manual. Turns out it was a motor control board failure. He replaced the board in a trial and error method - he guessed based on other repair reports that the main board was dead, so he swapped it out, then swapped out a different board, then finally the motor control board. Washer still works fine now, two years later. But the repair guy took a major hit doing the job. He only charged us for one board, even though all 3 were replaced - he said the connectors are fiddly, and unplugging the replacement boards could loosen the wire harness connectors and cause more problems, so he left them in there, as a courtesy to us for the length of time it took to diagnose the issue. So we learned three things: first, a $700 washer can contain three circuit boards that cost $400 each. That certainly makes sense. Second, Maytag is a pretty good deal if you can avoid failures like this ("They're Whirlpool machines with a different brand on them," he told us, "The guts are the same, and they are relatively inexpensive to repair - Bosch machines though, the replacement parts, they cost so much you might just want to buy a new machine"). And third, the companies are going way out of their way to kill off the independent repair business. It's downright hostile. The only way he was able to find information on some of these repairs was to talk to friends in the industry, training conferences and online professional repair forums that rely on gathered tips and leaked info from authorized repair centers. Which is crap.

Our current place has Maytag dishwasher, fridge, washer, dryer, and microwave. Our repair guy's number is stuck to the side of the fridge. We haven't had to call him back, but if we do have an issue, he's the first person I am going to contact. (Anyone in the Twin Cities looking for a repair guy, MeMail me, he doesn't even charge extra for Sunday service calls!)
posted by caution live frogs at 5:15 AM on May 6 [6 favorites]


It was hard to keep him as a spokesman after Dudley and Arnold testified against him.
posted by Renoroc at 5:22 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


My (20+ year old) dryer broke a few months ago. I didn't even think about it - just tried to call the repair place I've used for years. They were gone. Then I started thinking about it and looking into whether to buy a new dryer, buy a used dryer, or try to find someone else who fixes appliances. I ended up on youtube watching a video on how to replace the belt on dryers like mine, so sent it to my housemate, bought a belt and left him to it. We'd never have even tried that if my repair guys had still been around.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 5:50 AM on May 6


This seems like something the "open-source hardware" folks would/should be interested in?

It's a weird world when my 3D printer has more community support, troubleshooting & after-market enhancements than any major appliance I own.
posted by aramaic at 6:02 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


Also laundromat washer and dryers can also fuck up your clothes and just be ridiculously expensive in terms of dollars per wash and dry.

Our GE dryer died a little over a week ago (motor shot). Thankfully we rent so the landlord is replacing it. In the meantime though I took a few loads to the laundromat. $4.75 to wash a single load. I was flabbergasted.
posted by trunk muffins at 6:18 AM on May 6


emjaybee: "Also laundromat washer and dryers can also fuck up your clothes and just be ridiculously expensive in terms of dollars per wash and dry."

We got lucky for a while - we used to do our laundry at a local place with impeccably serviced machines and really knowledgeable staff. It was great - we never had a problem.

When that place closed, we had to start taking our clothes to the least-skeevy laundromat in the area, which is apparently also a tanning salon. The washers and dryers seem like an afterthought, and this is borne out by the random stains, bleach spots, and tiny holes that have started showing up on our clothes since the switch. It might be time to look into investing in a small apartment-size w/d unit of our own.
posted by anthom at 6:19 AM on May 6


We bought a new fridge when we moved into our house 3 years ago. In less than 6 months, the valve for the icemaker was leaking all over the floor. I replaced it myself with parts bought on Amazon for a pittance.

In less than a year, that valve also busted and started leaking all over the floor.

Both the original and the replacement valve were basically made of several cheap plastic parts glued to a metal bracket. It honestly looks like it was designed to last about as long as it did.

I said "you know what, an icemaker just isn't worth this" and capped off the water line instead.
posted by Foosnark at 6:22 AM on May 6


Repair guys can be great but there is generally only so much they are willing to do, which is usually just to source and replace parts that the vendors provide.

However there are some parts now that are actually made up of sub-parts that a vendor won't sell separately.

So if your washer dies and it's a $400 repair? Odds are, it's because they need to replace the entire washer drum assembly, which is a single expensive part. But this almost always fails because a rubber seal started to fail and cause water to get into the bearings, which will rust and fail. Replacing the bearings and seal involves tens of dollars worth of parts...but they aren't sold by the vendor separately. You might rip them out of an old washer of the same model or try to see if you can find equivalent bearings and fashion a rubber seal...but in general repairmen won't do this.

I can only think this is because they must do this on their own to resell used on the side and/or they simply aren't allowed under contract to keep their "certified repairman" status.

But things like this are galling because fixing these things is clearly possible but the economic incentives encourage waste.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 6:46 AM on May 6


In the meantime though I took a few loads to the laundromat. $4.75 to wash a single load. I was flabbergasted.

Because of work travel, I have to use laundromats intermittently during the year. My most recent visit cost me about $2.75 per load (which is a lot cheaper than some others I have been to), but with loads much smaller than fit in my not-very-large home machines, so it took four loads to do what would probably be two at home.

And one of the dryers just didn't get warm, so that took another 40 minutes and another dollar. At these prices, a cheap washer/dryer combo would pay for themselves in short order even for a single person; for a family the math is compelling.

Plus the time driving back and forth, having to either bring along soap or buy it from the vending machines, and as mentioned above the greatly increased wear and tear on your clothes. Luckily so far I have been spared the unhappy surprise of discovering that a previous person put something really gross in a machine and having an entire load of clothes ruined, but that's probably just a matter of time.

Not having your own washer/dryer is both a financial burden and a huge time sink (unless you live in a dense city that has laundry services, of course). Even if the machines are disposable, it's still usually better to have them.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:49 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


jet_silver: The number of "features" on appliances mirrors the "features" one finds on new cars.

Crikey, new cars baffle me. My wife and I found ourselves suddenly in the market for a car, and we opted to get a new one, with the plan that this car would last us for a decade or more. We started by looking at Honda hybrids, and were astounded at the number of features that come in the "basic" model. We don't want or need back-up and right-turn cameras, integrated Bluetooth, heated seats and whatever else, but they're included on all models. You know, to bring the cost of those features down.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:05 AM on May 6


RakDaddy: You hear me, enginerds? Make me a bulletproof washer.

A couple things - first, you're not winning any support by calling them enginerds. Second, long-lasting appliances were built ... in the 1980s. And basic marketing math you can make more money by selling lower-quality products that get replaced more often, so the engineers who designed those long-lasting washers of yesteryear lose out. Third, you should really get up and push the "start" button like a normal person and stop trying to turn it on by shooting it from across the room. No one makes bullet proof appliances, they make bullet proof vests and such.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:09 AM on May 6


making ersatz pro gear which had the hard enameled finishes and stainless steel and big brutalist knobs of the pro gear, but whose internal workings -- y'know, the parts that actually fail -- were the same old cheap shit

I agree with this point with one anecdotal caveat: our current house came with a commercial stove. A no-joke, almost 5 figure stove. It's a monster and amazing if I were regularly cooking 10 dishes a night, but for home use, it's completely stupid. The pilot light for the oven keeps the thing near 200° if left on all the time. That's amazingly inefficient, but it's fine because it's a commercial oven and when there's gas, it's in use. The stove has made me a better cook because there's so much you can do with it, but there are plenty of things you can't: want to use the broiler? What broiler— you must have a salamander in the kitchen too, use that. Commercial appliances work well because they're designed to do one thing or a small set of things well. Because of that, the stove will last forever (jinx!): there are about 6 moving parts and regular maintenance amounts to taking the gas pipes off and hitting them with a vacuum or compressor to get the dust out because it's assumed the person doing the repairs knows what they're doing and doesn't need 15 fail safe safety tabs.

So while I share your cynical view (when I contacted Wolf Stoves to get some repair advice they said, "Oh . . . oh! You want Wolf Stoves the commercial manufacturer. That's a totally different company. We're the people who separate striving upper middle class yokels from their cash by convincing them there's intrinsic beauty in stainless steel.") the truth is there's a market for "prosumer" stuff in any product line, but it doesn't make a ton of sense in home appliances and the truth of it is if providing a cooktop that can put out 50,000 BTUs for some fancy wok without causing Homemaker to burn off their hands or blow up their house results in something that's unmaintainable, some of the burden falls on the dumbass consumer who demanded it.

Now the good news: the previous owners did not spring for a fancy fridge, but it's been a pain in the ass too. I highly recommend PartSelect: they have a great UI for finding parts to fix the problem you're having and each repair has a Youtube video showing you how it's done so you can figure out what to do and whether you're capable of it. So there are people innovating to ease our pain.
posted by yerfatma at 7:25 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]



Yeah, I'm not seein' it. Anecdata, I know, but just addressing the items mentioned in this thread, our clothes washer and dryer are both 18 years old, dishwasher 12, stove, 11, fridge 18, hoover 20, dehumidifier 14, espresso machine 21, microwave oven 27!*

Hell, even the cat's 16 years old.

The microwave got a new magnatron in the early 1990s, the hoover's blown a couple of belts over the years. Only the dishwasher's had any appreciable repairs and that's only because the cheap plastic fittings on the door break off and expose the "brain" to water. That was disappointing. Otherwise, pretty satisfied with small and large appliance lifespans.

Oh and the cat doesn't see too good in one eye. We're keeping her anyway.

But I quibble with Reddyfreddy's excellent rundown only here:

it's about the same as a bad transmission in your car. Most likely you will ditch the machine and get a new one.

Kids these days! I'd never throw over a perfectly good automobile just because the trans blew up!

The Lightbulb Conspiracy is . . . a pretty good rundown of the situation we have today with planned obsolescence, e-waste screwing up the world

Q: How many lightbulb companies does it take to screw in up a planet?

------------------------
* In passing, when we cleared out our parent's house in 2008, my maternal grandmother's 1934 Fridgidaire was still in use. UNfortunately, none of us had a place for it and we could not interest anyone -- the mfg, collectors, historians, etc. in the the unit so it went to the dump with the other stuff.
posted by Herodios at 7:27 AM on May 6


Instantly, the manufacturers started capitalizing on this lucrative new market by making ersatz pro gear which had the hard enameled finishes and stainless steel and big brutalist knobs of the pro gear, but whose internal workings -- y'know, the parts that actually fail -- were the same old cheap shit, there under the fancy skin where you wouldn't see them.

It's not just the prosumer lines—any epiphenomenon of quality will, as it becomes widely recognized consumers, eventually be mimicked by the makers of lower-quality items.

The reincarnation of companies as "zombie brands" is just one manifestation of this—some hedge fund buys up the storied Brand X Company and closes the factories and fires the workers who built its reputation (or maybe it gets lucky and the company is already defunct, and they can just buy the name out of bankruptcy), and they start slapping the name and a few styling cues on generic products coming out of the same factory in China as all of the products from other brands to which this has already happened, and all that's left of the company is a few marketing people in an office park in New Jersey selling this stuff to customers who vaguely imagine, without ever really thinking about it, that there is still a "Brand X Factory" somewhere, with dedicated Brand X engineers and designers and assembly lines, just as there was when their parents taught them that Brand X was a good reliable choice.

Other times they use intrinsic details of the products themselves, like the fake moulded-rubber stitching around the edges of the soles of cheap shoes that are actually glued, not stitched, together. Go into any big clothing chain and everything now is almost comically replete with details like taped seams, fancy lining fabrics and bits of grosgrain around the edges, french facing, surgeon's cuffs, etc., etc.—all of which once upon a time were signs of quality, and which are now slapped routinely onto poorly-stitched junk made badly from cheap fabrics by poorly-paid workers in terrible conditions.

None of this is new, of course—it's been going on at least since John Ruskin decried cement made to look like stone, and probably much longer. Only the details change, as one generation's impressive signal of quality becomes the next generation's embarrassing wood-grain Formica.
posted by enn at 7:28 AM on May 6 [8 favorites]


Except your washing machine doesn't offer upgraded Wi-Fi

You think so, but then they come out with this baby. Only it can't wash your kid's mattress liner. That might break it and take it out of warranty all at once.
posted by Violet Femme at 7:32 AM on May 6


I want a Kickstarter for a home appliance suite that has no connectivity, no bells and whistles, none of this extra crap. They'll just be bulletproof.

My definition of this is a clothes line in the back yard, handwashing dishes, and appliances styled and built like the ones my grandmother used.

Yes, I mean a clothes washer like this. Is that what you were expecting? Perhaps not, but it's a viable answer and it's where I'm going to go when we finally get settled down enough in life to be able to go that route.

Sure beats that F-whatever error year after year.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:36 AM on May 6


Buy a saeco. or even better, buy the starbucks rebranded saeco.

Starbucks Barista. Hands down our favorite-machine to keep running. It's one of the few machines I've encountered that didn't have some sort of design deficiency that always landed them in the shop, and the only time we have to repair them (as opposed to just cleaning/tuning) is due to user error. The Starbucks Sirena (also a Saeco) is a close second, while it has two issues that should be addressed out of the box it's also got instant-steam, programmable shot quantity (and buttons that never fail) and a water tank sensor that won't let you run it dry and burn out the heating element. Most older Saecos (and Gaggias, same thing) are a good buy and will give you 10+ years, until you get to the Odea/Talea line, which should be avoided like the plague.

Delonghi superautos are also fairly sound, again with the right maintenance they'll give you 10+ years. The steam valves all leak but it's a cheap part. They don't make "amazing" coffee but they're consistent and easy to maintain, and parts are easily available. Good warranty support as well, at least for now.
posted by bizwank at 8:37 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


You know what might actually work? If the brains of every single washing machine, microwave, refrigerator, etc. was an Arduino. That way you wouldn't brick the whole appliance with the failure of an irreplaceable control board.

Somehow you'd have to make it a selling point a la Intel Inside. e.g. "Built to last with Arduino Control Technology!" But if enough consumers get screwed enough, awareness might just cross a threshold and the financial incentives would realign.

And while I'm dreaming, I'd like a pony.
posted by whuppy at 8:39 AM on May 6 [8 favorites]


So given that everyone recognizes that appliance consumers are generally getting screwed by information asymmetry, is there anyone out there fighting back on our behalf? Is there a way to get a list of brands that have their own design teams (as opposed to zombie brands like Westinghouse or re-badged brands like Hampton Bay)? Can we trust subscription-based review mags like consumer reports, or are they just as astroturfed as the fake review sites?
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:44 AM on May 6


I bought a set of second-hand machines when I moved into a place with w/d hook-ups, and I am happy with that decision every single time I do a load of laundry (despite the change to the water bill). Laundromats were pricey, noisy, time-consuming, and hell on my clothes; I also sweated over the risk of bedbugs and making conversation (in equal measure). I have a dishwasher for the first time in years, too, which is a luxury to me but a basic necessity to people I know with mobility/balance issues.

(RolandOfEld -- wringer washers are too firmly linked to Anne Sexton's arm, in my mind.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:53 AM on May 6


As the only person to own a German AEG washer & dryer in California (ugh, how did that happen?) I can at least say that those things are really damn durable and surprisingly easy to repair. I've replaced the washer water distributor and the motor brushes myself. 13 years so far I think and I expect they'll keep going until I can no longer get parts.
posted by GuyZero at 9:01 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I like a conspiracy theory as much as the next girl, but it seems logical that increased efficiency and decreased reliability can go hand-in-hand even in the best circumstances. A more efficient appliance is usually a lighter one, and therefore is made of materials that are much more likely to break or flex than if it were made of iron or steel.

I'm not saying the current mix is ideal, but for the larger, energy-sucking appliances, we're probably better off as a society if people are _forced_ to replace their washers, dryers and fridges more often than every 30 years.
posted by nev at 9:31 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm just the son of an auto mechanic, but I've never been afraid to take something mechanical or electronic apart to diagnose a problem. YouTube and the Samurai Appliance Repair Man forums have been fantastic, and parts are generally readily available for my (admittedly non-recent) appliances. It feels good to be able to fix things, and the information has never been more readily accessible.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:42 AM on May 6 [7 favorites]


Popular Ethics: I give you, the Samurai's Appliance Brand Recommendations, Second Edition.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:46 AM on May 6 [13 favorites]


So maybe my laundromat under charges or my apartment complex overcharges, but I can fit 5 loads in the $7 machine at the laundromat easily and then they'll all dry for $2 in the big big dryer whereas if I do laundry in my complex it's $1.75 for washing and drying putting me squarely ahead on price. It even puts me ahead on time as there are only two machines in the complex so 5 loads takes 3 hours as opposed to the 1 it takes at the laundromat.
posted by Carillon at 9:55 AM on May 6


You know what might actually work? If the brains of every single washing machine, microwave, refrigerator, etc. was an Arduino.

The problem is not the microprocessor. Every appliance already has an Arduno-class chip in there controlling the system. Sure, it's not standardized but who cares?

The problem is when you want the $0.50 8-bit processor to control a $75.00 240VAC drum motor. You need all kinds of electronics to handle the motor efficiently, shut down if something goes wrong, and not lose it's freaking mind if the power company drops a cycle or two on the line or a vacuum cleaner starts putting noise on one of the phases. Energy Star also came along and now you have to be a little more smart than "oh let's just throw a relay on that GPIO line". There are awesome little chips that drive DC motors very efficiently (and also drop the need for a transmission), but those also cost money.

So now you're back to a custom board for that washing machine.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:13 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Laundromat pricing and machine availability varies widely. It's a sufficient hassle to get yourself and all your laundry to the laundromat that most people don't (or can't) do a lot of comparison shopping. They're nearly all independently operated so there's not much standardization coming from the top, either.

I found out this weekend that my closest laundromat offers keno machines. I'm not sure the guys playing them were even doing laundry.
posted by asperity at 10:17 AM on May 6


Has anyone mentioned high-efficiency furnaces yet? No?
posted by gimonca at 10:22 AM on May 6


So major appliances are getting more expensive, they break down more often and more catastrophically than they used to, and when they do break down it's usually more economical to just trash a hundred pounds (not to mention a thousand dollars, more than a year's wages for a lot of people in this world) worth of non-renewable resources and buy another one than it is to have the appliance repaired?

Man, our civilization is fucked.
posted by Scientist at 10:30 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


It's weird that my favorite modern (Sharp) microwave has an electronic system that mimics the old-fashioned mechanical count-down setting: turn the knob and a dial illuminates with the countdown time. It's all electronic but it's as easy as the old school mechanical timer-based gear to understand. Being a Sharp product it is probably just about as bulletproof as anything you can get, but once that electronic system craps out the microwave is not worth fixing.


That electronic system will probably outlast the rest of the microwave, and would likely outlast the equivalent mechanical timer many times over. It's not the electronic bits and bobs that fail on these new cheapass appliances, but the mechanical elements that aren't built with the same quality or longevity as previous iterations.
posted by stenseng at 10:36 AM on May 6


Well, if it makes you feel better, I'm pretty sure most washers and dryers get recycled. There's more than enough copper in the motors to make them worthwhile. Refrigerators are probably a total writeoff though.
posted by GuyZero at 10:37 AM on May 6


In 1938, just after my mother was born, Baltimore was having its usual springtime that is really just hot, humid pre-summer, and my grandmother saved up and bought herself a black Westinghouse ten-inch oscillating desk fan with a coat of fresh lacquer as glossy as the shell of a beetle to help keep herself and her baby cool on those city nights when the temperature refused to drop, even by a degree.

In 2014, that same electric fan perches with pride of place atop a 1964 Grundig Locarno stereo console with tapered wooden legs and a hi-fi stereo turntable, shortwave bands, and a label on the back proudly stating its country of manufacture as West Germany. The fan is a little less shiny around the edges these days, but when I turn it on, it works without fail, blowing a strong, smooth zephyr around the room that's often just enough to help the air move from the rear of my apartment, where the air comes in cool under the fifty foot pine tree that was my Christmas tree in 1989, to escape at the front, into the glaring Maryland sunshine.

I have been the custodian for this fan since 1979, when my fascination with it led my mother to promise it to me at some future day, and every five to ten years or so, I am delighted to sit down to a zen task that is one of my favorites, and, since I've since amassed a moderate collection of similar devices, a regular ritual in reconnecting to my life in this world of machines.

I lay out a large square of somewhat stained felt on my workbench in the basement, assemble my tools, my small box of spare parts, and I position my father's old workshop radio, a 1978 Panasonic RF-2200 at the corner of the bench, tune in the local classical station, and set to work.

I remove the nuts holding the blade guard, then carefully remove the guard, then the heavy brass blades. Stripping the fan at the pace of water trickling gently over rocks in a monastery garden, I dismantle this old friend of the family, laying every part out in the same way I have done it, more or less, since 1979, until I am complete. With a paint brush, I dust off each part, resorting a soft toothbrush soaked with a single drop of sewing machine oil when bits of greasy lint have a more dogged foothold on the various internal parts of the fan.

I use a bit of fine polish intended to remove scratches from the windscreens of light aircraft to shine up the black paint of the housing, then scrutinize the gleaming copper windings of the commutator to make sure everything's in place. With a tiny dropper, I add two drops of an oil mixture I've been experimentally improving over the past thirty years to each lubrication pot, making sure the felt strips are in good condition, replacing them when I'm concerned they won't wick oil into the right places at the right rates, and check the carbon brushes, which I last replaced back in 1998, and find them to have more than enough carbon for another four or five years.

Having gone over every wire, nut, and little bakelite cap, I reassemble the fan from the inside out, slotting the commutator tenderly into the hard shell of the main housing with the reverence of a spiritual surgeon, restoring a momentarily stilled life, then build out the machine until I'm tightening the nuts on the safety cage.

I plug the little fan into the outlet mounted on my workbench, pull the bakelite lever forward, and bask in the rising hum of life returning, closing my eyes against the breeze I've known for my whole life in the realm of industry, and all is good and pure and right again.

It's silly, maybe, though I'm never sure if the rote recitals of droning hymns in all the other chapels in the world are any less mechanical than the energetic sensation of sustaining the minor magic that was rare and wonderful just a few generations prior.

I had to give up on my old washing machine last autumn, finally coming to grips with the reality that my inability to locate new gears for the transmission that had come apart after almost seventy years of service meant I was just holding onto a daydream, even after I'd grudging replaced the joyous experience of wringer washing with the vile blandness of a thirty year-old top loader I'd been given by a client in the process of installing shiny new stackable equipment in her laundry room.

When I mentioned to my grandmother, with genuine glee, that I'd bought an Apex wringer washer a lot like her old machine, her response had been to furrow her brow and say, "Oh, Joe-B," in her lilting blue collar Baltimore brogue, "If you needed some money for a newer warshin' machine, you could've asked me!"

Time changes things, and what was an unpleasant episode of drudgery for a woman doing laundry for a household of six in the thirties was a virtual drug for a guy born in the height of the space age, and I'd blast through three loads of laundry simultaneously in my Apex and the tubs of the laundry sink in the basement, go-go dancing wildly to Prince at ear-bloodying volume as I pivoted the wringer to wring the clothes in the second rinse tub to the basket below.

Of course, I am insane, if judged by the standards of the day, because chores are when I am at my most connected, and so I am passionate about curious things like my disdain for dryers, microwaves, and dishwashers and my enduring, fanatical joy in the pleasure of using machines that I can understand, maintain, and repair.

The replacement for my Apex, a rather floppy old Kenmore, is reaching the end of its rope, and I've had it apart more and more frequently, most recently because of a problem with it leaving lint in the wash that I just can't seem to solve, having gone over the thing from top to bottom, and its day is coming, but I'm in a quandary, because I'm broke and can't afford the ASKO that I've been dreaming about since translating an ASKO service manual as an assignment in Swedish class back in college, and I don't want another tiresome top-loading tin turd to leave my clothes filled with soap residue (top loaders suck), and my suggestion that I get another wringer machine was greeted by the rest of the people in my small apartment building with scowls and recrimination.

In the mean time, I happen to love laundromats, so I'm not bothered at all to spend an hour basking in the writer's paradise of the microculture in the realm of swiftly turning laundry, then haul a hundred pounds of hot, wet clothes to hang in the back yard, but I will have to surrender soon and bring something new into my home.

It's just…well…things now are sharp and efficient and, while they last, do a decent enough job, but when they start to go, there's no recourse to the ritual of a workbench and a large square of somewhat stained felt and well-assembled tools. When the repair parts cost more than a new machine, it's preposterous to repair, even when it's your cosmic calling, and so we all just get carried along in a tsunami of junk like hapless victims, unable to swim even when we know how.

I have high hopes for the emergent maker culture, for all the crafty millennials with the same sort of maniacal hyperjoy that buzzed in my bones when I first wrenched my back pulling a huge old wringer washing machine out of the back of a 1968 Citroën Dyane. I'm writing, right now, on a forty dollar computer the size of a credit card that's more than seven hundred times faster than the computer that I saved up for back in the eighties, and I read about 3D printing with a kind of delight that's tempered, slightly, by the fact that I'm probably not really smart enough anymore to figure such things out, and it seems like all those things we couldn't fix (like the plastic door latches on that Citroën that explained why my doors were tied closed with clothesline) in the past because they needed some ridiculous plastic part that's been out of production for fifteen years are again in the realm of the repairable.

My old Apex, alas, is since recycled, all that well-polished white hardware mashed into nothingness in a process that still leaves a little burn mark in the loops and coils of my brain, but in the next round, where the manufacturers have abandoned us, maybe the makers will fill in the gaps.

In the interim, I buy old machines by preference whenever I can, and celebrate the modern and magical when I must, or when it makes the most sense, and think in broader terms about the difference between luxury and necessity and the way that convenience diminishes us almost as much as it supposedly empowers us.

As the day heats up, my little electric fan is perched on the console radio, listening, like me, to bossa nova streaming from an MP3 player piped through the inputs originally intended for a reel-to-reel tape player, and soon enough, I'll pull the little bakelite lever, and the breeze will come.
posted by sonascope at 10:39 AM on May 6 [27 favorites]


You know what might actually work? If the brains of every single washing machine, microwave, refrigerator, etc. was an Arduino.

So for those of you out there without computer engineering degrees, "Arduino" is not really a synonym for "microcontroller" and everything you own probably has a microcontroller in it already, especially major white-goods appliances. Toasters, maybe not. The most common refidgerator repair I've had to deal with is a "board replacement" where the controller board failed somewhere and got swapped out. Funny that a compressor can be more durable than a handful of ruggedized semiconductor components.

My AEG Lavamat "Update" has a re-flashable microcontroller (I hesitate to say "reprogrammable" as it's probably just a table of numbers and not actual code per se). AEG hasn't provided any updates in the 13 years I've owned it so I'm not totally sure exactly what the benefit is. I suppose I could reverse engineer it and hotrod my washer or something.

Having an actual honest-to-god Arduino in appliances would be somewhere between a nightmare and highly comedic. Most people would only manage to brick their appliances and the people that actually reflashed them successfully would only manage to make performance worse and/or violate energy conservation guidelines. People who get their cars re-chipped do it to make the car go faster which is generally not something one needs out of a refrigerator.
posted by GuyZero at 10:44 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


"Arduino" is not really a synonym for "microcontroller"

But that's what an Arduino really is. It's a microcontroller (an 8-bit AVR) with a bare amount of parts surrounding it to supply it with power and let it talk to things that are hooked up to it. That's what microcontrollers do: they control things.

I get what Arduno-guy was getting at: why can't applicance manufacturers standardize on a common controller/core and then we can all benefit from commodity pricing, an open market for replacements, and hackability? Disregarding the hacking part (an insurance agent's nightmare), it's like asking car manufacturers to standardize their windshields. It's just not gonna happen in our lifetime.

Funny that a compressor can be more durable than a handful of ruggedized semiconductor components.

A lot of times, the board is designed to take the hit when there's a power surge or overload and protect the rest of the system, either for safety concerns or repair. The choice is whether you replace the $280 board mounted on screws or the $700 compressor that's welded into the middle of the unit. Let's not fool ourselves, these boards are designed to be as cheap as possible to get the job done. I've been in that line of work and seen how it's done. But they also have to pass UL/CE/CSA standards so they're still safe.

AEG hasn't provided any [reflashable] updates in the 13 years I've owned it so I'm not totally sure exactly what the benefit is.

If the controller isn't in a socket (which it probably hasn't been since the '80s), then it needs to be flashable. That's how the software gets loaded once the circuit board is built. Now if the manufacturer opens up the programming lines to let a service tech update code because of a recall or service issue, that's a good thing. It's just not something you use as a selling point to the consumer. Why would you admit your appliance needs fixing before it's even installed?
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:03 AM on May 6


Someone smart said, "You don't always get what you pay for, but you always pay for what you get."

--
Buy the CHEAPEST "commercial" unit for a small apartment building/rental house.

I rented an apartment and bought the commercial washer & dryer from the previous tenants for $50. When I moved out, I sold them to the next people for the same money. There was no pins in the coin tray, but we had to push it in before each load -- sounded like racking the slide on our harvest gold monsters. :7) We had the dryer fixed once for like $50 or $90, and it lasted us years: well worth the money!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:08 AM on May 6


I have an LG vacuum that's...pretty good.

Oh, too many of the parts are plastic, so I have to fiddle with them -- e.g., the vacuum won't run if the dust canister isn't perfectly sealed, which it won't be if the bottom flap is loose, which it always is since dust accumulates between this one tab and the two fingers that hold it shut, as well as around the rubber seal. (And my wife complains that it's broken when it really only needs two minutes of TLC. *shrug*) But there's also this gear that has to line up just right with the canister, and it's plastic, and often the grit blocks it. Etc., etc.

But twice now I have emailed them about a problem and they FedEx'd me a huge box, and then FedEx picked it up, and then fedEx brought it back to me with the vacuum inside. Twice. For free. So there's that.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:17 AM on May 6


Metafilter: I'm not totally sure exactly what the benefit is. I suppose I could reverse engineer it and hotrod my washer or something.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:20 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


So I found an AEG washer manual online.

To quote:

"What does "UPDATE" mean?

The wash programmes in your washing machine are controlled by soft-ware. New types of fabric or new detergents may require new wash pro-grammes in the future. In most cases, the software can be adapted to this. For further information on a possible "update" please contact customer service."

I switched from the recommend granular Persil to plain old liquid All (because seriously, who want to try to find European detergent in the USA?) and it hasn't been an issue yet. Not sure exactly what kind of futuristic detergent will require a soft-ware update.
posted by GuyZero at 11:33 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


that can truly create the proper amount of bars of extraction pressure in a consistent way, and not in just one short peak and piddle afterwards.

Quoting myself, but i wanted to correct this sentence since my brain glitched out while writing it.

Most home espresso machines build up pressure while pushing water through the grounds/puck. This is Totally Crap™ because you end up with a bunch of bitterness and stuff from steam and low pressure, not fully heated water going through the coffee.

That machine i mentioned rules because it blocks the water from flowing until it hits the perfect pressure, then super-soaker like releases that pressurized water continuously at the correct pressure. It drops a bit when the water starts flowing, but it'll drop a bit too on your marzocco/faema/etc leviathan since well, it's not restricted anymore once it overcomes the grounds and the water starts flowing.

I'm really not an expert on this, i just understand enough to be dangerous... and to know that the way most home machines handle this is Garbage©

They should sell expensive machines with sensible guarantees based on actual product use, not just on how many years the purchaser owns the machine, so a single person's washing machine warranty might last four times longer than a person doing laundry for a family. Build a black box into the appliance (or car) to measure how much it's been used, register unusual shocks or use in unapproved conditions, etc., run diagnostics, and send a reading to the manufacturer once a month ("Your washing machine is trying to transmit information to maytag.com...") so they could track usage and let you know if and when you need service. They could also warn you that you'll void your warranty if you keep doing the shit you're doing.

This could go wrong in so many ways. This would be the hardware equivalent of a stupid software EULA, or... the way sony at least used to handle laptop repairs(they'd literally open machines and blacklight them, and fingerprints or a massive list of other things like slightly too much dust = warranty invalidated, sorry).

This is literally anti consumer protection. Because you know they'd abuse this and just refuse any expensive repair or full machine replacement unless someone sued them in small claims or whatever.

We need more consumer protections, not less. This idea is like dystopian to me.

Dishwashers are a luxury.

Careful with this one. First of all, nearly all the low income housing in my town has dishwashers now, as do most apartments built after the mid 20th century.

You can regard it as a luxury if you like, but the people who need it most are the people who have the least time to actually wash dishes, which is to say lower income people who are working a lot for not a lot of money and barely scraping by.

There's a similar point to be made for laundromats, which has already been made several times above. The costs of using them(or in-building coin laundry in apartments) vs owning machines generally tip towards the machines, especially if you're talking about cheap used ones. Doing laundry at my building basically costs $10 every time, since i need to buy a new roll of quarters every time(it's 1.75 x4, and the machines eat your change and grin maybe 1/5 times. so it's either $7 or $8.75). At previous places i've lived it was somewhere between $2 a load and the aforementioned 2.75-4

In basically 6 laundry outings, i could have bought a cheap old used set off of craigslist.

Being poor and not owning things that are "luxuries" can cost you more than having what a lot of people perceive as a luxury, and that applies to a hell of a lot of things.

also holy shit sonascope, as someone who used to restore vintage fans and still owns like 20+ including some beautiful stuff like a freshn'd-aire, i loved that post. It was like the textual version of an ASMR video or something.
posted by emptythought at 12:34 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Yesterday I mowed the lawn with our Allis Chalmers 917 Hydro. The thing has to be 30 years old or more (I think they stopped making them around 1984). Admittedly, we have had to do a good deal of work on it in the past year: We had to get the carb cleaned last spring (mom would leave it all winter with whatever gas was left in the tank), then one of the spindle bearings blew, and this spring the seam on the gas tank sprung a leak and I needed to buy a new one ($93 for a piece of plastic!). Since it had been in my mother's neglect care for the last several years, I decided to do some of the long-term maintenance, like changing all the fluids and filters and the spark plugs, also I noticed the bearings and races on the front wheels were worn and changed them over the winter. Everything I needed is still being made, and when I changed the gearbox oil the slow leak in the gearbox went away. I guess those "seal conditioners" do work after all. This sounds like a lot, but most of this was neglected maintenance or the result of neglected maintenance.

Anyway, when I started it up this spring it started on the first crank, ran even smoother than ever, and left the lawn looking even better than usual. Since the mower came standard with rollers, the lawn is also nicely striped like a baseball diamond (but with more dandelions). With proper maintenance the thing is pretty much bullet proof. I expect it to last another 30 years. My only real complaint is that it's pain to get that stupid heavy deck off and on.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:36 PM on May 6


One of the best investments you can ever make is to score yourself an older used Kirby vacuum cleaner.

Not new, mind you, because I can't speak for their current build quality, and their door to door sales model is sketchy and grossly overpriced, but man, a 1990s and earlier Kirby is just about bulletproof.

I've got a mid 90s G3, and other than belt and bag replacements, and the once every five years tear down to remove accumulated scunge, the thing is rock solid.

Just a big steel power assisted beast of a vacuum cleaner.

They can be gotten at thrift shops and the like, and if you really keep an eye out, you can hunt down the full accessory kit with all the upholstery cleaning, detailing, and carpet shampooing apparatus.
posted by stenseng at 12:46 PM on May 6


In basically 6 laundry outings, i could have bought a cheap old used set off of craigslist.

In my experience the cheap used ones are full-size, and beyond taking up a lot of space they need a dedicated 240V circuit and an exterior vent for the dryer. Then there's all the plumbing for the washing machine. Basically anywhere from difficult to impossible for a renter to accommodate.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:49 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Most home espresso machines build up pressure while pushing water through the grounds/puck.

Most, if not all, semi-auto home machines have a spring-loaded valve in the brew head that keeps the water inside the boiler until the pressure from the pump overcomes the spring tension. This is very nearly a binary flow/no-flow situation, not really the gradual buildup that you described. It's the same system that's in the Barista, and without it there'd be nothing keeping the water in the boiler once it started to heat.
posted by bizwank at 1:02 PM on May 6


We had to replace our 30-year-old Admiral fridge a year or so ago. We were stunned by just how expensive even the cheapest fridge was. We found a Kenmore that seemed to be a close approximation to the size and lack of features we wanted (seriously...I do not need touchscreens on any of my appliances, thank you) and the unit was one of the more energy efficient models available. Yay for us!

However...One item we didn't think about. The fridge had a single temperature controller, instead of separate controls for the freezer and fridge. As it turned out, in order to get the freezer cold enough to keep ice cream frozen, we had to turn the control almost to its coldest setting. Doing so made a lot of stuff in the fridge section freeze. Like vegetables. But, turning the controller to where things in the fridge don't freeze, then the temp in the freezer doesn't get as low as it needs to. It's ridiculous.

I dread the day my old washer finally craps out. I don't want a hulking, über-expensive, computer-driven "cleaning system".
posted by Thorzdad at 1:16 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I'm not looking forward to having to set up a separate VLAN for my toaster.

I'm really not looking forward to having to set up a separate VLAN for my mom's toaster.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:31 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


We were stunned by just how expensive even the cheapest fridge was.

Fridges are probably the white good most beset by feature creep. French doors, multiple temperature zones, defrosting controls, water and ice dispensers, carbon filters... sheesh. And like you say, they cost a fortune. Like $2000 for what seems like a mid-range fridge. Ugh. I suspect it's just marketing and consumer willingness to buy expensive fridges as part of already-expensive kitchen renos.
posted by GuyZero at 1:42 PM on May 6


I suspect it's just marketing and consumer willingness to buy expensive fridges as part of already-expensive kitchen renos.

Honestly, I think it's more that the manufacturers have discovered the magic of captive audiences. There's scant profit building an affordable, durable, and bells-n-whistles-free fridge. So, since consumers have to have a fridge, they build one or two cheap boxes that meet no-one's needs, and focus on expensive, feature-laden boxes. At least, that's what I saw when we shopped for the new fridge.

I wasn't really willing to spend what I did on a new fridge, but after trudging through umpteen stores and browsing even more websites, I discovered that I didn't have a choice. The hell of it is, the dirt cheap models and the $3,000 units share one common trait: They're all engineered for a 7-year lifespan.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:55 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


"The wash programmes in your washing machine are controlled by soft-ware. New types of fabric or new detergents may require new wash pro-grammes in the future. In most cases, the software can be adapted to this. For further information on a possible "update" please contact customer service."

Let me put this into Google Translate, set to [Marketing]->[Engineering]

"This washing system is pretty screwed up. Most of the time it hardly gets the clothes clean, or it completely gets gummed up with undiluted detergent since we can't get enough water flow through the basin. Stupid Carl chose the wrong flow valve again and didn't talk to Bob, who made the drain pan too large. So let's make sure we can update code in the field in case we find out that when the customer puts New Amazing Tide Cubes(tm) in the drum, the system can't dissolve them like all the other manufacturers can and the clothes solidify into a 10 pound block of shit".
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:58 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


My fridge has held up for a while. 83 years.

It did need a repair a while ago but it may have been the first one ever -- and it wouldn't have happened at all if not for user error. (Apparently you should not regularly turn the thing off by cutting off the power, to defrost it. There's a crankcase heater or something like that that needs to stay running. Instead of cutting the power entirely I should have been using the off switch.)

Before anyone asks -- I bet my fridge uses less power than yours! (These old Monitor Tops hardly use any. It was later fridges, with defrosting and fans and such, that were the power hogs.) it is also the correct size for one or two people and not a behemoth. Note in the pic that it fits perfectly in the space built for it by the home's previous owners decades ago. Finding a modern fridge that fit there and wasn't also way too deep (and therefore blocking access to the cupboards next to it) was a nearly impossible task.

Anyway, this thing is a tank. It is heavy and solid and there is no plastic whatsoever. And it keeps my food nice and cold. :)

Then there is my oven... (Not as old as it looks, just fully rewired a few months ago.)

I don't really want more modern appliances than those. I do have a newish dishwasher. That, I like. But my fridge and stove are non-electronic beasts that will outlive me. Hopefully the new owners someday will respect them.
posted by litlnemo at 4:55 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


I looked up the Speed Queen washers recommended above, and joy! they are sold in Australia. What about fridges and freezers? Is there a similar "just works, no bells and whistles" brand you can find? Are restaurant-style ones good for homes?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:52 PM on May 6


Wow, that is a beautiful fridge, litlnemo-- and putting the compressor on top is an inherently better design because the waste heat flows up and away without streaming over the refrigerated compartment first-- but having sulfur dioxide or methyl formate refrigerant would make me a bit nervous.
posted by jamjam at 6:17 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


having sulfur dioxide or methyl formate refrigerant would make me a bit nervous

Well, sulfur dioxide is marginally safe enough for human coexistence that it's used in foods (dried fruit), so it's at least better than the astringent breath of molecular demons living in the piping of refineries that's in the coils of our modern refrigerators.
posted by sonascope at 4:57 AM on May 7


If standardized controller boards are out, let's attack the problem from the other end:

Butlerian Jihad (tm) brand appliances!
posted by whuppy at 7:18 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Well, sulfur dioxide is marginally safe enough for human coexistence that it's used in foods (dried fruit), so it's at least better than the astringent breath of molecular demons living in the piping of refineries that's in the coils of our modern refrigerators.

I have to disagree. A sulfur dioxide leak is more dangerous than freon or R134a (a newer refrigerant).

Dried fruit only releases a small amount of SO2 into the air. The dose makes the poison.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:21 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Butlerian Jihad (tm) brand appliances!

I don't know, I'd like not to have to deal with a mentat every time I microwaved a burrito.
posted by JHarris at 1:49 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


If you think sulfur dioxide is safer than R-134a, you're crazy. The refrigerant in your monitor top is way more dangerous than the benign stuff in modern fridges.
posted by ryanrs at 9:04 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Indeed, the whole reason freon became the refrigerant of choice is because it's almost totally inert and about as safe for humans as any other gas that isn't oxygen. It's unfortunate that freon turns out to be a catalyst in ozone depletion, as it's practically a miracle refrigerant otherwise. It's replacement, R134a is nearly as inert, but turns out to be a super-efficient greenhouse gas.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:54 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Our washer just died a couple of weeks ago.

The local repair company sent a tech to look at it. He poked at it, hemmed and hawed, and said he'd never seen the belt slip off the driveshaft before in quite this way.

Some more poking, and Aha, he says, the reason the belt slipped off is that your bearings are totally shot. He's never seen this failure mode before because these washers were "new technology" when they came out, and they usually lasted only 5 or 6 years. Ours was 11 years old.

Oh, and to repair it he'd have to replace the whole integrated tub unit. He could do it, sure, but for what that would cost, we'd be more than half way to a new high end model. And then the motor would fail pretty soon afterwards...

Yeah, so we bought a new washer. Let's see how long this one lasts.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:50 PM on May 8


Finally got back to this thread... yeah, it would be nice if the old fridge had a different refrigerant. But after research (and also discussing it thoroughly with the Monitor Top expert who repaired it and who has worked on a bunch of 'em) I decided that I am not going to worry. Generally the things that cause leaks are using a sharp implement to chip off ice (I know better -- I ruined a 1960s fridge that way when I was younger), or moving the top section and rupturing the line. And that fridge is not going to move anywhere now. It belongs to the house.

The thread you linked to that discussed the refrigerant was actually full of a lot of people who have experience working on these fridges saying that the danger is overstated and it is possible to safely keep and work on them. I don't know if I'd be as worry-free as they are, but I feel that the risk is acceptable. Remember, a lot of these fridges have been running trouble-free for decades.

Now, if they would design a modern fridge that looked like the Monitor Top, operated with low-energy use, and wasn't half plastic, I might actually buy one. But my 1931 beast is so danged solid that it will probably outlive me.
posted by litlnemo at 4:56 AM on May 23


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