Lifetime Not Guaranteed
March 21, 2017 8:55 AM   Subscribe

They Used to Last 50 Years
Now refrigerators last 8–10 years, if you are fortunate. How in the world have our appliances regressed so much in the past few decades? ... Now, many appliances break and need servicing within 2-3 years and, overall, new appliances last 1/3 to 1/4 as long as appliances built decades ago. ... Why is this happening, and what’s really going on?

Designing products to have limited life spans have mixed effects. Replacing things on a cycle can bring desirable improvements (to the user experience) but also yield great waste. See also:

GM invented planned obsolescence during the Great Depression, and we’ve been buying it ever since - Car sales were stalling because the market became saturated. Solution: create artificial demand through things like annual model tweaks.

Here's the Truth about the Planned Obsolescence of Tech (BBC Future) - The truth is mixed. A replacement cycle supports employment & sales. Making things to last upends that cycle.

The L.E.D. Quandary: Why There’s No Such Thing as “Built to Last” (New Yorker) (previously)
This would seem to be a good thing, but building bulbs to last [LED bulbs] turns out to pose a vexing problem: no one seems to have a sound business model for such a product. And, paradoxically, this is the very problem that the short life span of modern incandescents was meant to solve.
The Fix Is Out: Product Repairs Get Tougher in New Age of Obsolescence (NBC) ( Previously: But we planned that obsolescence ourselves! - on "Right To Repair" bills. )
posted by ZeusHumms (178 comments total) 91 users marked this as a favorite
 
From 1954, Frederik Pohl's "The Midas Plague."
posted by Naberius at 9:02 AM on March 21, 2017 [15 favorites]


Great post!

What's the US population up to now, 320 million? How else are we going to keep everyone employed unless we keep deliberately breaking things in order to fix them? As long as we insist on always growing our population and businesses, all the time always, this is going to be a problem. Until someone launches a revolution.
posted by Melismata at 9:06 AM on March 21, 2017 [12 favorites]


Lots to dig into. thanks for the post.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:07 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


And a flimsy modern refrigerator will only protect you from a 1.5 megaton atomic blast, if that.
posted by Flashman at 9:11 AM on March 21, 2017 [70 favorites]


As long as we insist on always growing our population

And how do you propose to decrease that metric, exactly?
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:14 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


From 2015, Guardian: End of the line for stuff that's built to die? "A new French law demands that manufacturers display how long their appliances will last. Could this stop planned obsolescence – products designed with restricted lifetimes?"

I wonder if this law is still in effect.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:15 AM on March 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


How else are we going to keep everyone employed unless we keep deliberately breaking things in order to fix them?

We're mostly not fixing them; we're replacing them. And even with that, we're never going to keep everyone employed, unless we start hiring vast numbers of people to watch TV, support sports teams, and drink or do drugs. Employment in those endeavors might create full employment. Manufacturing and service won't.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:16 AM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


From 2014, Guardian: The problem with fast fashion – and how to fix it
Very cheap fashion items are now readily available. Why mend, repair or embellish something, when it is so cheap to just buy something new?
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:18 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Old refrigerators are quite inefficient; if you have one that's over 20 years old, it's probably a good idea to replace it.

I am not gentle enough with appliances, so the plastic parts break. I think of my 8 year old fridge as new, but the plastic rails for the main veg drawer are already in bad shape. I'm sure a replacement would be easy for me to install, but absurdly expensive. Go, Team Capitalism!
posted by theora55 at 9:18 AM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Old refrigerators are quite inefficient; if you have one that's over 20 years old, it's probably a good idea to replace it.

Although, as the article points out:
There is a funny thing going on right now in the appliance industry. Energy efficiency is being trumpeted by everyone with new stickers and labels and claims. But what about how long the appliance lasts before it ends up in a landfill? If an old refrigerator or freezer would last 40-50 years before being replaced, and the new ones are barely lasting 10-15 years, that means we are making 3–4 times the number of appliances we used to. Being very conservative, we are plowing through 2–3 times as many household appliances as we used to. How can that possibly be better for the environment?
posted by clawsoon at 9:20 AM on March 21, 2017 [66 favorites]


We have an old fridge that I'm sure is majorly inefficient, but I don't want to replace it before we demolish our current kitchen, which might be a few years.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:21 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Old refrigerators are quite inefficient; if you have one that's over 20 years old, it's probably a good idea to replace it.

Depends on the frame of reference. There's the day to day energy usage, and the energy / material costs of making one. If a fridge lasts 30 years, is that really worse than 3 fridges that last on average 10 years?
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:22 AM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


And how do you propose to decrease that metric, exactly?

Um, stop having so many kids?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:22 AM on March 21, 2017 [41 favorites]


I just got a new washing machine and actually opted for the extended warranty because I do not trust new appliances at all. The appliances (gas range and fridge) in our kitchen *looked* nearly new when we toured the house before we bought it, but as it turns out they are both already broken in various ways.

I'm a "use it up, wear it out, make do or do without [or also maybe fix it your own damn self]" type of person and this stuff makes me itch.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


Part of it is that the appliances are also literally cheaper. It looks like a full size fridge cost about $500 in the 60s, which works out to $3500 adjusted for inflation. I expect that the fridge you buy for $3500 today has a lot of the features he's lamenting the disappearance of. That's not to say that all of his points are invalid, and much of what he says is true, but part of the reason stuff breaks down faster and is more shoddily made is that it costs something like a quarter of what it used to. There are some societal advantages to having life-changing technology like refrigeration, air-conditioning, and in-home clothes washing available to people who could never have afforded those appliances if they cost the same, relative to inflation, that they did 50 years ago, although obviously there are major disadvantages with disposing of broken appliances and having to construct so many more.
posted by Copronymus at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2017 [55 favorites]




we start hiring vast numbers of people to ... do drugs.

hey man, I don't come down to the acid-doing factory and slap the electric glowing wavy breathing lines out of your eyes
posted by Greg Nog at 9:27 AM on March 21, 2017 [84 favorites]


Old refrigerators are quite inefficient; if you have one that's over 20 years old, it's probably a good idea to replace it.

My folks are on their second fridge since getting rid of the beautiful harvest gold beast they had for the first 25 years of my life. Energy Star stickers be damned, I can't see how the embodied energy that's gone into the production, transport, etc. of the two they've had to buy in the last 10 years represents any sort of net efficiency or savings.

Me and Goldie had a lot of good times together. *Sniff*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:27 AM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


Here's a businessmodel:

CNC and 3d printer derived parts. Sell appliances without planning obsolescence. Make your money selling parts, including ones that are tweaked for efficiency.
posted by ocschwar at 9:28 AM on March 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


if I ever need to buy a washer or dryer I'm getting a commercial one designed to be used every hour and every day of the year.

you know, the 100 kg heroic ones that wash your clothes in 40 minutes instead of 90 minutes. Our tvättstuga has these beautiful machines by Electrolux and they are hawt as hell.

fuck work, imma do laundry every day all day shimishoo shimishey

NSFW: Electrolux W555H is entry-level badassery. The W41100H i can't even
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:29 AM on March 21, 2017 [21 favorites]


We still use a propane fridge from the 1930s up at our cottage, while the last fridge I bought for our house only lasted 8 years, not because it stopped working but because all of the plastics that made up the interior cracked and disintegrated. I have a number of rather dated-looking old appliances - 45 year old clothes dryer, 35-year old stove, 40-year old toaster oven, 50-year old blender, etc -- that we hang on to just because they are pretty well indestructible. Meanwhile, every appliance we've bought in the last 10 years has already been replaced or is nearing end-of-life.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:29 AM on March 21, 2017 [11 favorites]


if you have one that's over 20 years old, it's probably a good idea to replace it

I have no argument with that point necessarily--my mom had the same washer for 30 years while we were growing up, and it was a total workhorse, but she did replace it eventually with a front-loader for issues of power and water efficiency.

However, the new one, frankly, has some real design problems, and could never through any stretch of the imagination be anyone's workhorse. The plastic latch assembly that locks the door and triggers the washer to go, for instance, is extremely flimsy, despite being the spot that is guaranteed to be put under stress multiple times per washload. Why is it made of plastic instead of metal, and mounted with stubby plastic lugs instead of metal screws? For cheapness of manufacture I'm sure. But the crack that eventually developed at the stress point where the latch goes into the socket made the washer completely unusable--electronic lock won't lock, means washer won't run. For want of a nail, the whole horse is lost.

Left to her own devices, she would have paid through the nose. Instead she has me, and I was so mad about the completely planned-obsolescent design that I spent hours doing research to track down the exact right part, downloading manuals, watching videos of people working on washers that weren't quite her exact model, etc. Bought a pair of locking pliers and the part, and then together we installed the damn thing. Because screw you, flimsy plastic Bosch washer.
posted by theatro at 9:29 AM on March 21, 2017 [38 favorites]


Buy It For Life
posted by leotrotsky at 9:31 AM on March 21, 2017 [11 favorites]


We finally had to replace our 30+year-old fridge a couple of years ago (the doors were literally falling off the thing because the hinge mounts on the body had become hollowed out from use), and have not been impressed with the replacement. Along with the ridiculously reduced lifespan, the price of a new fridge is frigging astronomical. We had to hunt hard to find a reasonably-sized one under four figures. For a goddamn refrigerator.

And, within four years, I had to have the fan unit replaced in the new one. I never once had to have my old fridge serviced. Never.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:31 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


If an old refrigerator or freezer would last 40-50 years before being replaced, and the new ones are barely lasting 10-15 years, that means we are making 3–4 times the number of appliances we used to. Being very conservative, we are plowing through 2–3 times as many household appliances as we used to. How can that possibly be better for the environment?

This underestimates the improvement in efficiency in refrigerators, which are one of the huge success stories of appliance standards. A new refrigerator uses less than a quarter of the energy of one from the 1970s. Energy use isn't the only thing - certainly materials and other costs are a factor, but manufacturing has also gotten more efficient, and I believe modern fridges use less refrigerant (and less environmentally nasty refrigerants) than older ones (though this is not my area of expertise) - but a 75 percent reduction in electricity use shouldn't be lightly dismissed.

Edited to include link, sorry!
posted by nickmark at 9:32 AM on March 21, 2017 [25 favorites]


What's the US population up to now, 320 million? How else are we going to keep everyone employed unless we keep deliberately breaking things in order to fix them? As long as we insist on always growing our population and businesses, all the time always, this is going to be a problem. Until someone launches a revolution.

...what?

Increasing population means there are more mouths to feed AND more hands to feed them. It's not a stress on the economy... it's the opposite. It's the only sustainable way an economy grows. And increasing population isn't an issue, particularly in the US--both immigration rates and fertility rates have been plummeting for decades. Just like in every developed country. There IS no population problem, or more precisely the problem is a LACK of people...

And for the rest of your comment, which is basically a lead in to "robots are taking our jobs" inanity... I don't even have the energy to respond to that.

The main linked article... jesus did you guys notice that it's on a website by a guy that is purporting to teach people "how to make money on craigslist"? Or that none of his assertions are supported by evidence? That he's not an engineer, or works in appliance manufacturing, or is an industry analyst? They're all "common sense" arguments.

The reason why things don't last as long as they used to (if we just accept that this is true without any statistics) could be because our demands have changed. A refrigerator from 50 years ago doesn't cool as well, isn't insulated as well, uses more energy, doesn't make me ice in like 5 different forms, doesn't have multiple temperature zones, is using an environment wrecking refrigerant, etc. Modern products break down more because there is way more of it (features) to break down.

This is like saying cars used to be cheaper (Arrested Development Voice Over: they weren't) without acknowledging that our standards for safety and features have dramatically changed over the years.
posted by danny the boy at 9:37 AM on March 21, 2017 [48 favorites]


My dearly departed grandmother's 1948 chest freezer is still keeping stuff frozen in the same basement it's been in since 1948 (the person who bought the home from us liked it and kept it).
posted by Burhanistan at 9:38 AM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Who can afford all this crap? It seems like a tool of class warfare when you have to keep working to earn money to make sure your light bulbs still work. Or laptop, or fridge, or whatever, when we know we can make these things immortal. Imagine passing on a light bulb to you grandchildren. It's possible, but not profitable.
posted by adept256 at 9:38 AM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Washer and driers are another appliance that are packed full of features and huge failure rates. Apparently Speed Queen Is a good brand to look into as their primary market are rental/condo and other high-use places.

Remember appliance repair places? Not so many of those around anymore.
posted by misterpatrick at 9:39 AM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


How can that possibly be better for the environment?
Isn't it the journalist's job to actually provide an answer to that question?

A refrigerator is a big box of metal and plastic, both of which are recyclable. Compared to, say, food packaging, burning a gallon of gas to get to work each day, eating meat, or living in a single-family home, this really doesn't seem like it's as big of an environmental impact as the author is making it out to be. It's not even a drop in the bucket.

Yeah, I'd prefer my durable goods to be more durable, but I think they're barking up the wrong tree with the environmental angle. Manufacturers aren't investing in adequate engineering or quality-control processes. They'd rather outsource design, run their plants with the cheapest workers they can find, and are generally ignoring everything that we've learned from the automotive industry (which, coincidentally, is producing the most reliable and long-lived products that it ever has).

From my observations, no other industry has been as effectively and completely transformed into a corporate zombie that operates entirely on cruise-control. You get the impression that every single model of every single brand is churned out of the exact same factory from the same set of blueprints.

Also, a modern refrigerator is a lot more efficient than an old one. If you've got a fridge from the 80s, a new one will shave enough off of your electric bill to pay for itself in 5-6 years. It is indeed a shame that they don't build 'em like they used to (if we can rule out survivorship bias, which I don't think we can), but your new fridge with the flimsy fan unit is still a lot better overall than Grandma's mint green icebox that never once required maintenance.
posted by schmod at 9:39 AM on March 21, 2017 [21 favorites]


It doesn't have to be complete replacement vs. keep-it-forever-never-change. What about planned obsolescence with modular replacement parts that take advantage of new technology, materials, and manufacturing methods?
posted by FJT at 9:39 AM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


I finally replaced our dryer bought in 1998 late last year when I couldn't find the part I needed to repair it. As in there was not a single available part on the Internet. Our washing machine, about 16 years old, sounds like it is going to die with every use, but it just keeps chugging along. I fear I'll be replacing it soon too.
posted by COD at 9:40 AM on March 21, 2017


It's a misconception that obsolescence is planned. The only plan is for cost reduction, and the new design has to be tested for a fixed life, because you can only test things for so long before you have to move on with your life and either build the part or not. And since you have an aggressive project timeline, you can't test things forever.

If you overbuilt it so it lasts forever, you are late to market and you are so expensive that nobody buys it.

Still, though, poor quality does have a cost, in warranty claims, and companies really do work to fix things. It's just that, unlike with software, it's much harder to fix things you've already built.

Also: the old products didn't last forever. The subset of the parts that haven't failed yet, have lasted forever.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:41 AM on March 21, 2017 [27 favorites]


In the 80s and 90s, certain companies devoted their efforts to being the firms that would put a desktop computer on every desk that needed it.

Notice where those companies are today?
posted by ocschwar at 9:41 AM on March 21, 2017


Energy Star stickers be damned, I can't see how the embodied energy that's gone into the production, transport, etc. of the two they've had to buy in the last 10 years represents any sort of net efficiency or savings.

See this is the thing that really frustrated me about Internet arguments. Dramatic statements, with no backing evidence at all. This is not esoteric knowledge folks, you can easily enough find the energy consumption figures either for old appliances or for the manufacture and dissociation of new ones. But no, we just go with "it feels like" or "Common sense says" or the like.

We've basically descended to the level of playground arguments, all feelings, no facts. No wonder the anti-vaccers and creationists are winning.
posted by happyroach at 9:42 AM on March 21, 2017 [23 favorites]


You need to buy new microwaves every few years otherwise the NSA's software can't run properly.
posted by Kabanos at 9:45 AM on March 21, 2017 [56 favorites]


Also: tooling is fantastically expensive. Inventory is expensive. A company that can still make parts that were obsolete 10 years ago, especially a big sheet metal or plastic part, is going to charge you as much as a whole new refrigerator will cost.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:45 AM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


In my family of four, years ago, my wife formed a relationship with a local family-operated appliance repair company, and we probably have them out about once a year to repair something. They were just at our house recently to replace a broken plastic part and to fix a strange humming noise in our refrigerator. We've had our middle-of-the-line refrigerator for 20 years now, I think, and it's been repaired a few times. Though the repair guy did mention that if the motor goes out now, he won't be able to get a replacement any longer. Grrr.

Are we so unusual that we repair our appliances and keep them as long as possible?
posted by tippiedog at 9:47 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Part of it is that the appliances are also literally cheaper.

The example I was going to use was washers and dryers, which cost about $385 for the set in 1959, or about $3200 in current money.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:50 AM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


Does the fact that the need for fridges has gone from millions of people in 1955 to hundreds of millions or even billions of folks in 2017 affect this?

Wouldn't cheaper materials need to be eventually used, because how else can everyone in the world be able to have a fridge and/or afford one?

This is just my random thoughts. I tried to Google out how many fridges were in the world in the 1950s, but had no luck.
posted by FJT at 9:50 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


And how do you propose to decrease that metric, exactly?

Oh, I can think of a lot of ways, but I think Trump is gonna beat us to it.
posted by sutt at 9:51 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


A company that can still make parts that were obsolete 10 years ago, especially a big sheet metal or plastic part, is going to charge you as much as a whole new refrigerator will cost.

That doesn't change anything. Why is the part obsolete at all? Why couldn't they keep making the same product continuously for 10 years?
posted by epanalepsis at 9:51 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


The example I was going to use was washers and dryers, which cost about $385 for the set in 1959, or about $3200 in current money.

And perhaps back then we had $3200 to spare from our savings account. Now we don't, because we HAVE to have a cell phone and some sort of home internet/TV account and on top of that pay an amount for our homes that is much higher percentagewise than it used to be...
posted by Melismata at 9:52 AM on March 21, 2017


Corporations that make big ticket items seem to like steady cash flow like everyone else. They don't seem to be above making subtle design tweaks to push consumers into upgrades and replacements.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:52 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'd prefer my durable goods to be more durable, but I think they're barking up the wrong tree with the environmental angle. Manufacturers aren't investing in adequate engineering or quality-control processes. They'd rather outsource design, run their plants with the cheapest workers they can find, and are generally ignoring everything that we've learned from the automotive industry (which, coincidentally, is producing the most reliable and long-lived products that it ever has).

I think the real problem is that you can't tell which ones are built to last and the three or four conglomerates that make these things deliberately obscure this information through marketing and branding. When I go to Harbor Freight to buy tools, I know that I'm buying cheap garbage that is probably only going to last me two dozen uses or so, and that's OK, how many times am I really going to use a strap wrench anyway? When I walk into a hardware store and look at name brand power tools, you can pretty easily suss out which model is meant for "consumer" use and which are professional tools meant for constant, daily use. Appliances are nothing like that, and I don't understand why.
posted by indubitable at 9:54 AM on March 21, 2017 [16 favorites]


I think about this all the time and how it's basically an additional tax on my generation (Millennials). My parents literally had the same two can openers my entire life and knowing my parents, they definitely bought the cheapest can openers at the store. I've already owned like ten can openers because every one I buy is a piece of junk that breaks within months to a year.

Extend that to basically every appliance in my home and I really wonder how much extra money my entire generation will spend on appliances as opposed to our parents, simply because manufacturing standards have degraded so epically and every thing we buy is designed to break asap.

A couple years ago we bought a house from an older couple who had lived there for close to forty years. They left the washer and dryer behind and I was so psyched to inherit these appliance because I instantly recognized the dryer as the one I'd grown up with (which again, my parents had as long as I can remember). That's right, I felt super lucky to inherit a 20 to 30-year-old dryer because I felt confident it would actually keep on keeping on. And so far, it has.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 9:55 AM on March 21, 2017 [19 favorites]


It doesn't have to be complete replacement vs. keep-it-forever-never-change. What about planned obsolescence with modular replacement parts that take advantage of new technology, materials, and manufacturing methods?

dude, these are not smart phones. they keep your fucking food cold. it's not a fast changing industry.
posted by indubitable at 9:56 AM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


Product life-cycle and planned obsolescence, when compared with energy costs of production and use, can take you in strange and unexpected directions.

For example: I want a Tesla (or another high-end electric). I have enough saved up to pay for it. However, I also have a decade-old Honda that runs just fine (and is both easy and relatively inexpensive to repair when it doesn't). After much deliberation, I decided that I will drive the Honda until it breaks sufficiently to justify switching. Why? Because from an environmental standpoint, switching now, when the Honda still works fine, incurs more impact on the world than staying. All new cars require lots of resources to produce, and electric cars (with their extensive battery needs) even more than most. I want that new car, and I can afford that new car, but I can't justify it yet...
posted by mystyk at 9:57 AM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


As long as we insist on always growing our population

Not true IMO. We could work to restore the economic value of content and make cultural commerce--books, songs, video games, art, etc.--a sustainable basis for growth without demands for significant new resource consumption. But right now, the very least valuable thing in our economy seems to be the actual cultural content all our online retail delivery mechanisms are designed to exploit for drawing clicks and ad revenue.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:59 AM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


When I walk into a hardware store and look at name brand power tools, you can pretty easily suss out which model is meant for "consumer" use and which are professional tools meant for constant, daily use. Appliances are nothing like that, and I don't understand why.

Professional grade equipment for appliances would be what restaurants and industrial kitchens use. I guess most people don't really need that kind of extra power. But, they are probably available if you start talking to restaurant suppliers.

The deep fryer's here. I got it used from the Navy. You could flash fry a buffalo in forty seconds.” -Moe
posted by FJT at 10:01 AM on March 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


I'd like a citation for "Now refrigerators last 8–10 years, if you are fortunate". I got a new refrigerator when I moved into this place 15 years ago and it is still going fine. I can only think of one person among my family and friends who has had to replace a fridge in the last couple of decades due to it breaking down. And a fridge breaking is a huge pain, what with losing all the food and having to clean it out, so you tend to hear about it.

There are definitely categories of things that seem to have been Walmart-ed (it's damn hard to find a really sturdy window fan these days), but it would be nice to see non-anecdotal evidence for fridges, given my anecdotal evidence does not back up the writer's.
posted by tavella at 10:04 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


Classism is a parallel discussion to planned obsolescence, but generally speaking they are still making products that will last a long time, maybe even your lifetime — it just costs more. And that includes appliances and can openers.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:04 AM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


It doesn't have to be complete replacement vs. keep-it-forever-never-change. What about planned obsolescence with modular replacement parts that take advantage of new technology, materials, and manufacturing methods?

dude, these are not smart phones. they keep your fucking food cold. it's not a fast changing industry.


To me you're making the same argument here. If it's not a fast changing industry then why do some of the basic parts of the fridge have to change every 2 years? Can't more efficient compressors and coils be put into the same body as last year? Or take dryers as an example. There is almost no reason a modern, safe, efficient dryer can't be made in the same body as my 1980 model. This allows for a potential upgrade path for new internals in older models and saves on engineering and tooling costs for new shiny boxes every model cycle.

I did read the articles, and I know the answer is likely that the shiny new box is there to make me want to buy it. I'd rather buy an ugly, proven design that I can get parts for. But then I'm not defined by how curvy my washing machine is.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 10:08 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


I found a stash of business records from 1913, for a company that sold quality socks.

Adjusting to today's money, a pair of these socks cost $70. But they were really nice socks, apparently. The kind you would mend with your darning kit.

Buying socks was an investment you made only a few times in your life.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:09 AM on March 21, 2017 [11 favorites]


>> we start hiring vast numbers of people to ... do drugs.

> hey man, I don't come down to the acid-doing factory and slap the electric glowing wavy breathing lines out of your eyes.


uhhh folks I hate to break it to you but the workplace you are describing is Google. I mean normally the people there are just microdosing, so no glowing wavy breathing lines generally, but like also sometimes software developers accidentally too much.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:09 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


So like the internet is really in love with that "Vimes' law of boots" thing that everyone who grew up broke understood from childhood, that Terry Pratchett bit explaining why it's so expensive to be poor, but, I think this thread points us to a related and more interesting law: It's expensive to live in a poor society.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:11 AM on March 21, 2017 [22 favorites]


> I think about this all the time and how it's basically an additional tax on my generation (Millennials). My parents literally had the same two can openers my entire life and knowing my parents, they definitely bought the cheapest can openers at the store. I've already owned like ten can openers because every one I buy is a piece of junk that breaks within months to a year.

First, I have to wonder what the hell you're doing to your can openers. Even a cheap-ass IKEA one shouldn't be breaking that fast. There may be a 'user' component to your troubles...

But second, if the good is sufficiently cheaper, what you're alleging is not necessarily true. That's one of the main points that's been hashed out above. If old item A lasts 45 years on average, and new version item B only lasts 15 on average, but new item B costs 30% or less of old item A, you lost nothing and potentially gained. What's more, there's a time-value to money: the 70+% you saved on item B can now be spent on thingamajig C and whatsit D, also cheaper versions of their class, allowing you to live a higher-end lifestyle for less initial cost at the time in your life when that money matters most.

That said, for price-inflexible items, the calculation is more in line with what you're thinking. To this day, a popular wedding gift is pots and pans made by Anolon, Calphalon, or a few others. Why? Because as long as you don't treat them like shit, they'll be able to be passed on to children. But the 5-year lifespan version of pots and pans that most millennials will get still costs almost half as much as those premium ones. That makes them a net-loss over time. (Perhaps the answer, then, is to promote more marriages among millennials, in order to get pots and pans bequeathed? [I kid... I kid...])
posted by mystyk at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


I can't remember the last time I had something break on me that I hadn't planned for it to break. That is, I often buy decent things that'll last a long, long time, or I buy cheaper things, and know they won't last as long.

We replaced the coffee machine a while back; the previous one lasted longer than I'd expected it to, and it was a piece of junk in the first place.

There are websites that'll help you find the right tool for the job. I'm fond of The Sweethome recently. I've also used Reviewed.com to buy our washer and dryer, partially because a friend of mine worked there.
posted by explosion at 10:14 AM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


This is not esoteric knowledge folks, you can easily enough find the energy consumption figures either for old appliances or for the manufacture and dissociation of new ones.

It is easy to find operation efficiency data, but not manufacturing and distribution data. It may well be that the cost is minimal, but without actually knowing that, how can people make a truly informed choice? So if this data is so easy to come by, please help quell this line of discussion by pointing us in the right direction.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:15 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm putting in a nice word for the EZ DUZ IT can opener.

My previous issue with can openers was that they didn't work very well in the first place. I don't use this one often enough to make claims about durability, but at least it opens cans quickly and thoroughly.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 10:17 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


NSFW: Electrolux W555H is entry-level badassery. The W41100H i can't even

I think I had an orgasm.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:19 AM on March 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


My wife somehow managed to find an unused, in box magimix that was something like 20 years old.
We bought it (and all the accessories) for £20 or thereabouts.
It's very very heavy and silver and has three chunky buttons for going, stopping and somewhere in between.
I think she was a little perplexed when we plugged it in and pressed go, and I made a strange kind of low "ooooh" noise when I heard the sound of a big chunky induction motor instead of the whine of a dc motor.

This is is a thing that is engineered to last forever, and it very much shows compared to a modern mass market model.
I know magimix still exist and still make wildly expensive things, but it's hard to justify £300 for a food processor with three buttons on it when you can buy one with ten buttons and a big dial and some blue LEDs for £80.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:22 AM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


We've used wall-mounted Swing-A-Way can openers for decades. When my last USA-made one finally wore out after almost 20 years, I bought a replacement. I didn't notice until I got home that it was made in China, and even though it looked the same at first glance, it was clearly made of thinner and cheaper materials. It also never worked right from the start, slipping and jamming on most cans.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:27 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think people are underestimating how major appliance purchases used to be. At the prices they were in the 60s, it was something that would require months/years of saving and a lot of planning, even on a middle-class income, making it more more akin to buying a car than it is now. That's also part of why there used to be a much more robust appliance repair economy, because the replacement cost was relatively enormous compared to the number of man-hours it would take to fix something.
posted by Copronymus at 10:28 AM on March 21, 2017 [13 favorites]


In re the "but if they are sufficiently cheap, you get the time value of money so it's a wash" thing:

This totally discounts the cost of breakable things. If something could break any moment, it can interrupt any process. Maybe I want to have canned beans tonight - well, my can-opener just broke. Do I go out and get a new one? Change my dinner plans? Make sure I always have a spare? The emotional nuisance of knowing that everything breaks all the time is huge.

Also, sometimes the satisfaction of knowing that you don't need, you have gets lost. Knowing that you won't have to shop for a hairdryer or a blender for at least a decade is satisfying and soothing. Knowing that at any moment you could be on the hook for a replacement is stressful.

That's one reason I sold my car, actually - it was knowing that any morning I could get up and boom, there was a $400 belt breakage or something, and I'd have to figure out how to get to work without the car, get the car to the shop, pick it up, try not to get screwed by the repair shop, etc. I'd infinitely rather bus and bike (and I'm lucky that I can) because it's predictable.

Super-breakable crap is not predictable at all, except that you can predict that, like, the blender will go right when you really need it or whatever.

Here's a story: I worked in China when I was younger, back in the late nineties/early 2000s. At that time, almost all new appliances that people would get were crap. The old stuff from the 80s was solid like a rock, but everything else was super cheap. So I was at someone's new apartment and it was a big deal - not only because I'd never visited them before but also because I was a foreigner. And they had this sort of wall-insert air conditioner (I would encounter one five years later when they'd gotten the quality straightened out, and that one was pretty good.) Anyway, it was also a big deal to have this air conditioner. And it broke while I was there, and one of my hosts practically cried. "Everything always breaks," she wailed, so sadly. And that made me really mad - no one should be that sad because of a goddamn air conditioner.

There is a social cost to garbage design and I do not care for it.
posted by Frowner at 10:31 AM on March 21, 2017 [49 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not particularly sorry that a refrigerator breaking is no longer a serious financial crisis. And I'm actually pretty happy I don't have to darn my own socks because buying a new pair is a major investment.
posted by tavella at 10:32 AM on March 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


I expect that the fridge you buy for $3500 today has a lot of the features he's lamenting the disappearance of.

I have a fridge that cost around $10k (a built-in), and a control board failed when it was five years old. I was told that the board was discontinued, so the whole fridge needed to be replaced. Thankfully I was able to find a place that sold refurbished boards, but I was very close to having to throw out a 5 year old fridge that cost a lot more than $3500....
posted by primethyme at 10:33 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what past other people lived in but those things 'lasted' forever? They were awful pieces of crap that required incredibly frequent really expensive repairs. Those maytag repairman commercials existed because you used to have get your washing machine repaired all the goddamn time at hundreds of dollars a pop on machines that cost a lot more back in the day.

Stuff runs so much better and more reliably now days that is incredibly frustrating when they don't. When I was a kid everybody know how take almost all their appliances apart and do some simple repairs themselves because it was too expensive to take them to the repair shops (and there were repair shops for more things that PCs and cell phones!).

So now we throw out some products quicker. In the past we threw out bigger chunks of people's lives instead.

I find this kind of romantization of the past to be every bit as annoying as those computer nerds who long to go back to the old days of hardware when you could spend a week sorting out IRQ conflicts and tweaking modem initialization strings so you could connect to BBS.
posted by srboisvert at 10:33 AM on March 21, 2017 [33 favorites]


First, I have to wonder what the hell you're doing to your can openers. Even a cheap-ass IKEA one shouldn't be breaking that fast. There may be a 'user' component to your troubles...
posted by mystyk at 12:12 PM on March 21 [+] [!]

Uh, okay. I can't believe I'm actually going to defend my ability to operate a can opener, but... considering that I grew up in an pretty impoverished household with half a dozen children who spent a lot of time fending for ourselves and opening our own goddamn cans, I am fairly confident that the can openers in my current household of two adults are getting pretty gentle treatment in comparison. But, I mean, what the hell do I know.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 10:36 AM on March 21, 2017 [30 favorites]


There is a social cost to garbage design and I do not care for it

On the other hand, when I move I can just trash my cheap Ikea shit.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:36 AM on March 21, 2017


Cheap stuff has its own costs. I'd rather not drop $70 per pair of socks, but I would kill to find high-quality cotton ones for women at the store. Ditto for everything else.

One issue is that it's next to impossible to judge the quality of an appliance before you buy it. Even if it was fantastic three years ago, it could be crap now. It's also hard to find a store that specializes in repairs.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 10:37 AM on March 21, 2017


True story: When the Carousel of Progress attraction, which shows how electrical appliances have changed family living from the beginning to the end of the 20th century, was moved from Disneyland to Walt Disney World in the early 1970's, sponsor General Electric insisted on a change in theme song. They felt that the classic "There's a Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow" gave audiences the idea that they could wait until tomorrow to buy newer and better appliances. So, the same songwriters were commissioned to write "The Best Time of Your Life," which had a seize-the-day message they thought would inspire park guests to embrace their current catalog.

The original theme song was restored after GE dropped their sponsorship.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:43 AM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


"CNC and 3d printer derived parts. Sell appliances without planning obsolescence. Make your money selling parts, including ones that are tweaked for efficiency."

Has anyone here ever 3-D printed replacement parts for their older fridge? I intend to do it.

Our fridge is from a 1992 renovation of the house we bought in 2009. The icemaker recently broke. We want to sell the house in a year, so that thing needs to be working. The fridge was probably a common size in 1992, but the ones today are all monsters. There's nothing I'd love more than replacing this old side-by-side with a fridge-on-top/freezer-on-bottom jobby, but the trick is that an interior architect DESIGNED the fridge into the space. There's like 2 inches on either side of this now-narrow-by-today's-standards fridge. So none of the modern monsters will fit. So I need to pull the thing out, pull it apart, do some mystery step I'm not aware of yet, and fabricate a new part down at the local fab lab.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:44 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


One specific reason for failures in the past 20 years has been the capacitor plague, a systemic problem with electronic components. The $0.10 capacitor on the logic board fail after a few years. There are several causes for shitty caps but the best story is industrial espionage. Folks in China failed to copy a formula correctly when they stole it and now 15 years later a bunch of electronics keep failing.

The fix for a failed capacitor is relatively simple, you just replace it. But it requires removing the logic board and desoldiering the capacitor. That's a level of repair no one in the United States wants to do.
posted by Nelson at 10:46 AM on March 21, 2017 [14 favorites]


In theory I guess we could go back to the model used by companies like Bell with the Model 300-500-1500 phones where you basically had a nearly indestructible piece of hardware that you rented on a monthly basis which was easy to repair/refurbish upon component failure.

Of course that model largely depended on monopoly power and new features were glacially slow in terms of adoption rate.

The model that's basically taken over the appliance industry is that you have bargain basement options (like the $300 fridge) that are cheap, inefficient and have fairly low failure rates due to a lack of electronic parts. These are marketed to people that have no or low credit. You have the mid-range fridge (with the requisite stainless steel finish in 2-door or more commonly french door configuration. These are costly purchases but still comparatively cheap historically, they are also relatively easy to purchase with credit from the store so that the retailer is getting the benefit of a consistent cash flow rather than an irregular purchase every 8-10 years. Finally you have the premium appliances that typically have somewhat lower failure rates because people are willing to pay for quality and in many cases the lifespan goes back up some (electronic parts still have relatively high failure rates though).

In many ways it's a good model for consumers because they can self-select into the various markets and if they want to get on the technology treadmill they can.

People routinely purchase smartphones every 12-24 months without too much complaining about failure rates so it's kind of strange that people are complaining about having to replace a fridge or washer/dryer every 5-7 years. Is it because the perceived complexity of the device is much lower than what is expected out of a PC or a smartphone?
posted by vuron at 10:51 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


But it requires removing the logic board and desoldiering the capacitor. That's a level of repair no one in the United States wants to do.

I do this all the time and I know of a few local shops that specialize in this. The problem is that people today see a puff of smoke or a blinking power LED and figure the thing's dead - time for a new one. It could be a renaissance of repair people re-capping devices but we're trained that there are "no user serviceable parts inside"
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 10:54 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


For people under financial stress even a cheap thing breaking at a bad time can throw you into a spiral of grief and frustration, especially if you're already dealing with lifelong medical issues related to basic life stress. If I could afford the more durable versions of basic goods I'd buy them, but I can't always even afford to feed my kids fresh food. Having to stop everything and budget time and gas money to go shopping for some basic, cheap good can be a lot more disruptive and stressful depending on life circumstances. We're not all shopping for the same things with the same needs all the time here. Young people without a lot of legacy debt and personal responsibility to dependents can't always appreciate just what a pain in the ass even these little daily hassles can be. Of course, machines and devices breakdown more often because climate change is pushing their components past their expected performance specifications now, too, so it's not just planned obsolescence.

There's an idea going around these days (that came up upthread) that planned obsolescence isn't really an intentional industrial/manufacturing strategy, that it's only the numbers driving these choices, but that conveniently ignores the question of motive completely. If you just use the math to justify a business decision without even trying to understand what makes the math work in terms we can understand intuitively, there's no understanding to the thinking--which basically comes down to the fact the practice of manufacturing things more cheaply works to increase profits through a number of mechanisms, one of them being the increased demand for new replacement goods cheaper manufacturing coincidentally creates (being charitable).

That's the whole problem with economic justifications that ignore cultural values. It's just math. Math doesn't explain or interpret itself when it comes to explaining the strategies or real world motives behind what it describes. You can always dismiss any attempt to understand or criticize the practical motives and broader implications for particular industrial investment decisions and commercial activities. The mathematical descriptions of the economics drivers don't self-evidently explain themselves. The only conclusion you can draw from economic analysis is that making products that need to be replaced more frequently makes more money for manufacturing as an industry sector. Meanwhile, it's not conspiracy theory or myth that some have deliberately embraced planned obsolescence as an intentional business model, so I'd say it's a myth IMO that planned obsolescence is a myth. It's just not always the only motive because human beings rarely do anything for only one, singular reason.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:57 AM on March 21, 2017 [15 favorites]


Nelson- Yep, outside of a actuator failure on an old clothes washer that was a relatively easy fix almost every failure I've experienced with a modern appliance has been a logic board failure. Dishwasher, Fridge, even Furnace have been the result of logic board failures (likely due to power surges or lightning strikes). The rest of the appliance is generally fairly bullet proof but the logic boards are the weak link and unfortunately replacing one is often almost as expensive as replacing the appliance.

Long term you'd think that the failure of the electronic components would be eliminated over successive product iterations but if there is an inherent issue with low level components that would certainly be a good reason for high failure rates on appliances that are almost exclusively manufactured in places like China, South Korea, Taiwan, etc. If Samsung for instance is buying massive supplies of inferior capacitors that's going to impact huge sections of consumer appliance market.
posted by vuron at 11:01 AM on March 21, 2017


> Apparently Speed Queen Is a good brand to look into as their primary market are rental/condo and other high-use places.

Speed Queen is great, because their primary market is laundromats. They make a nice basic model for home use and you don't get to choose a flashy color or any options. It costs more than the machines with similar features from other brands, but it is also considerably sturdier. They are also now the only remaining manufacturer (as far as I know) that permits an installer to partially dismantle the machine to get it down rowhouse stairs. (Dismantling is literally impossible for some brands, and voids the warranty for the rest.)
posted by desuetude at 11:02 AM on March 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


> One issue is that it's next to impossible to judge the quality of an appliance before you buy it.

I'd argue that's one of the central issues of this whole topic. There are some exceptions, where the difference is obvious between two items, but for most things we're now at the point where the major distinguishing factor is price, and that is a not very reliable measure on many things.

> I find this kind of romantization of the past to be every bit as annoying as...

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, in no small part because what you are nostalgic for rarely has more than a tangential connection to the reality of the past in question. (The 60+ million people who voted to "Make America Great Again" illustrate that pretty well.) Here we have people pining for expensive but comparably robust items, because they've forgotten things like just how often and how difficult (not to mention how expensive) repairs were. Is there a case for making things not break on first use? Sure, but that's not the average experience, and we need to be realistic about the benefits of affordable-but-replaceable, not just the drawbacks.
posted by mystyk at 11:04 AM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Our dishwasher (a Jenn-Air) is about ten years old.

Our stove (a Maytag) is about seventeen years old.

Our washer and dryer (both Maytags) are almost twenty years old (we got them with money we received as wedding present; I've often joked that if/when they break we'll have to get divorced)

Our snowblower was inherited from my father-in-law; it's almost forty years old now.

Meanwhile we just had to replace our four year old TV not too long ago.
posted by Lucinda at 11:04 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


When we bought our dishwasher, I picked one with a mechanical timer just to avoid electronic timer board failure problems. So far, so good. One of my hobbies is messing with vintage electronics. Capacitors can be a nightmare.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:07 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Capacitor plague was only an issue for a short period of time as far as I am aware of (as well as the article), and hasn't been an issue for anything produced within the last decade. That was certainly a fun issue, though - Nothing like "venting" caps to take a high-end for the time G5 mac out of service.

Another "issue" with anything electronic is cheap lead-free solder, which tends to not maintain its integrity for more than maybe 10 years or so. Note that the issue isn't so much that it's lead-free - it's the cheapness that is the problem. A quality lead-free solder will hold up quite well. Of course, budget items tend to be designed with budget processes....

This relates to one thing that I perceive as happening - it seems to me as if the "low end" products have been getting worse and worse as time has gone on, in particular the actual components that make up an assembled item. What would have been an entry-level item many years ago is what you would find at the middle range today.... This seems most apparent to me at the hardware store, where I have a pretty solid rule about never buying the lowest-end ANYTHING, especially for consumables like paint, spackle, etc, but seems to be true for any manufacturing / construction component or material.
posted by MysticMCJ at 11:07 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


Depends on the frame of reference. There's the day to day energy usage, and the energy / material costs of making one. If a fridge lasts 30 years, is that really worse than 3 fridges that last on average 10 years?

Very probably.

There is an enegy calculator for refrigerators you can peruse; refrigerators made before 1993 are really startlingly greedy. Old refrigerators were like light bulbs; almost all of their energy and money costs were operational costs, the purchase price almost didn't matter. New ones use something like 1/6th the energy of the pre-1980 models.

Your point about embodied energy is a good one, but bear in mind that you pay for that embodied energy when you buy an appliance. You aren't somehow sneaking $5,000 worth of embodied energy into a $500 refrigerator. The manufacturers pay less for energy than we do, but it's not so much less. And particularly if you run the refrigerator on coal-fired electricity, there are externalities we tend to overlook.

Nobody's a fan of short-lived appliances, exactly, but the old ones were often really bad in hard-to-see ways.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:10 AM on March 21, 2017 [12 favorites]


I've had my Yamaha Motif ES7 since 2004 and only ever needed to replace a broken key. It has beed shipped on airplanes, van and UPS. It has been sweat upon, licked and mashed. Exposed to myriad smoke machines and even rained on. The thing is indestructible. My Sharp Aquos 32" TV has been going strong without incident since 2007, and some of the shows and movies we've watched should have busted it for how bad they were. My vintage Zwilling garlic press is literally three pieces of thick, garlic-mashing steel.

The OXO ice cream scoop we got for our wedding, however, broken within the first year.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:21 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


The oven in my 12 year old Maytag gas stove just stopped working last weekend (AFTER I prepped some bread dough*). But the stove burners and the oven broiler still work, so initial troubleshooting suggests a failed igniter. I've ordered the replacement part and we'll see if the swap works. (I kind of hate this stove because the clunky enameled grates -- similar to these but slightly thinner -- are hard to clean and the enamel has burnt off the tips, so I did spend some time Sunday afternoon looking at new stoves and sighing.)

* Baking bread without an oven burner: I split the dough into two portions for the second rise. One portion was divided into 4 buns, brushed with olive oil and herbs, and put in a tray in my Instant Pot with enough water to rise halfway up the tray. 12 minutes under pressure in the IP, then 10 minutes natural release, then a few minutes under the broiler produced something rather like focaccia, very pretty and tasty. The second portion was put into a small bread tin to rise, then into a covered cast-iron dutch oven with a little water on the bottom. That took about 25-30 minutes on the top of the stove, then another stint under the broiler. This produced a loaf with a very soft crust, rather like bread machine bread, but it made decent grilled cheese sandwiches.
posted by maudlin at 11:21 AM on March 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


Has anyone here ever 3-D printed replacement parts for their older fridge?

Yep. Made a replacement ice chute intermediary thingie - works great.

The fix for a failed capacitor is relatively simple, you just replace it. But it requires removing the logic board and desoldering the capacitor. That's a level of repair no one in the United States wants to do.

I guarantee that there exist people that would be glad to do this; it's more a matter of the 'home appliance repair industry' not really existing any longer, for reasons detailed above, so it might take a few months of word-of-mouth research until you found somebody who'd be glad to come over and do it. There's just not as many people who can do that kind of work now, but not as few as 'no one'.

Even a cheap-ass IKEA one shouldn't be breaking that fast.


Nonsense - I haven't met an IKEA kitchen implement that I couldn't break in my hands with an absent-minded squeeze in the first few minutes of use.
posted by destructive cactus at 11:22 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


to one thing that I perceive as happening - it seems to me as if the "low end" products have been getting worse and worse as time has gone on

Modern engineering and material science are so good at optimization that when the suits say "make it reliable within the warranty period" the product will last that long, but there's no need to overbuild to get there, so there's low odds of it being trouble-free for longer.

If you buy a Vitamix (a heavy duty blender) or a Speed Queen (bulletproof washer/dryer) you're buying something where the optimization is "make it last a long time. Our reputation is based on it."
posted by zippy at 11:32 AM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


I've encountered the myth that planned obsolescence is a myth, too, and I have to wonder if the people saying that have ever seen a requirements document. Most if not all of the ones I've seen--for software and hardware--have the timeframe for obsolescence laid out explicitly.

I guess you could argue about the intent of the obsolescence if you wanted to, but it definitely exists and should be trivial to prove. I'd dig around and try to find some random technical specification that lays it out, but there's enough proof in the articles that I suspect anything I came up with would be ignored as well, so I'm just going to say Nah.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:34 AM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


Sometimes my 10 year old Samsung fridge crushes a bit of the door dispenser ice when I have it set to cubed and this makes me SO ANGRY WHAT A FUCKING HORRIBLE WORLD
posted by Burhanistan at 11:35 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah, capacitor plague was a problem in a very specific time frame, but electrolytic capacitors of all types have a limited lifespan.

We keep talking about replacing our 35-year-old stove as it is a very dated cream and fake wood grain, electric coil element stove that doesn't match any of the other modern stainless-steel and black appliances in the kitchen. On the other hand, it will probably out last us and replacement burner elements, on the very rare occasion they have been needed, are $20 each at Canadian Tire.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:35 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Whenever I'm at the gas station, putting another $30 worth of gas into my twenty-one year-old giant pickup truck to get me approximately two hundred miles of real-world driving, I look longingly at the little high-tech scootiecars zipping by on their way into parking spaces that I could only get into with demolition derby rules. It's got a 5.8 liter V8 designed to pull horse trailers around a farm and it is everything my once-Citroën-daily-driving self resents in the world of transportation…but it's paid for, working on the Duplo-block-scaled mechanical parts is shockingly easy, and it never breaks to the point of actually stranding me anywhere, unlike my semi-beloved small Japanese economy sedan that ultimately died not because it was rusty or mechanically irreparable, but rather because the ouroborous loop of the check engine light had started and there was no chance that I was ever going to get it to stop telling me that my crank position sensor or my wallet loading sensor needed immediate attention.

I hate being a rolling dinosaur, but I'm poor and I like having windows larger than the archer slits in a medieval castle, so Babe the teal ox is destined to be lurching irritably around Baltimore neighborhoods in search of a parking space until an as-yet-unknown rich relative dies and leaves me their estate.
posted by sonascope at 11:38 AM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


Capacitor plague was only an issue for a short period of time as far as I am aware of (as well as the article), and hasn't been an issue for anything produced within the last decade. That was certainly a fun issue, though - Nothing like "venting" caps to take a high-end for the time G5 mac out of service.

Even without a bad electrolyte, liquid electrolytes will take caps out of service after 10-15 years just because they dry up. You either need to move to stuff like tantalum capacitors with solid electrolytes (expensive) or ceramic caps for the high load stuff (even more expensive) if you want service lives measured in decades.

I mean the problem isn't really that stuff doesn't last long. There were plenty of shitty mass producers in the '50s as well. The problem is that repair is a much larger percentage of the capex of a new appliance than in the '50s. When your compressor broke on your fridge you had the repairman come out and repair the compressor. Then in the '70s repairman just started coming out with the replacement compressor. Now you just buy a new appliance because the price of the guy coming out little alone the part is now 1/4 the cost of the appliance. Back in the '50s your fridge was $300 but $300 was a month's pay (these figures are accurate to MSD). When you're paying the appliance guy $3/hr all of a sudden it's ridiculously cost effective to pay a guy for 4 hours to fix your broken compressor and replace a bearing or gasket or O-ring or something that costs a nickel.
posted by Talez at 11:38 AM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


Yep, outside of a actuator failure on an old clothes washer that was a relatively easy fix almost every failure I've experienced with a modern appliance has been a logic board failure. Dishwasher, Fridge, even Furnace have been the result of logic board failures (likely due to power surges or lightning strikes). The rest of the appliance is generally fairly bullet proof but the logic boards are the weak link and unfortunately replacing one is often almost as expensive as replacing the appliance.

Would putting them on surge suppressors help?
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:47 AM on March 21, 2017


On the other hand, it will probably out last us and replacement burner elements, on the very rare occasion they have been needed, are $20 each at Canadian Tire.

Good use of Canadian Tire money.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:49 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Would putting them on surge suppressors help?

Not... really?

I mean with any washing machine, or any digitally controlled appliance for that matter, it has an internal power supply that takes the voltage from mains to 5V or 3.3V or whatever the control logic is running on. This kind of insulates the electronics from almost all surges.

When the board goes the chips themselves are almost certainly fine. The biggest cause of IC failure is usually electromigration where a strong voltage literally deforms the gates to the point where the circuits don't do what you want them to do. Normal stuff under normal specs should keep on going for almost, well, ever. It's usually a matter of tracking down the faulty piece of support hardware (usually a cap), desoldering it, and replacing it. Once you do that the thing will probably magically come back to life.
posted by Talez at 11:53 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Obviously products have defined intended lifetimes, and that lifetime usually isn't "forever". What that means is, you test it and its components for a certain length during product development, then you're OK to build it. It means you don't go out of your way to make it last longer than that, and if there's a cheaper component that meets the same specification, you can use it.

What it doesn't mean is that you intentionally design the product to fail at [warranty]+1, and twirl your mustache while cackling at the suckers who bought your product. Nobody does that.

Yes, light bulbs could have lasted longer. But the cost of a light bulb was dwarfed by the cost of the energy to run it anyway.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:56 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


What that means is, you test it and its components for a certain length during product development, then you're OK to build it. It means you don't go out of your way to make it last longer than that,

And if that "certain length" is 2 years, or 5 years, and not 10 years or 20 years, because part of the point is you want to sell the same people the same thing in 2 or 5 years and not 10 or 20 years, it amounts to pretty much the same thing as cackling in terms of intentionality.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:01 PM on March 21, 2017


liquid electrolytes will take caps out of service after 10-15 years just because they dry up

I read that on Wikipedia and my jaw sort of dropped. Does this mean that logic boards and other computerized equipment are built with components we know fail after 10-15 years? I mean, that's the designed maximum lifespan?

I'm OK with that for, say, a flatscreen TV. I expect I'll want to upgrade in 10 years anyway. (In fact I did just that when my 2009 Samsung LCD failed. I gave it to a friend who replaced the busted cap.) But that seems insane for something like a refrigerator or electric dryer where there's not going to be an upgrade.
posted by Nelson at 12:04 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


And if that "certain length" is 2 years, or 5 years, and not 10 years or 20 years, because part of the point is you want to sell the same people the same thing in 2 or 5 years and not 10 or 20 years, it amounts to pretty much the same thing as cackling in terms of intentionality.

That'd be the case if failure bell curves were sheer cliffs which they are so not. At best if you want to do evil mustache twirling you have to do the calculus on how much our early failures are going to cost you in warranty claims versus how much you save a unit and even then there are going to be units that will last forever anyway just because that's how probability works.
posted by Talez at 12:05 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


I have seen quite a bit of variability .... a Macintosh SE from 1988 will most likely run fine without recapping, while a Macintosh SE/30 from 1990 is guaranteed to need new capacitors. They both have electrolytic capacitors, just different types. I have never had a hardware failure in any of my Texas Instruments computer equipment from 1980ish, but other computers from the same era are quite likely to require major work to get them functional.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:10 PM on March 21, 2017


This reminds me of the Samsung refrigerator thread about the Internet-enabled panel that became useless after they stopped supporting upgrades. This is why I didn't want to get a fancy GPS/Bluetooth phone/Pandora enabled touch screen in my car. I knew it would fail before the rest of the car did.
posted by AFABulous at 12:12 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Apparently Speed Queen Is a good brand to look into as their primary market are rental/condo and other high-use places.

Somewhere I read that commercial brands, like the one above, were the best bet for durable appliances. Trying to remember where though, and what to search under.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:15 PM on March 21, 2017


Because screw you, flimsy plastic Bosch washer.

OMG I HATE BOSCH. THEY ARE THE WORST, both me and my parents have their washers and dryers and they are fickle, easily breakable, terrible appliances. The wash machines LOVE holding my clothes hostage for no reason, and the dryers are actually more like dampers, because they don't dry clothes they just make them kind of warmly damp.

How does a German engineering firm fuck this up so badly? I've used 3 Bosch appliances and all have been absolute garbage. I'd buy Samsung before I buy another Bosch.
posted by juice boo at 12:27 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've always assumed the "cheapness" of modern products was an outcome of computers and modern design and engineering expertise.

If you don't know for sure exactly how durable you need to make something for it to last a year, and you have a limited range of choices for building materials, you'll err on the side of making it unnecessarily durable rather than risk making it too flimsy.

But when you can calculate to the milligram or millimeter how strong each piece needs to be, and when you have thousands of kinds of building materials to choose from instead of dozens you can make something exactly strong enough and no stronger. A telephone doesn't have to be a 30-lb steel brick when a few grams of moderately-strong plastic will work just as well.
posted by straight at 12:27 PM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


By the way, on the subject of socks, the U.S. retail store "Bass Pro Shops" sells thick heavy-duty socks with a lifetime guarantee for, I think, $13 or $14 for a pair. They would probably actually last quite a long time for someone who is lighter than me and doesn't intentionally wear them every day because I am petty and like getting free replacement socks.
posted by XMLicious at 12:30 PM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Claiming that longer-lasting appliances from decades ago were more expensive is a bit disingenuous, because it ignores the used market—which is much more viable for something which is going to last decades than for something that's going to last five years.

My toaster is a Toastmaster 1B24 which is now somewhere around 60 years old. I have no idea what it cost new, but I don't think I spent more than $20 on it. Last year the cord finally failed so I had it rewired (free, because a neighbor does this as a hobby). Other than that it has worked perfectly, which is much more than I can say for any of the crappy plastic toasters it replaced after several died in a row.

I have a fan made by Emerson Electric, also probably in the 1950s. It cost me $15. It used to sometimes make grinding noises but I didn't care too much because, hey, it only cost $15. I ran it that way for several years before I realized that it had an oil port—something I hadn't thought to look for since no consumer fan manufactured during my lifetime has been made with such a thing. Despite those years of abuse, once I put some oil in, it went back to running perfectly.

Maybe these were really expensive when they were new. I'm sure they cost more than today's Wal-Mart equivalents. But those Wal-Mart toasters and fans are not going to be available secondhand in a junk shop for $15 in 2067 because they'll have died long before.
posted by enn at 12:32 PM on March 21, 2017 [13 favorites]


Essentially, the profit motive just does not fit well with some types of goods. Of course it doesn't make sense for companies to "over" engineer durability---it doesn't make economic sense. Some companies do make things for greater durability, because their reputation (a social effect which has ultimately has economic benefits) but that's still on the individual scale. The system as a whole is a bad fit. See also childcare, environmental protection, etc.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:41 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Previously: Washing machine gurus, I need your advice

Recommendations of a few brands, including Speed Queen and Miele.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:42 PM on March 21, 2017


The fan is a good example. You can buy a 50-lb, cast iron Hunter Original oil bath ceiling fan today--for $449. Or you can buy a much lighter steel-body fan, with light kit, from them or from somebody else--for starting at less than $100.

Both made in China. Both with a lifetime motor warranty.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:44 PM on March 21, 2017


How does a German engineering firm fuck this up so badly?

German engineering is a marketing gimmick that is not validated by actual results.
posted by sonascope at 12:47 PM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


How does a German engineering firm fuck this up so badly? I

Engineering does what management asks. Good engineering can be asked to make something that lasts two years or twenty.
posted by zippy at 12:54 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


re: can openers. For the past couple of years we've been using the one on an ancient Swiss Army knife (that I picked up in Switzerland when I was 12, oddly enough). I don't use that old piece of crap for anything else, but the can opener works 100% of the time and it never breaks.
posted by klanawa at 12:57 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Maybe these were really expensive when they were new. I'm sure they cost more than today's Wal-Mart equivalents. But those Wal-Mart toasters and fans are not going to be available secondhand in a junk shop for $15 in 2067 because they'll have died long before.

Objection. Confirmation bias, selection bias. Come on. There's millions upon millions of old toasters and fans that have been replaced and scrapped because they've been uneconomical to repair as replacements have gotten cheaper. You're seeing the far edge of the reliability bell curve for old equipment. There will be all sorts of shitty mass produced items that will still be functioning decades after out of sheer numbers and I'm sure they'll turn up in junk shops.
posted by Talez at 12:59 PM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


Electrolytic capacitors - are possibly the weakest single electronic component, but their failure in 15 years or less is not a foregone conclusion. There are a lot of factors such as initial manufacture and heat levels that affect their lifespan. I have gear pushing 40+ years with OK electrolytic caps.

My beloved 30 year old Toshiba microwave expired at Christmas. Externally it still looked brand new. We bought new major appliances in 2005 after a renovation. (fridge, stove, dishwasher, washer, dryer) Scorecard: the dryer had a logic board fault after about 2 years. On the washer and dryer, the control labelling is wearing off. The fridge has a crack in the handle. The dishwasher has a flaky connection on the ribbon-connector that connects the controls to the logic board. The stove (gas top, electric oven) - the porcelain is chipping off the iron grates.

Crap, crap, crap. All the above faults are either design errors or inferior components. I'm fortunate in that I can fix appliances... but in a house with two careful adults, these appliances are used more lightly than in a busy house, so they should be standing up better than this. In particular, there's very little excuse for the ancillary electronic stuff to be failing well before the major components like motors, when better connectors would have been pennies more. Electronics is one of my fields.

I've always been the sort of consumer who will pay more for "dependable", but it seems the appliance market only offers "cheap" or "fancy".
posted by Artful Codger at 1:01 PM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Getting slightly off-base here, can you test capacitors with a multimeter or do you need something special? Do they need to be desoldered first, or can you test on the board? I've got a mid-90s Pioneer Laserdisc player that won't DAC anymore in one channel.
posted by hwyengr at 1:10 PM on March 21, 2017


When it comes to fans, I'm an aficionado of the old stuff, which is why I have a collection of thirty or so gorgeously solid electric fans (all in regular use in a circulating order in my home), and I started with a hand-me-down black enamel tabletop Westinghouse oscillating fan that my grandmother saved up for in 1938 to keep her new baby (my mother) cool in a particularly hot Baltimore summer. I have been using it more or less continually for the last thirty-nine years, and it was in service to my mother and grandmother for forty years prior to that. Every decade or so, it needs a good clean, a few drops of oil, and, now-and-then, a set of new carbon brushes. I'm certain it's an energy hog, but it makes a beautiful noise while it's working that helps me to sleep and moves exactly as much air as I need to have moved.

My grandmother paid roughly $7 for it in 1938, which was a lot for a blue-collar family to spend in the Depression, and which amounts to $117 in 2017 dollars.

The thing that makes me sad, I suppose, is that you can easily buy a $15 dollar plastic fan that'll move air at least as well as it does, albeit in a rattly, plasticky way, and for a just a few years, as opposed to eighty, but you can't buy a $117 fan built to the same standard as that old one. I don't mind that there's cheap stuff now, but I mind that there's only cheap stuff now.
posted by sonascope at 1:15 PM on March 21, 2017 [17 favorites]


Getting slightly off-base here, can you test capacitors with a multimeter or do you need something special? Do they need to be desoldered first, or can you test on the board? I've got a mid-90s Pioneer Laserdisc player that won't DAC anymore in one channel.

If you don't have Fluke gear you need to desolder them and test their resistance. A good capacitor will usually have infinite resistance. If you have a 9V battery lying around you can charge the capacitor then hook up the capacitor to your multimeter on the voltage setting and watch it discharge. That will confirm it as well. Usually though it's obvious with visual inspection because the vent is either bulging or ruptured.
posted by Talez at 1:17 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


hwyengr: Some multimeters have a capacitance range, you can also get little component testers from the far east for $20+. You need to desolder, yes.

Having said that, I doubt if your Laserdisc has a bad cap, unless it's a small one in the analog audio path of the bad channel. One can best troubleshoot that sort of issue with a signal tracer or oscilloscope, which let you listen to or see the audio at different points in the path. I would mainly suspect a bad connection or solder joint.

/derail
posted by Artful Codger at 1:18 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


> "German engineering is a marketing gimmick that is not validated by actual results."

After living in Germany for three years, the whole concept of 'fine German engineering' just makes me laugh bitterly. *So* much crap that falls apart if you look at it funny.
posted by kyrademon at 1:21 PM on March 21, 2017


First, I have to wonder what the hell you're doing to your can openers. Even a cheap-ass IKEA one shouldn't be breaking that fast. There may be a 'user' component to your troubles...

New levels of snark and blame the user - because you do not agree with them?

Exactly how can someone "abuse" the usage of a can opener?

It requires the following 3 simple steps:
1. Open arms.
2. Clamp on can, apply enough pressure that it cuts through the metal.
3. Twist handle, while continuing to apply pressure to the arms, until can opener has completed opening the can.

Maybe you throw it across the room first, but most people just want the can open, so they can access the contents contained within.

If the thing cannot perform the above steps reliably, it is a manufacturing and design problem.

Myself - I have been through 3 openers in two years and am getting a little frustrated.

- With the first one, and arm basically disintegrated because its plastic couldn't handle applying pressure to make that first cut into the can (it was fancy, big red "easy" to grip arms - cost me $12 lasted just under a year).
- With the second one, purchased July 2016, it was an old-fashioned simple, steel (yet nylon gear) model - it lasted until about a week ago, when the bit of metal that cuts into the can broke off and flew across the room - it was very sharp - we had company, luckily no one got hit. Price was about $5.
- With the third one, purchased a week ago - it simply barely functions at all - similar in style to the last model, but can barely make the first cut, let alone make it around a can - heck with planned obsolescence, this thing doesn't even function up-front. Price was about $5.

So - in my personal, anecdotal experience - yes there is a fucking problem with can openers (and by extension) most other products these days - and it isn't the user.

(Now - it may be the consumer, who values cheap goods over pricey ones... but the first can opener as I mentioned was a "premium" model, which lasted less than a year)
posted by jkaczor at 1:23 PM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


It would be interesting to require the parent company to offer replacement warranties for 5, 10, 20, 50 years. They get to set the prices but they have to publish them, and the obligation is stuck to the company somehow.

We still might have this problem as consumers still might prefer cheap shortlived goods, but we'd know more.
posted by clew at 1:23 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


If we also required cradle-to-grave recycling, wherein parent companies have to accept their used goods for appropriate disposal, we would also probably see a quick shift in product longevity.
posted by epanalepsis at 1:25 PM on March 21, 2017 [15 favorites]


Recommendations of a few brands, including Speed Queen and Miele.

That reminds me - our vacuum cleaner is a Miele, about sixteen years old now.
posted by Lucinda at 1:25 PM on March 21, 2017


I have a Miele vaccuum, the carpet brush has removable and replaceable rollers. I have nothing bad to say about it and I hope I never will.
posted by epanalepsis at 1:27 PM on March 21, 2017


i live in an apartment these days and it does seem as though the laundry machines break down a bit

i miss the dryer i used to have at my old house in the 80s - it was cheap, foolproof, lasted forever and parts were easily and cheaply replaced

lines and clothespins and a rack for those winter days where outside drying wasn't possible (under 25F and/or snowing/raining)

it worked
posted by pyramid termite at 1:30 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


and jkaczor - i bought an electric can opener for 3 bucks at a thrift store - you'd be amazed what you can find at stores like that, flea markets, garage sales and stuff
posted by pyramid termite at 1:32 PM on March 21, 2017


I'm about to start on the restoration of my third McIntosh amplifier. All of the amps have been more than 30-40 years old. I can tell you that step one is almost always replacing all the wet (electrolytic) caps on the power supply and low power audio signal path circuit cards. That's usually about $10-$20 in parts. If you pay someone to do it for you, the labor would easily come to a couple hundred dollars. Of course, it helps to have a background in analog electronics and a good soldering station.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 1:55 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


thanks pyramid termite - that is where I plan on buying my next one. and the one for $3 at a thrift store, probably still has an AC motor, with metal (non-nylon) gears internally... and will probably last another 20 years...
posted by jkaczor at 2:00 PM on March 21, 2017


Increasing population means there are more mouths to feed AND more hands to feed them. It's not a stress on the economy... it's the opposite. It's the only sustainable way an economy grows. And increasing population isn't an issue, particularly in the US--both immigration rates and fertility rates have been plummeting for decades. Just like in every developed country. There IS no population problem, or more precisely the problem is a LACK of people...

This presupposes that an economy must grow. It doesn't. Nor is a declining population necessarily a bad thing. The Black Death is the usual example, large chunks of the population die and the survivors find that their wages go up. Good times.

Of course they didn't have a massive debt that wanted servicing, but I don't see that pumping up more hands is going to solve that problem any more than getting more people into a Ponzi scheme works long term. Given the cost of living in most US metro areas, I find it hard to credit the notion that yet more people going after goods is a recipe for goodness.

I'm skeptical about the population numbers regardless. Take Japan. Their current population is 213 million. In 1945 it was 72 million, only a million less that 1940. Was that a dangerously low figure for their national survival? I'd argue not. Long term, these things balance out. We could, moreover, do with a smaller population in general, and a smaller population of first world life style in particular. (This used to be bog standard Sierra Club thinking back in the day, by the way.)

As to crappy durable goods - you get what you pay for. Nothing new in that. And big business will nickel and dime you all they can. Nothing new in that either.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:03 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've posted it before, but it bears repeating: Samurai's Appliance Brand Recommendations, Second Edition.
posted by Wild_Eep at 2:06 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


i live in an apartment these days and it does seem as though the laundry machines break down a bit

i miss the dryer i used to have at my old house in the 80s - it was cheap, foolproof, lasted forever and parts were easily and cheaply replaced


huh, I'm kind of surprised you're seeing appliances break in apartments. I've got in-unit washer/dryer, they're very basic Kenmore appliances and pretty much bulletproof since it costs the landlord company money to fix/replace them.
posted by indubitable at 2:07 PM on March 21, 2017


Half-way through the comments on whether or not a built-for-life washing machine exists, I ctrl-f for Staber, and am surprised to see no one has mentioned the brand. Made in the USA, designed to be serviced for the owner, should last a lifetime if you take care of it.
posted by seasparrow at 2:11 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Everything is user-serviceable with the right tools, knowledge, and in some cases, cajones.

For instance a decade ago I had a CRT where the flyback transformer went. That's not something you typically have a user do. I was still able to do it.
posted by Talez at 2:13 PM on March 21, 2017


> The oven in my 12 year old Maytag gas stove just stopped working last weekend (AFTER I prepped some bread dough*). But the stove burners and the oven broiler still work, so initial troubleshooting suggests a failed igniter. I've ordered the replacement part and we'll see if the swap works.

I've done this repair myself on a 10 year old Roper gas stove, yep, it's easy.
posted by desuetude at 2:14 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]




Breaking: Appliance Samurai (domo!) has a third-edition of his recommendations.
posted by Wild_Eep at 2:17 PM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


If you've got a fridge from the 80s, a new one will shave enough off of your electric bill to pay for itself in 5-6 years.

I'm going to pretend the you in your comment is specifically me, and tell you that you're mistaken. That new fridge will never pay for itself, because the solar panels on my roof supply all of my electricity, to the point that my electric bill is $0. That includes the juice used by the old fridge we inherited from my parents 15 years ago. We are prepared to replace it -- when it breaks. Until then, there's no economic upside to buying a new one.


I'm not sure what past other people lived in but those things 'lasted' forever? They were awful pieces of crap that required incredibly frequent really expensive repairs.

Heavy reliance on Consumer Reports has apparently saved my family from buying the awful pieces of crap and their expensive repairs that blighted your past. I won't bore you with anecdotes about our still-working antique appliances.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:21 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


huh, I'm kind of surprised you're seeing appliances break in apartments. I've got in-unit washer/dryer, they're very basic Kenmore appliances and pretty much bulletproof since it costs the landlord company money to fix/replace them.

I assumed they were talking about a laundry room rather than an in unit. Laundry room machines get ridden pretty damn hard. My building has 10 pairs for 160 units. It might seem like they break down a lot but on a per use basis they are doing probably doing okay - particularly considering the things that some of numbnut neighbours do to them.
posted by srboisvert at 2:26 PM on March 21, 2017


One issue is that it's next to impossible to judge the quality of an appliance before you buy it.

I actually disagree with that - online reviews, particularly Amazon reviews, have made a world of difference for me in that. How many things have I considered buying, but skipped after seeing three different people confirm that it broke in the same place after six months? I never could have gotten that information if I were ordering out of the sears catalog or whatever.
posted by R a c h e l at 2:27 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


lines and clothespins and a rack for those winter days where outside drying wasn't possible (under 25F and/or snowing/raining)


We've been doing inside racks for a decade.

My father-in-law doesn't think it sterilizes the clothes since there's no heat or uv, so you get skin issues. At this point I just want to use a drier so I can have clean, dry underwear without two days of advance planning.

Youngercatbailard, however, is a big advocat of conveniently hanging up bath towels and kitchen towels on racks and rails in prime sunbathing spots where they can be pulled down and used as bedding.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:39 PM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


Foci for Analysis: NSFW: Electrolux W555H is entry-level badassery.

Not Safe For Washing?
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:43 PM on March 21, 2017


Does anyone else find the amount of maintenance to keep those Buy It For Life-type products going really difficult? I’ve started to take an interest in buying Good Stuff the last few years and because those things are an investment, I try to read the tag or the manual and take care of them appropriately. Individually, it’s not a big deal to hang dry that one shirt or replace that one filter but when you put it all together, it feels like an endless barrage of highly specific tasks to remember (a huge part, for me, of the workload described here). I do kind of love getting my favorite shoes resoled at a cobbler and hand-fixing that snag in a beloved scarf but I straight up could not handle it if every single thing I had represented that kind of investment and worry. I mean, I’m totally cool with the idea of other people oiling their fans but for me that’s just a bridge too far.
posted by R a c h e l at 2:46 PM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Ughh, I am living this right now in the 11-year-old apartment I'm renting. All of my appliances--the cheapest model of fairly high-end brands--were installed 11 years ago, and they are all crapping out. The washer and dryer have been semi-functional and highly inefficient for 5 years. The water heater and garbage disposal fell apart within two weeks of each other in the fall, and the microwave and fridge are clearly on their last legs. I'm currently looking to move to a house built in the 50s and while some friends are giving some of the fixtures the side eye, I've got a lot more confidence in them to last at least 5 more years, which is more than I can say of anything in my current place.
posted by TwoStride at 3:02 PM on March 21, 2017


The more I think about this the more I wonder how much of the decrease in hours needed/spent on housework since those olden times is a result of a sharp decrease in the amount of maintenance and work that we need to do for all of our possessions (plus increasing affordability of all those labor-saving machines).

I've never bought a major household appliance like a fridge or a dryer (woo renters!) but I have bought many small appliances and I've never struggled to find a high-quality option should I so desire (sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't). Is that really so impossible?
posted by R a c h e l at 3:08 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Increasing population means there are more mouths to feed AND more hands to feed them. It's not a stress on the economy... it's the opposite. It's the only sustainable way an economy grows. And increasing population isn't an issue, particularly in the US--both immigration rates and fertility rates have been plummeting for decades. Just like in every developed country. There IS no population problem, or more precisely the problem is a LACK of people...

Well... you need the material from a finite planet to build the fridges and grow the food to put in the fridges that serve increasing populations on a, again, non-growing finite planet
posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:20 PM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


In these threads, I always like to tell the story of my mother's microwave.

In the early 1980s, my mother decided she wanted a microwave oven. She had a teaching certificate, and got herself work with the local school district as a substitute teacher.

Six weeks later, she'd earned enough money to buy herself a new microwave. We used that microwave for at least ten years; I don't remember what eventually happened to it. It was a nice if unremarkable microwave oven.

In comparison, you can buy a cheap microwave for $48 at Walmart right now; much nicer ones can be had for well under $200.

Today, my local school district pays their substitute teachers $80. Thirty days of substitute teaching would get you $2400, or about $2000 after taxes.

With that much money, you could just buy 40 cheap microwaves and throw them away as they break, become dirty, or whatever. Or buy one good microwave and also a weeklong vacation somewhere fun.
posted by Hatashran at 3:48 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


non-growing finite planet

It's not finite, it's infinite but bounded. It's not a closed energy system. We get plenty of new energy everyday from the sun. Thanks to conservation of energy, we don't actually have to destroy energy by using it, we just suck at using energy efficiently and not wasting it. In theory, if the rest of life survives climate change and successfully adapts, there'll be more raw environmental energy in the mix on Earth than there was before. All energy on Earth is basically some derivative of sunlight/heat.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:07 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


That seems like it would be more relevant if people could physically live on sunbeams, or dispose of trash on sunbeams.
posted by XMLicious at 4:14 PM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've had two TV's develop problems in the last year; one was several years old, the other one just past its two-year warranty. The repair shop said not to even bother--the cost of repair would exceed the cost of a new TV. Good advice, though I think he'll soon put himself out of business.
posted by etaoin at 4:19 PM on March 21, 2017


Don't just assume old refrigerators are inefficient. My Dad has one relegated to the basement that is from the mid 1970's at least. I measured it's electrical usage with my Kill-a-watt meter, prepared to laugh. It was almost exactly the same in terms of electrical use as a 2010 frost-free unit (measured over the course of a few weeks).
posted by Patapsco Mike at 4:22 PM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


I've encountered the myth that planned obsolescence is a myth, too, and I have to wonder if the people saying that have ever seen a requirements document. Most if not all of the ones I've seen--for software and hardware--have the timeframe for obsolescence laid out explicitly.

I guess you could argue about the intent of the obsolescence if you wanted to


Ok, I want to. Not only have I seen many requirements documents, but I've WRITTEN a number. I've seen (but not written; full disclosure) a few for consumer electronics products that I'm sure are owned by a few people in this thread. I have never in my life seen a requirements document that says anything along the lines of "this device is to stop working in X years." What they say is the minimum amount of time that it must continue to work, or that it will be officially supported. You seem to think that this is the same thing, but it absolutely is not.

You're implying the requirement is like: "this thing must last at most five years." The reality is that the requirement is like: "this thing must last at least five years." It's true that if five years is the mark, they're not going to put any effort into making it last seven or ten, but it's still a completely different thing. It's the difference between people sitting around saying "I can't wait to make people buy this again in 5 years" and "we can make sure it'll last 5 years with this spec; if we want to make sure it'll last 20, it'll cost 4X as much as anything else in the market, and no one will buy it."

Normal companies do not design things to intentionally fail after some period of time. They figure out the minimum amount of time that it must last, and then design it to last at least that long. Big difference both in motivation and outcome.
posted by primethyme at 4:38 PM on March 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


We used that microwave for at least ten years; I don't remember what eventually happened to it.

I thought microwaves were disposable, until I found out that running them empty or near-empty kills them.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:16 PM on March 21, 2017


Electrolytic capacitors have a dialectric film in them which dissipates (de-polarizes) over time if they aren't used... this is the major cause of failure when you plug in something that hasn't been used in 10 years, and "poof". One can slowly power up old electonics using a variac, and let the film be re-established.

I know there are a lot of cognitive biases at play, so I'll just say that it sure feels like things don't last anywhere near as long as they used to... but they used to have employment for people to fix appliances, and most things were designed to be serviced... making it complicated.
posted by MikeWarot at 5:35 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


I thought microwaves were disposable, until I found out that running them empty or near-empty kills them.

Not following your logic - wouldn't that make them pretty darn disposable in a hurry?
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:59 PM on March 21, 2017


You're implying the requirement is like: "this thing must last at most five years."

Uhhh, sure. That must be what I was implying.

So first, you need to understand how universals work. People claiming that planned obsolescence is a myth are the ones making universal claims. I am not making a universal claim. I am saying that I have personally worked on many projects with obsolescence built right into the specifications. And no, I'm not just confused and thinking that specifying a minimum constitutes obsolescence. That's a very very weird thing to assume. I am talking about products being designed with a specific life cycle in mind--that is, a range of time that the product is designed to function optimally.

Now, that also doesn't mean that they are booby trapped to explode after the obsolescence point. This range is taken into account in the product design, in terms of durability and serviceability, but I have never worked on a project that was specifically designed to stop functioning after that point. It's just the point after which failure is considered acceptable. In many cases, it means that the product will no longer be supported or that we'll start pushing a newer version.

Again, though, there's plenty of supporting data in the articles, if you'd read them.

But maybe everyone in those articles is deluded and/or lying too.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:12 PM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


Seconding Ernielundquist. I have a relative in contracting and he's worked off similar specs when constructing box retail stores. They had a projected maintenance life cycle and were specifically spec'd to use construction materials that would only be maintainable at a profit for a predetermined time window--I think it was like 15 years. After that point, by design, whatever the motives, the building could no longer be maintained without losing money, so presumably, Walmart already had a longer term corporate plan for letting that particular location go out of business. Sure, you could argue their motives were strictly cost cutting, but if you don't positively design for robustness and long term maintenance, and you've specifically planned a finite life cycle for the product that doesn't assume a potentially neverending maintenance cycle, it's just a kind of word game to say you haven't planned the obscelence of the finished product. There was, hard as it is to imagine now, a time when no master craftsmen wanted to be known for shoddy workmanship as a matter of personal pride.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:31 PM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


Plug your fancy new electronic appliances into surge suppressors and GFCI outlets!

Appliance logic boards typically route 120VAC directly on to a circuit board, where it is transformed down to low voltage and fed into a bunch of microcontrollers and displays and stuff. Like everyone here has been learning, the tiniest electrical spike will blow the low voltage components and require the board to be replaced - and of course each board works for exactly one make and model of appliance and usually isn't available even a few years later. Until manufactures stop hiring mischievous toddlers as electrical engineers, this is the only way to protect yourself.

It's a pity most houses have the appliances hardwired in so this is hard to do. (And it won't work for an electric dryer or stove, the load is too high.)
posted by miyabo at 7:26 PM on March 21, 2017


"Old refrigerators are quite inefficient; if you have one that's over 20 years old, it's probably a good idea to replace it."

If you go old enough they aren't so bad. For a while I was using an 80+ year-old GE Monitor Top fridge. Barely used energy, took up hardly any space, enough room for food for 1-2 people who don't shop for humongous quantities of food. That thing was built like a tank. But I moved across country and decided that moving that extremely heavy fridge was not something I wanted to do. I sold it to someone else, and it lives on.
posted by litlnemo at 10:52 PM on March 21, 2017


There was, hard as it is to imagine now, a time when no master craftsmen wanted to be known for shoddy workmanship as a matter of personal pride.

But the concept of "shoddy workmanship" only makes sense when you have a limited ability to do engineering. A perfect engineer would know exactly how long the thing being designed would function. If you wanted something to last 12 years, 3 months, and 7 days, you'd design it like this. If you wanted it to last 4 years and 21 days, you'd design it like that. And you'd know the exact cost of each option. You wouldn't have vague and judgmental categories like "sturdy" and "shoddy," you'd just have to make deliberate choices regarding how much you wanted to spend and how long you wanted the thing to last.

We don't have perfect engineering, of course, but we're closer than we used to be, so design is increasingly more like choosing how long you want something to last than just making it as sturdy as possible and hoping it lasts a long time.
posted by straight at 11:36 PM on March 21, 2017


Just like engineers never have to work more than 40 hours a week and all projects finish on time and on budget! And whenever it doesn't, we totally meant to do that, it was on purpose.
posted by XMLicious at 12:07 AM on March 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


Maybe I want to have canned beans tonight - well, my can-opener just broke.

What are y'all doing to your can openers that they break so often? I mean, what's there to break?

Or is this one of those American things were you take something that's completely useable manually and make a cheap, shoddy electric version of it?

Meanwhile in enlightened Europe we've just put pull tabs on our cans of beans.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:54 AM on March 22, 2017


Plug your fancy new electronic appliances into surge suppressors and GFCI outlets!

Appliance logic boards typically route 120VAC directly on to a circuit board, where it is transformed down to low voltage and fed into a bunch of microcontrollers and displays and stuff. Like everyone here has been learning, the tiniest electrical spike will blow the low voltage components and require the board to be replaced


This isn't really the case. There's transient voltage... excursions... all the time when loads switch on and off. Fridge or AC compressor switches off? A voltage spike will ripple its way through your household load.

Power supplies that convert AC to DC need some way to hold current during the times when the AC isn't a positive voltage so we have capacitors that supply current and keep voltage (mostly) constant. Capacitors aren't really a fixed voltage. Think of them as a flexible membrane. When there'a voltage spike the capacitor will say "oh here's an extra potential than what I'm at. MINE!" and absorb the extra current from the voltage spike. This will then be released when there's sags in the voltage that need to be accounted for (which also happen all the time when you turn heavy loads on). As a matter of course, power supplies are built for this unpredictable nature of household voltage. Once you get things to the low voltage side the power is a pretty predictable DC voltage with ripple measured in tens, maybe hundreds of millivolts.

The biggest problem with surge protectors is that they do protect from surges but it isn't really that necessary for the everyday stuff and the surges you really want to protect yourself from (i.e. an open neutral fault, some idiot at the power company loads a 480V transformer onto a truck instead of a 240V and the line worker blindly installs it, lightning strikes the chimney of your neighbour, catastrophic substation accident) your little surge protector is just going to burst into flames as it goes "WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK IS THIS?" and your gear is going to be fucked anyway.
posted by Talez at 5:08 AM on March 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm almost afraid to jinx it, but I bought the Last Good Can-Opener back almost twenty years ago, so I have no personal problems with can openers. However, I have experienced average contemporary can-openers at a volunteer project where I used to cook, and what you need to imagine with breakable can-openers is two things: all the joins and joining parts are weak and the teeth are dull/poorly designed. So you are exerting more force on the can-opener and either the rivet that holds it together, the rivet that holds the cutting wheel on or the rivet that holds the crank on will break when you're trying to turn the thing hard enough for the teeth to cut through the tin. We went through two can-openers in fairly short order at the volunteer place.

Part of the trouble is that there isn't a good price-quality ratio, so you can buy one from a normally quite respectable company and have it be junk; part of it is that manufacturing standards change, so last year's good buy may have changed metal content or assembly process and be total junk.

My good can-opener is an Oxo Good Grips from the late nineties, but I wouldn't vouch for them now - I notice that they cost very little more than what I paid then, which suggests that the quality has gone down substantially.

I will say that I've never had a dish-washer, so there hasn't been any wear there - but then, we hand-washed all the other bad ones too.
posted by Frowner at 5:11 AM on March 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


I mean, that was one advantage when we made things in the US and companies owned their own factories instead of having a million suppliers - the can-opener might be junk, but at least it would be pretty consistently junk, instead of good this year because of supplier choice and bad next year for the same reason, but with the same brand and make.
posted by Frowner at 5:14 AM on March 22, 2017 [9 favorites]


Vance Packard's Status Seekers, Waste Makers, and Hidden Persuaders are three must read books written during this post war era when credit driven consumption culture was crafted and marketed.
posted by infini at 6:57 AM on March 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


instead of good this year because of supplier choice and bad next year for the same reason

There is so much choice for suppliers today, thanks to China's long-term investment in manufacturing, that I imagine it's hard to evaluate the reputation of a given supplier. So you get your sample part during design, it looks great, it exceeds spec, and then whoops the production part just maybe sucks and you don't realize it until you get a higher than normal rate of failures after your thing has been in your customer's hands for a year.
posted by zippy at 7:25 AM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Anyone know of any good UK guide for kitchen appliances. We are going to be outfitting a new kitchen soon and would like to be able to pick some decent ones. I for the life of me can't understand why a gas hob would need a logic board, it should be able to work without any electricity if you are able to light the burner.
posted by koolkat at 7:32 AM on March 22, 2017


I thought microwaves were disposable, until I found out that running them empty or near-empty kills them.

Not following your logic - wouldn't that make them pretty darn disposable in a hurry?


The solution is that if you microwave something very small, put a little cup of water in as well.

I was fascinated by how and why the turntable changes direction every time you stop and start. Demonstrating that in an empty microwave caused a sparking failure.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:56 AM on March 22, 2017



I had composed a comment for this discussion yesterday, and then decided not to bother posting it. It's just as well, because this morning --cue the cognitive dissonance theme -- I found I'd been favourited overnight for a comment I made almost three years ago in a thread on an almost identical topic, in which I said almost word for word what I composed to say yesterday:
Yeah, I'm not seein' it. Anecdata, I know, but . . . 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.
All the above cited items are still going strong except for the microwave oven and the cat. We are also driving a 17 year old automobile, FWIW.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:58 AM on March 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


Don't just assume old refrigerators are inefficient. My Dad has one relegated to the basement...

I think it's a great thing to do these kinds of tests for yourself, but if that fridge is used the way most basement fridges are, that's unlikely to be an apples-to-apples comparison. The temperature of the environment, the frequency of door openings, and even the load in the fridge are all going to play a role. It's great that the old model isn't using much, but I think we would expect a modern model, under the same conditions, to use even less.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:42 AM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't know about desk fans, sonascope, but modern times has brought a resurgence in hand tools for woodworking, not least because of the Internet. If you wanted a hand plane in the 80s, you'd be best of finding an antique and restoring it, not buying the shoddy products makers like Stanley put out at the time. Noone wanted to make a decent (expensive) hand plane. Today the customer base is global, and there are quite a few options, say for a #4 bench plane. You can get an import for maybe USD 15 that will actually plane wood after some amount of fettling, a brand-name-but-cheap regular Stanley for about USD 40 which is not really much better than the import one, one fairly good one for around USD 160 from Stanley's newish Sweetheart line (as they discovered recently that they actually remembered how to make a decent plane), an excellent Veritas for around USD 220 or Lie Nielsen for around USD 300 that will last you a lifetime, or spring several thousand dollars for a work of art lovingly crafted by a crazy old hermit who has dedicated his life to planemaking. (Seriously, look at the last link!)
posted by Harald74 at 10:49 AM on March 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


All the above cited items are still going strong except for the microwave oven and the cat.

Therein lies a tale, I'm thinking....
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:13 PM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]




No.

 
posted by Herodios at 1:17 PM on March 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


Once you drop your burrito onto the cat's logic board, it's nearly impossible to clean.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:19 PM on March 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


I bought a fan and a microwave in the first couple of years after graduating college. Both are still working fine. I graduated in 1988. When I moved into my current place in 2002, the fridge was from 1986 and ran fine. I replaced it because I was sick of having to defrost the freezer. I had really only one choice for a replacement model due to the weird shape (short and shallow) of the fridge space, so now I have a stainless steel door midline fridge. But Christ it doesn't have a spot on the door to put your eggs and I'm like ARE YOU PEOPLE MAD?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:03 PM on March 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ycombinator/Hackernews Thread for the same topic.

As a word of caution: Yes, a 50 year old fridge might still work. But based on energy consumption it may not be the smartest choice to still use it.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 2:48 AM on March 23, 2017


I finally replaced our dryer bought in 1998 late last year when I couldn't find the part I needed to repair it. As in there was not a single available part on the Internet. Our washing machine, about 16 years old, sounds like it is going to die with every use, but it just keeps chugging along. I fear I'll be replacing it soon too.

I have a GE cold/hot water dispenser that we bought in 2008 when our remodel was complete. After about 4 years the dispenser (knob? handle? - you have to push it in) stopped working. I'm sure the spring became dislodged or maybe broke. Like, a one-inch spring.

I had the damned thing half-way disassembled before I gave up and called the company for instructions and a replacement part. The CSR informed me that there were neither instructions nor a replacement part available. "So... you're telling me that there's no way to fix this thing?" "... well, we don't have assembly instructions or replacement parts for that unit..." Me "..." Her "...".

It's still in my kitchen, because the hot water side still works and we drink a lot of tea. But now we have a complicated and overly fussy routine about how to make cold drinking water available. And every now and again when one of us goes on a jihad about this stupid overly complicated and fussy routine that we have, we get stuck on the idea of spending more money for a different kind of water filtering system that will likely break way too soon. So we do nothing.

See also, one of my recent questions.

The freezer is still in my garage, unplugged, because I can't bring myself to buy a new one as I am convinced that a new one will break in five years (and hauling the dead one away is damned expensive if one is not buying a replacement).

I feel like a company that would buck the trend and make quality lasting products would be super successful because every one of us with a short-lived appliance would buy from that company and they would gain consumer loyalty for life. It's the right time in the market to do it.
posted by vignettist at 11:00 AM on March 23, 2017


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