No more longevity

Last time I bought a water heater, the tech informed me that there was no way I’d get twenty-two years out of the new 28-gallon tank the way I did out of the old 30-gallon tank; were I fortunate, I might get six. And actually, the previous owners of this house got the first sixteen years, but you know what I mean:

When we first started making industrial machinery, everything was designed to last forever. Yes, there was maintenance to be performed, oil to be changed, bearings to be replaced, but it you followed instructions your machine would last forever. Now the economics of manufacturing have changed. Diagnosis and repair are rare skills embodied by only a few people of exceptional abilities (a little self promotion never hurts, I’m told). Put those together, along with the large number of Asians who are willing and able to follow directions for a few kopecks a day means that is cheaper to build new ones than repair old ones.

Which should be our model going into the future? Dutiful maintenance of big, solid machines? Or continual replacement of chickenshit consumer goods? My opinion (and yours) don’t matter. There are proponents of both approaches. They will either succeed or fail. They both may survive, or one or the other, or even both may fail.

Speaking of “survive,” the “new” water heater is within two months of its tenth birthday. It has required service once, at about half the price of a brand new tank.


  1. fillyjonk »

    26 August 2017 · 12:01 pm

    I’m old enough to remember stuff built to last a long time, or at least be repairable for a fraction of the cost of a new one. I can’t get used to the idea of planned obsolescence and I confess it outrages my more frugal side.

    My water heater is just about 10 years old. It still seems to be fine – I had to have a thermocouple replaced a couple years ago but that was fairly cheap. But I confess, I feel carefully of the water coming out of the tap when I fill the bath or even some mornings when I’m just wetting my face flannel and wonder, “Is this going to be the week it hits the end of its life?”

    I similarly worry about my nearly-17-year-old-fridge. I don’t want to come home from being gone for a while and find a giant puddle of water and lots of spoiled food. I suppose in a few more years, if it doesn’t fail, I’ll just replace it to AVOID it failing. (I have an “appliance fund” in my savings account for such contingencies.)

  2. CGHill »

    26 August 2017 · 12:04 pm

    My fridge dates to 2003; it has recurrent ice-maker issues but otherwise has been dead reliable. And I’m not too proud to fill up ice trays,

  3. ETat »

    26 August 2017 · 12:22 pm

    Caught myself thinking: if I start talking about my reassuringly humming elderly machines, I’ll jinx them…stop talking!

  4. McG »

    26 August 2017 · 1:39 pm

    I think our fridge dates to 1999. It really hasn’t had significant service done on it (whatever’s been done on it, I did, so by definition…).

    Our clothes washer is quite a bit newer, and did have to be serviced once, after just a couple of years, but it’s doing fine.

    The dishwasher came with the house, is 15 years old, and may be in need of a service visit (because of Scott’s Dictum), but the cost might approach the cost to replace it.

  5. fillyjonk »

    26 August 2017 · 1:52 pm

    I don’t have an ice maker, either, mainly because everyone I knew who had an ice maker had problems with it sooner rather than later. The worst of these involved the water line breaking or coming loose and flooding the area under the fridge.

    Also, I don’t really NEED ice. Sensitive teeth and all.

    My washer and dryer came with the house but I suspect (hope) they were in the very last wave of “never gonna give you up” appliances; after nearly 17 years in the place they’re still solid (and they were used for at least a few years before I moved in)

    It seems to me that “cheaper” (fewer bells and whistles but not off-brand or lowest-of-the-line) appliances last better and are more reliable than their more expensive “luxo” versions. That’s fine; I’m a cheap wench and am happy for “basic” appliances.

  6. Jay »

    27 August 2017 · 7:54 am

    I see the economics of manufacturing changing in the future. As those Asian countries become more prosperous, even currently building ‘chickenshit’ goods, both manufacturing costs and quality will be going up. I’m old enough to remember when the label “Made in Japan” meant junk, today, junk from Japan is an exception rather than the rule. What part of the world will manufacturers shift to find lower production costs?

  7. nightfly »

    28 August 2017 · 10:14 am

    When we bought Chez Nightfly 9+ years ago, we replaced all the major appliances. So far, we’ve only had two hiccups: the washer needed a new pump (bought on Amazon and replaced by myself and a friend), and now the icemaker on the fridge has gone kaput.

    Personally, I’d love to yank out the huge holding bin for the cubes and reclaim the space for actual food, but the Missus Nightfly prefers it to be repaired or replaced, so this is probably what’s gonna happen before too long.

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