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Durable goods sadly unenduring

Although I blog semi-frequently about things I buy, mostly I work at buying as little as possible. Which is why I’m perturbed about the state of so-called durable goods around my house.

Durable Goods are items which last a long time and are hence infrequently purchased. In a household, typical examples include refrigerators and furniture. Unfortunately, my durable goods seem to be less durable than they should be, leaving me with a collection of sort-of-broken appliances. For example:

* About a month ago, the electronic spark ignition on my stovetop stopped working. No more clicks, no more sparks, no flame popping up. I’ve reverted to a system akin to my grandmother’s: a propane lighter (a bit safer than matches) next to the stove.

* I have a built-in microwave. When it was 3 years old, its interior light bulb burned out. No surprise here, of course a bulb will burn out. But for reasons I can’t fathom, the light bulb is not user-replaceable. Seriously, it takes a service call. So we blast our food in the dark.

* Our oven is controlled by an electronic panel. With increasing frequency, the panel refuses to obey my commands and instead displays contrary commands back at me. Most commonly, the oven will stop heating once it reaches 160 degrees and blink the words “Insert probe.” The oven thinks it’s in thermometer mode so it wants me to insert its temperature probe into whatever I’m cooking. Even if I wanted to use the thermometer, inserting the probe doesn’t stop the blinking message. And, there isn’t a reliable reboot sequence; I have to cancel and restart the oven several times to get it to accept a temperature and resume cooking.

* Our washing machine… the story is long but suffice it to say that after 10 years, 3 repairs and a class action lawsuit, we gave up after the latest fault and replaced it.

I’ve heard lots of rage about our throwaway society, but usually it’s in the context of goods made to be disposable or electronics which are so cheap as to encourage premature tossing. I am more worried about the apparent inability of large durable goods to be durable. It makes me wonder about spending extra money to buy the highest efficiency models – it doesn’t help to trade durability for efficiency.

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