All Good Things Around the House Will Die

We are part of The Trust Project

By Bill Primavera

Just recently my wife attempted to turn on our central air conditioning and nothing happened. After a visit from an HVAC technician, we found that it couldn’t be repaired but had to be completely replaced. It was only six years old!  We felt cheated, even betrayed.

As a realtor, I’m always so conscious of checking all utilities in a home about to sell or be purchased, and while I might guarantee a client that they are working, there is no guarantee of how long they will continue to do so

Don’t you just hate the concept of planned obsolescence where everything you own will eventually either die or need to be replaced? Don’t you wish that everything, including ourselves, could last forever?

The harbinger of trouble ahead with any product or appliance in the home is usually just a little kink in its operation. Once that whiz is heard or blip is seen, it’s only a matter of time before the death knell inevitably tolls. The time in between can produce great anxiety, even anger, over being betrayed by something we depend on.

Why must all trusted equipment and appliances have so limited a life span? Why can’t everything be made to last at least as long as we do? Would we ever grow tired of the same old things hanging around the house indefinitely? I think not.

The only mechanical/electrical device that I have enjoyed without interruption for many years is one of the biggest and earliest desk lamps made with a technically brilliant flexible arm and a rotating device on a base that is heavy as solid lead. Even its twin fluorescent tubes seem to last forever. While every other piece of equipment in my home office has eventually failed, this one has lived on to see another working day, then another.

The lamp originally belonged to my Aunt Pearl who gave it to my wife and me when she retired, telling us at the time that it was indestructible. She was right. It was already at least 30 years old at the time and we’ve put another 30 years into it. It has always stood next to my main office computer du jour, which since my first primitive Wang has been replaced more times than I can remember.

And, not so long ago, the latest edition of my main computer began to shut down unpredictably on its own.  I panicked until I found that I could get it to restart. But after an hour or two it would shut down again and my unsaved work would be lost in the process. I called in my computer technician who at first thought it could be the electrical connection, which he replaced. But after he left, the shutdown problem continued. When he returned and opened up the computer again, he proclaimed that the problem was a failure in the “mother” board.

Feeling betrayed as I did by the trusted repository of my work for at least six years, I denounced the computer without reservation as a different kind of “mother.”

At the same time, my television was experiencing occasional digitalized images in reception (I don’t know how else to describe its quirk), the refrigerator’s ice cube maker was producing a prodigious amount of cubes in a deep tray that required emptying daily so that it wouldn’t overflow, and the light switch to the mudroom in my former home half-bath crackled if I dared to turn it on.

All this unwelcomed activity sparked in me a curiosity about the life expectancy of common household products, and I remembered having saved an article I found in The Kiplinger’s Report on that very subject. The life expectancy of some items was surprising and others, from my personal experience, incredulous.

Here are a few highlights from the survey:

Washing machines and dryers typically last 11 to 12 years, with top loading washers lasting a bit longer than front-loading models.

Dishwashers fare better, lasting an average of 13 years. (Here’s a tip: Dishwashers actually run better and longer if you use them regularly, otherwise problems such as sticky motor seals and mold can develop.)

An electric range lasts 15 years, 13 if fired by gas.

Refrigerators should last from 14 to 17 years. I guess we’re very tough on ours because each lasted less than 10 years before problems developed, such as our icemaker on speed.

Furnaces will usually last about 20 years. (although mine, installed 20 years before I bought my house, lasted another 25 years with occasional replacement of the starter and yearly maintenance.)

A hot water heater can wear out after 10 years, but it has a better chance if the water is not hard or mineral-filled. To lessen the effects of hard water, the tank can be drained and flushed once a year to prevent mineral buildup, but who has time to think about that?

The summation of the survey noted that the results were based on average life expectancies. There are exceptions on both ends of a product’s life cycle, much like my Kenmore dishwasher that stopped dead after only a year, but was mercifully capable of being repaired.

For now, I take comfort in the belief that my Aunt Pearl’s sturdy adjustable desk lamp will last longer than I. But I admit every time I push the red button to turn it on, I hold my breath.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (, specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development.  To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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