Jeremy and I have embarked on many a home improvement project, for better or worse. Actually, these projects have generally paid off. I remember when we redid our entire kitchen on Hudson Street in Cherry Point, finished off with terracotta paint and greenish concrete counter tops- hard to picture, I know. Bold move, but, when we went to sell the house it was under contract in 2 days.
Anyway, on to the appliances, ah, the appliances. Brand new! All were running fine except the oven. When turned on to preheat, no one could be within 20 feet of it and have a conversation. It was so loud, like being on a runway motioning for an airplane to fit into its bay. You’d think with how loud it was, it would heat up in nanoseconds. Wrong. It took nearly 30 minutes to get to an average temp of 350 degrees. The list of things wrong with it were numerous- it was never at accurate temp, making my legendary Rosemary Chicken a gamble, and the repair guy had been out at least three times within the year to replace panels, plugs, whatever.
Fast forward to Sumac Lane, our next fixer upper in Bow Mar South. God bless it. The kitchen: green and purple vine wall paper, one outlet, pull out drawer cabinets that sprinkle chipped paint onto the pots nestled in the one below it (I’m sure its lead based and I’ve been poisoning my family for the past 3 ½ years), one drawer that holds every cooking utensil, grilling tool, hot mitt I own- the family calls this the hot mess drawer, and a massive fluorescent light that flickers and gives everyone a slightly green tint.
But the oven. It’s a gem! Installed during the original build, this 1963 Thermador beauty purrs like a kitten when preheating. You don’t even know it’s on. And, it preheats in under 10 minutes- what? For our first Thanksgiving in our new home, this thing roasted our turkey to perfection in the prescribed time. It certainly puts our new oven on Hudson to shame and of course makes me look like Ina Garten. It’s glorious. So my point? They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
The inevitable fact is that nothing lasts forever. Even your big-ticket home purchases like refrigerators and furnaces need to be replaced at some point. But then again, lots of those items can be repaired instead. So how do you know when it’s time to call the handyman and when it’s time to give up and move on? Here are some general life-expectancy guidelines for household features and appliances to help you make the right decision for your dollar.
Water heater: The standard tank model generally lasts around 10 years. Tankless models, while more expensive, claim to last up to 20 years and reportedly provide endless hot water, lower energy bills and more additional space for something else. The biggest problems with water heaters are rust and mineral buildup, which can be minimized with a porcelain casing and also by flushing it properly. Hard water is also hard on your water heater. Repair rather than replace up to about year eight; after that, if you experience problems fairly frequently or they become more complicated, it’s time for a new one.
Refrigerator: The average life for a single-door, top-freezer model is around 14 years. Make it last longer (some claim up to 20 years) by cleaning off the condenser coils on the back of the fridge, which get super dusty. Do this twice a year and it should perform more efficiently as well. But if it’s the compressor that fails, cut your losses and get a new one.
Washing machine: Apparently it doesn’t make a difference whether you have a top-load or a front-load washer; newer models of either type generally last about 11-13 years, if you’re doing a load a day. Overloading your washer makes all the moving parts work harder and will shorten the life of your machine. If it’s the belt that’s gone wrong, or the seals or pump, it can be worth repairing, but problems with the motor probably warrant a new machine.
Dishwasher: You’ll probably only get 6 to 10 years out of your dishwasher. These days dishwashers are fairly inexpensive, so it’s almost always better to replace rather than repair. To make your current appliance last a bit longer, pre-rinse dishes to remove hardened food, load the racks properly, and clean the filter regularly.
Carpet: Standard household carpeting will only stay looking fresh for about eight to 10 years. Using a hot-water “extraction” method for cleaning your carpet can help it last more toward the 10-year mark, but highly trafficked carpeting is going to start looking worn after eight years anyway. If you’re seeing wrinkles or it feels less springy (like the padding is losing its mojo) then it’s time to get new floor covering.
Most of these items can be covered with a home warranty, which can make your life easier (and less expensive to maintain). However, it is extremely important to read the materials about any home warranty you plan to purchase so you are aware of deductibles, the subcontractors the provider uses, and exactly what the warranty does and does not cover.
Gone are the days of home appliances lasting as long as your home does. As the items in our homes continue to take on more features and do more things (talking dishwasher, anyone?), there are more things that can go wrong. Planning for replacements for your big-ticket items is a smart idea so you’re not hit with a bill for hundreds of dollars that you weren’t expecting and aren’t ready for. Or, just stick to your 1963 Thermador. I can probably sell that thing for a mint.