When we bought our present home in 1999, the dishwasher was, shall I say, vintage. In recent months it had become noisy and wasn’t cleaning well; we were looking forward to replacing it with a more efficient model. After some days spent researching and shopping, we chose one that qualifies under the improved 2012 Energy Star rating system. I was amazed at how little water this model uses: less than three gallons per load. You’d have trouble washing dishes by hand with that amount of water, as just filling the sink would take about two gallons, plus you’d need rinse water. Its electricity use is modest too, although we don’t worry too much about that because our solar PV panels generate more electricity each year than we use.
The shiny new dishwasher was installed yesterday. In chatting with the installer, I asked, “How old do you think our old model was?”
He replied, “At least the 1970’s, maybe 1960’s.” If so, that would mean it could have been installed when our house was built.
“And how much average life does a good model dishwasher provide today?” I continued.
“About ten years, average,” was his response.
Time for a reality check. Our previous dishwasher, even if no older than 1975, lasted 37 years and maybe longer; new ones average ten years? Appliance makers clearly know how to make more durable models, but apparently choose not to, in order to sell more. I’m glad I can purchase an appliance that uses electricity and water more efficiently; we’ve made progress there. However, our society has not yet understood that the environmental resources involved in manufacture, including both the metals and other components as well as the energy necessary to operate the factory and to create and transport the appliance, must be factored into the pricing structure. We can’t just keep extracting and extracting from a finite planet, and piling up waste from models that wear out too soon. We see this process moving even faster and more wastefully, of course, from computers, phones, and other quickly obsolete popular devices.
I’m glad to see more efficient appliances being built and sold, but we need durability too.