Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Refurbishing the old

I've discussed before how crappy modern products are with their one-piece plastic casings and impenetrable innards to keep the manufacturing costs down. Our refrigerator has issues, our microwave finally bit the dust and we got a second-hand replacement and, most recently, our Kenmore vacuum died on us. The main difference is that the vacuum is 15 years old and actually well made.

We got this canister vacuum from my mom around the time we graduated from the UW, so it must have been in 1994. At the time, we didn't have much of an opinion on vacuums and were just happy to have one that worked well. This was way before the current media blitzkrieg by Dyson et al on why you need a sci-fi vacuum that doubles as a Foreman Grill when you aren't looking.

For some weird reason, we bought an upright vacuum at Target about 5 years ago - I don't remember exactly why, but I think it was because my husband was under the impression that uprights were better than canister vacuums. Needless to say, it totally sucks, and I don't mean that in a good, vacuum cleanery sort of way. We only used it when we ran out of vacuum cleaner bags for the old one. Oh, that's it! The Kenmore vacuum cleaner bags are hard to come by on our old vacuum, that's why we got the new one. Aren't you glad to witness my brain in serial action?

Anyway, we really came to appreciate our old vacuum and how good it is, so we managed to find replacement bags online and have been happily using the old Sears one. About a year ago, the carpet cleaner attachment died on us (yeah, maybe vacuuming that giant flokati wool carpet wasn't such a good idea) and the canister part finally kicked the bucket about two months ago.

Are you getting the impression that our house is really dirty by now? Well, you'd be quite right. We looked into buying new canister style vacuums, but they are quite expensive, so instead of doing what most people do (which is buy a new one and throw out the old one), we found a repair shop that would fix Kenmore vacuums. Oddly enough, Kenmore vacuums can only be repaired at Kenmore shops, which makes things even more difficult and annoying. Fortunately, there's one in South Seattle.

Are you bored yet? You should be. So, to make a long story short, we spent about $150 getting our old vacuum fixed rather than spending $500 for an equivalent new one. And, I must say it's a hell of a lot better than the cheap crap being manufactured today. We picked up the vacuum today and are happy about saving the money and I'm happy about keeping it out of the landfill.

What would you do? Are you more apt to get things repaired or is it too much trouble so you buy a new one? Or do you buy a refurbished products instead?


Anonymous said...

We basically solved the problem of vacuming. We got rid of the rugs. Then went and made rag rugs from old scrap material and jeans. kept eveything at a size we could put in our washing machine or just shake out. If something around the house breaks down we fix it. We just try to find parts locally.

The latest to be fixed is the sewing machine. Thankfully we have a locally owned shop and isn't affiliated with any major sewing machine brand. The guy can fix any machine. Usually he is so backed up you could wait several months for your mnachine to be fixed. His rates are great.

The other thing to go was the bindings on our yougins cross country skis. The skis are in great shape otherwise. Well we ended up going to the local Goodwill to get some jeans and there were well used skis-but the wrong size. We bought the skis for $10. New bindings for the skis would have cost $150! New skis even more. We gave the skis minus bindings to a friend who took the well worn skis off our hands because they were what she was looking for. Her bindings were in good shape but the teen in her life broke one ski. Instead of paying us $5 she sent her teen over with some honey they collected from their bees. A win win situation for us all. As for the broken ski-well it will find its palce next to the other broke skis in a kind of tribute to old skis fence at their cabin.

I know this is long but the point is we try fixing it ourselves or getting it fixed. If that can't be done we go with secondhand. If all that fails we just go without.

Bucky said...

I try to fix as much as I can. I grew up tinkering with my father and grandfather. Unfortunately as you point out, most of today's products are made to be tossed when broken instead of fixed. There is more money to be made from cheap disposable products that need to be replaced every few years.

As for vacuuming, I have an old 70s era Electrolux canister machine I inherited from my grandmother. Still going great after all these years.

Anonymous said...

we haven't had any problems with our vacuum yet, but im sure now that i have said that, something will break. anyways... my mom has a canister vacuum & takes it to the repair shop vs. getting a new one. a few yrs ago she got an old upright one from her job that they were gonna throw away, got it fixed, & now uses it. it's a bag vacuum too. she has it fixed/repaired on occassion too.

also our dryer broke shortly after we moved into our house & we went to the local appliance store & bought a nice used dryer. :)

we haven't really been here too long so not much has broken down on us, although our fridge leaks so i have to keep a bread pan in there to catch the water.

Bucky said...

I was in the kitchen a few minutes ago and was using a pan that belonged to my great grandmother. I have a number of kitchen tools of hers and my grandmother as well. They are solid, metal and wood, and do the job they were designed for. They do require a little manual work because they don't use electricity so they don't have electronic controls or LCD displays or flashing lights or bright plastic casings.

And I love using them every time I get them out and it is a connection with past.

Does anyone imagine that our grandchildren will be using our Forman grills and blend-a-whatzits and plastic anything?

Anonymous said...

I have to register a disagreement about Dyson vaccuums. Before I bought my Dyson, we were burning out a vaccuum a year because the huge amount of dust and fur clogged them and made them useless.

I bought my Dyson five years ago and it's going strong. What I like about it most of all is I can actually flush the parts with water and bleach with no harm to the canister, hoses or attachments. The bleach solution kills mold, which I have an allergy to. I also love the attachments on this machine. It finds dirt that I didn't even know existed. My allergies are greatly improved. On average, that machine sucks up three tanks of dust and fur a week.

Years ago, I did score a canister vac at a yard sale for a buck. All metal parts, washable bag and that machine lasted for years. I had the cord replaced on it and that was the only repair.

I also found four sewing machines at the thrift store recently, all 1970's vintage. I bought two of them, gave one to my mom and kept the other. Who ever donated them kept them well-maintained. We oiled them up is all. I still haven't done any major sewing projects with it but that's because I can't think of any I really want. The main point of having the machine is to repair thrift store finds.

I also started putting my cast iron cookware back into rotation lately. Before, I just didn't like the maintenance involved but now, I'm enjoying the quality of cooking I get from these inherited cookware pieces.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Fortunately my husband is very handy and fixes our stuff.

But also fortunately, our house is only 2 years old so there's not much that's needed repair yet.

Josef said...

I have an "old" CD player, about 16 years at this point, that finally quit working. I have been trying to find a place to get it repaired locally but in a small town no one seems to be able to make a living at repairing electronics. I am still holding out on buying a new one hoping that I find a place in nearby Colorado that makes these types of repairs. If it is unrepairable (which I doubt) I will break down and get a new one.

The fact that this unit lasted 16 years is a testament to its quality. I seriously doubt I could expect the same lifetime out of something I bought today, for the very reasons you stated.

Anonymous said...

My personal pet peeve is children's toys. The grandparents love to buy plastic toys that light up and sing and all that jazz for my 4-year-old. And of course she loves the toys right back. Until they die 3 days later. All that packaging, all that transport from the overseas manufacturer, and the toys aren't even designed to last out the month. And, let's face it, the $12.99 singing doll is not meant to be repaired, I doubt you could repair it.

It's a theme taken straight out of "The Story of Stuff." So much crap that just contributes to environmental devastation and isn't even useful long-term. :(

Anonymous said...

Yes! I totally support getting things fixed rather than throwing them a way - even when buying a new one would be less expensive (which is the phrase we always here from the repair person). I am the grateful recipient of a lot of my grandmother's old appliances. My dryer is a 40-year old Lady Kenmore, my sewing machine a 35 year-old Kenmore (yes, she was a big Sears fan). I had my grandmother's Amana microwave/convection oven refurbished for $150 once (even though a new microwave costs less than $50...). If you can possibly afford it, I think getting things fixed is a great way to keep skilled repair-folk in business and keep junk out of the landfill. And a lot of the time, it does end up being less expensive in the long run.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago our oven knob started spewing flames. It ended up costing us more to have it fixed than it would have to buy a new cheap one.

I am so happy we did opt to get it fixed though. It is a 1950s stove complete with griddle and a whole heck of a lot of style that you just can't buy. It should also last us another 20 or 30 years. Something a new cheap stove could never do.

Bucky said...

Kelli brings up a good point -- getting things repaired provides employment for our neighbors and keeps money in our communities instead of shipping it to China.

Tough decision however, when times are tough and repairs are much more expensive than buying new.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Oh, yeah, I totally prefer supporting locally skilled repair people. The hardest part is actually finding someone to fix it. That's what happened with our microwave, I couldn't find anyone who could take the panel off and replace the touchpad. The rest of it worked just fine.

Same problem with fixing the vacuum. We took it to a number of Sears stores before we found out that there's only one place left in the city that could fix it.

There's a great sewing/vacuum repair shop down the hill from us, but they can't fix Kenmores (for legal reasons). The new vacuums they sell were over $500, but high quality, so if we had to buy new I would buy from them.

Katie @ said...

We just moved to Germany where quality comes first in appliances. It's beyond wonderful to live in a country where you really can't find a cheap washing machine.

Everything in the US seems like crap when we come back.

Of course, we have to spend more for our appliances than our newly married friends in the US might as they opt for cheap things. But just like you're doing now, we expect to have these appliances for years and years... and years!

We're totally on the same page with you, Crunchy. Thank you for writing this.


lauren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lauren said...

Our microwave touchpad bit the dust too, but it was an issue with a fuse (as is it usually is), not the touchpad itself. I found some instructions online for replacing and asked my boyfriend to give it a try.

In the end, the casing didn't fit back on properly, so you can see into the glowing innards when it is on( where the casing bows), and sometimes the 1,2, and 3 buttons don't work, BUT, we still use it. I'm really proud of it. Even when my mom insists she will get us a new one.

Anonymous said...

I'm cheap - and a yankee so I would rather repair any day -
and we have a ton of vacumes that live here.
His mine and ours - I refuse to let mine go - unless I find a needy home for it.

Anonymous said...

a few months ago my shredder up and died. it wasnt that old and i wanted to get it repaired. couldnt find a place. when i called the company their response was "oh, those are too expensive to repair, we'll send you a new one." but i dont want a new one! i want to fix the one i have... "why would you want to do that when you could just have a new one?" :::sigh::: 5 days later the new one showed up, uninvited, at the front door... free of charge. :::sigh::: no wonder the landfills are full of crap. by the way, "too expensive to repair" turned out to be 35$. 5$ less than buying a new one.

Rosengeranium said...

I'm a friend of Roomba, but I have to admit it's plastic like a Barbie toy - and rapidly biting the dust (ahaha) after only two years. I'm used to vacuums that lasts at least ten, so I'm a bit disappointed (I'm not sure if this is due to the fact I live in Sweden - companies are cutting costs everywhere). On the other hand it gives us the perfect excuse to take it appart and tinker with it.

Robj98168 said...

I am a big beliver in Make Do and Mend, and I am a proponenet of adding a fourth R to the mantra Recycle, re-use, Re-duce- I want to add Repair to it.I hosted a challenge back in November. I just think people need to get back into the mode of fixing things. As much as I love new things I think repairing the old is fast becoming a lost art- and it is enormously satisfying.

Erika said...

WOW, you are so good at coming up with a post when my DH and I are discussing the same thing! I wear Earth shoes almost all the time (that is, all the time when I actually have shoes on), and one pair met my mom's dog and now has a large defect at a seam... my husband is irked that I'm more willing to spend $25-30 to fix it than to replace the pair all together. He's tired of my motto, nay mantra, "use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without!"


The Doodle Family (As Authored by Kimberley) said...

We try to fix things as much as possible. We also hate the vaccum situation so we are in the process of pulling out our carpets. I would much rather use a broom, dust pan, and a mop then the cheap plastic vaccums out there!

Allie said...

I have to say, after 6 years of using our 1960's central vacuum cleaner, we broke down and got a Dyson b/c the dog hair situation around here was beyond bad. The old vac just didn't clean well enough, and it was a problem for our allergies and my asthma. We got to a point where we were either going to have to get a good vacuum specifically designed for animal hair, or realize that fur and dander would soon take over our couches, rugs, etc. And we'd be looking at replacing those items way sooner otherwise. I usually have the worst buyers remorse whenever I make any kind of major purchase, but this time - nope. It was the best, and most necessary purchase we've made in a very very very long time. And I do love the way the vacuum can be cleaned. Few things live up to the hype surrounding them, but I think the Dyson actually does.

Jan said...

We fix stuff if we can. Recently our dishwasher sprung a leak. It turned out to be a 1/4" square gasket that cost $2. I totally recommend (I'm not affiliated with them in any way and am not trying to spam/sell, it's just good). Might be able to help with your fridge issues. :-)

Red said...

I would repair, but hubby would be first in line to ditch it and buy a new one. He is the one who it is all about spending, not me.

Say it with me girls, Thrift shops and consignment shops are our friends.

Bucky said...

Reading all these responses, I'm struck by the realization that people are unhappy with the products they are forced to buy -- forced in the sense that there are no alternatives.

How do we impress on manufacturers that we would prefer products that can be repaired?

Why isn't sustainability a selling point? Why don't we as consumers demand that our appliances are able to be repaired easily?

It would be a huge selling point for me if a manufacturer designed and marketed household products with easy repair as a product feature. Why isn't repair considered an important product design parameter?

knutty knitter said...

We had to replace the washing machine last year - couldn't get the parts to mend it again. Mind you, it was over 30 years old. My cd player is also 30 this year and the rest of the system dates from around 1978. The newest appliance I own is around 3 now. Those old things just lasted better.

I do admit owning a George Foreman grill thingy but it won't be discarded just because the non stick stuff came off. It still works fine without.

What is it with cheap stuff? And yes, I'd like a choice of good quality if possible (and it is round here thank goodness). After all buying cheap is false economy if you keep having to replace things.

viv in nz

Bucky said...

As an admitted basement tinkerrer (tinkerrer?) there is one thing that I've noticed changing over the years: parts ain't parts anymore.

When you are working on older appliances, screws were uniform. Parts were the same across different manufacturers and products. It was easy to run down to the hardware store and get something that worked. Now, every part is custom designed. That pipe isn't 8mm -- it's 7.92mm and is a special order. Screws aren't just screws -- threading is unique. Products are designed so that they can't be repaired or can only be repaired at great cost.


I noticed the other day that cell phone manufacturers had just agreed to a universal charger design. Why? And why aren't all product parts uniform, as they once were?

knutty knitter said...

Those patent screw patterns are annoying. My hubby bought a whole set of screwdriver ends just so he could undo things. He tends to replace most of what he removes with standard issue ends - its just easier!

viv in nz

Anonymous said...

I'm getting pretty good at fixing appliances around my house - like the washing machine that I gave instructions on how to fix on my blog about a month ago. It seems that everything around my house is dying this year.

Vacuums seem to be one of the worst offenders when it comes to breaking. I currently have several in my home that others have given up on as ever working well, and I have fixed them for my own use or to give to others when they need one.

One day I will put hardwood floors down.

Wendy said...

Okay, I'm sitting here in pair of socks that have multiple "darnings." I'm definitely in the "fix it" group :).

And my husband is VERY handy. So, he's a "fix it" kind of guy.

As for the vacuum, my goal is to get rid of all of my carpets so that I don't need a vacuum. With several children and dogs and cats inside the house, if/when electricity is not so available as it is today, I don't want to have to deal with yucky carpets I can't get clean - and I don't want to waste my precious generator energy on vacuuming.

But in the interest of full disclosure, we have a Dyson, and I like that it doesn't use a bag (less waste).

Anonymous said...

We had a great vacuum that was old but in need of some modest repair. We gave it to a friend because she had no vacuum and bought one for us. MISTAKE!!!! A year later we were looking for a vacuum because the one we bought was simply too cheap to even function properly. I spent a lot of time researching and we purchased a Miele for quite a bit of money. So far it works greats and I hope it has the quality of vacuums of old.

My husband is much more into replace than repair. I think I have to basically side with him on some of his views. I have bought two second hand cars for instance. One was a total lemon. You simply don't know what the previous owners have done with the cars. On the other hand... I have repaired my 25 year old faithful sewing machine twice rather than get a new one. I do finally have a new one because I want features that my old basic model doesn't have. I STILL have old faithful as a backup.

I have often thought that my life is so much different now than it was when I was child. How did I move so far away from my roots? I remember darning my socks when I was a child. Now I pitch them.

Jenn said...

How funny that we're both dealing with vacuum cleaners at the same time. I had my grandmother's early 1940s Electrolux when I went to college. After a couple years, it was having some problems so the Electrolux rep came out and gave a pretty convincing argument for upgrading. I had that vacuum for almost 20 years before replacing it 3 years ago. I found an Electrolux at Fry's - with a HEPA filter - so thought it was a great deal.

Until two weeks ago when it shorted out and melted in my hand. Then, I found out it's not really an Electrolux (hence the retail availability and lower price point) but a farkin' EUREKA!

AND ... only with a 2 year mfr defect warranty. So, I will find out how much it costs to repair their crappy piece o crap. :(

On the same topic of refurbishing - I have a fantastic chaise from Z Gallerie. The fabric started falling apart due to time and use and sun. You know what?

Up until a month or two ago, it was still available on the Z Gallerie site and listed for about $100 less than what I paid for it 10 years ago, around $750.

To recover it, I'm looking at $450-600 in labor, plus a mininum of $300 for fabric (12 yards). I can't even find reasonable sustainable/organic or low VOC upholstery fabric available to consumer - and that stuff all costs like $40-60/yard

So, I have a cotton throw from India over it as a temporary fix - but I can't find affordable fabric... Freecycle won't even permit the discussion on how to salvage or fix something like this instead of giving it up (they're happy to take my "come take my perfectly good sofa just needs recovered" post however).

I'm just shocked at how much more expensive it is to refurbish a piece of soft furniture than to actually buy new. Such a bummer.

Jennie said...

Heh.. I'm picking our vacuum cleaner up from the repair guy today.
I saved this vacuum out of a dumpster 3 or 4 years ago. It had a few years on it already before it landed in the dumpster. It's a decent enough Hoover, with good filters and no bags. New enough to have a HEPA filter, but I'm not sure when those became common.
Last month the main suction hose fell off. My hubby and I actually did take it all apart, but then discovered that the hose was beyond repair. He wanted to buy a new cheap one and I voted to repair.
:-) It cost us 80$ to fix the hose and put all new filters in, but I think we made the right choice. A new cheap one would have easily been that much, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I've twice kept this machine out of the landfill.
Eventually I'd like a house with all hardwood and rugs, but we are still very much in the rental stage of life, so I deal with carpets.

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

I tend to fix things when they are broken, whether it is ripped clothing, my dishwasher, or rebuilding my computer because the motherboard died and my husband is more than willing to let me. :) Not only do I like doing the DIY around the house, and for neighbors I'm their HandyM'am, but it's a great hobby that gets me away from my professional life at the computer. Not to mention the ecological and financial benefits that come with fixing your stuff when it's broken.

Although it might be a bit of a sickness because I stitch up the dog's stuffed toys when he's ripped them. I tell him what my parents told me,"we take care of our things in this house." He just looks at me, tail wagging as if to say,"you finished with that yet? I want to chew on it."

angie said...

Fix it! At least try to. Our coffee pot died last year and we tried as hard as we could to fix it ourselves (couldn't because we couldn't find the correct heating element - despite having access via my hubby to wholesale parts shops) and then we couldn't find anyone to fix it. None of the screws were of uniform size either. The gadgetry folks want us to buy new - its a conspiracy! :)

btw, I use a shop vac as my 'at home' vacuum. 1 dog + 4 cats + old house = lots of fur and dirt.

Anonymous said...

When I accidentally toasted a mouse recently, the general expectation among friends and family was that I would immediately be buying a cheap new toaster. People are so squeamish these days :)
It was an expensive toaster in the first place, and it still works fine, all we had to do was clean the crumb tray. Mind you, if we'd cleaned the crumb tray out more often, there wouldn't have been a mouse in it ;)

Anonymous said...

We once knew a guy who weekly gathered dryers and washing machines from the curbside trash. He'd open them up, clean them out, fix them and sell them. Most of the dryers only needed to be cleaned out. Most of the washers only needed a few small plastic parts. He kept a lot of machines out of landfills and made money doing it.

My grandparents only buy Panasonic because a repairman told them that they are the most repairable electronics on the market. I've never checked that out, but they get their Panasonic stuff worked on whenever necessary. They won't buy Sony because no one can work on it. Growing up, our bicycles were always made from bikes Dad picked out of people's trash. Our lawn-mowers, too. We've taught several friends how to clean the dirt and gunk from their lawn-mower fuel lines because they were going to throw them away. It was the problem, every time. Lack of knowledge of basic maintenance/repairs leads to waste.

Correne said...

We installed a new central vacuum system last year, and I'm pretty satisfied. Prior to that, we were using an excellent 30-year-old metal canister vacuum that finally could not be repaired any more. I put a lot of thought into what I would replace it with, and I settled on the built-in because it has a LIFETIME warranty, it is totally repairable, it has no bags or filters, and I fully expect it to still be working 30 years from now.

On the other hand, we have a toaster oven that has bitten the dust, and I haven't had toast in two months because I can't figure out how to fix it, and I don't want to buy a new one.

Sonja said...

This story actually gave me a happy smile because I love it when people can repair the old but good things they have and are happy with them.
I spend a lot of money on my shoes (relatively speaking) but I take good care of them and repair them (or rahter: have them repaired) when necessary and they last me a long time.