How Long Should Your Household Purchases Last?

Here's a guide to the life expectancy of big-ticket purchases, from the roof down to the refrigerator.

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How Long Should Your Household Purchases Last?
Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesMost household appliances, such as washing machines, refrigerators and gas ranges, should be replaced every 10 to 15 years.
By Geoff Williams

As consumers, we've all probably held some unexpected funerals for our purchases. Maybe it was the refrigerator with the smart cooling system that died far too young. Or the self-cleaning double oven, which was so shiny and full of promise when you first met. You tried to tell yourself that everything happens for a reason, but it didn't make you feel any better about losing the dishwasher or your 42-inch television.

It isn't your imagination: Consumer products don't last as long as they used to. Here are some thoughts about why that is, and how long you can expect many of the products inside and around your home to last.

Appliances. In 2007, the National Association of Home Builders and Bank of America Home Equity released the "Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components," which included these estimates for long various appliances should last before you should think about replacing them.
  • Gas range oven: 15 years
  • Refrigerator: 13 years
  • Trash compactor: six years
  • Dishwasher: nine years
  • Microwave oven: nine years
  • Washing machine: 10 years
  • Electric or gas dryer: 13 years.
  • Food waste disposer: 12 years
Keep in mind that these numbers are seven years old. If the expected life spans of these products have changed, they have probably decreased, according to Neal Asbury, CEO of the Legacy Companies, a manufacturer and exporter based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

It should be noted that he feels his companies' products -- all made in the U.S. -- are durable. For instance, his Omega juicers have a 10-year warranty. "We don't design failure into a product," he says.

But Asbury says that as a whole, consumer products don't last as long as they did several decades ago and beyond, "when a lot of what was produced were products that lasted forever."

Of manufacturing today, he says, "A lot of it is doing more assembly work than it was in the traditional sense, like back in the 1950s and 1960s, where you not only made the product but all of the components."

He says even when a company manufactures a product in America, many of the components often come from overseas nations that don't always have the best standards. "A product is only as good as its components," Asbury says.

And there is plenty of incentive to make those components as cheaply as possible to stay competitive. Asbury says many of the compressors used at his ice machine factory were made in countries like Brazil, France and Korea. But those countries outsource to other countries that can make things even cheaper. "Everyone's chasing that cost reduction," he says.

Much of what drives that cost reduction is of the rising cost of raw materials, says Roger Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University School of Business.

"Competitive and trade pressures keep the manufacturer from raising prices too fast. So manufacturers look elsewhere to find ways of offsetting these raw-material cost increases. These factors reduce product longevity and, relatedly for some products, durability," Beahm says.

Around the house. If you have an air conditioner, you can expect it to last 10 years, according to the Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components. Carpet? Eight to 10 years. A linoleum floor fares better at 25 years, and a laminate floor can last 15 to 25 years. Here are the life expectancies of more home products:
  • Electric water heater: 11 years
  • Gas water heater: 10 years
  • Electric boiler: 13 years
  • Gas boiler: 21 years
How long should your mattress last? According to Consumer Reports, about 10 years if you don't let your kids use it as a trampoline. Mattress advertising campaigns suggest you should buy a new one every eight years. However, your backside is probably the best judge of when to replace your mattress.

Electronics are infamous for not lasting as long as consumers would like, but they probably break down less than one might think. According to a December 2013 issue of Consumer Reports, if you buy a flat-screen TV, there is a 3 percent chance of it dying within the first four years of ownership, and if you purchase a laptop, there's an 11 percent chance it will give out within three years. It's not a good thing if you're among those 3 or 11 percent of buyers, but generally, Consumer Reports says electronics are reliable enough to make an extended warranty unnecessary.

Still, while your TV will probably last longer than four years, you'll be lucky to have it in, say, 14 years. "As manufacturers try to keep costs and pricing down to compete, the product life on our core categories -- appliances and electronics -- has shortened significantly," says Jon Abt, co-president of Abt Electronics and Appliances in Glenview, Illinois. "Customers who come into our store to replace their 20-year-old refrigerator are surprised when we tell them the average life expectancy of a new one is seven to 12 years."

Incidentally, if you've noticed that stores are pushing extended warranties just as products' standard warranty time seems to be shrinking, that may have nothing to do with the quality. Asbury says many manufacturers are reducing the time due to warranty fraud.

"People will buy a computer, use it a month because they needed it to study through final exams, and then return it," he says. "There are all kinds of abuse out there."

Your house. The aforementioned "Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components" report states that a typical roof made of asphalt shingles should last about 20 years. Roofs made of fiber cement shingles should last 25 years, and roofs made of wood shakes are typically good for 30 years. If you have a roof made of slate, copper, clay or concrete, you can expect it to last 50 years.

The foundation and frame of your house should last a lifetime if they were properly built. And while the walls should also last the lifetime of the house, aluminum windows are only expected to hang around for 15 to 20 years. Wooden windows should last as long as 30 years.

Your garage door opener won't have as lucky of a fate, however. Expect it to last 10 to 15 years.

Let's say you buy a garage door opener today. Perhaps when it conks out in 15 years, consumer products will have turned a corner, and the next one will last 30 years. That's doubtful, according to Chip Manning, director of The University of the South's Babson Center for Global Commerce in Sewanee, Tennessee.

"Planned obsolescence isn't a new concept in business but an ever-evolving and important one," he says. "Any manufacturer of goods wants your loyalty but also wants you to keep buying product."

Asbury doesn't buy that view. He says every manufacturer he knows is passionate about delivering the best product it can. From an environmental standpoint, he says it's immoral to do otherwise. But he isn't too optimistic that the country will see garage door openers with 30-year life spans.

"I think some products will improve," Asbury says. "I think the American automobile manufacturers make a much better product than they used to as a result of the shellacking they took throughout the 1970s into the 1990s. I think that's a good example of quality levels improving because of competitive requirements. But that might be the outlier. By and large, there are always going to be a huge pressure by the American consumer for manufacturers to drive their costs down."

So it's our fault. But who can blame us? We need to cut costs after replacing all of our appliances and electronics and making payments on our more-durable but expensive cars.


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22 Comments

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zeejay97

My 50.00 garage sale portable dishwasher after 15 years is working fine but my last microwave lasted a year and a, half....the appliances made today are pure junk

May 09 2014 at 9:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wilster008

I have a Kenmore (Sears) copper colored frig with bottom freezer which I bought in 1964. It is in my garage running happily now 50 years later. My mother had a Frigidaire which lasted 40 years and I wanted to beat that.

May 08 2014 at 8:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
toosmart4u

It the consumers fault because we buy this foreign junk. Because we want lower prices. If we did not buy this junk the sellers would have to bring all this manufacturing we lost to cheap labor countries back home but it would no longer be cheap. I buy American on line whenever I can.

May 08 2014 at 5:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
foxylynx

Unfortunately, the stuff no longer lasts as long as it used, the price has also gone way up. Just another reason the avg American can't make ends meet any more. It's all a shell game and we are the pawns.

May 07 2014 at 9:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BOB

As the first astranaut said, Space shuttle made up of 20 million parts all made by the lowest bidder.

May 07 2014 at 6:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
vlady1000

Appliances do not last like they use to and not as long as stated in the article, now that they are made overseas. I own 13 houses and do all my own repairs, Say away from GE (except for gas dyers). Best bets for durability, is Bosch Dishwashers, Samsung Micros, Whirlpool refrig, Whirlpool elec ranges, Gas range does not matter too much, Whirlpool washer and dryers.

May 07 2014 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert

no way lg washer last onlt 5yrs then CANT buy parts to repair

May 07 2014 at 4:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert's comment
Linda

Everything today is junk, cheap junk made in China. I am disgusted. People are suing these corporations too in record numbers for making junk all overseas. These companies no longer take pride in anything. Shame on all of them,

May 07 2014 at 10:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
thefacts22

We are only manufacturing gangsters,welfare and social media.USA can not compete with the world,many of this appliances come from China,and they manufacture junk....Gone are the days when a John Oster blender never died

May 07 2014 at 4:08 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
RANDYTHOMAS711

Have had a simple kenmore washer/dryer set from sears for OVER 28 years...other than a few chipped knobs they continue to work great! My friends are on their THIRD set of those super-expensive LG uprights...the kind that you have to buy special stands for...just in the last 5 years!

May 07 2014 at 3:09 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
lmaar2

Some of the issue is not the quality put out by the manufacturers but instead is lack of proper care and maintenance by the owner. I have a friend who thought it was cute when her boys would swing on the refrigerator door---like literally hold onto the door and lift their feet off the floor and "ride" the door as it opened. She then complained about what a cheap piece of junk the fridge was when the door seal no longer sealed correctly. Appliances need regular routine cleaning and then periodic major cleaning, including filters changed, parts lubricated, etc. People don't seem to do maintenance on anything any more and are then stunned when an item stops functioning properly. We have never had any major appliance---gas cooktop, gas oven, dishwasher, washer, dryer, fridge, garage door opener, lawn mower---go out before it was 15 years old. It's all about proper care and maintenance.

May 07 2014 at 2:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lmaar2's comment
thefacts22

Very few appliances "if ANY" are made in USA nowdays,overall QUALITY,we are buying junk,i would say we are IMPORTING 90% of all trinkets,shoes clothing,and the list goes on and on

May 07 2014 at 4:12 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply