The Curse of Government Washing Machines

by Karen De Coster

Recently by Karen De Coster: We Should Do What the Government Says Is Good for Us

Many folks never stop to think about the impact that government mandates have on every single facet of their daily lives. Take just one example, and that is the interminable string of decrees on the part of the governmental-environmental-green complex and the ensuing repercussions on the lives of individuals.

This interesting article on Epinions discusses the impact of federal energy efficiency standards for washing machines, including (1) the myths of energy savings (2) the long-term, negative environmental impacts of the high-efficiency machines, and (3) the cost to consumers of the government's high-efficiency, short-lived washers. The writer notes:

Too many large appliance products are now being engineered to meet priorities that do not include a reasonable interval between repairs and a service life commensurate with their initial cost. 

…All high efficiency, high-speed spin washers (both top and front-load) invariably possess a motherboard and a host of electronic parts, and according to those who repair them for a living, washers crammed with multiple electronic sensors, touchpads, digital displays, and miniaturized circuit boards tend to need more frequent repair — i.e. — replacement.  They must be kept on an electrical circuit with functioning surge protection, because their vulnerable and expensive solid-state components can easily degrade or burn out with electrical power surges. 

The writer points out that the federal government's 2007 Energy Star standards have, for the most part, eliminated the traditional design for washing machines because those machines cannot obtain the government's certifications, unlike the newer devices that manufacturers have turned out to specifically meet federal requirements.

I never bought into the high-efficiency (HE) concept, and in fact I have always despised the newfangled front-loader design. I was right when I assumed the opinion that those atrocities were nothing more than an environmental stunt and marketing scam, backed by the force of politics and special interests. Consumers have been sucked into buying these things because of their keen looks and pretty colors. Almost everyone I know has a front-loading machine.

Until November 2009, I still had my mother’s old machines that were 20-ish years old, and they worked great, for years, before they both began to slowly poop out. When the dryer ceased to dry in one cycle, and the agitator on my washing machine began to puncture numerous holes in my clothes, it was time to get new appliances. I bought a Kenmore HE washer and dryer combo, on Black Friday at Sears, at half-price. I did not seek, or want, HE appliances. But I did desire a washer without an agitator, and mostly because of my agonizing two-year battle with my old washer to keep my clothes free of holes. I was planted firmly in the anti-agitator camp. So I wanted an agitator-free top loader, but since those models were all HE, I walked away with the purchase of a new, top-loading HE washer and matching dryer. I should have listened to the appliance salesman at Sears who told me, "You really shouldn't blame the agitator." In retrospect, it is clear that I blew it on this purchase. And that agitates the heck out of me.

This inefficient, high-efficiency thing has done nothing but break down since I bought it. It once ate, and I mean shredded to bits, an entire blanket, causing the washer to jam up, and the dang water could not empty out of the washer. Service call. The water sat there for two days and stunk up the basement after I gave up on bailing it out. The appliance repairman told me that high-efficiency washers tend to eat delicate stuff because of the high spin speed. Also, I was told, “Oh, you can’t wash rugs. These things spin too fast and the weight of rugs will break the drums and other parts. You need to take your rugs to the laundromat.” I had been washing my rugs due to hosting a perpetual dog hair festival in my house, and I’ll be darn if I will own a washing machine that insists that I go to a laundromat to wash them.

So this piece of junk breaks all the time (I have the 5-year, extended warranty), it eats delicate things, it can’t spin rugs, you have to use special HE soap, and it has so many computer boards and electronic parts that it breaks down more quickly than you can say, “my computer is hour-glassing again…” Also, I’ve had to spin and re-spin clothes many times because the washer doesn’t spin the clothes dry enough, thus leading to throwing eighty pounds of water-logged clothes in the dryer, therefore sucking up even more energy from dryer use and repeating drying cycles, and potentially breaking my dryer from the excess weight load. I've set my dryer on back-to-back 70-minute cycles in order to dry saturated clothes. Energy savings indeed! Just like the government-mandated, low-flow toilets where the flow is so low that they don’t move molehills, let alone mountains.

Well, my washing machine broke again two weeks ago, and if I could lift it like I can lift a laptop, I'm sure I would have hurled it across the basement. Eventually, the machine started working again when I fussed with it a bit, and that lasted a couple of washes while I held my breath waiting for the machine to spite me once and for all. So indeed, it broke again last week, and it took forever for me to get the lid lock to unlock (!) so I could get my clothes out and take them to the laundromat. I had to invent a hatful of magician's tricks just to get the jaws open to get at my clothes. Then it brazenly hissed at me, followed by the beeping and flashing of numbers and letters in the display in an obsessive-compulsive rage. What a useless piece of crap.

For the most part, we shall not put the blame the manufacturer — instead, blame the government and the politicization of every aspect of our lives. Here's another passage from the writer of the article.

The government assumes that all high-efficiency, high-speed-spin washer owners — regardless of brand/model – are satisfied with the cleanliness of their clothes and aren’t fudging with extra wash or rinse cycles, nor using more hot water in order to increase cleaning power (or to reduce widely-reported high-efficiency front-load washer odors).  For those of you who don’t precisely match the assumptions in the government model (washing mostly in cold water, using an indoor/outdoor clothesline or drying rack, using a high efficiency solar water heater or heat pump, or washing fewer than eight family-size loads of laundry per week), don't count on saving much money before you pay to replace that washer again!

I'm tired of being without a washer and waiting for a Saturday repair appointment or taking time off during the week to meet the repairman. And while I wait for the appointment, I drag my clothes to the laundromat, burning $4/gallon petroleum to get there and back, and when I get there I use age-old, 1980s-style, "inefficient" machines to waste the water I was supposedly saving with my new machine that wastes energy, time, money, parts, landfill space, and human energy.

The Sears repairman came by, and I noted he loves to talk. He cornered me in the kitchen with a long conversation following his news, "Sorry, I don't carry the part you need. It's going to be several days before we can get the part." I asked him why these newer things were such pieces of crapola, hoping to engage him in one of my dissident discussions.

This man needed no impetus from me — he went on and on about how the government has created these malfunctioning monstrosities, why he will never buy a modern washing machine, and why everyone should look for the more reliable fix-up relics from the past. He fessed up that everyone in the industry — manufacturers, retailers, repairmen, etc. — know that these government-inefficient contraptions are no good, and the challenges of high-efficiency design means they can never be built to last without triggering significant cost increases to the consumer. Thus, in order to manufacture and sell washing appliances at an affordable price, the producers are squeezed to design and build malfunctioning junk that "saves the planet" while the consumers of these products are saddled with green-induced landfill paraphernalia.

In summary, the government's green totalitarianism has created a massive economic inefficiency with its energy-and-money-wasting, "high efficiency" washing machines.

  • On a macro level, there exists a diversion of resources due to manufacturers rushing to meet government "voluntary compliance" standards and mandates. Manufacturers are forced to rush shoddy designs to market to meet mandates instead of strategically directing long-term resources toward research and design implementation as desired by consumers in the marketplace.
  • Wasted energy resources through repeated cycles (spin, wash, extra drying, or otherwise) on the part of users to maintain previous standards for the cleanliness, dryness, and wrinkle effect of clothes.
  • Increased maintenance and repair cost to consumers over the life of the machine due to the mandates forcing manufacturers to implement substandard product design.
  • Economic inefficiency to consumers due to the shorter life span of the machine.
  • Huge landfill graveyards of non-repairable machines that are discarded because they are too costly to be fixed.

When my warranty runs out in 2014, this puppy is going on Craigslist as a “cheap, damaged good,” and if that doesn’t get any takers, out to the curb she goes, for the garbage pickers. I’ll buy a used, old-fashioned, ugly, water-hogging, rebuilt, grandma washer, as sold by many local fellas who make a living fixing up and selling used appliances. Until then, I’ll keep washing my rugs and keep breaking this thing, and Sears will keep fixing it, on their dime.

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