Monday, April 13, 2009

Are front loaders the best environmental choice?

Our Kenmore 417 front loading washer worked very well when it was working. Huge capacity, got clothes and cloth diapers clean, spun everything out so it dried quickly. But it needed service twice in the first three years we had it and just irreparably bit the dust after only seven. The bearing needs to be replaced (apparently a typical failure on these machines) and it was constructed in such a way that fixing it is virtually impossible. If we did choose to repair it, we’d have to replace basically all the innards of the machine, and the parts alone would cost about as much as a new one.

We are hugely disappointed. It was expensive to purchase (and all the service calls made it even more so) but we expected it to last a good long time. We also consciously paid a premium for doing the right thing for the environment; it used much less water and electricity than a top-loading washer. But from what we’re hearing from the two repair guys we talked to and from online research, seven years is about as long as you get out of front-loaders. This makes them decidedly NOT a sustainable choice. The energy and materials wasted by having to replace it so soon negate its efficiency during its brief period of operation.

It seems that “low-end” front-loaders are just not built to last or to be repaired. (I can’t get much information about the $1000+ ones. I certainly hope they are fixable. It’s not like it’s a brand-new technology that still needs the kinks worked out of it.) Top-loaders can be kept running for at least twice as long.

So now that we’re past the need for having a washer than can tackle big loads of diapers, we decided to go with a top loader that can be repaired when it breaks. We got one from a used appliance dealer two miles away, who advised us not to buy the front loader he had (“they’re junk”) and only charged us $25 for delivery and removal of our ungodly heavy washer from the second floor. And saved us from the potential hell of having to deal with people on Craigslist.

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