New tricks are needed

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By Harold Morgan

Our new dishwasher says, right there in the operator’s manual, to push the start button twice to wash the dishes using the settings from the previous cycle. Push the button once and tiny lights identify the earlier settings. Once understood, this is very nice, even for those of us without previous experience in twice-pushing dishwasher start buttons.
New appliances come with other surprises that, when the human habit factor is added, may mean those vaunted energy savings are less than the government assures.
We got the new dishwasher, to start, because we had the money. Then I saw an ad about a Sears Memorial Day weekend sale.
Our washer had been making extra noise and cleaning less well. Crud stayed on the silverware. Consumer Reports put one Sears model toward the top of their rankings.
Finally, there was the life of the appliance. While writing a real estate-related newsletter a few years ago, I learned that appliance operating life is less than I remembered as a kid in the ‘60s. The 20-year operating life stuff is long gone. Today, the longest life I found claimed for a dishwasher is 13 years. That comes from Houselogic.com, the National Association of Realtors.
At 15 years, our dishwasher’s time was borrowed. Reduced operating life is not planned obsolescence. It is complexity, a fair amount of which I suspect is government induced. The complexity comes from software, which is required to do nifty things like remind me of the previous cycle settings.
Our clothes washer, also purchased from Sears in 1997, died in November 2008 when the control panel went out. Replacing the panel, i.e., replacing the software and the complexity, would have cost almost as much as a new machine, so we got the machine.
Lured by the sale, on May 25 we bought a Kenmore Ultra Wash Dishwater, a mid-range model, for $619.99. A maintenance policy (which my wife, Susan, wanted), delivery, details and gross receipts tax brought the total to $940.89.
Installation by a Sears contractor was done May 29. I was gone. Susan didn’t oversee details. After all, it was supposed to work. That evening, putting something into the proud, gleaming new machine, I found the door out of alignment.
Susan took over. She does our 1-800 telephone chores. Sears didn’t know the washer had been installed.
The record would enter Sears’ system in a couple of days, an amazing lack in these days of smart everything. Sears offered to replace the machine. OK, we said.
The replacement came June 7, nine days later. The second installer was surprised his colleague had missed the misaligned door. No kidding.
The new washer takes longer than the old. Sensors (and software) do fancy things like measure the dirtiness of dishes. The “SmartWash” cycle, the manual says, “is optimized to achieve outstanding cleaning and with minimal water and energy.” This virtuous cycle takes up to 2.5 hours. The optional “Hi Temp” cycle “raises the main wash temperature to improve cleaning” and adds 35 minutes. Not virtuous at all.
One chooses a separate dry cycle to really dry the dishes. It took me a couple of uses to understand this. The “Heated Dry” option requires 52 minutes. To help drying, using a separately purchased “rinse aid” is highly recommended.
Rinsing dishes is claimed to be unnecessary. Rinse, says our experience to date.
A crud-catching drain in the bottom of the washer, to be cleaned manually, will bring more new experience when we remember to clean it.
Tradeoffs abound. Complexity, less energy and water use, less effective cleaning, more operator time and extra-cost supplements versus better cleaning from more energy and water.
In 1981 Tracy Kidder wrote “The Soul of a New Machine” about building a computer. After everything, I still don’t know if there is a soul in this new machine.
Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress