How Long Should It Last?

Caitlin Dewey

When you spend $500 or $1,000 or more on an appliance or home improvement, you want it to last. You also want to anticipate and budget for costly repairs and replacements. But just how long should major home items stand up to everyday use?

Kiplinger's asked trusted industry experts, trade associations and retailers to estimate how long consumers can expect their products to perform. Take our ten-question quiz to see how well you understand the lifecycle of key components of your home.

1. How long should a washing machine last?

Answer: 12 years

Both washing machines and dryers typically wear out after 11 to 12 years, industry groups say. Top-load machines boast the longest average lifespan at 12 years, while front-load washers typically last about 11. (Note: If you choose to save space with stacked front-loading units, recognize that you may have to replace both the washer and dryer when either one breaks down.)

You can extend the lives of both by cleaning your washer once a month, emptying your dryer's lint screen after each use, and avoiding covering the dryer's outside exhaust. If you have a front-loading machine, make sure to use the recommended high-efficiency detergent. The excess suds from ordinary detergents can cause mechanical problems.

2. How long should a standard incandescent light bulb last?

Answer: 1,000 hours

A standard incandescent light bulb should burn 1,000 hours. To change bulbs less frequently, switch to compact-florescent light bulbs, which cost about $2.50 more but outlive incandescents eight times over. The longer lifespan translates to big savings: $35 per bulb, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and the average consumer has 40 light bulb sockets in his house. Energy Star-qualified CFL bulbs also run cooler and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

3. How long should a furnace last?

Answer: 20 years

Furnaces should last between 15 and 20 years, according to industry experts and the Department of Energy. Furnace filters, however, only hold up one to three months – and in order to avoid an expensive service call, it's crucial to change them on the manufacturer's schedule. Waiting too long between changes can clog the filter and freeze the furnace's electric components, which a repairman will need to fix.

4. How long should a mattress last?

Answer: As long as it feels comfortable.

The Better Sleep Council recommends replacing your mattress every five to seven years, regardless of the type of mattress you own. A 2006 study by Oklahoma State University found that mattresses older than five years contribute to lower back stiffness and trouble sleeping, largely because both foam and mattress springs wear down over time.

Mattresses age differently, though, so if you don't notice any back or sleep problems, consider hanging on to yours longer. And make sure to change your box spring at the same time as your mattress — manufacturers design the two to work together, and they often fall under the same warranty. Rotating and flipping your mattress every six months is another great way to get the most out of it.

5. How long should a dishwasher last?

Answer: 13 years

Expect an under-counter dishwasher to last about 13 years, say appliance manufacturers. Dishwashers require very little maintenance, as long as you run them regularly. But if you don't use your dishwasher for a week or more, you might encounter some problems: sticky motor seals, mold and odors among them. In addition to running your dishwasher every week, keep an eye on your dishwasher's filter and drain and inlet hoses. Many dishwasher malfunctions stem from problems as easily fixed as a kinked hose or clogged filter.

6. How long should a water heater last?

Answer: About ten years

Water heaters can wear out after ten years, according to manufacturers, but the lifespan can vary depending on your water supply. Hard or mineral-filled water wears units out more quickly. To lessen the effects of hard water, drain and flush the tank once a year to prevent mineral build-up. Also consider a yearly check-up by a professional, who can inspect the unit's pressure and temperature-relief valves.

7. How long should a coat of deck stain or sealer last?

Answer: Three years

Water-repellant deck stains and sealers generally last about three years, depending on exposure and traffic, says Bill Leys, a California-based waterproofing contractor who speaks on industry best practices. Regardless of where you live, however, fading is a good indication that you should reseal your deck. Sweep and pressure-wash the surface, and sand away splinters and peeling before you apply new stain. Failure to properly maintain your deck can cause water damage such as dry rot, mold and mildew.

8. How long should a range last?

Answer: 15 years

An electric range should keep cooking for about 16 years, manufacturers say, while a gas range will last about 13. Stand-alone versions can make it even longer: 20 years for a wall oven, and 18 years and up for a cooktop. A huge number of use and maintenance factors influence the life of your range, so consult the owner's manual for detailed care instructions. Whirlpool says, for instance, that putting a small pot on a large burner can build up too much heat and shorten your stove's life.

9. How long should an asphalt driveway last?

Answer: 15 years

With proper maintenance, an asphalt driveway can easily last 15 years or more. A cement driveway can make it even longer — 30 years or more, by some estimates. The key, however, is proactive maintenance. Driveway owners should repair cracks as soon as they reach a quarter-inch wide and sealcoat asphalt driveways every two to three years, depending on weather and traffic.

10. How long should a coat of standard exterior paint last?

Answer: Six to ten years

A properly applied coat of exterior paint should last between six and ten years, says Jeffrey Spillane, senior product manager at Benjamin Moore. As Spillane and other manufacturers caution, however, the lifespan of your paint varies widely based on what kind you use and where you live. Sherwin-Williams, for example, sells paint with warranties ranging from six years to a lifetime. Check the warranty of your paint when you buy it, prep your house before painting, and only paint in moderate conditions; extreme heat, cold or humidity while painting will only make your work wear faster.


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