Toasters to light bulbs – as the world dims

All these “advances” have been made in the interests of saving energy or water, but if you have to operate the appliance twice as long to achieve the same effect, where is the saving?

vintage toaster
They perfected the toaster – and then went on to wreck it.

A fundamental tenet of life is forward momentum. That’s why it’s so hard to understand when people make things worse by trying to make them better.

Take toasters for example. It used to be that a good toaster evenly toasted your bread on both sides according to your taste. Today, there are toasters that will poach eggs, but not make evenly toasted bread.

What’s so hard about making a toaster that performs? It’s a couple of wire elements run around a piece of mica, operationally governed by a thermostat. But making them seems a lost art: as one wit on the Internet put it, the best way to get a good toaster is to find someone that has one then move in with him.

Barring that, you can do what we’ve been doing: buying a new toaster every few months. Price doesn’t seem to be the arbiter of a good toaster, either. The expensive ones are just as bad as the cheap ones. We have had them at $149 (a Breville, the most highly recommended toaster on the Internet) and down. The Breville burned the edges of the bread so we took it back. A no-name toaster that replaced it not only burned the edges, it only toasted one side of the bread. The latest, a Black and Decker, cost $29.95.  You have to crank it up to the highest number to get toast at all, and then it’s only on one side.

The problem seems to stem from trying to make toasters toast bagels and frozen waffles in addition to bread. The elements are set so far apart that they can’t do their job. So, rather than make the bread cage move back and forth, why not move the elements, instead? But who am I to tell anything to the engineers of the world.

Perhaps the toaster section of the environmental police has been at work convincing manufacturers to reduce the wattage of their machines; if so, it’s a pointless economy. Your toaster won’t burn more than about $1.25 worth of electricity — a year! By way of comparison, your coffee maker costs an extravagant $3.50 per year. (The big energy gobbler? That old fridge in the basement that operates for $125 a year or your computer monitor with no power management that is eating up $150 a year.) (Source: B.C. Hydro).

So much for toasters. We also have irons that don’t get hot enough to iron (thank goodness for clothes that “iron” themselves), faucets that don’t let enough water through so you have to wash your hands twice as long, and trickle-down shower heads that don’t refresh and take forever to remove the shampoo from you hair.

All these “advances” have been made in the interests of saving energy or water, but if you have to operate the appliance twice as long to achieve the same effect, where is the saving? Take low flush toilets, for example: they don’t send enough water through the system to do the job the first time so they often have to be flushed two or three times. Sewage lines also become clogged with toilet paper that doesn’t get enough momentum from the flush to flow into the main line.

As for  washing machines – water savers, again – the new generation of these things take so long to do the job that any water saving is probably used up in more electricity, which, here in Manitoba is water dependent. We are praying that our 30-year old dryer holds out. It’s quick and efficient with more than enough options to take care of delicate items.

We are afraid to buy a new stove after watching the experience of our kids whose “energy efficient” appliances just don’t do the job; dumbed-down elements don’t get hot enough to boil water, let alone flash-fry a fish or a steak.

If you like light, you may want to go out and buy some incandescent bulbs right now. It is proposed that as of Jan. 1, 2014, the 100-watt bulb is to be taken off the market and replaced by one with a maximum wattage of 72 watts and, by Dec. 31 of next year, new regulations will have all light bulbs align with performance standards in the United States. Basically, lights will get dimmer as lumen ranges are reduced to a maximum of 1950 down from the current 2600. What will consumers do to compensate? Add more lamps, of course!

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