Conveniences as a Service

Our water heater stopped working this week. It came with our house, which we have been in for over 17 years so it’s at least as old as that. I looked up online to see how long water heaters are supposed to last and the answer is 8-12 years. So after consulting with our trusted plumbers, I arranged to get a replacement (yes, a new one).

My husband asked me this morning when he saw the new one in the box, ‘What is wrong with the old one? Can it be fixed?’ I replied that I have no idea what is wrong with it because I am not an expert on water heaters. I’m sure if we wanted to wait forever for hot water we could bring in someone who might be able to look at it and tell us that it could be fixed…for more than the cost $ of putting in a new one. That has been my experience with appliances. They are not built to last.

Old water heater which still has valuable metals and resources

My husband then dared to say (in jest, I believe, because he was Cheshire cat grinning) ‘But you with all your sustainability, how could you put in a new water heater?’ *STANDS*ON*SOAPBOX*

‘Because this is how our society and economy is structured right now. And as much as I would love to fix all of that myself with my individual habits I cannot.’ The real problem is that as a collective we do not demand a society and system without such waste. We do not demand water heaters that last for more than 12 years, that the manufacturer will come in and fix and replace the parts of AFTER the warranty expires (they very cleverly make sure their warranties only last a fraction of the life span).

Warranty for new water heater

They do not even consider the need to repair the water heater before they manufacture it. If they did think about this, they would make sure the parts were modular and easily removed and replaced.

Or better yet, manufacturers could offer water heaters, fridges, stoves, Air conditioners, as a SERVICE where they continue to own and manage the appliances, leasing it out to customers for a fee and coming in to maintain, repair or swap out the old appliance when it stops working. I’d bet if the manufacturer owned the appliance, they would take better care of it and think about ease of maintenance before they built it. They could even, in the case of air conditioners, lease out ‘cooling BTUs’ where they give you a certain level of cooling that you need. Why should I, as the consumer, have to care about the size of my HVAC unit? All I care about is being cool. If, let’s say, these appliance lessors could manage the cooling centrally and balance out the needs of several customers at once, some needing more or less cooling than others depending on the weather, they might also be able to save energy overall.

This is not some genius idea I just came up with. There are manufacturers that are already doing this in our world, today….yes, even the Cooling as a Service, which already has it’s own acronym: CaaS.

This is not about us all giving up our conveniences and luxuries and going to live in a commune where we grow our own food. No one is going to catch me out with that old trope. That is a dog whistle. This is about all of us thinking more deeply about how we use the, often-limited, resources of our earth and applying existing circular economy solutions to preserve them.