It ain’t “eco” if you can’t fix it

In the past month I had to repair two kitchen appliances–a 50 year old O’Keefe and Merritt Stove with a broken door spring and an expensive 1990s model “eco-refregerator” called a Conserv, with a torn freezer gasket. The winner: O’Keefe and Merritt! Why?

The torn freezer gasket of the Conserv, as it turns out, is an integral part of the door. After a painfully long call to the parts distributor’s Indian call center I found out that, to repair the gasket, I would have to buy a new door at a cost of $400.

My beef? The Conserv violates several of the tenets of Mr. Jalopy’s Maker’s Bill of Rights, a manifesto of design principles that, if manufactures abided by them, would make things a hell of a lot easier to repair. Here’s a few of the Maker’s Bill of Rights statues violated by the Conserv,

“Cases shall be easy to open.”

“Components, not entire sub-assemblies, shall be replaceable.”

“Ease of repair shall be a design ideal, not an afterthought.”

By way of contrast, the old O’Keefe and Merritt stove’s components are all easily dissembled with a screwdriver. It took just a few minutes to remove the side panels and replace the broken door spring.

In the end, I patched the Conserv’s gasket with glue and a piece of a bike tire inner tube. We’ll see if it holds. It would be a shame to junk this otherwise excellent and efficient refrigerator over a gasket worth pennies.

I propose an amendment to the Makers Bill for “green” manufacturers such as the Vestfrost company who manufactured the Conserv: “If you’re going to call something “green,” “efficient,” or “eco,” you have to abide by all the tenets of the Makers Bill.” In short, if you’re going to make eco claims you better be able to make repairs.

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21 Comments

  1. I’m curious how your eco-fridge actually performs. I have a energy-star upright which draws about 2kW a day during the summer which is by far our largest utility. We are about to switch out to a tiny 5 cu. ft. chest freezer with fridge hack which will draw less than 200W a day (10x reduction). Put a kill-o-watt on yours when you get a chance and look at what it uses over 24 hours. I bet you will be disappointed.

    My fridge compressor started to go in January 2010 and the repair guy wanted $500 to fix it. I have made it hobble along by adding my own side power switch to hard restart the unit, but it’s going to fail soon. It is a shame to trash these old fridges. Maybe it will get a new life as a storage units, root cellar, or solar hot water tank holder.

  2. Hey Mikey,

    Good to hear from you. The manufacturer claims this for the current (Vestfrost) model: “Power Consumption (24 hours): at 77°F 1.5 Kwh (~547Kwh annually)” for a 7.1 cu. ft. fridge and 3.4 cu. ft. freezer. Would love to check out our old model with a kill-o-watt, but I don’t have one. Looking forward to hearing more about your fridge hack.

    And Eric,

    You are the master of the artful repair.

  3. I am with Homesteading Mommy,write to the company and give them your two cents.You of all people may have some impact on them.

    We also get frustrated when some gets broken and it is not repairable or costs more than what we paid for it to have someone else repair for us.
    Have you seen the Repair Manifesto?
    http://www.platform21.nl/page/4375/en

  4. Hey my every so handy hubby just asked me to pass this along to you about your gasket for your fridge.Here in the Portland Or area there is a company called “Northwest Gasket Guy”. My husband calls him when ever a commercial fridge at work needs a gasket.My Hubby suggests Googling them because they make custom gaskets.

  5. Reading this reminded me of an old story/joke that should be a poster child for how out of whack and over complicated manufactures make our lives sometimes. Although this story/joke is not factual, it does have a great message. Now days, manufactures don’t want to make things that are easily repairable or not require some stupid “special tool”, they won’t make any $ of us that way:

    When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface, and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 degrees Celsius.

    The Russians used a pencil.

    Cheers and hope your repair “sticks” ;o)

  6. Rois,

    I think you may have solved my freezer troubles. THANK YOU!!!! Mr. Google just told me that there is a “West Coast Gasket Guy.”

    Of course another rant related to this post would be about the inefficiencies of a parts supplier with an Indian call center. If the help line was located here in the US they might have referred me to the Gasket Guy.

  7. Mark Frauenfelder references Mister Jalopy in his book Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. Good read!
    Machines you can fix yourself are the most efficient in terms of time, money and sustainability.

  8. Okay so I found this post while researching how to fix the doorspring in my O’keefe and Merritt Stove. Do you have any advice?

  9. Anon,

    It’s pretty simple. My O’keefe and Merrit door springs were easily accessible–I just removed the appropriate side panels to access them. Next step is to head down to the hardware store or appliance supply shop with the broken springs and try to find replacements that are roughly the same size and weight capacity.

  10. Update: I finally gave up on my homebrew repair job. Called the Gasket Guys who only do commercial work. They referred me to, no joke, the Gasket Guy. But the Gasket Guy only does custom gaskets that cost at least $300. Looks like I’m back to gluing more old bike tires into the damn gasket. How frustrating!

  11. Do you glue the bike tires inside the white gasket? Or, do replace the gasket piece that is torn or broken with a tire piece?

    My first refrigerator, Kenmore (avocado green) bought for a little over $100 at the Sears Employees Store in Memphis, lasted over 30 years. It was just a floor model. When it quit defrosting, I sold it and bought a new refrigerator that seems like new to me since it is only about 15 years old. The first refrigerator gaskets lasted without one problem. I clean gaskets weekly. Now, the second refrigerator, my present one, had a cracked gasket within five years. I put a piece of Scotch tape on it and it looks good, works well. But, I am stilled steamed that it wore out so quickly. It is annoying that a ten-year-old piece of tape lasts longer than a gasket.

    I am not assigning any blame here, but cleaning gaskets is supposed to lengthen the life of them because dust and dirt and grime shorten the life of the gasket…just like dust will eat up upholstery fabric and ruin the surface of wood.

    Maybe we should all call the company and exclaim our dismay.

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