Do today's products last as long as they did in our parents' or grandparents' time?

Yes, and no.

Nothing is meant to last forever, anyway. Otherwise, manufacturers would go out of business pretty quickly.

But most consumer products go through rigorous testing so that you won't have to replace them so often that you won't buy them again.

That's why we don't have to change light bulbs morning after morning.

In fact, there are specific tests for light bulbs that vary from bulb type to bulb type. For instance, incandescent bulbs are tested just as you would use them in your home. They are constantly lighted and monitored, and the results are shown using a 'mortality curve.'

What that means is that, if half of the bulbs lasted less than 1,000 hours, and the other half lasted more than 1,000 hours, the average rated life for these bulbs would be 1,000 hours.

Fluorescent products are tested differently. They're subjected to a three-hour-per-start test, followed by remaining off for 20 minutes, with the results being measured in thousands of hours.

Most compact fluorescent bulbs last from 6,000 to 10,000 hours, while linear tubes generally last 12,000 to 24,000 hours.

The new light-emitted diode or LED lighting will last even longer and cost less to use, lighting manufacturers say.

Even street lighting bulbs are tested -- 11 hours on, then 1 hour off. The average rated life of a street light bulb is 15,000 to 24,000 hours.

No guarantees are worth anything if the product is misused.

For example, the two things lumber producers harp on is that wood won't perform as it should or last as long as it is supposed to if proper building practices aren't followed or a house isn't regularly maintained -- caulking and painting especially.

When it comes to solid wood such as a two-by-four, the history of the product pretty much determines how long the lumber industry expects it to last.

But each company will have its own take on longevity, depending on how long they want to be liable for product performance.

So if Company A says a two-by-four will last a year, and Company B says it will be around for 40, it's just that Company A doesn't want to hang on to liability for that long.

When the lumber industry talks about performance of wood, it is talking about its deflection characteristics -- how it handles a load over time. This is known technically as "creep phenomena."

When it comes to panelized wood products such as plywood, oriented strand board or particleboard, it is the adhesive that is of primary importance.

Read the warranty, and determine if the product itself is guaranteed, or if certain manufacturer's defects are covered.

Most of the data on appliance longevity is gathered by trade associations. The associations compile manufacturers' surveys completed by customers when they buy new appliances, asking how long the customer owned the previous washer, dryer or dishwasher.

From the responses, they determine the high, the low and the average life expectancies.

Warranties are not based on average life expectancies, however, so if your dishwasher is supposed to last 10 years and it dies after 9, don't expect to get a new one for free.

Warranties for appliances are typically one year, parts and labor on everything, and that's it.

Many manufacturers try to put their products through tests that are far tougher than just about anything the consumer can do, and above the minimum required by national standards.

Paint also undergoes extensive testing. Colder areas of the country are ideal for determining the life expectancy of exterior paint because of the freeze-thaw cycle.

Paint companies always rely on exterior testing, even though they do a lot of laboratory testing for screening and comparisons. Exterior weather conditions are never consistent. There is no standard 12-month cycle.

Paint is tested for color and gloss retention and resistance to dirt and mildew. It is applied to all kinds of wood, vinyl and aluminum surfaces to determine durability.

After extensive testing, it has been determined that exterior paint on wood, brick and aluminum surfaces will probably 7 to 10 years.

There are caveats, though. There needs to be sound surface preparation before painting. In older paint jobs, you see a lot of paint failure because moisture is getting behind the surface.

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