How Will Your Product Fare Over Time?

I like to look at things that have been in use for a while to see how they hold up. Sometimes it’s a way to be smarter or more cost efficient the next time. Sometimes a reminder to sweat the small stuff. Sometimes it is just interesting.

Here’s one example. About 6 years ago I had the wooden fence replaced on the left and right side of my backyard. The back fence had been installed by the neighbor behind me at some earlier point and was in good condition. Six years later his fence still looks solid, my fence is starting to look creaky. Both are pressure treated, so why? I wonder if the back fence didn’t use the ‘old’ pressure treating, but I don’t know. I can see that the boards are thicker and the spacing between posts is less (six feet compared to my eight feet). When it’s time to replace the fence I’m going to tell the fence company ‘I want that kind of fencing’ as a starting point for the work.

Another one is the plastic slide at a local park. We were there one day and it rained briefly. The sun returned and the slide dried quickly, all except for the big puddle at the bottom of the slide where it flattens out as the rider exits. That took a lot longer to dry. A simple half inch hole in the slide would have fixed the problem. I’m betting the designer just never thought about the scenario (though to be fair, maybe the slide was supposed to be installed in a way that the water would run off the end).

Here’s another one. This is a photo of a door at the local library branch I use. My guess is that this is an original door going back to when the facility was built around 1985.


The finish is completely gone around the brass plate used to keep the door from wearing at the point where people push on it. The plate has held up well, the door itself seems solid, why is the finish failing? My guess is that someone has polished that plate over the years to make it look nice and keep it clean, and in the process has used something that removed the finish.

I wonder if the plate was original equipment or installed after? I bet it was original, it makes sense to identify that area as one that needs protection. Looking at the results 25 or so years later, what could you do different if you were buying a replacement door today? Options might be:

  • Find a finish that holds up to common janitorial and brass cleaners
  • Use a different metal that might drive a different cleaning solvent or might not seem to require polishing (rather than ‘cleaning’)
  • Put some kind of raised border to keep the cleaning rag from hitting the wood
  • Embed a caution note on the plate to try to keep the janitor from damaging the finish
  • Use a non-wood (even if wood looking) surface
  • Do nothing, it’s good enough

Of course, we don’t know if this happened gradually over many hundreds of cleanings, or happened because one day they used a bleach spray because that was all they had. If I was making doors I’d be curious to find out. Is there a win in fixing this? It depends on the cost and if the new solution would be considered a valid replacement – customers might not want a Corian door. Do customers care? Sort of. Anyone who owns or manages a facility would like to keep it looking good for as long as possible and with as little effort as possible. With the right solution maybe it is a decent bullet point on the ‘why you should buy doors from me’ brochure.

The problem is that fixing the door now is a pain. You can strip and refinish, but then the problem is likely to occur again. Now you’re in the bandaid business. If it lasts 10 years that’s not bad, if it looks bad in a year it’s hardly worth doing.

I think the main reason I think about this stuff is trying to acquire the mindset of always thinking about the failure cases, the edge cases. It may not be possible to know them all or fix them all, but sometimes fixing them costs just about nothing (drilling the hole in the slide) if you can figure out what to do. Maybe that means I step in one or two fewer potholes on the road to wherever I’m going that day.