Skutt kilns are very good and seem to last forever. 16 years doesn't seem
that old to me for a kiln if it has been cared for. Replacing elements is
about the only service an electric kiln should need. I've never used an
automatic kiln, I understand the new programable machines are pretty good but
the kiln tenders seem rather pricey. I have never found it too difficult to
use a kiln sitter(with limit timer), pryrometer and a watch to do my firings.
I like the sense of manual control that you get.
The downdraft kiln vents are fantastic. They create a slight negative
pressure inside the kiln preventing the escape of any fumes. Other than the
slight warmth near the kiln, one cannot tell the kiln is firing! I wouldn't
use any other type to vent my kiln. The other advantage is that they even out
the heat distribution inside the kiln. Instead of the heat maximizing near
the top, it is sucked down towards the bottom. Much like a ceililng fan in a
high peaked room. Good luck.