“Planned obsolescence” for appliances is bad enough, but mattresses too?!

Contractor examining part of the ice slab that came off our roof

Contractor examining part of the ice slab that came off our roof

We first learned about the changes in life expectancies for household appliances a few years ago, when we had catastrophic ice damage to our house. Near the end of the very long winter of 2013-14, it finally warmed up enough for a 10-12” thick build-up of ice to slide off our metal roof. In its wake it took out a skylight, but worst of all it took out our electrical mast. And so, as per the wisdom of the provincial electrical inspector (and his word ensured that it happened and that the insurance company paid), everything electrical in our house had to be changed. Accordingly, along with everything electrical in walls and ceilings, everything that was plugged in had to be rewired or disposed of (and recorded as having been disposed of). This included buying all new appliances.

Once we accepted the unexpected hand we had been dealt – and that took some doing – one of our tasks was to go to an appliance store to replace every single appliance we had. Since we have a small granny flat in our house this included:

  • 2 stoves
  • 2 fridges
  • Washing machine
  • Dryer
  • Microwave
  • Free-standing range hood
  • Dishwasher
  • 2 TVs

When we entered the store and were greeted by the salesman, I said to him, “We’re about to make your day.” In the course of chatting as we were shown our options, I mentioned that a few of the appliances had just been replaced recently, while others, such as our stove, was more than 20 years old. His immediate response was, “Well, you won’t have to worry about any of these lasting you 20 years; you’ll be lucky if they last 10 years.” Wow, nothing like honesty in advertising.

This reality and the acceptance of lowered expectations of quality are a bit strange when you stop and think about it. This is not at all true for cars, which last as long as or longer than they used to, and are better quality. Automotive technology improves continuously without compromising on quality of workmanship. Why is this not true for appliances?

I had had friends who had purchased fancy fridges that failed after 2-3 years, but I foolishly assumed these were one-offs. But it was obvious from the day they arrived that the new appliances we purchased with the same brand names clearly did not meet the standards of quality from 10-20 years ago. For example, the free-standing range hood we got was noticeably less well made than the identical model we had purchased only 3 years previously. In many appliances, what used to be metal is often now plastic, the metal used is thinner, things don’t fit as well, etc. And, sure enough, the Panasonic microwave we purchased to replace our fully-functional 25-year old Panasonic microwave ceased working this week, less than 3 years after purchase. Unbelievable.

This, apparently, is the disposable economy we have arrived at, where we have no expectation that anything will last; we’ll just toss it in the landfill and buy another, keeping the economy going. As much as I don’t like this, I don’t see any option. As disgusted as I was that the high-end microwave we bought specifically because that brand had served us so well for so long had suddenly decided that it didn’t want to work anymore (and so displayed an error code in the display instead of warming up my heating pad), I shouldn’t have been surprised; it’s just another example of “planned obsolescence”. As a friend responded when I explained we had to go buy a new one, “Oh, yeah, it’s all crap these days.”

BC Hydro: appliance recycling

BC Hydro: appliance recycling

However, I was not prepared for something else I learned this week: pillow-top mattresses should also be on the list of items manufactured with a short expected lifespan. I have been experiencing some back issues from the deepening indentation that has formed on my side of our bed (OK, I turn a lot), and took to the Internet to see what advice I could get on dealing with depressions in pillow-top mattresses. Wow. As with most things you google, the one reassuring constant is that all kinds of people have the same question you do. There’s always one or more answer, and you can usually figure out which answer works best for your situation. Indeed, many people had queried the Internet for answers on how to keep their expensive fancy mattresses from incurring unsightly and uncomfortable body depressions. Unless you had done thorough mattress-shopping homework well in advance of the purchase, few people had figured out (and the salespeople certainly didn’t explain) that you can’t flip a pillow-top; you can only sleep on one side. So all you can do is rotate the mattress from time to time, which is hardly the same result as flipping it over. The bottom line is that the average lifespan of a pillow-top mattress is closer to 3-6 years than to 10-15 (or even 20) years. Who knew this?? Not us. More items for the disposable economy, and king-size mattresses are not easily disposed of!

www.re-matt.com: Calgary mattress recycling

http://www.re-matt.com: Calgary mattress recycling

Most of the lessons learned from these experiences aren’t useful, but if you’re thinking of buying something that you’ve never had before (like a pillow-top mattress), investigate potential issues in advance. Don’t restrict your questions to the salespeople. And after your purchase, save your receipt and fill in the Warranty card. You never know when you might need them. 🙂

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This entry was posted in Entrepreneurship & Business, Just wondering, Life stories and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Planned obsolescence” for appliances is bad enough, but mattresses too?!

  1. alesiablogs says:

    I just got a new bed! I hope it lasts awhile! This blog post is so true though about anything practically bought in the last decade

  2. jane tims says:

    .38 years ago my then-boyfriend made a purchase that convinced me of his long term intentions. I arrived home from work one day to find Sears delivering a new refrigerator to my apartment. Today my boyfriend-turned-husband and I still love our refrigerator. It works as well as ever although I did replace a broken vegetable drawer with a plastic bin a few years ago. I dread the day I have to replace it!

  3. Julien Chiasson says:

    Where disposable income takes its full meaning !

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Good observation, Julien. But for those who don’t find themselves with much disposable income, it undoubtedly becomes part of that other popular business news headline, “household debt”!

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