Why Appliance Quality Is Decreasing

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Major appliance quality has been decreasing over the past several years due to reasons such as increased competition and improved energy efficiency.

In the last few years, many people have noticed that the quality of major appliances is decreasing. They tend to live shorter lives, are less affordably repairable when they break, and might not even perform as well as they should.

Why is this happening?

There are a lot of reasons appliances don’t live up to the level of satisfaction to those from even 10 years ago.

Market consolidation: In the mature appliance market in North America and Europe, the only way for companies to grow is by acquisition. Appliance companies have been gobbling each other up to increase market share, concentrating power among a few players.

Global appliance manufacturer distribution

Giants fighting giants leads to cost-cutting in manufacturing and an endless array of often unnecessary features. Appliances look great but don’t always perform as promised.

Foreign Competition: Over the past decade, more and more appliances have been imported, and that has affected the quality of appliances manufactured here as well as abroad. In competitive cost-cutting measures, local appliance manufacturers have replaced materials with less expensive, shorter-lived ones (plastic for metal, aluminum for copper, thinner rubber hoses…). Cheaper materials wear out sooner and need to be replaced more often.  There’s also a huge range of quality internationally. Generally speaking, European-made appliances are more expensive but longer lasting and easier to repair. Japanese and Korean appliances feature glitz and can be more reasonably priced.

Fragile electronic panels. While these panels provide the basis for many of the new features appliances now offer, such as how much water your dishwasher or washer needs, they are often temperamental and have a tendency to break down – and when they break, the replacement cost may drive you to just buy a new machine. Computers and moisture don’t mix – and there isn’t a major appliance made that doesn’t involve water of some kind!

Energuide Canada Energy Efficiency Rating for appliances**Energy Efficiency:** Thanks to regulation, newer appliances are much more efficient than older appliances. In fact, in 2015 97% of all dishwashers sold were EnergyStar rated. EnergyStar rated appliances saved 88 PetaJoules of power in 2014 alone – enough energy to power 790,000 homes for one year. This has saved millions of dollars and reduced the demand on the electrical grid (Source)

But there are some unintended consequences of these energy efficiency measures; new compressors in refrigerators work constantly and burn out faster – and compressors, like electronic panels, are expensive to replace. Frontload washers will burn out faster than their top-load counterparts due to improper use or installation, and general wear and tear.

Décor: We spend a lot of time in our kitchens with family and friends. Appliances in turn have become as much about design as about function. We like sleek, beautiful appliances. We like the latest trends, and we are willing to replace our appliances more often than in the past - so in some ways, a 10-year appliance lifespan fits with our design tastes. But some design issues end up being more trouble than they’re worth (e.g. French door refrigerators outfitted with icemakers have a 30% service call within the first year of operation).

[caption id="attachment_73833" align="aligncenter" width="600"]appliance decreasing quality; old washing machine drum broken washing machine drum[/caption]

Repairability: Ask any service person and they’ll tell you that appliances are becoming more difficult and expensive to fix. From sealed drums in newer washing machines to two sheets of thin glass on smooth top ranges which are no longer replaceable, repairing appliances is becoming increasingly challenging. The consequence is that consumers bear the brunt of the problem, having to either pay an astronomical amount to repair or opting to replace it instead.

Twenty years ago, a 5-year-old appliance was considered practically new. Now, a 5-year-old appliance is considered old and outdated.

[caption id="attachment_73836" align="aligncenter" width="600"]appliances waiting for refurbishment and resale Appliance waiting for refurbishment[/caption]

Fragmented Second-Hand Market: Let’s face it: buying things second-hand is an awful experience. Unlike cars where used cars are sold and financed by manufacturers, most appliance manufacturers shy away from selling second-hand appliances. That creates unnecessary waste in short-lived appliances and a lack of value for other, reliable appliances. Unlike cars, people end up having to pay someone to haul away a perfectly good working appliance because there is little demand for used ones. And, from a buyer’s perspective, you might be passing up a fantastic buy, but you are probably hesitant to spend the money if you don’t know whether it will work once you get it home.

The circular economy solution: In a circular economy, all these problems disappear. Appliances would be made better, not worse, because they could be resold by the manufacturer two or three times. Less waste would be generated and resources would be conserved because appliances would be made to be updated instead of junked. Consumers win because they could change out their appliance as ones with newer technology become available, while older, higher quality appliances would be purchased by more budget-conscious people.

Less waste, more resource conservation, higher appliance performance, higher consumer satisfaction, repeat customers. Doesn't this sound like a better scenario for everyone?