Planned Obsolescence – Why doesn’t the stuff last?

Because, it’s not supposed to, silly.  We want our stuff to work until the novelty wears off, and then we want it to fail so that we can replace it without any guilt, for the next new thing.  This certainly applies to our electronic gadgets, much of our clothing, and even to our household furnishings and decorations.

So what’s wrong with wanting new stuff?  This approach is not limited to the small things, it can also be seen in our attitude to more expensive stuff, like cars, houses, and relationships.  We can accommodate this desire for novelty when the item is relatively cheap.  This desire, however, clashes with our desire for security (or risk-avoidance).  Cheap cars that broke down often and in fact were dangerous, have been replaced by cars that last longer, work better and are much safer.  People are now holding on to their cars an average of about 7 years, whereas in the past, this used to be as short as two years.

When it comes to homes, the older pattern of staying in the house for 20-30 years, has changed so that people now change their homes on the average once every 7-8 years.  Part of that appears to be due to increased workplace mobility, part of it is due to trading up, but there is also the aspect that people are using their home equity to finance their lifestyles and entertainment (as can be seen in the dramatic rise in home-equity loans and lines of credit).

This shortened time of residence has in encouraged people to think less of “long-term investment” in their property, and more about saleability (curb-side appeal, selling points like kitchens and bathrooms).  On the flip side, the amount of effort spent on ensuring the asset’s long-term value (ie, maintenance and upgrading of the fundamentals), has decreased, so that when things do start going wrong, they require much more effort to fix.  That in turn, prompts some people to sell, to avoid having to invest in major repairs, and leaving the expense to be new buyers.

Of course, the new buyers did not know the history of the home, and probably did not know what the true underlying state of the property actually is.  Home inspections go only so far in ferreting out the hidden defects.  This is one of the factors that prompted the Quebec government to institute a 10-year “hidden defect” law, allowing the new owners to sue the previous owners if a hidden defect (ie, a defect not disclosed in the sales documents) is found within 10 years of sale.  (check the links under the Links tab on the main menu).

Hidden defects can arise in a number of ways.  For instance, necessary regular maintenance may have been skipped, leading to a deterioration in the structure.  Alternatively, various changes and “improvements” may have been made without taking into account the way the house system does or should work, resulting in a defective operation of the system.  In other cases, hidden defects arise from the pattern of short-cuts taken by homeowners (and the contractors they hired) in carrying out essential work.

Returning to the starting theme of this post, a source of “hidden defects” is the performance of the roofing materials that are commonly installed.  Based on marketing and other influencers, homeowners often expect a product that is sold with a multi-year warranty to last the length of the warranty.  For example, many people believe that roofing shingles covered by a 30-year warranty will actually last 30 years.  There are other products that are sold with 50-year or “life-time” warranties, with the implication that once installed, this will be the last roof that the home will need.  (for links to the warranties of popular shingles sold in Quebec, check the links under the Links tab on the main menu).

The reality is somewhat different.  For various reasons, it is common to see roofs needing replacement in as little as 10-12 years.  It is certainly uncommon (in our experience) to see a roof made from asphalt shingles that has lasted more than 18 years.  Other materials are also not immune from premature need for replacement.  In the case of metal roofs, the primary material is usually long-lasting, but the failure comes from the lack of attention to key details during the installation.

Since homeowners are usually not expecting premature failure, they often fail to carry out routine annual inspections that would reveal the performance (or lack of) the materials installed.  This results in deterioration that is “hidden” in the underlying structure.  The primary “effect” of deterioration we need to be concerned about is the infiltration of water into the interior of the roof.  This contributes to rot, delamination of plies (if covering is plywood), disintegration of the material (if non-exterior OSB), as well as support for mold.

In addition to the materials not lasting as long as the buyers expect, another aspect to reducing the longevity of roofing installations are the typical short-cuts that are taken to keep the price of the roof “affordable”.  It takes time to do a proper roof preparation, and to build in all the little details that ensure a long-lasting roof assembly.  Of course, the preparation and the details are not visible when the final covering goes on, so it’s hard to verify after-the-fact whether there were short-cuts taken.  Given how many roofing contracts are written, there usually is no mention of these preparations or details, and what IS written is related mostly to the visible exterior part.

So whether it is intentional or not, the end result is that our roofs, for the most part, are going to fail much before we expect them to.  Because these failures occur over time, for the most part, they are not perceived as urgent.  These failures undermine the value of our most important investment, our home, and also incur ongoing liabilities in the event that we choose to sell.  They diminish our security and well-being, increase our operating costs and can potentially undermine our health.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

To make informed decisions, it takes knowledge of how things actually work, and experience to project what the consequences will be of the decisions taken.  Protecting yourself by obtaining the facts about your actual situation is the first step.  Identifying the issues, whether actual or potential, and prioritizing them, is the second step.  Finding a company that has the knowledge, experience, and track record to do the right things in correcting the issues identified, is the third step. Choosing the appropriate materials installation process and determining an appropriate budget is the fourth step. Monitoring the performance of the work to ensure that no short-cuts are taken, is the fifth step.  And of course, once the remediation work is completed, following up with annual inspection and doing the required maintenance is the final step of ensuring you get the maximum use of your investment.

We can help with each of the six steps identified above.  This help isn’t “free” (we charge for our consultations), but given the potential consequences of not knowing, it’s an investment in making good decisions.  If you are interested in ensuring that you know the facts, use the contact form to contact us and set up an appointment.

© 2014 Paul Grizenko

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